Do I Need To Fear This Scripture?

May 17, 2019


For if we deliberately sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries.  Hebrews 10:26-27

This scripture has undermined the confidence of more believers than about any other scripture.  It has tormented mothers and fathers of children who once made a genuine decision to follow Christ but no longer walk in His ways.  How then can any of us be at peace if these words have bred fear?  I need to understand who it was written to and what it means.

There are many warnings throughout the book of Hebrews.  This book was written to the Jewish people – many of whom were being persecuted for their faith because they had embraced Jesus, and to many who were still deciding if they should go back to Old Covenant ways and reject Jesus.

These words were for Jews who had heard the Gospel, understood the Gospel message completely, but then turned away from embracing Jesus by going back to Judaism.  All the warnings, previously in Hebrews, were written to this same group of Jewish people, a people who were trying to decide whether or not to put their hope and trust in Jesus.

The message was clear ~ If they kept on sinning by rejecting Jesus, there would be no other sacrifice for their sins.  If they remained in Judaism and contined in the sacrificial system, their sins would not be forgiven as they had been before the advent of Christ.  To reject Jesus is to be eternally condemned, even if Jewish.  To reject Jesus is to become His adversary, even though Jewish.

If I remove this scripture from its context, I wander in the mire regarding someone I know who once believed but lives like an apostate.  Did they really believe and are they really still God’s child?  Those are questions for another day because this scripture is not written to, and about, them.  Hebrews was written by a Jew ~ to the Jewish people.

How hard it must have been, and still is, for a Jewish person (so loved and chosen by God to be His) to understand that if they reject Jesus, they reject Yahweh.  Shunning Jesus as the Messiah sets them up for eternal condemnation.  This idea for a Jewish person is unthinkable which is why Jesus warns His people not to stumble over Him.  The consequences are dire.

Perhaps this ended up in a place you never expected.  I’ve seen this passage send parents, spouses, and friends of wayward believers into fear.  At this moment however, as we understand that this was written to God’s chosen people – in eternal peril – let’s pray for them.  Pray for Israel that their spiritual blindness would be cured by the power of the Holy Spirit blowing over their darkened minds.

Remove the veil, Father, from their eyes.  2 Corinthians 3:16  AMEN

Prayer Guide for Jewish People

What I’m Saying Under My Breath

May 16, 2019


Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works.  Hebrews 10:23-24

My confession is what I say outloud.  My testimony is comprised of far more than the planned three-minute speech I give to a group.  It’s what I say while I live the rest of my life.  Whether I’m reacting to minor frustrations or major upheaval, I’m to neither give in, nor give up, on my faith.  Not for any reason.  Not for even the worst of things.

Just last weekend, I got away for 24 hours to assess an area of my life where faith had become difficult.  I had begun to mutter words of unbelief and complaint.  I spent those hours, late into the night, repenting about what I had been confessing.  God, through the Holy Spirit, asked me this question.  “How has this hard thing benefitted you spiritually?”  Though it was not immediate, God gave me the grace to write a new confession.  With a pen in my hand, I admitted that pain had driven me to God’s arms. Suffering had been my shaping agent, making me more like Jesus.  I had memorized more scripture and cherished more promises because of the darkness of the night.  Since coming home, nothing has changed but I’m back in the fight and have God’s perspective.

When I embrace the promises of God, I don’t expect them to come to pass immediately.  Historically, this rarely happened.  Every follower of God was called to a life of faith, standing on the God’s words even when all evidence begged to disprove it.  Every one of them faltered along the way and while some gave up, others had a fresh encounter with God and got back on their feet.

Where are you today?  Let one who is in the middle of the battle speak to you.  At the center of this struggle is an enemy who weaves together seemingly ironclad arguments against God.  He knows that hanging on is exhausting for us.  He knows that the temptation to give in sounds appealing and even prudent.  He’ll remind us that fighting doesn’t appear to have gotten us anywhere and that if we give up, we can finally have rest from the battle. And part of that is true.  When we give in and cry uncle, the noise of the battle stops.  Initially, there’s quiet and a sense of relief.  But then comes the dark cloud of oppression that accompanies hopelessness. Darkness overtakes us.

