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Monthly Archives: February 2013

James 5 – Prayers for Mom

I am not one to bury the lead, so I want to actually start with James 5:16 and the power of prayer and talk about wealth at the end.  This chapter was very important to my family when we first found out that Mom was sick.  The doctors had told us that Mom had brain tumors that required brain surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  I found out some time later that the doctors thought Mom had about six months.  Prayer had always been important to my family, but it took on a whole new role at this point.  Based on James 5, my parents asked the elders at church to come and lay hands on Mom and pray for her healing.  It was a powerful experience to have that group of men pray for my Mom and my family.  (However, nobody said anything about anointing with oil until Mom afterwards said she wanted to do things exactly as James 5 instructed so the elders actually did it again the next Sunday at church, that time with oil.)  My parents also wrote a note to the church asking that everybody take a moment and confess their sins to God, because James 5 says that Christians should confess their sins to one another so that they could powerfully pray for healing.  I don’t pretend to know exactly how God did or didn’t answer those prayers, but Mom ended up having multiple sclerosis (and not brain cancer) and lived for six more years.  I have a lot of great memories from those years.  I tell you this story because of the heritage of faith and belief in God’s Word that was given to me by my family.  Anytime I read James 5 I am reminded of those important moments in my family’s life when we really did depend on our faith.  I will never forget that my family also called on others to join us in our prayers.  And if you were one of those people who prayed for us then thank you.  You will never know what a blessing to us you were.

The beginning of James 5 is the second half of a conversation James is having about wealth.  At the end of James 4, he writes to merchants who travel from city to city, making their own plans and relying on themselves.  Their confidence and faith is in their own ability to determine the future, which is foolish when only God knows the future.  In chapter 5, it transitions to talking to rich people, which is different from merchants.  This is the nobility, the people who own land and have servants who work the soil.  They have mistreated those who work for them and a guilty of valuing their wealth and possessions over people.  James focuses on how people handle possessions and wealth on several occasions, but this section makes it clear that when wealth causes people to trust in their own ability to determine their future they are in trouble.  When people put their confidence in money, insurance, jobs, retirement funds and don’t put their trust in God, they are in trouble.  When people take advantage of others for personal gain they are in trouble.

On the other hand, Christians should in every area of their lives seek to bring their thoughts, values, and actions into alignment with God’s thoughts, values, and actions.  This includes what we do with our money and our possessions.  It doesn’t mean that you have to be poor or give away everything you have.  What it does mean is that your priorities need to be brought into alignment with God’s priorities and how we handle our money needs to reflect that and be rooted in that.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in James

 

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James 4 – I Wish More People Were as Humble as I am…

It is a common lament of mine that the Christians around me aren’t as humble as I am. If they were more humble, like myself, we would have a more righteous church. Whenever New Years comes along people begin looking at themselves for what they can resolve to change. I like to spend this time helping people realize the changes they need to make in their lives to be better people. I don’t actually make resolutions myself; I help other’s see what needs to change in them. I’m just doing my part to help create a better world. Hopefully you realize that I’ve said all of this in jest.

James continues into chapter 4 in the theme of humility. Those who are truly wise are characterized by humility (3:13); it is the position for receiving God’s grace (4:6); and in the description of repentance, it is required (4:10). The opposite of humility is implied in the question immediately preceding in 4:11-12, “But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” It is quite natural for James to transition from the call to humility and confront the problem of arrogance.

 

 

“Judging” has become a hot topic in our culture. We have developed an idea that to not judge someone is to never disagree with what they are doing. This mindset really puts James in quite the conundrum. “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.” Isn’t James judging them and therefore contradicting himself at the same time? He is…if we have a poor understanding of what it means to judge. There is a difference between judging someone based on an evaluation of Biblical standards of conduct (are they in the image of Christ) and forming a negative, and usually self-righteous, opinion about someone because they do not measure up to these standards, or because we simply don’t agree with what they are doing. It would be an unfortunate misunderstanding of this passage to read it and assume that when we see a Brother or Sister not living up to the image of Christ that we shouldn’t lovingly confront them. There is a level of humility that has to be there to do that.

