Christianity 201

December 21, 2018

Before the Child of Promise Comes, A Time of Unfulfilled Longing

A few years ago our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. ]

They had the pedigree.
They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did. How can you be so obviously blessed in so many areas of life but have one thing lacking?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They werecareful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations(NLT) or statutes (ESV) because…

It was the right thing to do.
It was who they were.
It was their response to who God is.


Above we read these words: ‘Everyone has something they live with.’ Maybe you’re not dealing with childlessness like Zachariah and Elizabeth; maybe it’s something more superficial, but it still eats away at you… Ever wished you were taller? Or you could change the oil on your car? Or fix a plumbing problem? If you find yourself constantly reminded of your inadequacies, you might enjoy this post which I wrote back in 2012.

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

May 30, 2016

How Does This Advance the Kingdom?

Even Christians can get caught up spending time on internet rabbit trails that distract us from our spiritual purpose.

Even Christians can get caught up spending time on internet rabbit trails that distract us from the purpose for which God made us.

Starting out the day on social media most of you probably check into the minutiae of your friends’ lives. You wouldn’t have done this a decade ago, the option simply did not exist, and yet here you are, ten years later, finding it necessary to know how the sunset looked last night from the cabin where Jason is staying, and what Sandra had for breakfast. What were you using this time for previously? What has been sacrificed in order to pursue this level of awareness about your acquaintances and relatives?

As I’m preparing the news and opinion updates for Wednesday’s link list at Thinking Out Loud, I am suddenly arrested by the question, “How does this advance the Kingdom of God?” Truth be told, a lot of our energies and efforts go into things which are not necessary to the building of the God’s Kingdom.

As I thought about various verses that could anchor these thoughts, I came across the following devotion by Juli Camarin. (Click the title below to read at source.) One sentence in the 1st paragraph really stood out for me: “… it makes sense that everything we do should originate and proceed from faith, otherwise we are acting of our own accord.”

Everything that Does Not Come from Faith is Sin—Romans 14:22-23

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:22-23)

Faith pleases God. In fact without faith it is impossible to please God ( Hebrews 11:6 ). So it makes since that everything we do should originate and proceed from faith, otherwise we are acting of our own accord. Faith is relying on and believing in God’s provision instead of ourselves. Hebrews says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” ( Hebrews 11:1 ). The King James Bible says that faith is a substance and the Amplified says that is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope” ( Hebrews 11:1 Amp ).  So in the kingdom of God, faith is very important.

Paul says in today’s passage that “everything that does not come from faith is sin” ( Romans 14:22-23 ). This seems like a radical statement, but knowing how important faith is to the believer helps put into perspective everything he has been saying in this entire chapter. We are to exercise our personal convictions as if in God’s presence keeping ourselves striving to know and obey his truth and will. When we operate in this way, we are operating in faith and God is pleased with faith. This gives us the freedom to live without reservation in His presence and he accepts this. In fact the Bible tells us that we are blessed by this liberty ( Romans 14:22 ).

In the same way, the man who has misgivings or an uneasy conscience about the things he does, whether it is eating or drinking or something else, this man is not acting out of faith and so stands in condemnation before God. This is because he is not true to his convictions and brings judgment on himself. If our conscience condemns us then we will not have boldness before God. The awareness of sin will keep us from having the confidence we need to approach God in faith. This is why it is better not to do those things which go against our convictions, even if we see others doing it. Whatever does not originate and proceed from faith or is done without a conviction of its approval by God, is sin for us. It is better for us to keep a clear conscience before God so that we may boldly approach His throne and find grace.

As believers we are to live by faith. This is a process and comes by knowing God and His promises. If we do not know what he has said, then we cannot operate out of faith in accordance to those things. Today I encourage you to renew your mind to the truth that faith pleases God and whatever you do, should be done by operating in faith. I pray that you will hold true to your convictions and walk in the liberty to which you have been called in Christ Jesus. Do not let others hinder you. Let God reveal to your heart those things which are acceptable and good and live in this way. Live your life rooted and established in faith and you will be blessed in everything you do. May God continue to sanctify you through this word as you proceed and operate in it today, amen!

While Juli’s article takes the passage in several different directions — including sin and personal convictions — it also raises another question that takes me back to where we began today: Does this proceed from faith?

