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Exceedingly Abundantly–Hebrews 11 in a Nutshell

February 1, 2016

“…but faith is not blind, it’s about taking calculated risks based on the already fulfilled promises of God.”

precipiceGod may call on you to believe that he is, like Enoch, that he will do what he said he’d do, like with “good-as-dead” Abraham, that he can do what he said he’d do, like with laughing Sarah.

He may call on you to do better, like Able with his sacrifice. He may call on you to build something that will provide security for the future, that may take a lot of time and effort to accomplish, that may cause you to be persecuted, like Noah.

He may call on you to give up something cherished like Abraham with Isaac, or to go somewhere uncharted, like Abraham’s “promised land.” He may call on you to refuse or reject something that has held you back, like Moses did Egypt, or to do something seemingly impossible, like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, or incredibly risky, like Rahab did protecting the spies.

In all of this, prior to his provision, he is certain to be pleased as you worship him and expect him to act, like Jacob and Joseph. Doing all these things gains his approval.

For he calls on us to consider, to count, to choose, to continue on despite the costs, in faith, by faith, with faith, and through faith.

But faith is not blind, it’s about taking calculated risks based on the already fulfilled promises of God. And his ways are not mysterious. He’s shown his hand time and time again!

Expect–hold in your hand like a title deed–“exceedingly abundantly” above all that can be asked or thought, according to the power that works within us! Ephesians 3:20

Dream House

January 25, 2016

“…for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10

new_jerusalemThis is what God’s will looks like. He’s designed it and built it, and you can be safe and secure in it. You should always seek it, and you do this by faith. It is sought on the basis of a promise; that it can and will be found. Not having found it yet does not mean that we are not now safe and secure, or on solid ground. But only at long last when we enter the “pearly gates” will we truly find it.

Bad Apples

January 14, 2016

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.”
31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26-31

ApplesIt doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring up the seriousness of running afoul of God’s way unless there’s a real problem with apostasy in the church. Hebrews, I believe, from the oft-used term “brethren,” was written primarily to Hebrew Christians. Yet the writer’s just as adamant, it seems, to deal with bad apples as he is to encourage the fainthearted.

I can’t even imagine committing the three acts described in verse 29. These words are not hyperbole. The problem is not backsliding. They describe an outright disregard for the spilled blood of God’s son, a stiff arm placed squarely in the chest of the Savior, and a deaf ear turned to the conviction of his Spirit. This is not asking God “why” as Job did in times of intense testing, or stepping outside the lines as we all frequently do, but exclaiming contemptuously “no way” to the extension of the Messiah’s gracious right hand.

The writer of this book possesses the “x-ray” vision needed to see that there are some, even just one, in any audience, treading on very thin ice. We can’t know the state of one’s heart, but God does. Every assembly has a few souls not there yet, or who are already returning to old ways, having clearly heard and vividly seen the truth. That’s why these verses are sandwiched between slices of strong exhortation and encouragement. There’s a method to the “madness.”

But what does this message practically mean to you and me? Here’s my take. If I’m “humiliated” by verses 19-25, and “cut to the quick” by verses 32-39, and I’m distressed when I read verses 26-31, and I’m only consoled that, but for God’s grace and mercy, I’d be facing a terrifying end, I’m exactly where I need to be.

Backstage Pass

January 6, 2016

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25

PassUnlike the old way with its system of symbols and sacrifices, presided over by fallible men, all designed to point to the person of Christ and his work, now we can boldly approach the throne of God ourselves, with free access by way of our faith in Christ’s shed blood and his torn body. If you are searching for an appropriate few verses to recite prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper, you have them here.

For us Gentiles, who came to the party late, we cannot really appreciate what it means to now be served by one “great” priest, or to have personal access to the throne. This is a very big deal for a Hebrew, once subject to all the demands of the law. Now one can be bold in his approach to the throne, provided his conscience is clear. This is not attained by ceremonial washings, but by simple acknowledgment and confession of sin and the need of a savior. If evil is not dealt with, a face-to-face will not go well. We do this incredible thing–accessing the throne of God–all on our own, clinging only to our faith in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. This faith gives us “full assurance.”

What can be missed here is that even with this “all access” pass, we tend not to make the effort. That’s why the writer goads us to “draw near.” Imagine having a backstage pass and staying in the back row! This is possible and it need not be. We need to exercise our privilege constantly, and this is done through always praying and always praising. Here is the essence of worship; our “confession,” that is our acknowledgment of all that is true about our God and what he has done for us. The more trips to the gym the stronger we get. The more face time we spend in the throne room, the stronger our faith!

We also acquire the power to hope in God without wavering, the freedom to contemplate and respond to the plight of others in love, and a new-found desire to hang out with the like-minded, especially in an increasingly antagonistic world.

