Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hebrews 4: Living and Active

Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God's Word is living and active. For unbelieving ears, this must sound like complete nonsense. I can envision the raised eyebrows and bemused grin of the skeptic, "you mean to tell me you think the text is alive? That it speaks directly to you?" But we shouldn't just think it, we should know it. Because God is ever willing to prove this to us.

When we read the Bible we should aim to understand the story, the motivations of the characters, the lessons God intended for them, the general principles that can be applied to the human story, and what the text reveals about the character of God. But we should also ask what the passage means for us. Does it give you some direction for your life? Does it give you insight into some situation you currently face? Does it counsel you to do something? To not do something? If we will carefully examine His Word, we will be amazed at God's clear direction. I am not saying that every time I open my Bible that the words jump off the page, advising me with whatever I'm facing that particular day, but I am saying that it is often the case.

The full verse from Hebrews 4:12 would be a great one to memorize:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

We can check our thoughts and attitudes against the Word of God. It will penetrate all of our pretenses and airs; it will examine our motives and reveal our impurities. This week may we be willing to use the Word of God to do some serious soul searching, and may we be reminded that God's Word is indeed living and active.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hebrews 3: Hardening Your Heart?

Hebrews 3 warns against hardening our hearts. So when was the last time you did that, hardened your heart? Seriously, take a minute to think about it. I would guess it's probably been within the last couple days, maybe even couple hours, because we have an amazing reluctance to admit when we are wrong. My husband can readily testify that this is a struggle for me. Oh, can he! But this reluctance is really just pride and it plagues us all. We do not want to acknowledge that something we said or did was inconsiderate or uncharitable. We think in terms of how we were justified in saying what we said, or doing what we did. The issue may be ridiculously trifling, yet most of the time we rationalize away our culpability. We may not use the biblical language, but rationalizing and justifying are just means of hardening our hearts. Simply put, pride is the lacquer that hardens.

Yet Hebrews 3:12-13 says: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."

A sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from God is one that is full of pride. And as C.S. Lewis wrote in "The Great Sin" chapter in Mere Christianity, "As long as you are proud you cannot know God." (This whole chapter is brilliant and every word is applicable to these verses from Hebrews!)

So what's the solution to this, unbelieving, prideful, "anti-God state of mind"? It's acknowledging our own sin. We need to pray for discernment to see where we are out of God's will, and we need to read and meditate on God's Word.

Lewis closes his chapter with the following:

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

So, friend, "it is called Today," may we encourage one another and not be deceived by the hardening work of sin. May we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, choose to believe, to trust and to obey.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hebrews 2: Who Needs Atonement?

In Hebrews 2, we are told that Jesus was made to be "like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people." (v.17)

This verse makes a truly incredible claim: God became man! The incarnate Christ is our merciful and faithful priest. Amazing. But that last phrase, "that he might make atonement for the sins of the people," is also of great importance. In fact, it is absolutely pivotal, dividing the world into two groups -- Christ followers and not. Whether you embrace and live out this verse largely determines your worldview.

Just think about it, people who acknowledge that the human race is imperfect (and most thinking people do!), approach rectifying that imperfection in one of two ways. They work at atoning for their own shortcomings, embracing various religions as means, or they accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Simply put, religions are either works-based, or grace-based, and to my knowledge the Christian religion is the only religion that is grace-based. Muslims observe religious laws in hopes of being accepted by Allah. For Buddhists, Nirvana is something you achieve, not something that is graciously given. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons both faithfully and diligently work to achieve salvation. Hindus achieve liberation. Unfortunately, many "Christians" live like they aim to earn something as well. But true followers of Christ admit that there is no amount of good works that they could possibly do to atone for their sins, and they accept Jesus. It's completely passive. It's 100% grace.

What joy, what freedom there is in not having to earn anything! I'm atoned for. And when you approach life through this lens, good works can be motivated by love instead of points. There is the possibility of being selfless, and other-centered.