So two questions to leave you with:

  • Am I currently using a lot of time and energy on things which do not advance God’s purposes and plans and the building of His Kingdom?
  • Do my aims and activities proceed from faith

Go Deeper: Juli is blogging her way through Romans. Have you ever considered journaling or blogging your way through a book like Romans, one of the Gospels, Hebrews, or an First Testament book? WordPress and BlogSpot blogs like this one are free. You don’t have to do it daily (as I did) or keep it up for six years (as we have here), but you can simply, as you are able, write down your thoughts as you work through a few verses, a paragraph or chapter-by-chapter. Consider yourself challenged! You might even find yourself doing some research.

November 24, 2014

James 2 + Hebrews 11 =

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We’re continuing to raise awareness of the ministry of Andy Elmes who is better known in the UK, Australia and New Zealand than in North America. His organization is called Great Big Life and he hosts a weekday radio feature called Breakfast of Champions. You can also get the Breakfast devos by subscription (click the above link).

Faith works

James 2:14 (NKJV)

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

If we want to function in faith correctly we need to add to Hebrews 11 to the thoughts of the apostle James, above.

This actually makes a lot more sense when we read it from the NIV translation.

James 2:14-20 (NIV)

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless.

Faith is all about trusting God to create what is needed but, as the NIV says so well, faith should be accompanied by actions. We should always be found acting in accordance to what we say we believe. We need to be living it out. Walking the walk and not just talking the talk. When we say we believe in something the actions of our life should be in the direction of, or in harmony with, that said belief. If a man says he believes he will fall off of a cliff if he gets too close does he then jump around on the edge of it expecting nothing to happen? No, he would be a hypocrite, one who says he believes one thing then has unaccompanied actions.

When God gives us a promise for us to place our faith in, there is normally always instruction that accompanies it. When we walk in what God says to do we release what He promises will happen.

  • God said to Noah to build an ark and He would save his family. Noah then built the ark according to God’s instructions. Would his household have been saved if he had sat upon the promise without accompanying actions  (building the boat)?
  • Abraham was promised that the world would be blessed through his life when he left what he knew. Would anything have happened if he had waited in Haran for the promise to be delivered? No, it was his walking in what God had said that released what God had promised.

So Champion, get the promise for your situation and then act or live in accordance to what you say you believe. Add that accompanying action. A great closing example would be to look at one of the classic promises of divine provision which is, “Give and it will be given to you – pressed down, shaken together”.

1. You can wait for the ‘given back to you, pressed down’ bit and have a long wait.

2. You can live out the accompanying action – which is to give – and then you will release the potential of the promise – which is God giving back to you, pressed down, shaken together.

Add James 2 to Hebrews 11 and you will have a very exciting life!


Previously by Andy Elmes at C201, Miracles and Humility


Over the course of any given month here at C201 you’ll read devotions by people representing a wide range of Christian doctrines and theological streams. While it’s good to eventually be able to craft a personal systematic theology of what resonates with you as to the nature of God and the implications of that on a variety of issues, it’s also good to continue to read widely and understand what Christians in other places believed and what church leaders at other times taught.

Life Changing Power of the Holy SpiritOne issue that is often divisive is the person and work of The Holy Spirit. (Ironic, huh? Isn’t God’s Spirit supposed to unify us?) In the book The Life Changing Power of the Holy Spirit, author Leona Choy interviewed an amazing list of Christian leaders in the first part of the 20th Century on this subject. We have a (very) few copies left of this now out-of-print book that we’ll mail out to our Canadian C201 readers for a blog donation of $30 or more, including taxes. To order using a credit card, call Searchlight Books at 800 210 5661 between 10 AM and 5 PM EST.

November 9, 2014

Rejoicing in Persecution

 NIV I Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

This morning at church we observed the International Day of Persecution. When we think of some of the news stories we’ve been tracking in the last few years, even more so the last few months, and especially even in the last few weeks, it may seem odd that IDOP organizers chose the theme “Rejoicing in Hope.”  Rejoicing?  Here’s an explanation:

Rejoicing in Hope

Romans 5:1 – 5 

Through him, we have also obtained access by faith
into this grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Today, Christians in regions of the world face some of the worst persecution in history. It is difficult for Canadians to imagine the day-to-day sufferings of those who live in countries where religious freedom is not regarded by their governments or neighbours. Imagine facing threats of false accusation and imprisonment, injury and harm to you or your family, attacks on businesses and homes, and even threats of death–all because of your faith in Christ?

