Sunday, December 9, 2018

"Heavenly-Minded" December 9 Readings: 1 Peter 1:1-2:10

Today's Reading - 1 Peter 1:1-2:10


Peter wrote to Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor who were suffering everything from simple social ostracism to overt persecution. He advised them to live out their new birth by walking in holiness and by enduring through sufferings.

Today's reading opens the book and sets those themes.

Devotional - Heavenly-Minded

"You are so heavenly-minded you are of no earthly good."

That was a favorite insult of a group in my college days, those who had abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ for what is often called the "social gospel." They believed that we were put here to make the world a better place, to be the best we can be, and felt that getting bogged down in thinking about heaven and hell, deep things of theology or our future hope would be a distraction from our responsibilities in the here and now.

Peter made it clear in 1 Peter 1:3-5 just how misguided that kind of thinking actually is. In fact, the opposite is true. Oh, certainly we are here to help people and to serve others in the name of Christ. Social justice is a noble thing if done out of a heart for Jesus and as an outgrowth of the work of the gospel. But our hope is never in this world nor do we live for it. Look at what Jesus' disciple said.
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
We have been born again to a new life based on an imperishable inheritance kept for us by God and ready to be revealed at the end of time. In other words, we are living for the glory that is to come. Why is that? Because if we are doing it right, life in this world is going to be hard! Verse 6 carries on from the previous verses:
"...though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials..." 
Trials are normal, natural - a part of every Christian's life. It's the life we can expect to lead. be Sometimes it will be small challenges and sometimes it will be huge sufferings, but either way we can expect our lives in this world of sin to be filled with challenges, heartaches, setbacks, opposition, and suffering. Like Jesus. Like Paul. Like Peter. Like just about every one of the key followers of Christ in the New Testament.

The idea that walking with Jesus and living for him brings health, wealth, ease, comfort, and constant "wonderfulness" in life is not gleaned from Scripture.

And that is why Peter tells his readers to do two things - consistently and repeatedly. First, he tells them to continue. As a marathon runner (former) I can tell you that the key to completing a marathon is this - when you feel like quitting, DON'T! Go another step and another. Run the race to the finish.

Peter has one more instruction. Walk in holiness. In times of suffering or in times of ease, this doesn't change. We have been saved for godly and holy lives. "Be holy, because I am holy." Jesus is our foundation, our cornerstone, and we must walk as he did - in purity, holiness, and daily obedience.

And contrary to what I was told back in college, it is when we are heavenly-minded that we can become of earthly good!
Father, I do not know what today will hold. I pray for a good day, but whatever challenges come, may your grace go before me. Help me to continue on without giving up - running the race you set before me to the finish. And may I walk in holiness and purity every day. 

Think and Pray

Do you expect everything to go well because you live for Jesus?
Are you depending on Christ and persevering through hard times, or do you tend to give up and quit when things get hard or there is opposition?
Are you consistently growing in holiness?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

"The Crowds Cheer" December 8 Readings: Hebrews 12-13

Today's Reading - Hebrews 12-13


Hebrews wraps up with some powerful metaphors - about the race, about discipline and being part of God's family, about the marriage bed.

Devotional - And the Crowds Cheer!

It is one of my favorite metaphors for the Christian life. Having been a marathon runner (slow and steady doesn't win the race, but it gets to the finish line!), I find the words of Hebrews 12:1-2 meaningful.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
In my first marathon (December 1981), I was quite sure I was going to die over the last 5 miles of the race. My feet hurt. My toenails had cut into my toes and they were bleeding. My arm muscles were cramping. I had run the middle miles of the race in close to an 8 minute per mile pace (mile 10 to 21) and then I hit the wall. Hard. Smack. I walked. I jogged. I cried out to God in pain. Then, as I neared Dallas' White Rock Lake, I began to hear the crowds that lined the finish. My pace picked up a little as I neared the end. I remember when I passed the 26-mile mark. That meant I had 385 yards left. Now, crowds lined the street we ran on and they were cheering. FOR ME! I did something I would have sworn I couldn't have done a few miles earlier. I sprinted (to be honest, it felt like a sprint - not sure what it looked like.) I crossed the line and collapsed. I must have looked as bad as I felt. Famed aerobics doctor Kenneth Cooper was at the finish line and he came up to me to check on me!