There is one God and judge of all who is able to save and destroy…you are not God. Never take on the position of God and bring condemnation on others. It is warranted to point them back to the way they should be living but we need to be careful in how we approach these situations. In short…we need, in every way, to be humble in all we say and do.

Humility is an elusive virtue. As soon as you realize you have it, pride sets in. We often associate humility with downplaying yourself and thinking less of yourself. When it comes to boasting about tomorrow…we like to talk ourselves up about the things we will do. I remember reading these verses and thinking that we always had to say, “if it is the Lord’s will” or we are going about life wrong. I look back over my life and there are lots of things that have not gone like I projected they would. I’ve loosened up my grip a bit on my future and have allowed my plans to change. I never intended on being back in this part of the country but God has blessed me greatly through the changes He has brought to my life. I’ve had to swallow my pride at times and be humbled. I hold my plans a lot more loosely now but I still have room to grow in humility. The overall question that needs to be asked at the end of this chapter is, what does humility look like? C.S. Lewis captures powerfully what humility looks like in Mere Christianity:

To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Bible Blog, James

 

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James 3 – Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words…

…are uncontrollable and are like wildfires that can lead people astray and destroy you all.

We’ve all had those moments when words left our mouth and our hands began grasping in front of our face trying to grab the words and shove them back into our mouths.  Alas, we could not and the damage was done.  I can distinctly remember times when I spent nights sleepless with a sick feeling in my stomach just wondering how badly things would go because of words I wished I could have back.  As you remember those moments, we’re going to put this on hold for a moment.

Most people, if asked to name the most influential people in their lives, would name family members, close friends, and likely teachers.  Each of us could quickly name our favorite and most influential teachers from our lives (and least favorite and least effective as well).  We all know this to some extent and it’s because we do that people get so upset when their children have teachers that teach a religious or political view different from their own.  We know how influential teachers can be.

When we combine the two thoughts above, we arrive at the warning in James 3 that teachers must be so cautious because words are so powerful and teachers are so influential, the words of teachers have great weight.  As my friend Lee would say, this is a good place to cite the Spiderman clause, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  

The larger point is rooted in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 12 or Luke 6, that what comes out of the mouth is the overflow of the heart.  So start by controlling what comes out of your mouth and it will begin to have an impact on the matters of the heart.  James goes so far as to imply that if you can master your tongue, the hardest and most difficult part of the body to control, that you can master the rest.

You might be tempted to think that words are just words, but evil and good can’t come from the same source.  So if evil is on your tongue…maybe you need to reevaluate what your saying.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2013 in James

 

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James 2 – Destroy Social Status – Evident Faith

When you meet someone for the first time you are typically asked the same number of questions. Who are you? Where are you from? And the most important…what do you do? We might not realize it but in a lot of ways we classify people based on their profession. There is a certain level of social shame to have to say, “I don’t currently have a job.” We wrap so much of our identity up in “what we do” that we find our value, and often give people value, based on these professions. Is there a way to communicate to people that we don’t care who they are, where they are from, or what they do, all we care about is that they are a child made in the image of God and that is where all of their value and identity comes from?

Tatian (120-180 AD)

One of the major reasons the early church was persecuted was because it messed up the social order of the Roman world. In a culture that thrived on class and social status Christianity created problems. There are letters that were written from one governor to another, complaining about the Christians and how there seemed to be no divisions between groups of people. They all seemed to act as one. Early Christianity created a sense of belonging that made people feel included, loved, and cared for. They welcomed outsiders, regardless of their background, and thus overcame the divisions of gender, ethnicity and class that characterized the Roman world. The second century Christian writer Tatian claimed, “Because we do not make any distinction in rank and outward appearance, or wealth and education, or age and sex, they devise an accusation against us that we practice cannibalism and sexual perversions.”

