Sunday, December 22, 2013


The closing chapter of this book admonishes the readers to live out their faith in specific ways. They apply to us also.
The writer says to “let brotherly love continue”. (13:1) The body of Christ is to be marked by love for each other. We have seen this in many texts. We are to love our brothers and sisters who follow Christ with us. Even though we are different sizes, shapes, colors, nationalities and vary in looks, intelligence and abilities, we are to love each other. Jesus said to love each other as he loves us. In fact, we are to love to such a degree that people will know we are his disciples when they see it. (John 13:34-35) In the life of a congregation, love matters more than anything else.
How do we love our brothers and sisters? Paul gives us a pretty good list in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. We love our brothers and sisters by being patient, kind, not envying or boasting, not being arrogant, not being rude, not insisting on its own way, not being irritable, not rejoicing at wrong doing, rejoicing with truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things.
This writer tells us we also express love in hospitality and empathy for the persecuted.

Verse 2 says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. In Old Testament times, If a Jewish family traveled and had to stop for the night, another family was to take them in. They might come to the center of town and wait until someone passed by. That person would bring them home, feed them and let them sleep in their house even though they did not know them. There is an example of this in Judges 17, where a Levite is taken in by a man named Micah. By the time this book was written, inns were expensive and often centers of immoral activity.
We show this kind of hospitality sometimes by taking in a youth group or a visiting choir. We once put up several Brazilian women from a seminary choir. None spoke a word of English. But we ate together and sang hymns together and had a great time.
The reference to entertaining angels is to Abraham and Lot. Abraham fed 3 strangers who appeared at his tent. It turned out it was the Lord and 2 angels on the way to Sodom. Because Abraham offered his hospitality, he was able to intercede for Lot and his family. (Genesis 18) Lot took in two men who came to the gate of Sodom and protected them from a crowd. These men were likely the same 2 angels seen by Abraham. These angels delivered Lot from the destruction of Sodom. (Genesis 19)
You do not, however, have to limit your hospitality to traveling Christians. Right in your church and even in your Bible study class are people you do not know, or know well. Invite them over for Sunday lunch or week day dinner. Be hospitable. Get to know them and build the bond of love in your church.
Empathy with the Persecuted
Verse 3 tells us to remember those in prison and those being mistreated as if we were suffering along with them. You may not live where Christians are persecuted. But many Christians suffer around the world. One of the current examples that is practically unmentioned is the killing of Christians in Syria by the opponents of the government. We should remember them, pray for them and support them as we can there and everywhere else Christians are persecuted.

Marriage is to be held in honor. Our culture in American certainly denigrates marriage. Television shows and movies are usually based on bad marriages. Divorce is rampant. There are now more single people in America than married people. Many married people do not honor their marriages. They neglect or mistreat their spouses. They have sex with other people. They view pornography. In the midst of this decadence, Christians need to work even harder to honor marriage and honor Christ with our marriages.
The marriage bed is to be undefiled. The only sex God approves of and promotes is among spouses in a marriage. Verse 4 tells us God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous. No sex outside of marriage is in God’s will.

Verse 5 tells us to free ourselves from the love of money. This is difficult in an affluent society. There are so many wonderful things to buy. There is always an updated version of the thing you already own. It is tempting to buy more than we need. But this verse tells us to be content with what we have.
Some people do not buy a lot of things, but love their money and hoard it. It gives them great pleasure to have it. But this verse tells us to keep our lives free from the love of money.
Why is this important? It is because we are to trust in God and be satisfied with him, not with money or possessions. Tis verse reminds us that God has said he will never leave us nor forsake us. We trust him to give us what we need and we are satisfied with it, because we are satisfied with Christ and know he is sufficient for us.

Have role models
Verse 7 tells us to remember our leaders and teachers and imitate their faith. Certainly, we see leaders fall. But we have many Godly leaders to imitate today and from the past. I am fond of the Puritans for this reason. They sought to bring every aspect of life under the rule of Scripture and the worship of God.