Rejoicing in Hope IDOPHow do our brothers and sisters cope with such conditions? How can their faith remain strong when it costs them so much? God alone empowers them to do so. We are humbled and encouraged as we witness their courage and obedience.

Often we ask, “What can we do to help them?” What does God call us to do? We can be the tool He uses to encourage them through our prayers. Many are the testimonies from persecuted believers who say they find hope knowing that their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world raise a voice of prayer for them—praying that God give them strength and protect them. They find hope knowing that we have not forgotten them.

This year’s theme for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is: Rejoicing in Hope based on Romans 5:1-5.

“… We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

For every Christian, regardless of our circumstances, hope is found in the promise that one day we shall see Christ face-to-face. Knowing that death will not be the final word gives us great “Hope.” Ultimately, we shall see suffering replaced with rejoicing, and receive our greatest reward when Christ ushers us into eternal life with Him and says “Welcome home, my faithful servant.” For many of our persecuted brothers and sisters who are imprisoned or who constantly live under the threat of death this is their one focus—this is their “Hope.”

“… We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”

The world does not understand suffering the way a Christian believer does. “How can you rejoice?” they ask when faced with difficulty, hardship and persecution. We know that it is through our suffering that Christ promises to create in us his likeness—his traits of endurance, character and hope through the work of the Holy Spirit. Hearts honed and refined in the fire of suffering are deeply imprinted with his likeness, and understand how suffering is used in its development.

“… Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The persecuted often ask that we pray for one thing specifically: that their hearts be filled with love for their persecutors. Loving our enemy as Christ loved us leaves a lasting testimony with those who hate the Christ in us and seek to harm us. Many have come to Christ in the face of this kind of inexplicable, undeniable, selfless Love. It is the stamp of the Holy Spirit on the heart of a believer, to love those who hate us, just as Christ loved us.

This year, we remember and identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering because of their devotion to him. We ask God to protect them and give them courage and perseverance in the face of harm or attack. And we open our hearts and dedicate ourselves to follow their example—to “Rejoice in Hope” in the midst of suffering. We ask that God’s Holy Spirit will do his work in the hearts of his children, to make us more like Christ.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 

September 10, 2014

Greater Works than these Shall He Do

“…nearly every miracle has a human element…” ~ Mark Batterson

I thought I’d throw a little King James into today’s title.  (I thought it was “shall ye do.”) That’s the way I first heard this verse, but now, as a mature adult, I still find my mind carries the baggage of expectations that like Jesus, I would raise the dead and walk on water. Or greater, right?  Because the verse is about greater. So I appreciated reading what follows from Mark Batterson’s new book The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible (Baker Books, Sept. 2014).

Grave Robber - Mark BattersonOne of the boldest statements in the Bible is found in John 14:12:

Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things than these.

Greater things?  It would sound like heresy if it didn’t come from the lips of Jesus.  It’s one of those verses that we tend to rationalize, so let me tell you exactly what it means.   If you follow Jesus, you’ll do what He did.  You’ll seek to please the heavenly Father first and foremost.  You’ll care for the poor, you’ll wash feet, and you’ll offend some Pharisees along the way.  You’ll also traffic in the miraculous.  And it won’t just be as an eyewitness.  It’ll be as a catalyst.  Please believe me when I say, you are someone else’s miracle!

Make no mistake about it:  only God can perform miracles.  So God gets all of the glory.  But as you’ll see, nearly every miracle has a human element.  Sometimes you need to step into the Jordan River, like the priests of Israel, before God will part the waters.  And sometimes you need to wade into the Jordan seven times, like Naaman.  Only God could miraculously heal Naaman’s leprosy, but he would have forfeited the miracle if he hadn’t positioned himself for it by repeated obedience.  So while some miracles take only a single step of faith, others require multiple attempts!  But whether it’s ankle deep or waist deep, you’ve got to wade into the Jordan River.  Sometimes you’ve got to do the natural before God will do the supernatural.

The playground we live on, planet Earth, was designed with natural boundaries that mark the outer limits of human possibility.  The speed of light is the fence line, and the laws of nature are the fence posts.  some of them are well-known, like the law of gravity or Newton’s three laws of motion.  Others are more obscure, like Bell’s theorem.  While those fence posts are constantly being repositioned by scientific research, they establish a borderline between what is possible and what is impossible.  It’s the invisible, impassable fence between the natural and the supernatural, and no human can dig under it, climb over it, or walk around it.  But God has put a gate in the fence.  His name is Jesus.