Can you imagine how much clearer things would be if you and I could see Jesus, and Satan, standing in front of us right now.  We would be enveloped in the love of Jesus.  And we would be horrified by the sight of Satan.  I need to remember who is speaking what.  It is Jesus that calls me to trust Him.  Looking into His face, that wouldn’t be hard at all.  And if I could look into the face of pure evil, it is the god of this world that perpetrates, and then celebrates, the heinous crimes that make me cringe.  He is the one who calls me to defect.

I remember the face, and the nature and character, of the One who gives life-giving promises and the face, and nature and character, of the one who speaks words that will encourage me to self-destruct.  The Lover of my soul says, “hold fast and confess your faith in me.”

It’s not hard, Jesus.  Amen

How Shocking It Was!

May 15, 2019


Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh ), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.  Hebrews 10:19-22

For me to understand the impact of what it was like to enter the holy of holies where the presence of God rested, I must go back many thousands of years.  I would have to interview a high priest.  This privilege was his only once a year and he prepared himself down to the smallest detail because if he got it wrong, he could lose his life.  This privilege came with great risk.

Imagine with me for a moment that one of the high priests announced that the common man could now enter behind the veil.  God had made the requirements less stringent and the people no longer needed to be afraid.  Who would have dared volunteer first?  Even if the first few came out unharmed, I contend that every person thereafter would still be on edge because the holiness of God and the sinfulness of mankind was so ingrained in their psyche.  No one could conceive that God would sanction such a thing.

Let’s fast forward now to the time the book of Hebrews was written.  The audience were the Jewish people, the very same descendants of those who had experienced the rituals surrounding the temple and the holy of holies.  The words they are reading from this author, though good news, are still hard to really believe and trust.  Do they dare risk eternity and the forgiveness of their sins on the teaching that a human high priest and sacrifices are no longer necessary?

The writer assures them that they can go behind the curtain because Jesus paid for the privilege.  They can enter God’s presence boldly and with confidence.  They no longer need someone to represent them on earth in order to approach God.  Jesus had plead their case to His Father.  He washed away their sins permanently and declared them holy.  As if this wasn’t shocking enough, they were told that entering the throne room is no longer an annual event. There is unlimited access.

There is one thing that I need to keep hearing.  For me personally, it’s not that my sins are forgiven.  It’s not that Jesus tore the veil in two.  It’s not that God has made me holy.  What needs to fully register in this fearful heart of mine is that I can come boldly – all the time, no matter what.  No need to be shy. No need to fear rejection. No reason to dread anger. My experience on earth begs me to argue.  Those in high places move away from the common man, not towards him.  They become less approachable, not more.  Not so with God.  His desire all along was for intimacy.  There was a major bump in the road called the Fall of Man but God removed the curse of alienation through the sacrifice of His Son.  Intimacy has been restored.  It is ‘paradise~now’.

Skittish of Your love, how often have I stayed in the outer courts and missed the joy of Your presence?  Don’t let that ever again be me.  Amen

When Others Put Me In My Place

May 14, 2019


He [God] adds: I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts. Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Hebrews 10:17-18

One of my most unbecoming moments is when I attempt to put others in their place.  I’m aware as I write this that ‘their place’ is never an elevated position.  The very term denotes a lowering of their esteem.  I am reminding them that they did something wrong and need to remember how awful it was!  How long will I make them pay?

How long did God make me pay before He forgave me?  Even now, does he keep bringing up my past sins to make me remember how sinful I’ve been?  While people do this, God does not.  (However, Satan whispers lies to my guilty conscience and wants me to believe that I am being holy when I grovel.)

When God says that He never again remembers our sins, it doesn’t mean that he literally forgets.  It’s better than that.  He takes the sins that separated me from Him and puts them behind His back, out of sight.  He will never bring them out again, hold them up to my face and say, “Remember what you did!?”  He does not encourage me to remember them to discourage me and to destroy my joy.