It was the cheering of the crowds that gave me the energy to go on when I thought I had to quit! These people helped me make it to the end. Hebrews 12:1 builds on chapter 11, the Hall of Faith, describing the heroes of the OT who walked by faith, not by sight. They are the cloud of witnesses who surround us and encourage us to continue our walk of faith and obedience with Jesus Christ. They are not just observers or cheerleaders, but much more. Their lives testify to us that the life of faith is worth it, that those who depend on God and obey, even in the worst of times will never be dismayed!
  • When I feel the weight of the guilt of my sins holding me back, when I wonder if my sins can ever really be washed away, I can listen to the witness of Abel who tells me, "The Father is pleased by a sacrifice of blood, especially that of the Son." 
  • When I don't understand God's ways or his commands, I can listen for the voice of Noah telling me to trust and obey, even if it takes a long time. 
  • When God's promises do not seem to be coming true, I hear the witness of Abraham who shouts for me to wait, to be patient, and that eventually God's promises will be fulfilled. 
  • When I fear for my family, I can hear the testimony of the Patriarchs who speak of the faithfulness of God from generation to generation. 
  • When you are faced with a task that is bigger than you, that is beyond your abilities, listen for Moses. God is bigger than your task. Obey God and he can empower you to face Pharaoah and deliver the people. Moses will remind you that we serve a Mighty God. Whatever the obstacles, whatever the challenges or disappointments or struggles of life, these witnesses remind us that the life of faith is a life of power, a life in which the glory of God is revealed. 
So I pick up the pace and press on. I don't give up and I run to the finish line. I lay aside those worldly weights that hinder me - passions, habits, anything that competes with Christ for my affections - and I run with perseverance the race he has set before me. I keep my eyes focused on  Christ, on the finish, looking forward to that day when I cross the finish line and see Jesus face to face. Yes, that will be glory beyond words.

Run to Jesus. The race is not easy. It can be painful as you pursue Christ in this world. But Jesus is worth it. Every morning when you get up, renew your commitment to Christ and your desire to serve him. Day by day, week by week, year by year, pursue Christ. Run with perseverance until the day the race is over and you hear the Savior say, "Well done."
Father, strengthen me to run the race today, to seek Jesus and to serve him with my whole being. I long for that day when faith becomes sight and I see Jesus face to face. 

Think and Pray

Are you running with perseverance?
Are you listening to the testimony of those who have gon on before to remind you that the life of faith works and that Jesus will never let you down?
Are your eyes fixed on Jesus? 

Friday, December 7, 2018

"If I Only Had Faith" December 7 Readings: Hebrews 11

Today's Reading - Hebrews 11


Faith. - we talk about it, but do we really understand it? Hebrews 11, the "Hall of Faith" explains what it is and what it looks like. 

Devotional - If I Only Had Faith

Imagine what you could do if you just had more faith!

That's what the spiritual shysters tell you. Work up a little more confidence, positive confession, words of affirmation, or however they define faith and you can have whatever you want. Faith, defined as they define it, is a guarantee of a positive outcome. You will get all you want, have your hopes and dreams fulfilled! All you have to do is have faith.

But those who think this haven't read Hebrews 11. Frankly, they haven't read the Bible, except for a few verses they have lifted out of context, but we will focus on Hebrews 11 for today. In yesterday's readings, we learned a little about the nature of faith. Faith, which verse 6 tells us is essential - without it we cannot please God, is living on the basis of what God has said, even when you cannot see it as true. Look at verse 1.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 
The "Hall of Faith" passage goes on to talk about man after man who did what God told him to even though the circumstances of the world made it look like God's word could not possibly be true. Abraham, Moses, and many more are commended for walking by faith and not by sight. Faith isn't about working up some kind of confidence or wishful thinking so that you can get what you want from God. It is about walking in obedience to God in spite of circumstances.

But wait, someone says. Verses 33-35 describe people of faith in glowing terms.
"...who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection."
Look at that! Faith enabled them to win great wars, conquer lions, escape the sword and fire, gain strength and become mighty. Women even received their loved ones back from the dead. That's what I'm talking about! That's faith. You believe well enough, hard enough, big enough, and you get what you want.