 

James, in this first section, says, “God doesn’t show favoritism and neither do His people.” When we fully live this out we develop a community of people to which all are welcome. We embody the love and peace of Christ that transforms communities. See everyone in the same way that God sees them. Do not show favoritism and do not do things just so that others will favor you.

Thursday, Kent reminded us out of James 1 that, “Your faith should impact your life.  Unfortunately, this remains a radical concept today when thousands of Christians attend church on Sundays and it has no affect on their decisions, actions, or words throughout the rest of the week.  What’s frightening is when their conscience is not even pricked by such behavior.  It is to this crisis that James wrote and to which his words still speak today.” James goes on in chapter two to say that if you say you have faith but it isn’t evident in how you live then you don’t really have faith.

What does this look like? If Jesus calls you to pick up your cross and follow him, to come and die, and you continually strive to preserve your sense of worth and identity then you haven’t taken the call of Christ seriously. When you say, “I’ve been crucified with Christ that I no longer live but Christ lives in me…” (Gal 2:20) and you live as though that happened figuratively in your baptism, then you haven’t taken seriously what you did in your baptism. Your baptism was not “just a symbol” of what has happened but it was you participating in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why throughout the New Testament we see the writers reminding Christians what they did in their baptism as a way of handling different situations.

You cannot simply believe in Jesus and actually be a Christian. You have to live it. Sitting in the auditorium during a worship service makes you a Christian about as much as sitting in the garage makes you a car. A transformation has to take place. Simply believing in Jesus puts you on the same level as the demons. Allow yourself to be transformed.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Bible Blog, James

 

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James 1 – Life Consistent with Faith

We don’t know for sure who actually wrote the book of James.  The name James was very common at this time, but it is most likely that the letter was written by the most well known James of the early church, the brother of Jesus.  James was a pillar of faith in the Jerusalem church.  While most people assume that Peter was the strongest leader in the early church, there is much church tradition that indicates that James was just as much a pillar and leader in Jerusalem.

This letter is addressed to the twelve tribes.  This could mean that James is writing to a more Jewish audience, but I lean towards it being a Jewish phrase (since James was a Jew) to describe all the Christians in the churches around the world.  This is different from many of the letters that we have in the New Testament that are addressed to a specific individual or congregation.  James understood his letter to contain instructions valuable to Christians in all places and all situations.

The book is well known for being full of practical instructions for Christian living.  Similar in many ways to the wisdom literature found in the Old Testament, this book puts forth the idea that our lives should be consistent with our faith.  If we believe in Jesus but that belief never touches our life through our actions and practices then we have nothing.  The book also seems to be dealing with problems that were already creeping into the early church community.  We know from Acts that the Apostles had to appoint servants to be in charge of making sure widows were fed fairly.  Apparently the widows who behaved more “Jewish” were getting better care than the Jewish widows who behaved more like Romans.  Prejudice towards widows is a problem.  And there was the problem with Ananias and Sapphira, who wanted the glory of generosity without the willingness to actually give.  In James we see that there is prejudice between the wealthy and the poor in the church as well.  

In the office we have a saying that’s more of a joke than anything, but occasionally we find ourselves saying “Ministry would be the greatest job in the world if it weren’t for the people.”  Well James has discovered exactly that and now he is writing to help people bring their lives into alignment with the Gospel that they proclaim to believe.