Holding Fast to the End

December 25, 2015

12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,
15 while it is said,
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.”
Hebrews 3:12-15

58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:58-60

imagesI can’t help but think of Stephen in his standoff with his accusers when I read Hebrews 3:12-15. When I think of holding “fast the beginning of our assurance until the end,” the illustration on the page is him, gazing upwards as the stones flew. While his captors gnashed their teeth, he had the countenance of an angel. While they breathed lies, he spoke the truth with clarity. While they rushed to judgment, he compassionately pleaded for God to be merciful. Stephen’s heart from the very beginning of his spiritual life had been full of the Spirit, power and grace. The much he apparently knew about God before salvation was united in faith at it, and then magnificently manifested in service.

His enemies were the ones talked about here, those with hardened hearts, deceived by sin, provoking and attacking God and his messengers at every turn. These same men killed Jesus, “the exact representation” of God (Heb. 1:3), the one whose spirit now radiated through Stephen like the sun. This tragic repeat of history unfolding with the killing of yet another “prophet” was mightily used to spread the Gospel beyond Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and to provide us a model of a true believer.

What we’re up against may not rear its ugly head in the outward persecution of the saints as Paul viciously did, at whose feet were Stephen’s clothes, but a hardened heart will nonetheless invoke condemnation. But as Paul later wrote, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). The blinding light that so radiated from the convictions and courage of Stephen, holding firm until the end, shone on him soon (Acts 9:3), and we know the rest of the story. So important it is to stand firm through thick and thin! You never know who’s watching!

There is much intellectual debate among evangelicals on how high the bar is to be saved. Is he or isn’t he? Well, Stephen’s example gives us a good composite sketch of who is. When you see a man or woman exhibiting courage under fire, showing convictions when challenged, extending compassion when moved, giving a clear reason for the hope that lies within them, i.e. Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15), and an inexplicable countenance while doing so, they probably are!

Yet it Was I!

December 12, 2015

“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
Though his height was like the height of cedars
And he was strong as the oaks;
I even destroyed his fruit above and his root below.” Amos 2:9

downloadWe tend to go through life thinking we’ve done this and that, smugly polishing our fingernails with self-satisfaction. We often credit our keen intellect, wise planning or determination for accomplishments. Rarely do we even think that we were simply lucky! No, just better than everyone else! But this is the point of Amos 2:9. Israel took credit when it was all due God. The key words, “Yet it was I.” He says to us, I’m the one who knocked down the barriers, who kept you safe, gave you direction, and got you that position. Yet you take the credit. What’s keeping the Lord from reversing all our fortunes? A good old-fashioned repent is in order!

Standing at the Door

November 27, 2015

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
15 ‘ I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ” I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 3:14-22

Knock

For many years I was taught this passage had to do with wayward Christians out of fellowship with the Lord. It seemed that it was with a little glee that the teacher would set the great unwashed straight, including all those unwitting revivalists. So I filed this fact away and cut the Laodiceans some slack.

But after carefully reading these verses over and over recently, and doing some investigation, i.e. Bible study, it’s hard to see the Laodiceans as backslidden—just lost.

First, there’s nothing positive in this letter to the church. This is not a good sign.

Then the Laodiceans are described as “lukewarm.” Not cold, not hot. And it’s hard to look beyond the fact that, as a result, the Lord will spew them out of his mouth. This can’t be a good thing!

While these people were self-satisfied, the Lord described them as wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. The last thing they needed, in their minds, was a Savior.

What they really needed was to be refined by fire, clothed in white, and healed of their blindness. What strikes me is that in their state, they were not clothed in the outfit absolutely necessary to join the throng who returns with Christ victorious. In other words, they weren’t saved.

Verse 19 presents the biggest problem for me. It doesn’t seem to fit the evangelistic line of reasoning. He’s saying he loves them. Would he say that to those who weren’t his? Well, yes. John 3:16. To solve their problem, the Laodiceans had to be zealous—hot—and repent.

If this was the church at Ephesus, the “out-of-fellowship” idea would work here, but there was not just “one thing” against this church. Revelation 2:4-5

So, I can’t see someone who hasn’t opened the door to him sitting down with him at his table, much less sitting down with him on his throne. You reserve your seat around the table and on the throne by overcoming, as the Lord did.

The “knock” in this passage is rapping, i.e. striking with the knuckles, and more than that, he’s calls out at the door at the same time. He’s made a house call and it’s up to who’s inside to open the door. So much for irresistible grace!

The Lord loves us enough to seek out—track down—those who are lost. He’s not lukewarm about saving the lost! But this passage does not teach he will open the door for us. Sobering.

So it’s not difficult to see this passage as compellingly evangelistic to the Laodicean church, to its members, to me, and to you!

One last thing. Why would it be so easy to be “saved,” yet so hard to remain in fellowship with him? I happen to believe the Holy Spirit doesn’t let it get this far in a true believer.