But we need to read on. Yes, sometimes obedience to God enables us to win great victories. Sometimes we stand at the top of the mountain in glory because of what God has done and it is our faith in God that has enabled us to get there. But verse 35 continues, and through verse 37 reveals a very different outcome of faith.
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated...
No great victories for these folks. These were the ones who knelt on the beach, refusing to renounce their faith while they were beheaded! The "sawn in two" refers to a tradition about Isaiah and how he died, but it speaks of a myriad of faithful men who died rather than compromise their faith. These men wore animal skins, were destitute and mistreated.

Evidently, they didn't understand how positive confession works?

That's the point here. Both groups were people of faith. By faith, some won victories. By faith, others died as martyrs. By faith, some succeeded. By faith, others failed! By faith some got rich; by faith, others lived in poverty. Faith is not about guaranteeing an outcome, but about believing God and walking in obedience to him, no matter what comes.

May we be men and women of faith - whether we succeed by faith or suffer in faith. May we trust God and walk in him!

Father, I want to be a man of faith, trusting you and walking in you, no matter what. If I succeed, I trust. If I fail, I trust. 

Think and Pray

Do you walk I faith, believing in and obeying God?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"To Boldly Go" December 6 Readings: Hebrews 9-10

Today's Reading -  Hebrews 9-10


There is no doctrine more precious or abused than that of the love of God. It is glorious beyond words that God loves me and has acted by his grace to save me. Praise God! But the doctrine is twisted and perverted as well into the idea that God has no standards, that he doesn't care about our sin. God's love does not abrogate his holy standards. In fact, God's love properly understood exalts both God's love and his holiness.

There are two facts we must never forget. First of all, someone has to pay for our sins. God will not, by his holy nature he cannot simply look the other way and ignore our sins. His righteousness cries out against sin and demands payment, demands atonement. "The wages of sin is death," Paul said in Romans. Here, the author of Hebrews makes a bold assertion.
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22
Because of sin, blood had to be shed. The Old Testament sacrificial system required that offerings be made. It is not that God is cruel, but that sin is such an offense, such a violation of God's creation, of God's holy character, that a sacrifice must be made. But the Old Testament sacrifices never completely conquered sin. They had to be offered repeatedly and did not eternally cover sin.

But Jesus offered "better sacrifices than these" which permanently and eternally paid for our sins. That is the second fact, "Jesus paid it all." His one sacrifice did what all the Levitical sacrifices in Israelite history could not do, he completely atoned for all our sins.

That is how the love of God is demonstrated. God doesn't just ignore our sin - because of his holiness, he cannot do that. But he loved us so much he sacrificed his Son to pay for our sins. No greater love has ever been seen in this world.

Yesterday we read about Jesus as a better priest but today we see that he offers a better sacrifice - one that can actually satisfy God's wrath and pay once and for all for the sins of the world. This passage is powerful, deep, and glorious.

Devotional - Boldly to God

 It was hard to get to God in the Old Testament era. One had to travel to Jerusalem (or wherever the tabernacle was in the pre-temple days) and secure a sacrifice. That sacrifice was taken by the priests and put on the altar. But to enter the Holy of Holies - that was even more difficult. No one could go there, where the presence of God dwelt; no one except the high priest and then only once a year. On that day he would enter the holiest place on earth to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat and make intercession for the sins of all Israel.

But that all changed one day on a hill just outside the gates of Jerusalem, where a man hung on a cross. He was not just a high priest, but a Great High Priest. Having shed his blood, he ascended and went through the heavenly curtain to make final intercession for us, purchasing our redemption and atoning for our sins.

But he did something else that day. He opened a new path to heaven, to the presence of God.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22.
Now, because of Christ, it is no longer difficult to enter the presence of God. We can walk through the curtain boldly in the name of Christ into the heavenly Holy of Holies. We have a new and living way to God. 

And we are enjoined, in verse 22, to take advantage of this, to draw near to God in faith, knowing that it is opened to those who are in Christ. The redeemed must choose daily to take advantage of this blessing God has granted us, and walk boldly through the curtain, drawing near to him. 
Father, what a shame that your Son opened this new and living way into your presence and yet so often I fail to seek you with full assurance. Today, I draw near to you because of Christ. 

Think and Pray

Do you regularly approach the throne that Jesus died and rose to give you access to? Are you making use of the blessings that are yours in Christ?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"A Better Covenant" December 5 Readings: Hebrews 7-8

Today's Reading - Hebrews 7-8


Melchizedek. There's a figure shrouded in a bit of mystery. There has been plenty of speculation as to his real identity, but we are going to leave this devotional as much in the dark as we entered. The name, which means "my king is righteousness," is applied to a man who seems to come out of nowhere and then disappear. Abraham offers a tithe to him.