The last several verses of chapter 1 highlight this very point, that if you should get rid of moral filth and instead accept the word of God planted in you.  Don’t just listen to the word and deceive yourself, but actually DO WHAT IT SAYS!  Your faith should impact your life.  Unfortunately, this remains a radical concept today when thousands of Christians attend church on Sundays and it has no affect on their decisions, actions, or words throughout the rest of the week.  What’s frightening is when their conscience is not even pricked by such behavior.  It is to this crisis that James wrote and to which his words still speak today.  We will cover the entire book in the next week, so be sure to keep reading and measuring your life against the teachings of James.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in James

 

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Hebrews 13 – Never Leave You, Never Forsake You

In the closing chapter the writer of Hebrews addresses influences Christians should be aware of and avoid: Sex, Power, and Money. Taking a quick glance at CNN this morning I saw headlines about what is in this year for staying sexy (apparently butts are out and faces are in), how to gain power over others in the business world, and multiple articles about people’s obsession over money (favorite headline: Drag queens, fake beards and chocolates: Notable diamond heists).

You will sacrifice for what you love. We don’t have to look too far to see how quickly we sacrifice for sex, power, and money. Women put themselves through horrible pain to attract guys. Guys spend tons of money to get women into bed with them. People sacrifice friendships and partnerships to gain power over others, not to mention the moral sacrifices that are often made to gain power. Parents are absent from their kids lives because they work endless hours at their jobs to support the level of living they desire to keep up. Hebrews response to this is that God has said that he will never leave us or forsake us so quit searching for security in all the wrong places.

We’ve seen a moral decline in our country but things weren’t any better in the early centuries. Though they may not have been bombarded by it like we are today in our media, advertisements, and the rest of culture, sex was rampant in the Roman Empire. Sex has been dumbed down to a physical action that is following the natural instincts embedded in us. We ignore the emotional aspects of sex. It is the greatest level of intimacy you can share with someone and there will be a connection with that person that is hard to let go of. As a 29-year-old virgin I’ve found that our culture finds me a bit taboo and even a bit unrealistic. I’ve heard all kinds of comments from women in my dating life because I’ve found that this is something I need to be upfront about since it is so expected in our society. Sadly we’ve dumbed abstinence down to a “rule in an old book” (an accusation I often hear). Here’s my take on my virginity based on this passage. Sex is the greatest level of intimacy I can share with someone and that emotional and very deep connection is a gift that I want to give my wife. The response I typically get is that my wife most likely hasn’t done that for me but a gift isn’t a gift if something is expected in return. Forgive as Christ has forgiven is where I sit on this. All in all, we need to reclaim sexuality from our culture.

“Keep on loving each other as Brothers and Sister.” Hebrews calls us to be the great cloud of witnesses to one another as well. We have received a Kingdom that cannot be shaken! We are going to mess up. We are going to fight from time to time. Leaving the community of believers is not an option though. We have been brought into the body of Christ, the Family of God, and Family sticks together. Love as Brothers and Sisters. All things should be done in community together. At the very foundation of who we are as a Body is Christ. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We are not a people waiting for tomorrow to come. We live in the reality of today knowing Christ.

The Hebrew writer also mentions a number of times to “remember your leaders” and uses words like “obey” and “submit” in when talking about our relationship with them. In a lot of our churches we have become more so democratic in our relation to our church leaders. We don’t take these positions as seriously as we should. It isn’t that leaders should walk around with heads high in their authority. They are still to be servant leaders in the image of Christ but they are our leaders nonetheless, put there by God, and accountable to God. Submission and obedience are hard things to do in a culture that constantly pushes you to desire power and authority.

I want to end our time in Hebrews with the prayer in 20-21,

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 12 – Their Faces Move Us Forward

I have a confession to make, and to those of you who know me best this will not come as a surprise.  I am a nerd.  I have always been a nerd and continue to be one today.  I was on the Academic Team, MathCounts, Scholastic Team, and was Academic All-State (and yes, I do have an All-State jacket just like the football and basketball guys.  Mine just has the lamp of knowledge on it).  I also loved a series of Fantasy (like Lord of the Rings, not weird Romance stuff) novels by Robert Jordan as a kid.  The series was completed this month, but before reading the last couple of books I decided to listen to the first eleven on audio book again first.

