Stepping Back Into Hebrews

September 23, 2019


Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1

A little over three months ago, I felt like I should take a break from Hebrews.  I was facing the 11th chapter – the hallmark chapter on faith.  I stopped up short.  This chapter is a heavyweight.

When I stepped away from it, little did I know how intimately I would come to know the first two verses of this chapter.  For the entire summer, I have had Hebrews 11:1-2 on my desktop.  It is stunning the way it is paraphrased in THE MESSAGE.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

This literally took my breath away and each day it’s challenged me to ask myself if this is true in my heart.  No matter what I’m facing, is my faith strong enough to be assured of things I cannot see?  Am I rock solid and confident in my Hope?

Faith is not blind ~ even though it is up against what is unseen.  The reason any child of God can have seeing eyes is because of the worthy foundation supporting the promise.  It is God-Himself.  This assurance is talked about in Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Faith is built on the validity and power of the One who holds up the universe.  He doesn’t hold up just the earth, which in and of itself would qualify Him, but the deep heavens.  Since it is this God who has promised it, who asks me to trust Him, how could my faith ever be misplaced?  His power is uncontested, and He always uses it within the parameters of wisdom and sovereignty.  His Word stands.  He never changes it.  His Truth is always His Truth no matter the time in history and no matter the age and spiritual condition of the one who pursues it.

Let me speak personally.  I have faith in a God who is not taken by surprise by the worst of news.  I have faith in a God who already knows how to make something beautiful out of what has been made ugly by the Fall.  I have faith in a God who redeems all things for His children.  Even more than that, I have faith in a God who restores every single loss ~ if not here, then in the world to come.  I cannot lose what God will not give back in perfection.

There is no Redeemer and no Restorer other than You.  I declare my faith again, out loud, with praise.  Amen

Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

None of us is lacking for reasons to mourn. If we see the world the way it truly is, through the lens of the Gospel, it is enough to cause deep sadness. We are so far away from our Creator’s intentions. The fall in the Garden of Eden ushered in a curse so pervasive that there is no part of life that has not been affected. All around me, there is profound brokenness.

The best of relationships are tainted by sin natures. Everyone, without redemption and a new life built on the foundation of God’s Word, is fragile. Words shatter egos. Betrayals end a friendship. Careless accusations fracture a parent/child relationship. Disappointments usher in a grief that has no end. Then there is the mourning that grips a person on the other side of losses; death, health, vocation, friendships, loss of innocence.

It’s wonderful when God sends a comforter who speaks deeply into my soul. I am blessed to have a few around me that do that for me. And while the church should be full of comforters, they are sparse if the church is skin deep. If I am willing to mourn, or if I’m already mourning, where is the comfort Jesus speaks of with certainty?

  • If I mourn the past, I find comfort in God’s embrace. He says that no pain is wasted and nothing is outside of redemption.
  • If I mourn a betrayal, I find comfort in God’s embrace. Whatever I lack, He promises to provide. He fills me up so I can give and forgive.
  • If I mourn my limitations, I find comfort in God’s embrace. I know that one day I will enjoy eternal life on a new earth. Every single limitation will be eliminated.
  • If I mourn the deterioration of this world, I find comfort in God’s embrace. God’s plan is to restore paradise and make everything shiny and new.

The Comforter and comfort are one in the same. The Comforter speaks the Word and it means something because I have a relationship with the One who speaks it. If I only see comfort as words on a page, they will be hollow when the pain consumes my attention. They’ll be no more satisfying than a Chinese proverb. But if I have a relationship with the Comforter, the scripture He whispers into my soul bring joy, hope, and comfort even in the tears.

Brave children cry. Brave adults cry. You cried and Your Father sent you angels to comfort You. I will not fear that any abyss is too deep. Amen

 

[Samuel said to Saul] The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you and you will prophesy with them and will be transformed into another man. And let it be when these signs come upon you that you do as occasion serves you, for God is with you. And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart. All who knew him earlier saw that and said, “What is this that is come to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” I Samuel 10:6-9 

The Spirit of God came upon certain individuals in the Old Testament and as a result, they came under His influence. They were changed and equipped to fulfill their destiny as king, prophet, or servant. Is it possible that something so amazing and so rare can be taken for granted when it happens today? Yes. I can be so used to the vernacular of the ‘indwelling of the Spirit’ that I’m numb to the sheer wonder of it. The privilege of housing Glory can be tragically lost on me.

At the very moment I believed in Jesus and embraced Him as Lord, the Spirit of the LORD came upon me too. He didn’t make a visitation as He did under the old covenant. He made me His permanent dwelling place and transformed me into a new person. The same phenomenon that Saul experienced happened to me. At my spiritual birth, I was called to an eternal destiny and am fully equipped to accomplish it under the power of God’s anointing.

Those from Saul’s hometown couldn’t believe the change. They were incredulous and remarked to one another, “Who is this? Is Saul a prophet?” It was a takeover of the heavenly kind, producing the fruits and giftings of the Spirit of God. His new, unnatural abilities could only be explained by his encounter with God.

It is our privilege to walk out our calling. We are to be seen as weak, yet strong in Christ. Dull, yet brilliant in His wisdom. Unqualified, yet uniquely gifted in ways no one can explain. Anything done in the flesh will leave others quite bored. Our efforts will lack the power of that synergistic connection between God and His child.

Take me outside of what I can naturally accomplish so that Your signature is clearly legible. To You be all glory. Amen

Emotions and God

September 18, 2019


I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You. Job 42:5

The scriptures tell the stories of more than a few who saw the Lord. Each time there were strong emotional responses. People cried out, fell over as dead, declared themselves unclean, and were speechless when they beheld him. We’ve been fed some bad information about emotions not being important, about the preference of facts over feelings. It could really be a paradigm called, “Facts first; feelings immaterial.”

