Prodigal me…

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Hebrews 6:1 Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God…4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened…6 and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.

It’s hard not to read this passage as bad news, especially v. 6 which says those who have “fallen away” cannot be restored to “repentance”. I looked up the Greek word translated as “falling away”. It’s most often used to describe one who is literally falling down, as in falling to the ground to worship, to pray, to beg, or in fear. Here it means something different. It’s more like someone who falls away from the faith completely.

I’m not sure how someone does this, but it must be pretty drastic because Jesus himself tells the story of the prodigal son – a young man who rejects his father and leaves home to live a life of debauchery. Yet eventually he comes to his senses and returns home – expecting to be rejected by his father. But that’s not what happens. His father receives him with open arms.

So the writer of Hebrews paints one story of the nature of God and Jesus paints another. I think I’m going with Jesus on this one.

Heavenly Father give us grace to never fall away from you. But if we do, let your grace and mercy overcome our sin and brokenness. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

You need milk, not solid food…

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Hebrews 5:11 About this (Jesus as high priest) we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. 

The writer here takes the readers to task. He has some important things to teach but doesn’t believe the readers can handle it. Apparently they had not been growing in understand and practice of the faith at a pace he finds acceptable. “You need milk, not solid food”. In other words, he’s calling them spiritual babies.

As you might expect of a pastor, I’ve invested many years growing in my understanding and practice of the faith. Yet there are times when I feel like a baby Christian. I can be slow to forgive when I feel wronged. Since I’m not a particularly disciplined person by nature, I can let spiritual disciplines slip. An area that comes to mind is the Sabbath.

I’ve been intentionally leaning into taking a day of Sabbath every week. And though it sounds simple, it’s really hard. The day ends up more like a day off than a day dedicated to the Lord. In this area it seems like I’m drinking milk rather than eating solid food.

Lord Jesus, my spiritual growth seems stunted sometimes. I’m not where I feel I should be. Give me grace to overcome the obstacles that get in my way, mostly of my own making. Amen.

Riding out the storm…

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Psalm 107:23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; 24 they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. 25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. 26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; 27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; 29 he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

A storm is a great metaphor for life isn’t it? We think we have things under control, but then… we don’t. “They reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end.” Being at “wits’ end” is our state when we’ve tried everything to get out of danger, but nothing works.

Here’s a quote from the New Bible Commentary “Every storm is a summons to trust, for it is not a chance happening or a satanic ploy: it is (God’s) storm and in due course the same hand that roused the storm will still it. Every storm is a call to prayer which will avail even against the mightiest opposing forces.”

If you’re like most people you have some storms in your life right now, places where things are out of control. There’s no shame in admitting we’re in over our heads, that we are powerless to right the ship. But rather than panic we’re invited to pray to our God who continues in the storm-stilling business.

Lord hear the cries of your children in our despair. Calm our fears and restore us to your peace. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The illusion of security

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Jeremiah 49: 31 Rise up, advance against a nation at ease,  that lives secure,  says the LORD, that has no gates or bars, that lives alone. 32 Their camels shall become booty,  their herds of cattle a spoil. I will scatter to every wind those who have shaven temples, and I will bring calamity against them from every side, says the LORD. 

Jeremiah was speaking of calamity that was about the befall the nation of Kedar, which was “a nation at ease, that lives secure…that has no gates or bars”. In the ancient world nations were continually attacking one another, which is why most cities had walls to protect them. The fact that Kedar did not speaks volumes. In their minds they were untouchable. Turns out they were wrong.

For most of my life the US has had this kind of confidence, believing ourselves to be untouchable. Then came the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 and our illusion of security was shattered. Since then security measures have increased exponentially. An entire new department of federal government was created, Homeland Security. Our scrutiny of those entering our borders has gone way, way up.

This morning I’m reminded that, while prudent security measures are generally a good idea, our hope is not in these things. Instead, our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ – who died and rose that we might have eternal life. Because we know this life is not the end, we need not live in fear as others do. There is something much greater than our current reality awaiting us.

Lord give us grace to live, not with a spirit of fear but with a spirit of boldness and confidence in our place with you. Amen.

The power of death is broken…

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Hebrews 2:14 Since, therefore, the children (of God) share flesh and blood, (Jesus) himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. 

Verse 14 tells us that Jesus suffered death so that “he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” So what does it mean to say the devil “has the power of death”? My take is that the devil has power by virtue of suggestion, not the actual power of life and death (which is unique to God the Creator). To be more specific, the devil has the power of temptation and condemnation – which can lead to death. Let me explain.

First, the devil tempts us to step outside of the will and ways of God (temptation). Then, once we’ve strayed, he will throw our sins in our faces reminding us of our complete hopelessness in the face of a holy and just God (condemnation). The bible tells us clearly that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The devil loves to remind us of this.

But Jesus’ death and resurrection changed all that. Verse 17 tells us that Jesus died to “make a sacrifice of atonement for the sake of the people”. In other words, Jesus paid the price of our sin by taking on the death sentence himself. The devil’s power was broken. Forever.

This morning I’m reflecting on this important truth. I don’t have to perform for God or produce for God to compensate for my sins – which are many. This is particularly relevant for me today because it’s my Sabbath. It’s a day to rest from the demands of production. I can step off the hamster wheel trusting that Jesus’ works are enough.

Lord Jesus, today we thank you once again for giving your life that we might have eternal life with you and the Father. Amen.

The power of a transformed life…

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Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, 4 while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will. 

The part that gets my attention this morning is verse 4 “while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles”. In sharing the faith there has always been an appeal to reason, but reason alone often doesn’t cut it. People aren’t looking for a faith that simply makes sense, but rather they seek a faith that does something. That makes a difference. That reveals a power beyond us. 

The trap of reading a verse like the one I’ve highlighted is the temptation to assume any such “miracle” must be fantastic – like immediately healing the sick, curing the lame, casting out demons, or raising the dead. I don’t deny those things happen, but if Christians had to rely exclusively on such things Christianity would have remained a small sect of Judaism. 

More frequently the demonstration of Jesus’ power is in his ability to transform a life – to take hold of someone who is lost and broken and heal them on the inside. This is the sort of miracle that drew me in. I’m still in the process of being found and being healed, but there is no comparison between my life before Jesus and after Jesus. And as I think about the church I lead, I see in my mind’s eye the faces of people being made new one day at a time. 

Lord Jesus, give us to be walking and talking examples of your power to save. Amen.

Speak for your servant is listening…

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Jeremiah 42:Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan son of Kareah and Azariah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, approached 2 the prophet Jeremiah and said, “Be good enough to listen to our plea, and pray to the Lord your God for us—for all this remnant. For there are only a few of us left out of many, as your eyes can see. 3 Let the Lord your God show us where we should go and what we should do.”… 6 Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, in order that it may go well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” 7 At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.

v.7 “At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah”. Ten days. I don’t know why but that sounds like a long time to me. We’re not told what Jeremiah did for those ten days but I’m guessing there was fasting and praying involved. Ten days of it. Have you ever fasted and prayed for ten days? Me neither. I have done this for perhaps 2-3 days but not ten. That said, even with a shorter fast I have experienced a heightened sense of awareness of God. 

This morning I’m with a cohort of leaders/friends/colleagues learning the practice of adaptive leadership. Today is my day to share the progress I’ve made implementing actions planned during our last meeting in May. I pray the Lord will give me ears to hear as he speaks through my colleagues who will offer both support and challenge. 

Lord speak for your servant is listening. Amen.