Posts Tagged ‘Epistle to the Hebrews’

The troubles of this world are cold and relentless. It’s not easy to stay so focused on heaven that we are being bombarded with the problems of earthly life. We’re commanded, of course, to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:2), but even the most committed believer will testify that earthly trials sometimes obscure the heavenly perspective.

sam

We worry. We grieve. We stumble. We strain under the toil of our daily labors. We feel the guilt of our fallen condition. Meanwhile, we are assaulted with troubles of all kinds. Those are just a few of the many worldly burdens that  keep our thoughts from rising to heaven.

And yet we are commanded repeatedly to “seek the things that are above” (Col. 3:1). We are instructed to “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18). We can’t allow the burdens of this life to divert our hearts from heaven.

How is that possible? When the load weighs us down and the troubles become too much for one person to bear, pie-in-the-sky sentiments can sound very far away.

But that is precisely why the church is so important. It is our duty as believers to help bear each others burdens (Gal. 6:2). When someone staggers, we help steady the load. If he is straining, we help bear the burden. And if he stumbles, we lift him up. Helping fellow believers carry the weight of their worldly troubles is one of the chief practical duties that should be something every Christian WANTS to do.

Of course, that concept is contrary to the thoughts of our culture, with secular society’s tendency to focus on ourselves. Our generation has developed an unhealthy obsession with entertainment; we are daily bombarded with a bunch of trivial diversions; and we tend to interact with one another in sound-bites or through faceless media. We live in crowded cities and over-populated neighborhoods; yet most individuals are more isolated than ever.

And let’s be honest — Most churches nowadays often imitate the culture exactly where we most need to confront and contradict its influence. As churches seek to become bigger, flashier, and more technologically savvy, they usually tend to become more cold and impersonal. Contemporary churches sometimes even seem to encourage the “me first” agenda of self-love rather than the “one another” commands of Scripture. As a result, we don’t bear one another’s burdens like we should.

Paul made this duty a high priority. It was the centerpiece of his sermons to the Galatian churches. The first half (or more) of Galatians is a defense of  faith and a series of arguments against the false teaching that threatened to place those churches in bondage to the Law. In Galatians 5:14 he reminded them: “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

How is that love best shown? “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).

Do you want to fulfill the moral requirements of the Law? Love your neighbor. How do you love him? By bearing his burdens.

It’s interesting that Paul would emphasize this theme in an epistle written to confront people who were falling into legalism. It’s as if he were saying, “You want to observe a law? Let it be the law of Christ. If you have to impose burdens on yourselves, let it be through acts of love toward your neighbor.”

If you will do that faithfully, your own burden won’t seem so heavy. Best of all, you will find it easier to keep your focus heavenward, regardless of the trials you suffer in this life.

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:16 )

Heaven

We live here, we walk here, we eat and drink here, but may we never call it home. The ground beneath our feet and sky above our heads are the scenery we enjoy momentarily, but they will pass away (Matthew 24:35). Our family is more than people with the same last name (Mark 3:35), as believers we are united by blood, literally the shed blood of Jesus the risen Savior. We, the family, walk as sojourners (1 Peter 2:11), as travelers, loving and serving the people around us, all the while remembering we will one day be home. A home that has been prepared for us (John 14:3), where we will live in ever increasing joy.

Our lips will never again say, “It was fun while it lasted”, as the smile fades from our face. In our home there is no sorrow, there is no disease, there is no end to joy (Revelation 21:4). In our home our treasure does not fail, there is no thief to steal, no moneybag to grow old (Luke 12:33). In your heart, and in your head, where is your treasure and your home? For “there will your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

Where is your home?

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:4, 5

Trinity

No doubt you associate March 17th each year as St. Patrick’s Day, as I do. For as long as I can remember, the date set aside to celebrate St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, has been a day dedicated to the wearing of green, to decorating with leprechauns and shamrocks, and to holding parades in locations where many Irish have settled.

But little did I know that March 17th is also a holiday because of a military victory. We’ll get back to St. Patrick—because that’s a very important story—but so is Evacuation Day. If I’ve done my homework right, Evacuation Day was the day in the Boston area when British General Sir William Howe led his troops onto their ships and left the city for Nova Scotia. The Continental Army, under the new command of General George Washington, strategically occupied Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston Harbor. Fortifications were built with artillery equipment captured at Fort Ticonderoga, and the British realized that their position within Boston was indefensible. Fearing a defeat similar to Bunker Hill, General Howe decided to evacuate, ending an 11 month siege of the city. Boston was never attacked again by the British, and this can be considered Washington’s first victory of the Revolutionary War. The password for the day in General Washington’s Continental Army encampment was “Saint Patrick,” and March 17th was declared an official holiday for Suffolk County, Massachusetts in the early 1900s.

