Firm and Faithful

Image: Richard C. Reynolds, 2014

There are two marble statues of lions at the main entrance to St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States. They were aptly named “firm” and “faithful.” I’ve always admired them as works of art on my many trips there, but only recently learned their names. I’ve always strived to be found faithful, walking in the shoes of my dad, who was just that, but adding “firm” was an even better description of his demeanor. Nicknamed the “hard rock,” for his stubbornness, he had the reputation of sticking to his guns, yet all along remaining abidingly faithful. These are rare traits these days.

As soon as I learned of these names I was exhorted to become both, to be described in the end as both firm and faithful. I had the model of my dad, but more importantly that of Jesus Christ, who did not flinch when offering up his life for mine. It should be a terrifying thing to have squandered our brief time on earth equivocating, capitulating, and waffling, especially as it relates to gospel truth and leading an exemplary life.

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. Hebrews 10:39

(Inspired by Hebrews 10:26-39)

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Real Christianity–Hebrews 10:22-25

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.

Hebrews 10:22

Our first step towards practicing real Christianity is to assess whether we’re drawing near or drifting away from God. It’s not too hard to determine if His spirit resides within us. That still, small voice will let you know. If you own up to what He tells you you’re on your way. It’s important to know that you won’t have full assurance of faith in your life grappling with the doubt created by active sin. You essentially need to reset to the beginning, to the cross on which Jesus shed his blood. You’ll need just a “sprinkle” of it though to clear your conscience and regain a sense of purification. It’s very much like taking a bath. Now you’re capable of drawing near.

This process is ongoing but should be less and less dramatic as time goes on. A spaceship needs only to fire one small engine to yaw right. Real Christianity requires continual adjustment to the route set out for us by Jesus. We retrace our steps to where we veered off and begin again. By nature, I hate to have to backtrack in anything. Likewise, there should be a growing distaste for anything but progress in your Christian life. Regarding full assurance, the quickest way to affirm your faith is to take an obedient step. Only a believer obeys Christ. It’s that simple. Constant obedience yields fully assured faith. You can’t be any closer to God than when you obey his Word in anything!

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23

Once you understand the process you’ll tend to want to stick with what works. The loop will be constantly rolling in your mind, “I’ve confessed Christ.” You’ll reach the point where you draw far greater joy from obedience than from freelancing on your own power. It never ends well when you go your own way. Our lifeline is our confession and to this we must cling to for dear life. But there’s another hand on deck that helps us do this and that’s his right hand, the same one that reached down and pulled up a sinking Peter (Matthew 14:31). Here’s more on that right hand.

35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation,
And Your right hand upholds me;
And Your gentleness makes me great.
36 You enlarge my steps under me,
And my feet have not slipped.

Psalm 18:35–36

Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

A drawn near, fully confessed soul possesses a full measure of hope. With every step of obedience your foothold grows firmer, and with this strength comes even more hope, “that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13)

I’ve always loved being in shape. The muscles are taunt. The heart is strong. The lungs can be taxed at a moment’s notice. Real Christianity requires endurance built on faith made stronger each day by minute to minute Spirit appropriation and exercise. A strong Christian asks for the Lord’s helping hand in everything, because when we are weak, He is strong! (2 Corinthians 12:10)

24 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 10:24–25

A drawn near, fully confessed believer is ready to spur and stir other Christians to take the same steps. This can’t be done in a spiritual bubble. Christians need to rub shoulders. That the writer warns against forsaking the assembly, it must have been a problem from the outset. We’ve all learned recently that you can very easily come to the conclusion “who needs church?” I’ve got multiple choices online. I’m good. We’ll, you’re not. That’s not how it’s done. Again, let Jesus help you muster the courage to step out of your comfort zone. If a body of believers is drawn near and fully confessed, can you expect anything less than open arms? Find one!

I think of a bride and her hovering bridesmaids. The same doting and interaction should occur amongst believers. I think of a coach’s pregame speech and the revving up of a team before hitting the field. You’re missing out on any number of folks itching to pat you on the back and send you out there to win it all. As they say, iron sharpens iron.