When Jesus said, “It is finished”, it carried so many beautiful implications.  The obvious one is that no more sacrifices were needed to forgive sin.  His death, and final sacrifice, did that.  That also means that once I repent of something, His sacrifice removed it.  No more sacrifices and no more repenting are needed.  While I may not forget what I’ve done, remembering it should usher in the relief and joy of sins forgiven.  It should not re-introduce guilt and cause me to pick up a heavy burden.

What’s astounding to me is that many Jews, after Jesus’ death, decided they’d rather return to the offering of sacrifices.  They had a hard time resting in the fact that Jesus death ended the need for them.  Their history and culture was so ingrained in them that it was hard to trust in the security of the cross.

Jesus would want me to know several key things today.  1. While people may equate me with my sin, He does not. 2.  He took my sin off of me and put it on Himself instead.  3. He not only put it on Himself, He forgave it and sent it away ~ out of sight.  4. It is not admirable to rehearse my past sins and self-condemn.  5. It is advisable to rehearse the totality of His forgiveness and throw a party!

If you are straining to hear the sound of joyful singing, I’ll start now.  Amen

Write It Down!

May 13, 2019


And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them.”  Hebrews 10:15-16

Perhaps you know the phrase, “I know that I know that God ____________.”  These words are used mostly when speaking of an encounter with God when He reveals Himself in an unforgettable way.  We sought Him, He provided an answer, and ‘we know that we know’ that we heard Him correctly.  No one and no thing is able to shake it. That deep knowing is the essence of these words in Hebrews.

The huge experiential difference between the faith of those in the Old Testament and the faith of us who have come after the advent of Jesus is that our faith is personalized by the Holy Spirit.  It was prophesied by Jeremiah: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.  I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”  Jeremiah 31:31-133

How did someone in the Old Testament come to know God?  He was born into a nation, one conceived by God through Abraham. He then inherited God-stories that were spoken through their forefathers. He began to tell his children about what he’d heard and faith was passed on through written words, through honored traditions, and through the storytelling of the elders.  Faith, though heartfelt and inspirational to the nation of Israel, was still largely impersonal in that most people never heard God’s voice.

That’s not how it was supposed to be.  God’s plan had always been to be intimate with His creation. He walked in the garden with Adam but sin broke that fellowship and Jesus came to restore it by forgiving the sins that caused the breach.  God, from a respectful distance, drew close to us again through Christ.  He granted us intimate access, finally, because God decided to no longer write His law on stones and tablets.  Instead, He wrote His Words on the fabric of our hearts.

You’ve heard the phrase, “If you want something to become a part of you, write it down.”  We are no longer distant worshipers.  We have been written upon by the finger of God.

You wove Your Words into me and where I end and where You begin is a beautiful blur!  Amen

So, When Will I See It?

May 10, 2019


But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  Hebrews 10:12-13

The enemy of God is the god of the anti-kingdom.  He does not war silently.  Peter says that he is like a lion and his roar is ferocious.  In the plains of Africa where lions roam, I’ve read that a lion’s roar can be heard five miles away if there are no competing noises.  I can picture what happens with the sound, can’t you?  Every potential prey stops what they’re doing to listen and discern how close, or how far away, their predator is.  Every living thing is on edge.

While there are certainly periods in my life that are peaceful, they are short lived.  I feel the enemy’s breath on my cheek.  His roar is the bedfellow, and the precursor, of spiritual attacks.  He customizes devastation to hurt as much as possible.  He targets my areas of weakness.  He waits for my vulnerable moments.  Where the ground is shaky beneath my feet, he lies in wait for the perfect moment to gain the upper hand.

I dream of the day when I will see consistent evidence that every enemy is under God’s feet. The picture is that of a Ruler who wins the battle against an opposing king.  Victorious in battle, he puts his foot on the neck of the enemy as a sign of conquest and subjugation.