With the story of St. Patrick we find another victory, but of a different sort. His is the story of victory over bitterness, victory over the lies of a pagan culture, and, asThomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization would even say, the victory over illiteracy and ignorance which would preserve writings so important to us today, including the Bible.

Patrick was a young man of sixteen years when kidnapped from his home in England around 400 A.D. and taken to Ireland. There he was sold to a chieftain who forced Patrick to tend his sheep. It was during this captivity that Patrick remembered his Christian upbringing, which he had formerly rejected. As he wrote in his Confessions, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours” and “the love of God . . . surrounded me more and more.” His understanding and love for God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit grew during these lonely years of survival in the cold, rain, and snow. His writings do not show bitterness, however, because he used his time to grow in new love and faith. After six years as a slave-shepherd Patrick escaped and returned to his home in England, a changed man.

Feeling called to return to Ireland and proclaim the Gospel to the pagan and barbaric culture which he had left, Patrick began to study and prepare. Eventually he was ordained as a priest, and then a bishop. When he did return, he brought new hope to the land where he had been held captive, all because of his bold and faithful proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world. He even used the shamrock to explain the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He served in Ireland for 29 years, baptizing thousands and planting hundreds of churches. Besides individual lives redeemed, their new Christian faith gave the Irish people a revived love of learning—which then fostered literacy. The Irish monks were instrumental in copying books, including the Bible, which were in danger of being looted and destroyed during the final days of the Roman Empire as it crumbled.

This is a quick summary, no doubt, and there is much to appreciate in the legacy of St. Patrick. Although accounts of his biography differ in details, there seems to be little disagreement as to his passion to evangelize the people of Ireland because of his love for them and his love for our Lord. I am particularly inspired by his deep prayer life, and am touched by this writing called “The Breastplate,” attributed to St. Patrick:

“Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

March 17th is a day to celebrate victory, whether Evacuation Day or St. Patrick’s Day. The ultimate victory is through Jesus Christ, and as Christians we celebrate His life in us every day of the year. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3: 12-14)

Be careful! The Hebrew writer sees danger for the Christian and so he gives him (and us) a clear warning. The alarm has been sounded and the dreadful words that many people deny even exists are used… fall away. Books have been written. Sermons have been preached. And arguments have been had. Many will say, “no, it is impossible for Christians to fall away!” But there it is, “leading you to fall away from the living God”.

So, what will we do with this? We could deny it all together! We could explain it away. We could use other verses that seem to teach something else to argue against it. Or… we could accept that the Hebrew writer understood something that we need to understand… maybe. Three verses stating the exact same message just might be evidence of a truth that we need to grasp.

Verse 12….Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. Take care “brothers”. The people being addressed are Christians. The warning is directed to those that have placed their faith in Him. The problem is unbelief. Christians never struggle with that! Do they? I have. Some days God seems farther away. Some days I doubt. The warning is that if that continues and grows, the risk is that the Christian will “fall away from the living God.” Some of you are shaking your heads right now, “that can’t happen!”. Ok, let’s move on.

Verse 13…But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The solution to the problem that is detailed in verse 12 is given in verse 13. We need each other! I have a responsibility to my brothers and sisters. I “must” give them encouragement. I must see their needs and meet them. Without that continual exhortation, the danger is that the heart will be hardened. I have seen this and I am sure you have also. Concrete is hauled in trucks that continually mix it… why? If it sits, it hardens. If the Christian is left alone to his / her own devices, their hearts will harden. Life will happen and they will begin to lose faith. Sin will deceive us and we will turn away from Him. We need each other!

Verse 14…For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. This is an if/ then statement given in reverse order. Let’s turn it around… if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end, then we have come to share in Christ. The sharing in Christ is conditioned on our remaining faithful to the end. (check out Revelation 2:10) This is not an abstract thought, it is the thought that is consistent throughout the Bible! What do we think Jesus is teaching in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13? Why did Paul write so many letters of encouragement that warn of the dangers of losing faith? If none of this is possible, why all the warnings?

Hebrews 3 establishes Jesus as the one who is worthy of our faith. He is greater than Moses. Moses was a servant, Jesus is the Son! It begins by addressing the readers as “holy brothers, those that share in the heavenly calling” and proceeds to warn them of the dangers they would face and the outcome of their faith. What about you? Are you struggling with belief? Do you see another Christian struggling? Get busy being encouraged or encouraging. Once the concrete has hardened, it is too late.

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
(Revelation 2:10-11)

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4)

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

Matthew 18:10 states, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” In the context, “these little ones” could either apply to those who believe in Him (v. 6) or it could refer to the little children (vs. 3-5). This is the key passage regarding guardian angels. There is no doubt that good angels help protect (Daniel 6:20-23; 2 Kings 6:13-17), reveal information (Acts 7:52-53; Luke 1:11-20), guide (Matthew 1:20-21; Acts 8:26), provide for (Genesis 21:17-20; 1 Kings 19:5-7), and minister to believers in general (Hebrews 1:14).

