Still an infant…

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Hebrews 5:11 About this (knowledge of 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 is a bit harsh here, but conveys an important truth. The Christian faith is intended to be something that grows in the life of every believer. We may start learning basic things of the faith, but are expected grow in Christian maturity. V.14 tells us that maturity is developed “by practice”. In other words, mature faith is faith that is lived out on a daily basis.

It’s the living out of faith that’s the greatest challenge for me as a Christian.

There are times when I know what I should do as a Christian, but fail to do it. In this way I am like an infant in the faith. Lord give me grace to grow up already. Amen.

The word and the logos of God…

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Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

We often think of the word of God as scripture – which it is. However, this passage understands the word of God in a way similar to John 1:1 “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” In this sense the word (Greek “logos”) is the active presence of God that creates (as in Genesis). This is the word made flesh in Jesus. This is the word spoken over the waters of baptism that brings the baptized to new life.

As we read and study the written word of God, the logos of God is released to do a work in us. As the passage above indicates, there’s nothing hidden from the logos of God. That said, when the logos exposes the sin in our hearts he also drives us to repentance and forgiveness. Thanks be to God.

Until the storm blows over…

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Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God…14 For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? 17 But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 4 1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.

If this passage seems confusing, I get it. It confuses me too, mostly because it jumps around in time without giving us many handles to keep up. Nevertheless, here’s what I get out of it:

The passage begins with concern for early Christians who were tempted to fall away from the faith because they were struggling – likely from persecution. Then v.16 jumps to the Exodus story in which the Hebrews were led out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. They were excited when leaving Egypt, but then tended to lose faith when things got hard in the wilderness (like when food and/or water was short). As a result, very few of the original adult population who fled Egypt entered the Promised Land 40 years later. God waited for them to die first, which is why  the journey took so long. It was their children and grandchildren who finally occupied Canaan.

The writer of Hebrews doesn’t want his Christian readers to miss out on the blessing of the “good news” mentioned in Hebrews 4:2 above. It’s not the same good news as in the time of the Exodus (Promised Land vs. eternal life w/Christ) but it’s good news nonetheless. Then there’s Hebrews 4:2:

2 For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.

In other words, the adults of the Exodus didn’t see the fulfillment of the promise of Canaan because so many lost faith instead of being united by faith. The writer to Hebrews warns the Christians not to do likewise.

I understand discouragement – when nothing seems to go right. When I don’t know if I’m up to the task at hand. When help from the Lord seems far away. It’s time like these when my brothers and sisters in Christ are such a gift. When I’m down they pick me up, and I do the same for them. We hold faith for one another until the storm blows over. Thanks be to God.

Getting over myself…

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Psalm 107: 10 Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. 12 Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help. 13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; 14 he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. 

V.11 tells us that the persons mentioned here experienced “darkness” and “gloom” as a result of rebelling against the words of God. They did what seemed right to them at the time, rather than take heed of God’s direction. And as is typically the case, they paid a price.

Freedom to do things our own way usually ends badly. I know this. You know this. Yet so often we do our own thing anyway. There’s that rebellious side of human nature that wants to believe we know better, or that somehow we are an exception to the rule of God.

Lord, help me get over myself and follow your ways. Amen.

Fear of death…

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Hebrews 2:14 …through death (Jesus) 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.

It’s v.15 that gets my attention here. The fear of death is a powerful force for humans. Always has been. It’s amazing what people will do to avoid death. Sometimes that’s a good thing, such as when persons quit smoking or commit to a healthy lifestyle so they can be around to care for their loved-ones. Sometimes it’s not so good, such as when people betray others to save their own skins.

In our day, Western culture often sees death as a defeat to be avoided or conquered.

Many times I’ve seen people kept alive despite their very poor quality of life. Just because medical technology can keep someone’s heart beating doesn’t mean it should. If you’ve witnessed this you, know what I mean.

Salvation in Jesus Christ gives us the promise that the end of this mortal life is not the end, but merely a transition to eternal life. As such, we no longer have to fear death – though I admit sometimes I still do. This morning I’m reflecting on the truth that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death no longer has the last word.

What would it look like for me to embrace that truth in a more robust way? How am I being manipulated by the fear of death?

Lord reveal your truth to me so that fear of death might leave me, to be replaced by joy in the prospect of eternity with you. Amen.

Faith with/without miracles…

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Hebrews 2 Therefore we (in the church) must pay greater attention to (the gospel of Jesus) we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it… It was declared at first through the Lord (Jesus), and it was attested to us by those who heard him (his disciples), while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.

That last part in v.4 is important. Then, as now, there were people espousing new philosophies and religions. But for the most part those philosophies and religions had nothing to back them up, nothing to verify they were valid.

But Christianity was different.

Along with the proclamation of the gospel came “signs and wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit”. The Lord still performs miracles, you know. I’ve witnessed several in my lifetime. Some have been healings or casting out demons or things that were obvious WOW miracles. Other miracles have been less fantastic, but no less powerful: relationships reconciled, addictions defeated, jobs found, and so on. It’s true – our God likes to show off from time to time.

The challenge for us is to keep the faith when we don’t see miracles.

That’s the thing about our God. We can’t domesticate him. We can’t turn the working of miracles into a formula. Miracles happen in God’s time, in God’s ways, as God sees fit. Period. There’s no genie to rub nor mantra to recite to get what we want when we want it. In this way we have to make peace with the fact that God is God and we are not.

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the working of your Spirit in and through us. Give us grace to keep the faith when we see miracles and when we don’t. Give us hearts to always place our trust in you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

P.S., I’m still sick. Chest cold now. Please pray for me. Lord, do a miracle in me, by your grace. Amen.

Desperate times…

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Jeremiah 44:15 Then all the men who were aware that their wives had been making offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you. 17 Instead, we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials, used to do in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. We used to have plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no misfortune. 18 But from the time we stopped making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her, we have lacked everything and have perished by the sword and by famine.”

The Hebrews are nothing if not practical. Their open rebellion in v.16 “we are not going to listen to you” is shocking. V.17-18 tells us why. Things went better for the people when they worshipped the queen of heaven rather than God. It’s that simple. It’s the old, “What have you done for me lately?”

Of course, what the people are forgetting is the entire Exodus story – how God freed their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, sustained them for 40 years in the wilderness, and gave them a land of their own. But those events were long in the past by the time of this passage in Jeremiah. They needed to eat – now. They needed protection – now.

It’s wrong to worship other gods, but I get it. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Lord give us grace to remain faithful to you when times get tough. Amen.