As a child of God, I am waiting for the time when every spiritual enemy of Christ will be visibly under the authority of King Jesus.  Victory has already been declared now but I do not see that sweeping defeat as a reality.  Not yet.  There is still fighting and while I engage in the battle, where is my King?  Seated at God’s right hand in a position of rulership.  Where are His enemies?   Already beneath Him.  Look how Satan’s kingdom is described as ‘levels of rule and authority, power and dominion’ and Jesus is above them all.

 God seated Jesus at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet.  Ephesians 1:20-21

 

At this present time, and from my earthly perspective, I am unable to see that reality.  But one day I will.  Until then, I must know who my Victor is.  I must believe that He has authority, and has conferred that authority upon me, to rule over our spiritual enemies on His behalf.  Satan will continue to act as though he still has all the power if I let him.  The Word of God is my sword and God will show me when and where to speak it, to impose limits and parameters to the activity of the anti-kingdom.  During this brief period when Satan is still allowed to roam the earth and wield some destructive powers, the church must battle and look forward to the day when every enemy will be vanquished, put under God’s feet, and then eternally subjugated.

 

Without You, I’m no match for them.  With You, and in You, there’s no contest.  The victory is Yours and the victory is mine.  Amen

Is He A Means To An End?

May 8, 2019


You did not want sacrifice and offering, but You prepared a body for Me. You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings.  Hebrews 10:5-6

I fear it’s too easy to see Jesus as a means to an end. Here’s how it looks ~ I need forgiveness from my sins in order to gain salvation and Jesus is the One who paid for it.  I can look to Him as utilitarian, someone able to give me what I need.  I am not taken with the personal cost and the price He paid.  I am taken with getting from Him what I need.

I wonder how many sacrifices were made under the Old Covenant without any regard whatsoever to the animal who gave its life.  While God never encouraged the worship of animals, He wanted His people to be aware that the shedding of blood was costly.  The fact that a sacrifice had to be made at all pointed to the fact that sin was a serious offense.  He had much to say about people bringing their burnt sacrifices as a ritual ~ casually checking off their religious boxes.  Worship of God, the one who outrageously forgave their sin, was often forgotten in the equation.

Is this not any different than ‘fire insurance salvation’ that is resident in so many Gospel presentations?  The fear of hell is what compels us to rush to the altar.  Our tears are about us, our plight and then our relief.   Fear of death and God’s judgement is a strong motivator to make sure we are not headed for condemnation.  We are told that the death of Jesus takes care of our sin problem and by ‘accepting Him into our heart’, our eternal destiny is secured.  But isn’t this kind of presentation making Him a means to an end?  Jesus becomes a benefactor who got me out of hot water.

Taking this further ~ Does this really encourage worship or am I simply preoccupied that by walking the aisle, I’ve taken care of myself?  This may seem like splitting hairs but it’s monumental.  While writing this ~ my heart is aching at how easy it is to be selfish in my response to the Gospel.  Jesus made His sacrifice all about me but am I making His sacrifice all about Him? God forbid that Jesus made it about me and I make it about me. I consider this scripture from Mark:  To love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Mark 12:33 

Yes, someone gave their life to forgive my sins.  Yes, I have been justified.  Yes, I wear robes of righteousness.  Yes, condemnation has been erased from my future.  Yes, I live at peace with God and I’m no longer afraid of His judgement.  However, the point is not these realities.  The point is that I’m to consider, and then worship, the One who sacrificed Himself to provide all this.  What should be front and center of every proclamation of the Gospel is the person of Jesus who came to express, with his life, the love of God for us.  It is this Love, bleeding out on a cross, that compels me to love him with all my heart, soul, and mind.  What pleases God is the worship of His Son and a discipleship based on the joy of my relationship with the sacrificial Lamb.  This distinction is what makes the difference between religious ritual and a passionate believer willing to give his life for the sake of a Savior.

Forgive me when I come with open hands and selfish expectations.  Amen