Stick to the truth
Verse 8 reminds us that Jesus never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. God does not change and his truth does not change. Theologians call this the doctrine of immutability. So, beware of new secrets and never before discovered truths. Do not be led away from the truth of the Bible. For example, scores of Bible study groups in Germany were led astray when taken over by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Had they stuck with the truth, they would not have fallen into apostasy.
Colossians 2:8 says “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ.” Any teaching that leads you away from Christ and into something else, is an empty deceit and will harm you.
Hebrews 13:9 goes on to give an example. The writer says it is good for your heart to be strengthened by grace and not by foods. This might be a reference to the Jewish tradition of eating some foods and not others, as commanded in the Old Testament. Some Jews tried to force the rules upon the Gentiles. But the writer says foods are not going to make or break your spiritual life. Instead, live by grace and find your heart strengthened and encouraged. Again, the writer points us to Christ as our satisfaction.
In fact, verse 10 tells us we have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. The Old Testament Levitical priests served the tent. The “tent” means the Tabernacle. The priests sacrificed animals on the altar and were allowed to eat some of the meat from the sacrifices. New Testament believers, however, live through the sacrifice of Christ. The cross is our only altar. The Old Testament priest has no right to participate in that as long as he is living only for the law.
To live by grace is not a license to sin. It is to live for God and with God: loving him, believing him and trusting him.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trust In The Lord

Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV) says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

These two verses give us advice on how to live our lives in God’s will. It tells us to do something and then tells us the result of doing it.

What is the thing we are to do? We are to place ourselves completely in God’s hands, submitted to his direction. Solomon says it three ways. First, trust in the Lord with all your heart. We place our trust in God. In other words, we place our faith in him to take care us. We have no reservations. We hold nothing back. Our whole heart is given over to him. We submit ourselves to him and his will, committed to go where he sends, do what he commands and even suffer what he ordains.

We can do this because we believe that God will do what is best for us. We believe what Romans 8:28 says, that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. We trust him. We trust him to give us eternal life, so surely we can trust him to do the best for us in this life. Romans 8:32 says “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” In other words, if he was willing to sacrifice his son for us, he will surely give us all the things we need.

Second, we do not lean on our own understanding. Sometimes, God tells us to do something we think is counter intuitive, or against human logic. We read a command in the Bible, for example, and think “I cannot do that. If I do that, I will go broke, or lose all my friends, or make people think I am a fanatic.” But this verse tells us to do what God says, trusting him to make it right.

I am not saying here that we are never to think. God gave us minds to think and gives us wisdom to discern the right thing to do. But, too often our thinking is selfish and not Biblical. It is worldly rather than spiritual. That is why Romans 12:2 tells us not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Your mind is renewed by the Holy Spirit, especially through the study of God’s word.

A few years ago, I began trying to read the Scripture without filters. It is hard to do. But it is necessary. I tried not to read the Bible as an American, a Republican, a Texan, an affluent Westerner or any of those things. I wanted to know what the Scripture said and what God meant. It was disturbing to see that many times I had thought and even been taught a spin on the Word, usually explaining why we did not need to do it as God said to do it. Don’t spin. Give in.

Third, “in all your ways acknowledge him”. In this context, it particularly means to acknowledge that God keeps us and directs us in his will. We do not steal his glory or presume upon his grace. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar tried to steal God’s glory. He took credit for his accomplishments, claiming power, glory and majesty for himself. (Daniel 4:28-30). The Lord struck him with madness until he acknowledged God. He said “Then I praised the Most High; I honored him who lives forever.” (Daniel 4:34) Only then did God restore him.

James warns us not to presume upon God’s grace. He wrote “Now listen, you who say ‘today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…instead, you out to say ‘if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16) We prosper only as he allows in his grace. Acknowledge that. You really can say “God graciously allowed us to succeed and we are grateful” instead of “look at what I have done, I’m so great”.

If we do what God says to do, trust him with our lives, what will he do? He will make our paths straight. When you had to walk everywhere, having a straight path was a big deal. If I can walk to the next town “as the crow flies” and it is 5 miles, I am grateful I did not have to walk the long way around and walk 10 miles.

When we visited our daughter in West Virginia once, I found myself frustrated that we could not go directly where we wanted to go because the roads all went around the hills. I could see the place I wanted to go, but had to go a long way around to get there.

So, when God says he will make our paths straight, he means he will watch over us, direct us in the way we should go and make sure we get there. This is all conditioned on our placing our trust completely in him and not in ourselves.

Are you worried about where you are going to go, how you will get there or if you will get there “in one piece”? Place your trust in God, ask him to direct your paths. Then relax and walk with him in peace.