I tell you all of that to tell you that a number of the scenes in this book take place on royal castles.  One character in particular is destined to be Queen someday and she is always talking about the portraits of former queens that hang around the palace.  They remind her of the great queens of the past and make sure she doesn’t forget the legacy being passed down to her.  They inspire her to pursue this kind of courage and leadership in her own life.  At times, she feels she cannot go on, but the eyes of those queens of old, looking down on her refuse to let her fail.  With an audience like that, she must have a courage worthy of those who went before her.  

You can see why Hebrews 11 and 12 remind me of these stories.  The writer of Hebrews very literally wants us to be inspired, motivated, encouraged and held accountable by this ancient Hebrew heroes.  It’s also worth noting that the writer is claiming Israel’s ancient heroes as the heroes of the Christian community as well, which is interesting since they are not all Jewish.  But chapter 12 begins with the idea that because we have an audience of heroes who are watching us, we should not waver in our faith but press on to the goal.  We should have laser like focus on Jesus and refuse to be distracted from anything.  I mean, think of what those heroes accomplished and think about what we can accomplish with Jesus today!  So just recognize that when troubles come, God is working through those troubles to make us even better children.

And don’t let anything get in the way.  Live in peace with one another so that conflict doesn’t tear us apart.  Live pure lives so that sin doesn’t rip you away from the Gospel. Don’t let earthly desires tear away your true desire for what matters the most…that happened to Esau and look how that ended for him.  Stay focused.

After all, Israel stood at a mountain where God gave them the law and they trembled with fear and anguish because what was on the mountain was terrifying.  But we have come to a mountain of joy, a mountain of salvation, a mountain where God gives us a covenant of peace and love.  How can anybody turn away from this mountain to go back to the mountain of terror?  So worship our God…the God of the unshakable kingdom.  And do not fall away!

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 11 – Stones of Faith

In chapter 10, the readers are reminded to not look back to the old way of doing things but to look forward to what Christ has done. He did this once for all. We were baptized once for our sins. The Hebrew writer keeps giving the reminder to stay the course, don’t look back!

Hebrews 11 then begins with how we are able to look forward and not look back: Faith. Faith is what gives us the ability to move forward without looking back. I really like this translation of 11:1-2. “What then is faith? It is what gives assurance to our hopes, it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see.”

Faith, for the Hebrew writer, is always in conjunction with hope. Faith is looking at God and trusting him for everything. Hope is looking at the future and trusting God for it. I’ve joked for a few years now that I am not an optimist but a realist. The more I joke about it the more I feel like it is true. I have little hope or faith in my fellow man, which means I am not much of an optimist. Before I get written off as a cynic, I look at history and see all of the advancements we have made and basically see that we have merely created whole new ways of killing each other and ways of blaming our problems on our parents. I’m playing this up a bit but what I want to communicate is that putting faith and hope in our fellow man will fail us. Putting faith and hope in our government will disappoint us. Putting faith and hope in the old way of doing things will always come up short.

Faith is defined in relation to hope because faith gives your hope assurance. It is one thing to hope for a better world, for new life beyond the grace, but unless you believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead and conquered death then your hope is merely degenerated into optimism…which is why I’m a realist who believes in God.

It is by faith that we understand all things. It is by faith that we understand that God created out of nothing. One of my favorite questions I get asked is, “Where did God come from? What created God?” Those questions are based on an understanding we have within creation that everything has a beginning. The reason we think that way is because we have a beginning. Should this notion of “beginning” be applied to the being that created the world that holds that concept? We take it on faith.

The Hebrew writer establishes that faith goes back to creation and claims all the characters in Israel’s story going forward. I got to do some hiking in the highlands of Scotland back in ’04. The highlands are incredibly rugged mountains that are almost vertical in most places. When you look down below you see these amazing lochs (lakes) gathered at the base of the mountains winding around. The higher we got up the mountain the more I struggled with my steps. We weren’t doing switchbacks like most mountains. We were going straight up. At one point I realized that we were hiking on a stone path. This blew my mind but then gave me great hope. The realization that someone had not only been there before but had carried rock with them to pave the way for me gave me great hope. I can’t help think about that hiking trip when I read about these stones of faith that have been put in place.