But grace is countercultural and counterintuitive -- works is the default setting in our fallen little minds. So we need to continually remind ourselves that we are totally incapable of atoning for anything.

So what's your worldview? Are you working towards salvation, transcendence, or liberation? Or are you basking in God's love, resting in Jesus' atoning sacrifice, and living with freedom? May we accept and embrace the gift we are offered. As Paul wrote, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hebrews 2: Are You a Worrier?

We all have things we could worry about. My husband and I have a house in Florida that we'd really like to sell, but because we moved there in 2006 before the market crashed, we just can't afford to sell it. Real estate isn't moving, and even if we could find a buyer, we'd have to pony up so much cash to close that, at this point, we couldn't do it. I don't know how we will ever get rid of that house, and I could worry that it will just be a millstone around our necks for the next thirty years. But I don't. I could also worry about my boys growing up in this world that is so dark and far from God. I could worry about the fact that my oldest son appears to have every challenging character trait that my husband has. And even worse, I could worry about the fact that my middle son appears to have every challenging character trait that I have. I could worry about the fact that my youngest son doesn't mind worth a hoot, climbs under the nearest table if you tell him "no," prefers to watch Dora the Explorer to reading books, and is disturbingly wedded to wearing diapers. I could worry about these things, but I don't. I think by nature I'm just not much of a worrier, but I also trust that God is in control and that He has a good and perfect plan.

Now, I realize that my present list of potential worries is light, as in featherweight light, and that many people are burdened with true crises. Some are facing serious illnesses or the breakup of their marriage, some people are in the midst of watching their child suffer, others have even lost a child. And although I haven't experienced these things myself, I've witnessed the heartache of all of them. I also know that our worry list is never static; I'm thankful for the blessings and the absence of heartache and worry in my life today, but I'm also certain that this will not always be true. And when that day comes when I'm worried or broken I want YOU to spur me on with the truth of Hebrews 2.

Because the truth we find in Hebrews 2 applies to ALL situations: "In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him." (v.8) What's the key word in that verse? NOTHING. There is nothing that is not subject to Jesus. He is sovereign. He is in control.

May we hold to this truth firmly in good days and bad. Jesus is on the throne. He is in control. He is good. He loves you. God left nothing that is not subject to Him. Let us believe that and live by it everyday.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hebrews 2: Are You a Drifter?



There are some things you learn and never forget. Like riding a bike, of course, but other things too. We do not forget simple arithmetic like two plus two, and there are certain facts for which we do not need be reminded, like who served as the first or sixteenth American president. These things we know, and somehow, barring dementia, we will always know them. But spiritual truths are very different. We have an amazing propensity to forget what we once knew. We need constant reminders.

Hebrews 2:1 says "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." There is an old hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, which has a heartbreaking line about being a drifter, it laments being "prone to wander...prone to leave the God I love." I think we wander because we forget. We forget what is really important (trusting and obeying God), and get caught up in all sorts of meaninglessness.

We forget how God loves us; we forget how He has provided for us; we forget how even in the ugliest moment of our whole lives, that moment we'd give anything to have back, that God loved us in that moment just the same. We are ingrates. We forget. And we forget what God expects of us (Christ plus nothing) and we forget what kind of lives we are supposed to lead (Christ-like). Let's face it, we all have chronic and severe spiritual amnesia.

But identifying the problem is the first step towards a solution, right? So what would someone who truly suffers from amnesia do? What kinds of systems would they have in place to help them remember? I'm not an expert in this area (or any other), but the following would undoubtedly help an amnesiac.

1. Following a routine.
2. Constantly being reminded of the things most vital to their well-being.
3. Using sticky notes and other written reminders for daily life.

And these apply perfectly to spiritual amnesia as well. So, is reading your Bible and spending time in prayer part of a daily routine? Are you constantly reminded by others of the spiritual truths most vital to your well-being? This means we need godly friends and solid biblical teaching. Finally, are you using sticky notes and other written reminders? This might be journaling or might be verses of scripture on post-its and 3x5s.