Monday, December 09, 2013

"the heart of a man (woman) plans his (her) way, but the LORD establishes his (her) steps. Prov. 16:11.

When you surrender to his will, he will guide the way. It may not always match your plans, but you will know he is establishing his will for you and can relax in that knowledge with peace.

Submit to God this week and be at peace.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Humility is the greatest Christian virtue.

Sunday, December 01, 2013


In this passage, the writer calls for a response to the better covenant in Christ. He wants them to obey and cling to Jesus Christ for salvation.

The last paragraph we studied, verses 18 through 25, again compared the old covenant to the new. This time the writer used a metaphor of mountains. Sinai represented the old covenant. Zion represented the new covenant, which is superior to the old.

The last sentence of that paragraph refers to “the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”. By that he means the shed blood of Christ is superior to the blood of Abel, for the blood of Christ brings atonement for sin. Abel’s blood spoke of his obedience, but Christ’s blood spoke of his obedience to obtain our salvation.

So, in verse 25, when the writer says do not refuse him who is speaking, he refers to Jesus Christ, who speaks of salvation through his death on the cross. The writer says see that you do not refuse him. The message of the gospel was preached to them, so they needed to receive it and not reject it. Hearing the gospel is not enough, you must believe in Christ and receive him as lord and savior. John 1:11-12 discusses this. First, John said, “He came to his own and his own people did not receive him.” Jesus came to his people, the Jews, and declared himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and the one who could save them from their sins. Although some believed him, the majority did not receive him. They were willing for him to be a good teacher and a healer, but not the Son of God.

But some people did receive him as God’s son and believed on his name. (John 1:12) To those, he gave the right to become children of God. They received eternal life and adoption into God’s family. When Jesus revealed his divinity by changing water into wine, he manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him. They believed he was the Son of God. John 3:16 says that the one who believes in the Son of God receives eternal life. But John 3:18 points out that those who do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God are condemned.

There are some who claim you can receive Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord, and still be saved. The problem is, you must receive Jesus for who he is, the Son of God who not only saves, but rules over all. If you do not receive him both as savior and lord (master), you do not receive him and are not saved to eternal life.

After giving the warning not to refuse Christ, the writer tells us why. He uses an argument from the lesser to the greater. He points out that those who refused to obey the one who warned them on earth. That person was Moses, who received instructions from God and taught them to Israel. Some, however, disobey or refused him. There were several instances, but certainly the rejection of the command to go into Canaan as met with judgment in the form of defeat, death and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They did not escape.

So, the writer says, if they did not escape when Moses, the man from earth warned them, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven. That person is Christ. He is in heaven, raised from the dead, and seated at the right hand of the Father. He made this same point in Hebrews 10:29, when he wrote: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God...”

In verse 26, he writes “at that time, his voice shook the earth”. I think he is again referring to God’s word of the covenant law, given to Moses, on Mount Sinai. Exodus 19: 18 says the whole mountain trembled greatly. He shook the earth.

In contrast, verse 26 says he now says he will not only shake the earth but the heavens. He will do this “yet once more”. There will come a time when God shakes the earth and the heavens. This is a reference to Haggai 2:6. This type of statements in the Bible indicate a big, important event and action of God. the writer explains that in verse 27. He said this means there will be a removal of things that are shaken. He says those are the things “that have been made”.

This refers to the present created order that we see, the heavens and the earth. “Heavens” in this case means the sky and space. God will remove the present created order at the end. Peter described it this way:
“the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire,
being kept until the day of judgment
and destruction of the ungodly.” 2 Peter 3:7.
Peter is saying Jesus will return to judge the ungodly and condemn them, then to destroy the present order. He goes on in verse 10 to say the heavens (sky) will pass away and the heavenly bodies (space) will be burned up and dissolved. John saw a vision of this and said “for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away and the sea was no more”. (Revelation 21:1)

The writer of Hebrews tells us one reason for the destruction of these things is so that the things that cannot be shaken (or dissolved) will be the only things that remain. What remains after the destruction of the earth, sky and space is the kingdom that cannot be shaken. I call this the new earth. In Revelation 21:1, John wrote “Then I saw a hew heaven and a new earth...and I say the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven and from God.” It is the place prepared for us which is now in heaven, but will become our residence in the new earth after resurrection. Peter write: “But according to his promise we are waiting for the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. So, the unshakeable kingdom is the new heavens and new earth. Revelation 22 describes it in very Eden like terms. The tree of life is there on either side of the river of the water of life, God is there and we will worship him.