While I agree that feelings aren’t reliable rudders if they run in opposition to the truth of scripture, they are still important. Feelings, when aligned with truth, direct my life just fine. God feels things intensely and I am created in His image. He wants me to experience Him. Love is to be felt. Sin is to be grieved over. Forgiveness is to be exhilarating. Freedom is to be celebrated. Grace is to relax in. Faith is about fact and feeling. Stoicism and Christianity are mutually exclusive.

Tim Keller says that ‘Emotion isn’t just the caboose to our faith. Christianity needs to make emotional sense before it can make rational sense.’ To see Jesus in all of His glory evokes emotion first, belief next.’

Staircase praiseA testimony without fire should be suspect. While I understand some people are reserved and find it awkward to be outwardly expressive, I also contend that if any one of us was pulled from a house on fire, there would be visible emotional reactions like relief, gratitude, tears, or all of the above. How can one be monotone about having their life saved! This is one of the reasons I am to live a cross-centered live. It’s a reminder that I’ve been saved, someone died in my place and delivered me from eternal condemnation and alienation from God. I’ve been plucked from the fire and this changes the face of a stoic like me.

If my faith is dry, if I’m out of fuel, what can be done in addition to ‘reviewing and remembering’ my spiritual heroes? I do a self-review by looking back. What has God changed in me that has been most dramatic? About what am I relieved? About what am I most grateful? What has been the darkest area of my life that has seen God’s transforming power? How do I feel about my own sin and His mercy? These answers provide kindling as my emotions engage with the power of God working mightily in me. He is excited about how far I’ve come, He feels intensely about it, and wants to express that to me and through me.

Ever mention the word ‘Jesus’ to another believer and seen their face light up the room? That’s the kind of emotion I’m talking about. While I know there are desert seasons every now and then, the visible engagement of my heart should be what others see and experience.

You make me dance. Thank you. Amen

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.  Psalm 119:93

Which of two teachers would you prefer to learn from?  Let’s say that the topic to be taught is THE COMFORTING WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

The first teacher does a word study on ‘comfort.  He cross references well and takes you to many passages and stories where God creatively comforted His children.  It’s obvious he has a grasp of the topic and is out to impart information to those who listen.  He hopes you take good notes so that you can remember the material.

The second teacher speaks briefly about the text.  He, too, defines ‘comfort’ and references some related passages.  Then, thoughtfully, he begins to reminisce and speak of a time when he was in desperate need of comfort and companionship.  It was not to be found.  He was alone in a world of family and friends and wondered how he could make it one more day in his sense of isolation.  He pressed into God and experienced the comforting work of the Spirit firsthand.  As he told the story, you were unaware of time and the weight of his words fell on your heart.

The first teacher works hard at his faith but it’s mostly cerebral.  Like a graduating senior who tries to remember calculus formulas so he can ace his freshman math course in college, this bible scholar files away biblical facts.  He approaches the bible like a textbook to be mastered.  His knowledge of God is based mostly on what he has read, not on what he has experienced.

The second teacher is not so much aware that he is a student as much as he is a disciple of one he loves dearly.  Life’s experiences brought him to the end of himself and his great need of a Savior ushered him into a relationship with Jesus.  Anything he studies fills in more blanks about a person with whom he experiences a daily relationship.

How much easier to remember God’s precepts when they are woven into the cement of our experience.  When the Word has been life-saving, it is not soon forgotten.  I’ve heard it said that nothing we know, do we really know, until it has found its way into application.

Not much of what I know is valuable to me, Lord, unless I find it active in our relationship.  Help me teach others through the storylines of my life.  Amen

But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  Genesis 15:2

Abandoning prayer about anything is a mistake but abandoning prayer for what I’m most in need of is a grave error.  Prayerlessness is the result of unbelief.  I have concluded that God can’t, or won’t, do anything good for me.

God’s blessings come in the form of natural impossibilities.  When I hear the promise, I can laugh, because it is so far out of my reach.  God promises Abram an heir – and then descendants as numerous as the sands of the sea.  The thought of an heir was ludicrous enough.  His only heir was a slave of his household.  When God spoke, Abram and Sarah were too old to bear children.  Was God serious?  But Abram believed and his faith that God could do the impossible was credited to him as righteousness.

I’m amazed at most every prayer mapping retreat how people answer a question I love to ask during breaks.  “What are you going to prayer map when you leave here?”  Most give me an answer like this.  “What I really need from God is _____________, but I’ve prayed for so long and nothing has happened.  I’m going to create a prayer map for something less, something safer.”  I launch into a very animated response that encourages them to prayer map their deepest needs.

I should be asking myself, “Where have you lost faith in God?”  When captivity spans 15 years, when infertility enters the second decade of a marriage, when a wayward child hasn’t called home in many years, when depression has become a way of life, when financial struggle feels normal, when a family experiences a seemingly irreparable breech, these are the things that cause us to lose faith.  What we really need to prayer for, we don’t pray for.

I need to hear the voice of the God of Abraham.  He lives in Spirit form, right in my own heart.  He’s speaking constantly, wooing me to believe, wooing me to hope in Him again.  He is the One who does the impossible as He rewards the one who perseveres in prayer.

At this moment, the embers of faith are stirring in someone reading this.  Is it you?  Tears of relief are in your eyes as you realize that the deep discouragement that comes from resignation no longer needs to be your friend.  You can be fully alive to God, fully alive to faith, once again!  As you and I look at the sad themes of our lives, are we numbed out to the point of feeling nothing?  That is probably the very area where prayers of faith need to live.

I infuse my unbelief with your hope-giving Word.  Give me the grit to dig in and pray expectantly.  Amen