Here’s the context. Is there any doubt that we are living in the last days? All the more reason to huddle up and get coached up. We all face the same cruel world and we need each other!

Get real!

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The Power of an Indestructible Life

15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.

Hebrews 7:15–16 (ESV)

Sometimes you fall upon a sentence fragment that speaks volumes, that’s a sermon in and of itself, both an appropriate title and text. Here in the midst of a lengthy comparison between priestly order and powerful king, between Levi and the ancient Melchizedek, to whom the patriarch Abraham paid tribute, is the phrase “according to the power of an indestructible life.”

Who wouldn’t covet an indestructible life these days, yet it’s available in Jesus, who offers a better hope that allows us to draw near to God (v. 19) and a guaranteed better covenant (v. 22).

26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

Hebrews 7:26–28

We have a perfect, permanent, and perpetual solution to our sin and death problem; Jesus.

He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 7:25

This passage, while somewhat abstract to us in this age, teaches us that Abraham, who was worthy of a tithe from Melchizedek, he being the patriarch of the Hebrews, chose to worship, if you will, a type of Jesus, teaching us the inferiority of the law, and the power of an indestructible life.

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Consider Jesus

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.

Hebrews 3:1

Even to a believer the story of Jesus can seem far fetched. Born of a virgin, rose to prominence from a tiny town called Nazareth, performed multiple science-defying miracles, was coronated by the people with palm branches but a few days later rejected, tortured by the Romans, hung on a cross to die, which he did and was buried. Then it is said he rose from the dead after three days, was seen by hundreds, and ascended into heaven. Incredibly, his followers remain today, of which I am one, believing he will return someday, hopefully soon, to rule. This is a lot to buy into, but I have.

I believe this because of the Bible, His Word.

1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways.

Hebrews 1:1

In its pages, He has spoken to me, just as He did the fathers and the prophets. He “has spoken to us in His Son.”

While I must take the story of Jesus on faith, what I see in Creation gives concrete observable testimony to a God quite capable of placing a man–His Son–on earth to draw us to Him.

2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Hebrews 1:2

For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.

Hebrews 3:2

I believe this because the builder is counted worthy by what he has made, His Creation.

But even without an amazing prophetic book in my hand and a created world I can see with my own eyes, I believe because there is irrefutable evidence in my own life of God’s hand, and that is His Spirit.

My firewall is a spiritual presence I cannot understand but can tangibly know is there without question. I’m like the blind man healed by Jesus who testified to scoffing rulers and naysayers that all he knew was he was once blind and now he could see, and “that man” Jesus did it. John 9:25

Consider Jesus!

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Fear No Evil

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Hebrews 2:14–15

Society today is held captive by the fear of death. Understandably so, when one is constantly bombarded with scenes of doctors and nurses fully outfitted in protective gear caring for patients at death’s door struggling to breathe.

But it does not take a pandemic to create this fear. We are born with it, and remain in its terrifying grip without some kind of intervention. The concoctions of man are touted as a panacea but fall short in effectiveness. Way short.

We don’t need statistics to know that all remedies fail to offer full assurance against death. Except.

A fraction of humankind has received a fully effective inoculation against death, proven without peer review by one man, who stepped out of heaven to take on human flesh that he might experience death in our place once and for all. Trial size one.

Those who have freely received His medicine will escape the nagging paralyzing fear of death. They will indeed walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. (Psalm 23)

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We Are All in This Together

God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

Hebrews 2:4 (NAS)

In this age it would appear that all the dramatic works of God, the signs and wonders, the various miracles, have ceased. He would probably argue that point with a timely bolt of lightning. But they have for now if you are looking for the parting of a sea or the dramatic raising of someone certifiably dead.

What goes on now is far more subtle but equally as effective. He now chooses to use us in specific situations, armed with the same power, to do his bidding. He has decentralized his miracle working to us for maximum effect. What is done is just as dramatic and authentic because we are unassuming imperfect souls. Yielded to his spirit, though, we speak his words, extend his hand, and stand his ground.