This, by the way, is the only Utopia there will ever be, the only perfect place to dwell. I am a child of the 60s and 70s in the United States. We say the world as corrupt and soul killing. We thought people could come together and create love, harmony and peace. Much of the music of that era was about this. The summer of love in San Francisco was about this. And, although many older people do not know it, Woodstock was about this.

Woodstock was a huge outdoor concert lasting several days in upstate New York on Mr. Yasgur’s farm. The idea was to show that people could come together, listen to music, promote peace, love and harmony, and create this Utopia. Crosby, Stills and Nash sang about it, in a song called “Woodstock” that was written by Joni Mitchell, a folk singer.

The song is full of religious imagery. The song talks about being caught in the devil’s bargain. But the tag line is “we have got to get ourselves back to the garden”. It means back to the Garden of Eden, as described in Genesis 2. But they made the same mistake made by Adam and Even: they tried to create Utopia with human effort and ideas, not by the lordship of God. And so it failed to bring peace to our nation. That is the problem with all Utopian programs. Human nature always corrupts it. The only perfect place that will ever exist is the kingdom of God that exists after resurrection and judgment, the New Earth, the unshakeable kingdom, the New Jerusalem. Then we will truly get back to the Garden. But there we will worship God, Father and Son, and live under his rule. That is what it means by saying the throne of God will be there.

What We Do In The Mean Time
Hebrews 12:28-29

First, we are grateful for receiving this kingdom. Ungrateful Christian should be an oxymoron, a phrase that contradicts itself. Ungrateful Christians profane God’s name. If you are not grateful that God saw you as dead in your sins, deserving death and hell, unable to discern spiritual things, futile in your thinking, a child of wrath, an enemy of God, a rebel, yet sent his Son to suffer and die to atone for your sins and give you fellowship with the Father for all eternity, there is something very wrong with you. If you do not understand the magnitude of grace, you likely do not understand the magnitude of your sin to God.

The story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet while he attended dinner at a Pharisee’s house demonstrates this. Luke 7 has the story. The woman, who was a sinner, came into the room and anointed Jesus’ feet with an alabaster flask of ointment. Then she wept, dripping tears onto his feet, and dried his feet with her hair while kissing his feet. (Luke 7:36-38) This is an act of humility, worship and thanksgiving. She was so grateful Jesus had forgiven her sins that she expressed her thanks with extravagance. The Pharisee did not do any of these things, and in fact was rude, not even offering Jesus water to wash his feet, which was customary. Jesus made the point that one who realizes he or she has been forgiven much will love much. Those who think they are forgiven little, will love little. And this implies no one is forgiven little that is forgiven at all.

Second, we are to offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28). In the Old Testament, God spelled out the manner of worship he acceptable. Anything else resulted in tragedy. In the New Testament, there are not as many rules spelled out concerning worship. But they are there. Any worship must be reverent and full of awe, that is recognizing that God is almighty. He is not your co-pilot, Santa Clause, the big guy, the man upstairs or any such trivial description. He is the creator of all things, the sustainer of life, the giver of salvation, the giver of all blessings, the one who holds the power to raise us from the dead. Any description of him that is less is unacceptable worship.

The New Testament tells us to meet together, to preach the gospel, to sing, to read scripture, observe the ordinances and to pray. What is unacceptable worship? Programs that include things from other religions, that allow you to attend and perform ritual without believing, anything that downplays God’s majesty, anything that makes man equal to God, that denies the truth and reliability of God’s word and so on.

Why must worship be acceptable? Because our God is a consuming fire. He judges and destroys the wicked. This statement is based on Deuteronomy 4:24. Moses warned the Israelites not to make an image in the form of anything, because God is a consuming fire and a jealous God. by jealous, he means God does not tolerate your having an allegiance to anything greater than your allegiance to him. Modern day devotion to career and wealth that exceeds devotion to Christ is no more acceptable than devotion to wooden idols or the worship of gods from pagan countries in the Old Testament times.

Be grateful and worship with reverence and awe. This is pleasing to God.