If you follow Jesus long enough and far enough, you’ll eventually trespass into the impossible.  You’ll turn water into wine, feed five thousand with two fish, and walk on water.  I’m not suggesting that you go walk off the nearest dock and see ho many steps you can take.  God will probably manifest His power very differently for you than He did for the original disciples.  But if you believe what Jesus said, then you’ll do what Jesus did.  The miracles you experience should be even greater than the miracles Jesus performed, in terms of both quantity and quality.

Grave Robber, pp. 25-26

August 7, 2014

Even in the Wilderness, God Provides

Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.
 Psalm 37:25 NLT

Today we look at a few pages from Futureville: Discovering Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow by author Syke Jethani (Thomas Nelson, paperback). The book uses the 1939 New York World’s Fair as an object lesson giving us a glimpse of God’s world for tomorrow.

Futureville - Skye JethaniIn contrast to the gated kingdoms of the world driven by the fear of scarcity, the kingdom of God is marked by the faith of abundance. Its gates are never shut.  When the Lord led his people out of Egypt into the wilderness the people feared not having enough food and water, but each day God provided what they needed.  Quail fell over the camp every evening for meat, and bread from heaven covered the ground every morning.  God’s people always had enough.  Those who tried to hoard the manna discovered that whatever they kept from the previous day rotted overnight.  Unlike the kings of the world who are driven by fear to hoard and acquire, the Lord was teaching his people the truth that control is an illusion, and rather than seeking control they were to surrender in faith and trust in his abundant provision each day.  Faith rather than fear marks his kingdom.

We see this quality of Futureville in Jesus’ ministry.  On numerous occasions those gathered to hear him did not have enough to eat. Giving thanks to God, Jesus took a few fish and loaves of bread and fed thousands.  Not only was there always enough, but the disciples managed to gather an abundance of leftovers.  These miraculous feedings were signs that the kingdom of God had arrived, that scarcity would be no more, and that Futureville had broken into the world with Jesus.  The gate to the garden of abundance has been opened again.

Centuries earlier Isaiah had prophesied that abundance would accompany the Messiah’s coming:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
(Isaiah 55:1)

John echoes Isaiah’s words when concluding his description of the garden city: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’  And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’  And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

The message of Scripture is unwavering – with God there is always enough.  Where he reigns we never have to fear scarcity.  We do not have to retreat in fear behind a locked gate or scramble to get as much as we can before the market tumbles.  In his kingdom of abundance the gates are never shut; bubbles never form or burst…    (pp 159-161)

 

For only $1.99 per month, you can wake up to a morning devotion with Skye Jethani on your smart phone.  Click here for details.

To read my review of the book at Thinking Out Loud, click here.

March 30, 2014

They Did Not See, And Yet Believed

Hebrews 11 39

 

This morning I was struck by the verse that appears at the end of Hebrews 11, the passage sometimes referred to as “God’s Hall of Faith” or “God’s Gallery of Faith.”  After the long list of names,

 
Heb. 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised

The Reformation Study Bible highlights a progression of thought that is also running through Hebrews 11 that might get overlooked in the list of people. Here are the verses, with the notes:

 

8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Abraham’s faith regarding the promise of a homeland was demonstrated: (a) when he obeyed God’s voice, leaving Ur for a future inheritance, the location of which he did not know (v. 8); (b) when he lived as a stranger in the land promised to him (vv. 9, 13); and (c) when he looked beyond Canaan to a lasting, heavenly country and city, designed and built by God Himself (vv. 10, 14–16; 13:14).

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

The inheritance on which the patriarchs’ faith was fixed was invisible for two reasons: it was heavenly, not earthly; and future, not present.

33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,

That is, they saw answers to particular promises along the way. For the promise of Christ’s coming they still waited in faith (v. 39). The promises made to Abraham were partly fulfilled in this world, as his descendants multiplied (v. 12) and lived in the Promised Land (vv. 9, 33). But to the extent that these promises referred to the heavenly reality, “his rest” (4:10), they could not be fulfilled until Christ came.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised

Although some Old Testament promises were fulfilled, their true hope (the promise of the coming Messiah) was yet to come.