The world is being swayed and saved by our exercise of our particular giftedness in the same way it did when Jesus said go and sin no more, take up your bed and walk, or my Heavenly Father loves you and I love you.

We are all in this together.

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100% Efficacy

1God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,
2in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
3And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
4having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

Hebrews 1:1-4

I get paid to assess risk. It’s a process of weighing all the data. It goes further than that though. In lending money, it was always the character of the borrower that had to be ferreted out with no available empirical evidence. It was more than he seems like a nice guy. You had to rely on a sixth sense to determine the probability that the borrower in trouble would not break badly.

If one applies the same process to some of the choices we are being forced to make these days, the sixth sense tells us that things will break badly. You end up with no perfect choice, with decisions fraught with danger whichever way you go and almost intolerable uncertainty. You end up going with your gut anyway on the premise of who can you trust?

What is risk free in the final assessment amid all the chaos and swirling lies and deceptions of this world is the Son of God. He was there in the beginning. He intervened and personally extracted the risk of dying for all time and sat down at the right hand of the Father. His character was impeccable as told by the prophets of old, then tested without margin for error on the cross. There is no denying the efficacy of his one-shot remedy. No relapses. No variants that can break through. No side effects other than everlasting peace and joy.

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Change the Narrative

She heeded no voice,
She accepted no instruction.
She did not trust in the Lord,
She did not draw near to her God.

Zephaniah 3:2

This description of Jerusalem reads like an epitaph, who the prophet went on to call rebellious, defiled, and tyrannical.

On a personal level these are fair questions to ask myself. Am I heeding and accepting the Lord’s instructions? Am I trusting in him? Am I drawing near to him?

Earlier the prophet says…

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth
Who have carried out His ordinances;
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
Perhaps you will be hidden
In the day of the Lord’s anger.

Zephaniah 2:3

How much better to be described as one who sought the Lord and carried out his ordinances, who sought righteousness, and was humble. In that day he or she was hidden from his anger.

It’s not too late to change the narrative.

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Changing Things Up

12“It will come about at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
And I will punish the men
Who are stagnant in spirit,
Who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good or evil!’

Zephaniah 1:12

Have you grown spiritually complacent and apathetic? If you need to conjure up an answer to this question, or you find yourself rationalizing, the answer probably is yes.

Most everything we do must be changed up from time to time. Our spiritual walk is no exception. We need to be constantly renewing.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Winemaking in ancient times required periodic transfer of the wine to new vessels, to keep it from picking up the unsavory taste of the sediments at the bottom, or technically, to avoid “thickening on the lees.”

“Moab has been at ease since his youth; He has also been undisturbed, like wine on its dregs, and he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile. Therefore he retains his flavor, and his aroma has not changed.

Jeremiah 48:12

This process gives some meaning to how we must separate ourselves from evil and what is required to become and stay pure.

When we allow the dregs of sin to remain in our lives we foster corruption by default. It’s time to change things up.

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Caught in the Crossfire

12 But You, O Lord, abide forever,
And Your name to all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion;
For it is time to be gracious to her,
For the appointed time has come.
14 Surely Your servants find pleasure in her stones
And feel pity for her dust.
15 So the nations will fear the name of the Lord
And all the kings of the earth Your glory.

Psalm 102:12–15

Certainly Psalm 102 does not concern America, but Zion and its inhabitants, particularly a lonely tormented soul caught in the crossfire. This poetic self portrait of the writer is so illustrative it requires no comment, and is an accurate portrayal of my feelings at the moment.

6 I resemble a pelican of the wilderness;
I have become like an owl of the waste places.
7 I lie awake,
I have become like a lonely bird on a housetop.

Psalm 102:6–7

In it is also his lament at the hands of those inflicting extreme pain on him and for the apparent disinterest of Almighty God. In it (Psalm 102) is his honest assessment of the situation, a desperate plea for help, and a hopeful recital of God’s attributes and capabilities.

All this said to secondarily apply the Psalm to the present chaotic and corrosive condition in my country. I sincerely hope that a remnant of our citizens remains who still “find pleasure in her stones and feel pity for her dust.”

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