Most believe that Melchizedek is simply a figure we know little about, and that when this passage says that he is without father or mother or genealogy that it is not saying that his origins and destiny were supernatural, but simply that we know little about hm. On the other hand, some have seen him as a Christophany - an OT appearance of Jesus. This is unlikely for several reasons, but mostly because Jesus is not identified as him but is asserted as superior to him.

That is the gist of these two chapters. The identity of this mysterious priest is secondary to the real truth - that Jesus is better and that his priesthood is better and his covenant is better. He mediated a better covenant.

Devotional - Jesus Is Better!

I guess you know this means war!

That's what Bugs Bunny said to those who aggravated him, and that is essentially what the writer of Hebrews was declaring in Hebrews 7:22 when he poured gasoline on the biggest conflict the early church had to deal with. Jewish believers believed that their ways were superior to those of the Gentiles and many held on to the old rituals and the Law. Paul confronted them and now the writer of Hebrews does.
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 
To Jewish ears, those words were radioactive. The heroes of their faith were the men of the OT and Jesus was to fit in with them. To say that he was superior, that his covenant was better - well, that was an insult. But that is exactly what was said.

Jesus did not come to fit into our world. He is not interested in being part of our lives and helping us to be happier and more successful in what we are doing. He comes in to take over and to completely nullify what we were and what we're doing before we knew him. Those things that mattered, those things we loved, those things that were our all in all - they suddenly fade in the light of Jesus Christ. This was hard for a loyal Jew to hear.

Jesus demands that he be our highest loyalty and our chief passion. There is a reason for that - he's better than anything that this world offers. He is greater and he deserves our worship. Is better and it is a blessing to serve him. His.redemptiion is unlike anything another else can offer. His blessings are beyond compare. He greatness no one can fathom.

Jesus is better.

Father, in this wicked world, help me to remember that there is no one like your Son. He is better than anyone else. His glory is beyond compare and it is our eternal joy to know him. 

Think and Pray

Are you living in the light of this truth, that Jesus is better than anything the world can offer?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

"Grow UP!" December 4 Readings: Hebrews 5-6

Today's Reading - Hebrews 5-6



Think and Pray

Today's passage gives us insights into three of the key themes in the book of Hebrews.

1. It is a Jewish book - rooted in the OT sacrifices and priesthood and rituals and the fact that they could not finally and eternally deal with sin.
2. The admonitions not to turn back from the teaching of grace to the works of the Law. These admonitions are key to the structure of the book. The end of chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6 is one such admonition.
3. The importance of going on to maturity in Christ.

A note here is appropriate about the controversial passage in Hebrew 6:4-6. There have been 3 primary explanations of this passage.

  • It teaches that one can lose salvation. 
  • It speaks of those who "taste" but do not fully ingest salvation - they come close but do not actually fully come to Christ. 
  • It speaks of those who truly know Christ but turn back to the teachings of the Jewish Law and backslide into sin. 

It does not seem to be speaking of salvation, due to context. If it does, the person who loses salvation can never regain it. The experience described seems to be more than a simple "taste-test." The best explanation is that this is another in the series of warnings against leaving behind the grace of God and returning to the empty and fruitless works of the Jewish Law. 

Devotional - Grow UP!

 My grandson Ellis, defies the limits of cuteness, but is also giving new definition to the term "terrible twos." He is testing his limits, demanding his way, throwing tantrums, losing his temper, and in every way behaving like a toddler. We call him Hurricane Ellis - he leaves a swath of destruction behind him everywhere he goes. He can be loving and kind one minute and a terror the next. 

But it won't be so cute in 15 years if he behaves the same way. What is cute in a toddler is annoying in a child and intolerable in a teenager. Ellis is normal - that is how two-year-olds behave. But if he is still behaving the same way when he is 18, there won't be anything cute about it. He will have long begun to hear those fateful words - GROW UP!

That is what the author of Hebrews was saying to his readers in Hebrews 5:12.
Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. 
What was the problem? They should have been mature, leading others in the ways of Christ, and training them to follow him, but they were not. They were still having to learn the basic lessons of life. They have remained on a diet of milk instead of going on to eating the solid food they need to grow. 