The passage then goes on,

40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

This verse asserts both the redemptive-historical difference between the Old Testament and New Testament periods, and the unity of the people of God in both eras. Though the Old Testament believers lived by faith (10:38), they were not privileged to witness on earth the fulfillment of the great promise of God. Nevertheless, they too participate in the benefits of Christ’s high-priestly work, and, along with new covenant saints, they are “made perfect.” Those of the old and new eras together await the perfection that will appear only at the Second Coming (12:26; 13:14; Rom. 8:18; Eph. 1:9, 10).

This latter note is more than just on these verses or this chapter; it really summarizes a lot of the mega-theme in all of the book of Hebrews.

Go Deeper: From the website Berith Road:

In the plan of God, “God foresaw something better for us” (Heb 11:40), i.e., God had in mind that the full realization of his promise of blessing and life would be experienced by us, the new covenant believers. Hebrews 11:40 acknowledges that God’s plan of salvation is worked out in stages that lead to an eschatological climax. Believers under the old covenant by definition could not receive the fullness of blessing and salvation, because the fullness of blessing and salvation is something that was going to be achieved as part of the new covenant. It is for this reason that the ancient heroes of faith did not receive in full the promise of eternal life in their lifetime, “lest they be perfected without us” (Heb 11:40).

Through faith, and ultimately by way of resurrection, old covenant believers and new covenant believers alike will experience together the reward of faith, the fullness of the blessing of eternal life.

Today’s graphic is from the website Re-Ver(Sing) Verses; which also has a study on this passage, concluding:

Have you ever wondered why only the Biblical Characters from the Old Testament were mentioned? By the time the book of Hebrews was written, there would have been many many New Testament characters whose faith would have made them a convincing entry into the Hall of Faith. People like Stephen – immense, immense faith, seriously. Apostles like Paul, Peter, John, James – though most of them were probably not dead yet; and what about Christ? How can you leave Christ out of a Hall of Faith? That doesn’t quite make sense, does it? I believe that Hebrews 11:39 explains this for us. This Hall of Faith was inducted for those whose faith is commended despite them not receiving the promise of the Messiah. They lived out the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 – being sure of what they hope for and certain of what they did not see.

Even today, there’s no guarantee that our faith will result in earthly rewards that we can see in our lifetime. Our faithful perseverance may only result in unending misery. Our faith may cost us our lives. But even so, even if we will not receive our deliverance, and even if we do not see the second coming of Jesus, the examples of the ancients who were inducted into the Hall of Faith show us that this faith is worth every effort.

It doesn’t matter if at the end of the day, our faith results in nothing earthly. Our assets are in heaven.

 

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29 ESV)

all other quotations NIV

December 23, 2012

Unfulfilled Longings of the Heart

This morning our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think?  People back then did.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s).  Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is.

 


Above we read these words: ‘Everyone has something they live with.’ Maybe you’re not dealing with childlessness like Zachariah and Elizabeth; maybe it’s something more superficial, but it still eats away at you… Ever wished you were taller? Or you could change the oil on your car? Or fix a plumbing problem? If you find yourself constantly reminded of your inadequacies, you might enjoy this post.

 

June 30, 2012

God Working Out His Plan In You

 

“Just think, you’re not here by chance…”

Have you ever received a greeting card with that poem on it? Then you have already been acquainted with the writing of Roy Lessin, founder of Dayspring, a Christian line of greeting cards. But Lessin’s writing goes beyond greeting card theology, he actually has full books with other publishers.

Here’s a short thought for today from a Dayspring email program I once subscribed to that I found in an old email earlier in the week…

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

God has a plan for your life. He brought you into this world to fulfill that plan. It is the best plan that anyone could ever make for you. It is a plan that will bring Him the greatest glory and you the greatest good. From the beginning of this calendar year until its end, God is working out His plan.

As you follow God’s plan for your life, you do so by faith. It is important to remember that He is the Guide and you are the follower. He does not need to bring you into His planning room as a consultant to help Him decide what is best for your life. God has called you to trust Him and to take the next step of obedience according to His will. God has said,

“I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, And crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, And not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16 NKJV

Here are some ways that God is working out His plan:

He is your Shepherd—He is leading you.
He is your Provider—He is taking care of you.
He is your Strength—He is enabling you.
He is your Counselor—He is speaking to you.
He is your Shield—He is protecting you.
He is your Comfort—He is encouraging you.
He is your Father—He is blessing you.