On other backpacking trips I’ve been on there is a common sight that most people don’t notice unless they are looking for it. It is called a cairn. A cairn is a stack of rocks that someone has stacked up to mark the trail. These come in handy when you are in the basin of some mountains and you’ve gotten off the trial. You look out and look for a small stack of rocks marking the way. I’ve been on a number of trails where it is hard to see where the path is going and I look for the cairn. I’m thankful for the people who have gone before me to show me the way.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Search Stories

I recently came across a series of videos on Youtube called “Search Stories.”  They are short videos that tell all kinds of stories about how people have used Google Search to make a difference.  Sometimes the change is in their life and sometimes they are changing the world.  They show how small our world has become and how much access anybody and everybody has to and endless amount of information.  I wanted to share them with you as an encouragement and a challenge to evaluate how you are changing yourself or changing the world around you (and they are just awesome).  If there was a Biblical principle involved, perhaps its that it has never been easier to be salt and light to the world and yet so often we take these opportunities for granted.  Anyhow…watch the videos… (I posted 6 of these, there are 28 in all.  Search for “search stories” on Youtube to see more)

 

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2013 in Hot Topics

 

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Hebrews 10 – You’re Kidding Me

The author of Hebrews has been working to establish how much “better” the way of Christianity is than the old Judaism.  It’s clear that there is a strong pull within the early church to move back towards the old ways, the ways of Judaism.  Some have left the church entirely and are going back to the sacrifices, priests, and obedience to the law.  Others are simply bringing those with them into the church, which is problematic in and of itself.  Now, in chapter 10, we find two strong arguments seeking to motivate people to stay the course and not look back.

The first argument is that the old sacrifices and rituals happened over and over again because they weren’t complete.  If any one of those sacrifices or rituals ever completely worked, then you obviously wouldn’t have to do it again.  Because it happens regularly, it’s clear that they are partial and temporary.  On the other hand, Jesus died once and was resurrected once for all time.  You were baptized once and your sins were washed away for all time.

Hebrews then gives a specific example.  To the first century Jewish reader they could easily read between the lines and hear something like this: “Remember the Day of Atonement you celebrated every year?  Remember how every year the High Priest cleanses and purifies the Holy of Holies?  And remember how they tied a chord to his foot in case he did any little thing wrong and was struck dead by God while behind the curtain and nobody wanted to go get him so they could pull him out by the rope?  They of course do that because of what happened when fire consumed Nadab and Abihu…you remember that story, right?  Remember how scared even the priest were to go behind the curtain…yeah…that’s what you are going back to.”

On the other hand (vs 19 and following), Christians have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place!  There is a living way through the curtain since our High Priest takes us into the very throne room of God and we enter it, not with fear and trepidation, but with confidence and full assurance as we DRAW NEAR TO GOD!  We don’t need a Day of Atonement because we have been completely cleansed and atoned for already, once and for all.  Jews were scared to the bone to come near God, but now we draw near to God with confidence and assurance to have a RELATIONSHIP with him!  How could you consider…even consider going back to that?!

 

Dear writer of Hebrews, that’s a really good point.  Would you like to add something to that?  Oh you would…

Remember when you first became a Christian and suffered for the name of Christ?  You were mocked, possibly beaten, exiled from family meals, stood beside those in prison (for their faith in Christ), allowed your stuff to be stolen and much more?  Remember that?  You prevailed.  You came through it with your faith intact.  And now you are considering giving it all up….for what?  God will take no pleasure in those who shrink back.

 

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”

Good point Hebrews author.  Can you give me some examples of God’s people who refused to shrink back?  Oh…fine…I’ll wait until next week.  Also, great use of Jeremiah 31 throughout the first part of this chapter.  I see what you did there.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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