We sometimes wonder why the church is in the kind of mess that it is in today. The problem is what the author diagnosed here in this passage. American Christians live on a baby's diet, refusing to dig into the meat of the Word and staying with the pablum, or worse, living on a diet of junk food - but that's another devotional altogether. Too often we find believers who have been saved for 20 or 30 years still behaving like they are in their terrible twos.

There is a simple solution to this problem. We need to grow up, to mature in Christ, to grow in him. We need to deal with the sicknesses that prevent spiritual growth, by repenting of our sin and seeking God. We must get a consistent diet of high-nutrition solid spiritual food, by reading studying and obeying God's Word. As we turn from our growth-stunting sins and feast upon God's Word, we will grow and leave behind childish behavior. 

Father, build your character into me. May I grow strong in you through your Word. 
Think and Pray

Are you growing and maturing in Christ?
Think back to what you were a year ago, two years ago? What has changed in you that is evidence of the maturing work of Christ? 

Monday, December 3, 2018

"Our True Sabbath Rest" December 3 Readings: Hebrews 3-4

Today's Reading - Hebrews 3-4


I remember a deacon ordination council we held many years ago. The candidate met every qualification and answered every question. As we were closing the discussion, we asked if there was anything else we needed to go over. He got a very serious look on his face and said, "Yes, there's something I need to share with you." I was taken aback, wondering what deep, dark secret he was going to share. He proceeded to tell us that sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon, he would go out and work in his garden.

I laughed in relief and I think I offended him a little. I come from a background where "keeping the Sabbath" was not a big deal and he came from a church where an admission like his would have ended his candidacy. The fact is that what it means to keep the Sabbath holy is a big issue for modern Christians, one that is answered differently by different people.

The author of Hebrews gives the definitive answer in this passage and though it is a complex answer, it is a powerful one. Our rest is not primarily a one-day-a-week thing, but a rest that we are blessed with every day as we rest from our works and trust in Christ's grace. 

Devotional - Our True Sabbath Rest

Most of us live lives of stress and of tumult. Even when we lay our heads down on the pillow at night, our brains continue to race - thinking about money or relationships or job stress or life circumstances or whatever else life has thrown at us. Rest comes hard. Relaxation isn't always easy.

But in Hebrews 4 we find out about a different kind of rest, the kind that God gives to those who repent of their sins and believe in his Son. Verse 1 makes an assertion and gives a warning.
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 
God promises us that there is rest - his rest, perfect rest. But he is talking about far more than just a good night's sleep, more than relaxation or unwinding from the stresses of life. God's rest is a life of complete trust in God, a life lived by faith instead of the stress and strain of good works. We cease to depend on ourselves to achieve righteousness and to please God and trust in the finished work of Christ - that true rest.  

This is our true Sabbath rest as believers, a rest from our own works. As God rested from his works, we are to rest from ours. Consider verses 9 and 10. 
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
We are not talking about taking a break from holiness, but living the life that God wants by faith, not by our own effort. It is about total dependence on God and not on a set of rules or on my own efforts. I am redeemed because of what Christ did - I simply trusted my life to him. And I am made holy by the work of Christ as well, trusting fully in his presence and power, his Spirit and his finished work. 

But there is a warning attached to verse 1. This perfect rest that God has provided for us, this Christ-purchased and Christ-provided rest is not automatic. Many of God's people miss it. Instead of living in dependence on the Christ who gave all for them, they stress and strain to make it on their own, depending on themselves and their own resources instead of on God. And it is such a waste. Verse 11 sums it up. 
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
Now that's a strange statement, isn't it? "Strive to enter that rest." Work hard to rest? But that odd wording demonstrates an important point. We must daily put our faith in God, renounce dependence on our own works and our own abilities and rest fully in him. Every single day. It is a constant battle, one that is accomplished by dependence on God, but it is a battle nonetheless.

May we battle every day, working hard to rest in Christ. Coming to understand that conundrum may not be easy, but it is one of the secrets of understanding Christian living. 
Father, I rest in you and trust in you. When I've trusted in myself, I have lived in fear and stress, and I have failed. But when I walk in faith, you are faithful. Thank you for your wonderful rest. 

Think and Pray

Are you resting and trusting in Christ every day, or are your struggling, stressing, and straining in your own strength and abilities? Thank God today that it is in Christ that we rest!