If we acknowledge our propensity to forget, we should be willing to take these measures to "pay more careful attention." And I, for one, need to do better.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Not a Prophet, Nor an Angel. . . Better By Far

I like blogging in series because it helps keep me motivated and focused. Left unchecked I might just start writing about the funny things that happen around the Jackson house, and while that might be entertaining for a few related souls, it probably wouldn't spur anyone on toward love and good deeds. So for my new series I'm blogging through Hebrews, which seems appropriate since the mission verse of this blog is found there. I would love it if you'd carefully read through this book with me and feel free to leave a comment. My plan is to blog twice per week until I know Hebrews like never before.

The first chapter of Hebrews is all about the identity of Christ. The author seems to be aiming to clear up some misconceptions that have crept into this community of believers -- no, Jesus Christ is NOT an angel; no, Jesus Christ is NOT a prophet. He is God's Son. He "is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." (v. 3).

When you think about it, Hebrews 1 answers the most important question in the history of the world, the same question that Jesus pointedly asked his disciples. "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15). There is nothing more important in this life, nothing, than how we answer this question. So who do YOU believe Jesus, the man who physically lived on this earth, was?

If you've read C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity then you probably know his brilliant take on our rather limited options -- we can only reasonably conclude that Jesus was liar, lord or lunatic. (If you haven't read Mere Christianity, please email me and I'd be extremely happy to send you a copy. I have about twenty extra sitting on my shelf.)

Lewis wrote, "let us not come away with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." Yet fifty years later it is still commonplace for people to sweep the divine claims of Jesus right under the rug. The wisdom of Jesus' teaching is compelling, but many are too prideful to entertain that Jesus is in fact God.

So who do we believe Jesus was or is? It's a vital, life-defining, eternity-determining question. But it is also imperative that our lives bear out our beliefs. Do you ever stop to think, how does my day to day life evidence my beliefs? What would someone watching me conclude that I believe? Do I treat Jesus like a prophet, an angel, a great moral teacher, a liar, a lunatic, or is He my Lord?

Hebrews is abundantly clear: Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is sitting at the right hand of God. May our lives speak so clearly!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I just read my post from when 2009 was new and I quoted some excellent writers and verses (click here if you'd like to read it). But what's sort of funny is that in talking about setting goals and making resolutions I admit that I am not the strongest resolver. Well, that's an understatement. I can't even find my 2009 resolutions! They are on the back page of a book or notebook, that I know, but so far no luck in locating which book. I may have resolved to limit or give up Diet Coke -- I hope so. Because that I did! After decades of Diet Coke gluttony, I went cold turkey in October. It's quite strange to not have empty bottles rolling around my car -- that irritating trait has been part of me for so long!

But honestly I'm just not a long-term planner. I thrive on deadlines, not well-laid plans. For example, at Thanksgiving I decided I would read from John to Revelation in the New Testament by the end of the year, and today, one day late, I finished. I need short-term pressure, otherwise I just find a way to procrastinate. So knowing that about myself I've tried to build some weekly and monthly accountability into my 2010 resolutions.

Like everyone else there are some things that I need to do in 2010. And there are many things I'd really like to do. But perhaps one of the most important things that followers of Christ can do in starting a New Year right is to remember the wisdom of Paul in Galatians 3.

"Are you so foolish?" Paul asks, "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" Galatians 3:3.

I love that whole passage, but especially that verse. It's so direct, so unambiguous, so unapologetic. It's like Paul is speaking to me when I read it: "Kristie, are you a buffoon or what? You keep going back to human effort. Do you not know that Jesus said apart from Him you can do nothing?"

So may we "cease striving and know that [He is] God." Psalm 46:10 (NAS). And may our 2010 be a year of abiding in the true vine, knowing that apart from Him we can do nothing.

From Jude's salutation, "Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance" this year.