The question is whether each person—or each believer—has an angel assigned to him/her. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel had the archangel (Michael) assigned to it (Daniel 10:21; 12:1), but Scripture nowhere states that an angel is “assigned” to an individual (angels were sometimes sent to individuals, but there is no mention of permanent assignment). The Jews fully developed the belief in guardian angels during the time between the Old and New Testament periods. Some early church fathers believed that each person had not only a good angel assigned to him/her, but a demon as well. The belief in guardian angels has been around for a long time, but there is no explicit scriptural basis for it.

To return to Matthew 18:10, the word “their” is a collective pronoun in the Greek and refers to the fact that believers are served by angels in general. These angels are pictured as “always” watching the face of God so as to hear His command to them to help a believer when it is needed. The angels in this passage do not seem to be guarding a person so much as being attentive to the Father in heaven. The active duty or oversight seems, then, to come more from God than from the angels, which makes perfect sense because God alone is omniscient. He sees every believer at every moment, and He alone knows when one of us needs the intervention of an angel. Because they are continually seeing His face, the angels are at His disposal to help one of His “little ones.”

It cannot be emphatically answered from Scripture whether or not each believer has a guardian angel assigned to him/her. But, as stated earlier, God does use angels in ministering to us. It is scriptural to say that He uses them as He uses us; that is, He in no way needs us or them to accomplish His purposes, but chooses to use us and them nevertheless (Hebrews 1:7). In the end, whether or not we have an angel assigned to protect us, we have an even greater assurance from God: if we are His children through faith in Christ, He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28-30), and Jesus Christ will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). If we have an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving God with us, does it really matter whether or not there is a finite guardian angel protecting us?

Another great article from http://www.gotquestions.org. I highly recommend this site.

In January 2013, the Barna Group released a research study chronicling “Temptations and America’s Favorite Sins.” The study, based on 1,021 online interviews among adults over the age of 18 in each of the 50 United States, also studied differences in temptations based on gender, generation and religion. Some temptations that researchers considered “old temptations,” 60 percent of Americans admit to being tempted to procrastinate and worry, 55 percent say they are tempted to overeat, 44 percent claim a temptation to spend too much money, and 41 percent own up to being tempted by laziness. Researchers placed sins driven by technology in the category of “new temptations,” calculating that 44 percent of Americans are tempted to spend too much time on media, while 11 percent admit a temptation to “go off” on someone via text or email, according to the study. “For most American adults, the things they’ll admit to being tempted by are related to work and productivity — but some of the age-old deadly sins show up too,” the researchers wrote. “Though, perhaps unsurprisingly, the more serious the temptation, the fewer people admit to struggling with it.”

In Christ we can live a better life than what temptation promises. Today in prayer, praise the Lord that in this life, we can always face temptation with Jesus and in His power overcome it.

“Temptation is not meant to make us fail; it is meant to confront us with a situation out of which we emerge stronger than we are.” – William Barclay

God’s Word: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15

angel-20352501South African Jan Schlebusch resigned from a mining company job in his early 1960s to work full-time showing the “Jesus Film” in the unreached villages of South Africa, Zambia and Botswana. Once Jan was about to show “Jesus Film” to a small group of hardened criminals in a maximum security prison in South Africa.  He was alone in a room with the “toughest of the tough” – robbers, rapists and murderers.  Several of them were “lifers.”  Jan knew that any one of the prisoners could easily slit his throat with a knife when he dimmed the lights. However, despite the pressure he felt, Jan was obedient.  As the movie unfolded many of the prisoners mocked and swore at the screen. Gradually, they quieted down and became more interested in the story. Then an astounding thing happened. During the crucifixion, several began to weep. By the time the prayer of invitation was completed, hardened criminals – EVERY ONE OF THEM – were on their knees, sobbing, asking God to forgive them, praying to invite Christ into their lives. Shocked and amazed, Jan wasn’t sure what has just happened.  He turned his head to the corner of the room…startled by the sight.  Standing before him was an awesome being, 10-feet tall, robed in brilliant white…an angel!  Jan said the angel’s face was obscured.  He could see nothing above the angel’s shoulders.  This messenger of God lifted up his hand and pointed a finger directly toward Jan:  “You see, Jan, all you must do is be available and do the work.” Instantly, the angel vanished –but not the sense of awe that was engulfing Jan.  He had witnessed the greatest miracle of all.  He had seen the vilest of sinners being born from above, becoming righteous in Jesus.

Angels are ministering spirits sent to serve us and protect us. Today in prayer, praise the Lord that He has sent His angels to protect us.

“Could the veil be lifted, we would see that angels of God are around us to preserve us from unseen dangers. Thousands of times has their care been especially manifested for us in our warfare with the agencies of Satan.” – Ellen G. White

God’s Word: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” – Psalm 91:11

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” – Hebrews 1:14