By Roy Lessin

December 23, 2011

Joseph’s Role in the Christmas Story

This is one of two articles here today at C201, this from Russell D. Moore’s blog, Moore to the Point where it appeared, for the second time under the title Let’s Stop Ignoring Joseph.  You are strongly encouraged to read it at the source, rather than here.

I played a cow in my first-grade Christmas pageant, and I had more lines than the kid who played Joseph. He was a prop, or so it seemed, for Mary, the plastic doll in the manger, and the rest of us. We were just following the script. There’s rarely much room in the inn of the contemporary Christian imagination for Joseph, especially among conservative Protestants like me. His only role, it seems, is an usher—to get Mary to the stable in Bethlehem in the first place and then to get her back to the Temple in Jerusalem in order to find the wandering 12-year-old Jesus.

But there’s much more to the Joseph figure.

Real Father

When we talk about Joseph at all, we spend most of our time talking about what he was not. We believe (rightly) with the apostles that Jesus was conceived in a virgin’s womb. Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father; not a trace of Joseph’s sperm was involved in the formation of the embryo Christ. No amount of Joseph’s DNA could be found in the dried blood of Jesus peeled from the wood of Golgotha’s cross. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit completely apart from the will or exertion of any man.

That noted, though, we need to be careful that we don’t reduce Joseph simply to a truthful first-century Bill Clinton: “He did not have sexual relations with that woman.” There’s much more to be said. Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father, but he is his real father. In his adoption of Jesus, Joseph is rightly identified by the Spirit speak­ing through the Scriptures as Jesus’ father (Luke 2:41, 48).

Jesus would have said “Abba” first to Joseph. Jesus’ obedience to his father and mother, obedience essential to his law-keeping on our behalf, is directed toward Joseph (Luke 2:51). Jesus does not share Joseph’s bloodline, but he claims him as his father, obeying Joseph perfectly and even following in his voca­tion. When Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, he cites the words of Deuteronomy to counter “the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). Think about it for a moment—Jesus almost certainly learned those Hebrew Scriptures from Joseph as he listened to him at the woodworking table or stood beside him in the synagogue.

Difficult Deed

Our contemporary cartoonish, two-dimensional picture of Joseph too easily ignores how difficult it was for him to do what he did. Imagine for a minute that one of the teenagers in your church were to stand up behind the pulpit to give her testimony. She’s eight months pregnant and unmarried. After a few minutes of talking about God’s working in her life and about how excited she is to be a mother, she starts talking about how thankful she is that she’s remained sexually pure, kept all the “True Love Waits” commitments she made in her youth group Bible study. You’d immediately conclude that the girl’s either delusional or lying.

When contemporary biblical revisionists scoff at the virgin birth of Jesus and other miracles, they often tell us we’re now beyond such “myths” since we live in a post-Enlightenment, scientifically progressive information age. What such critics miss is the fact that virgin conceptions have always seemed ridiculous. People in first-century Palestine knew how babies were conceived. The implausibility of the whole thing is evident in the biblical text itself. When Mary tells Joseph she is pregnant, his first reaction isn’t a cheery “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” No, he assumes what any of us would conclude was going on, and he sets out to end their betrothal.

But then God enters the scene.

When God speaks in a dream to Joseph about the identity of Jesus, Joseph, like everyone else who follows Christ, recognizes the voice and goes forward (Matt. 1:21-24). Joseph’s adoption and protection of Jesus is simply the outworking of that belief.

Same Faith

In believing God, Joseph probably walked away from his reputation. The wags in his hometown would probably always whisper about how “poor Joseph was hoodwinked by that girl” or how “old Joseph got himself in trouble with that girl.” As the stakes grew higher, Joseph certainly sacrificed his economic security. In first-century Galilee, after all, one doesn’t simply move to Egypt, the way one might today decide to move to New York or London. Joseph surrendered a household economy, a vocation probably built up over generations, handed down to him, one would suppose, by his father.

Again, Joseph was unique in one sense. None of us will ever be called to be father to God. But in another very real sense, Joseph’s faith was exactly the same as ours. The letter of James, for instance, speaks of the definition of faith in this way: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). James is the one who tells us further that faith is not mere intellectual belief, the faith of demons (2:19), but is instead a faith that works.

James shows us that Abraham’s belief is seen in his offering up Isaac, knowing God would keep his promise and raise him from the dead (2:21-23). We know Rahab has faith not simply because she raises her hand in agreement with the Hebrew spies but because in hiding them from the enemy she is showing she trusts God to save her (2:25). James tells us that genuine faith shelters the orphan.

What gives even more weight to these words is the identity of the human author. This letter is written by James of the Jerusalem church, the brother of our Lord Jesus. How much of this “pure and undefiled religion” did James see first in the life of his own earthly father? Did the image of Joseph linger in James’s mind as he inscribed the words of an orphan-protecting, living faith?

It’s a shame that Joseph is so neglected in our thoughts and affections, even at Christmastime. If we pay attention to him, though, we just might see a model for a new generation of Christians. We might see how to live as the presence of Christ in a culture of death. We might see how to image a protective Father, how to preach a life-affirming gospel, even in a culture captivated by the spirit of Herod.

~ Russell D. Moore

July 13, 2011

Keeping a 20/20 Spiritual Vision

My link to DailyEncouragement.net, the devotional ministry of Stephen & Brooksyne Weber is rather prominent on my personal blog because I think they represent the best of theological balance combined with appeal to a broad demographic.  Though their lives intertwine with Amish farmers, there’s an urban sophistication in their writing as well.  They know their readers, who click in from around the world.  Every day’s post is good reading.  This one is actually fresh from today!  I’ll add a permalink once it moves off the home page.

“Spiritual Myopia”

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).  “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

I began to wear glasses when I was about twelve years old. I was near-sighted, meaning that I could see OK up close but distant views were blurry. I resisted wearing them at first but soon realized I really did see better with them. Near-sightedness is also called myopia. In my forties I started needing bifocals, since I now need correction both for close-up and distance.

Let me illustrate today’s message with a wonderful Creator-designed capability we all have and probably have never even considered. I am sitting at my desk in my home office with a clear view of my computer screen and close-up items on the desk. My eyes are automatically focused to this view.

I can raise my head and look out to a distant farm field view. Automatically, without any conscience effort on my part, my eyes refocus when I move from the close-up to the distant view. What if we were created with an adjustable knob on the side of our head that had to be turned each time we wanted to refocus, much like looking through a set of binoculars! I concur with David’s thoughts he penned three thousand years ago, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14).

I can purposefully not refocus when I move from a close-up view to a distant one but it’s really hard.  Look out to a distant view and stare at your hand and see how blurry and out of focus the distance is at the periphery. Try to move your hand and keep your eyes focused the same as the close-up, although you are looking at a distance. For me it’s next to impossible. My eyes just automatically refocus!

Today I want to consider a condition that many of us have which I’ll call “spiritual myopia”.  We may have a focus on the close up view but have trouble seeing and focusing on the bigger picture spiritually; that which is at a distance. It seems that spiritually speaking having a distant “faith” focus does not come automatically. I have to very purposefully focus on that by faith.

Hebrews 11 is known as the Faith Chapter and is a great commendation of men and women who lived by faith.  “This is what the ancients were commended for” (v.2).  Hebrews 11: 13-16 is an incredible interjection by the divinely inspired author of Hebrews. Prior to this Scripture passage and afterward Abraham is the focus, but this section broadens the scope using the phrase, “all these people”, which may mean those who were with Abraham, or it may be referring to all the people of faith mentioned in this chapter.  Either way you consider it, this powerful portion is certainly true of all people of faith.

But the part that grips my heart is the phrase concerning the “things promised” they had not received at the time they died.  “They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”  They did not have spiritual myopia.

In overcoming our tendency to being diagnosed with spiritual myopia:

1) We must have divine correction.
2) We must train our eyes for distant focus.
3) We must train our will to focus on the distant future.
4) We must place our affections on that which is yet to come.

I struggle with spiritual myopia when I am not focusing on God’s promises that are yet to be fulfilled.  I am not seeing them and welcoming them from a distance. In fact the spiritual distance may become invisible since my focus is fixed upon that which I see without effort.

Like the people who long ago lived by faith I need to regularly confess, “I am an alien and stranger on earth.”  Like them I want to be “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”  May the Lord give each of us a distant heavenward focus! “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber