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Walk Worthy of God

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

In 1 Thessalonians 2:12, Paul summarizes his exhortation of the Thessalonians with the above four words.  To Christians, they should be both deeply inspiring and deeply humbling.  God has called us into His kingdom and glory.  Now, we are responsible for walking in a way that is worthy of Him.

What sorts of things befit the chosen people of God?  Dignity, for one, an awareness of the great price that was paid for us and a resolve to live accordingly.  We were nobodies, but Christ redeemed us and made us the heirs of all things.  This is not cause for arrogance, but it is a call to recognize our own value, to see the folly of trading away our birthright for the lentil stew of sin.  What a shame it is when Christians sell themselves cheaply to the devil!  What a waste!

Walking worthy also means walking in peace.  When the Wall Street financier steps out of his limo in front of the five-star restaurant, he doesn’t scurry to the back alley to fight over food scraps with the rats and the heroin addicts.  Why not?  Because he already has so much that such a sordid squabble isn’t worth his time.

So too for us.  Our lives are hidden with Christ in God.  We have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and will not pass away.  Indeed, everything that is worth having, all of us already have.

Nonetheless, the devil is very good at tricking us into caring about things that aren’t worth our time.  Somebody insults us or treats us badly, so we get mad and slash back at them, as though we had not already been seated in the heavenly places with Christ.  That’s not walking worthy, and it’s especially not walking worthy on social media, where the smallness of our spirits is displayed for all to see.  The sight of an heir of the grace of life fighting to defend their ego makes a brawl in a dumpster seem downright respectable by comparison!

Finally, walking worthy means walking in love.  We should not expect people of the world to be very good at this.  After all, they can love and serve only from their own resources, and even the greatest human spirit is quickly exhausted. 

By contrast, Christians have access to the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus.  We share in the example and the power of His supreme self-sacrifice.  Because of His love, we can love like Him. 

I have seen brethren dedicate themselves to a quiet, continual, thankless act of service for decades.  Day in and day out, there they are, persevering in love.  Even as I applaud their faithfulness, I know (and they would say) that the strength that sustains them is not theirs.  It is the strength that they have found in Jesus.

The worthy walk is a quiet walk.  It does not compete in worldly contests or win worldly prizes.  Its practitioners rarely make headlines in life or in death.  Nonetheless, the Lord knows who they are, and the day will come when they shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Going Outside the Camp

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

As Clay noted in his evening sermon last week, the last segment of the book of Hebrews, like the last part of many New-Testament epistles, contains practical instructions and admonitions, the so-what of the doctrinal discussion earlier in the book.  However, even the last part of the book of Hebrews is still the book of Hebrews.  If we just glance through Hebrews 13, we’ll see quotations from the Old Testament and other allusions from the Old Testament that most people off the street wouldn’t understand.

It can be tempting to take a buffet approach to Bible contexts like this.  We go through and we pick out the parts about singing praises to God and not cheating on our spouses, and we ignore the parts that aren’t as accessible.  However, there are two problems with that approach.  First, it’s lazy, and Christians are called to press on, not to be lazy.  Second, it cheats us of the full measure of the encouragement that we’re supposed to gain from the word of God.  Hebrews may be harder to figure out, but once we do, it’s worth it!  With this in mind, then, let’s consider what the Hebrews writer means when he talks about going outside the camp.

The first section of this context that we’re going to be considering is about THE CHANGELESS CHRIST.  Look with me at Hebrews 13:8-9.  First, we see the writer observing that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  As He was, so He is.  As He is, so He will be. 

This has two significant implications for us.  First, it tells us that the help He offers will remain the same.  I often talk about how we should be encouraged by what the Bible tells us about the faithfulness of God.  This is why we should be encouraged.  God hasn’t changed and Jesus hasn’t changed, so we can expect the same blessings from them today. 

Christians in the first century faced all kinds of trials and troubles and persecutions, but the Lord got them through it.  If Jesus Christ is the same, that tells us all we need to know about what He offers us.  So too, through Jesus Christ, the disciples of the first century found forgiveness of their sins.  Saul of Tarsus, the self- described chief of sinners, was forgiven so completely that he became an apostle!  If that’s how completely Jesus forgave Saul, how completely will the same Jesus forgive us?

Second, if Jesus is the same, His expectations remain the same.  The things that pleased Him in the first century will please Him in the twenty-first century too.  On the other hand, the things that He did not authorize in the first century He does not authorize today either.  If we want to honor Him today, the Scriptures tell us all we need to know.

This is why the admonition of v. 9 is so important.  If Jesus’ blessings and expectations remain the same, above all else, we must not go astray.  We must hold to His word, and we must hold to Him.  If we do, it’s all on the table, even eternal life.  If we don’t, we stand to lose it all because we have forsaken Him.

The Hebrews writer justifies this claim by describing OUR EXCLUSIVE ALTAR.  Let’s keep reading in Hebrews 13:10-12.  Here, the Hebrews writer is playing off of his comments about food regulations in v. 9.  The Jews were trying to tell the Jewish Christians that they couldn’t eat certain foods.  By contrast, the Hebrews writer wants those Jewish Christians to understand that they have spiritual food that the unbelievers couldn’t eat. 

Here is where things start getting confusing unless we’re experts in Leviticus, which, since we haven’t taken Josh’s class next quarter yet, we might not be!  Though the writer doesn’t give us a Scripture citation, he’s referring to the rituals for the Mosaic Day of Atonement, which is described in Leviticus 16.  In particular, he’s talking about the regulation of Leviticus 16:27, which required that when the goat was sacrificed for that yearly sin offering, the Israelites weren’t supposed to eat it.  Instead, they had to take it outside the camp and burn it.

Going outside the camp, then, isn’t just about physical location.  It’s about spiritual separation.  Symbolically, by burning that goat, the sins of the people were removed from them and destroyed. 

However, the Hebrews writer wants us to understand that rather than just being a weird Old-Testament custom, the goat of the sin offering is a type of Christ.  Just like the goat was burned outside the camp, Jesus was taken outside the city walls of Jerusalem and crucified.  He too took the sins of the people out from their midst.

There are a couple of crucial differences, though.  Nobody ate the goat of the sin offering, but all of us have become partakers in Christ and His altar.  Under the Law of Moses, the blood was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant, but all of us who are baptized believers have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ ourselves.  Christ separates us from our sins, but He also unites us with His Father and Himself.

All of this leads irresistibly to the writer’s conclusion about GOING TO JESUS.  Let’s finish our reading this evening with Hebrews 13:13-14.  If we want to be united with Jesus, we have to go where He is—outside the camp.  This doesn’t mean that we have to literally walk the pilgrimage route to Golgotha.  Instead, it means that we have to spiritually separate ourselves from the world.

This sounds very duh, but it’s actually quite painful.  As Clay talked about last week, the Jewish Christians suffered a lot.  They were thrown in prison, they had their possessions looted, and if they kept on, they were going to have their blood shed.  The Hebrews writer basically says to them, “What did you expect?”  Jesus was mocked and humiliated as He left the camp; those who want to do the same should expect to bear His disgrace too.

This is true for us too.  When our family gives us a hard time because we’re Christians, when people online accuse us of being hateful because we stand for Jesus and His word, when our friends don’t want to be our friends anymore because we can’t go drinking with them, we are going outside the camp to join Jesus, bearing His disgrace.  There’s no way to pick the world and Jesus at the same time, and when we leave them, and they laugh at us for it, we’re picking Him.

The next verse explains why anyone would endure this kind of abuse.  We leave the city here because we’re seeking the city which is to come.  We leave behind the earthly Jerusalem so we can claim our place in the heavenly Jerusalem.  In the spiritual realm, there is no dual citizenship.  Either we are citizens of the world, which will be destroyed, or we are citizens of heaven, which won’t be. 

Sure, declaring ourselves to be citizens of heaven will bring suffering on our heads here, but it also is the only possible path to eternal blessing.  We can’t spend our time the way the world does.  We can’t spend our money the way the world does.  Instead, we have to go to Jesus now so that we can be with Him forever.

The Lord's Discipline

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Hebrews 12:5-13 makes a crucial but underappreciated point.  The life of the Christian can be unpleasant, and sometimes, the One who is making it unpleasant is God.  This is at odds with the worldly vision of God as an indulgent grandparent who does nothing but shower gifts upon us.  However, it meshes neatly with the Bible’s picture of a heavenly Father who will do whatever is necessary to make sure that we spend eternity with Him.

In interpreting this passage, there are several things to note.  First, this is a text about discipline.  God is not being gratuitously cruel; rather, He is reacting to sin or spiritual weakness in our lives.  Additionally, His goal is not condemnation but correction.  If an abstract warning doesn’t get the point across, maybe pain will.

This pain can be administered in a couple of different ways.  The first is through the rebuke of the word.  From time to time after I preach, someone will tell me, “That sermon really stepped on my toes!” 

Of course, it’s not the sermon that’s stepping on the toes of the convicted Christian.  It’s the Scriptures.  Whether through the lips of someone else or through our own reading and study, all of us will encounter things in the Bible that are painful for us to consider.  We don’t like to hear the Holy Spirit telling us we need to make some changes!  However, the most unpleasant passages also are the ones we need to consider most closely.

Second, God also corrects us through the consequences of sin.  As the Hebrews writer observes in this context, righteousness often is painful right now but beneficial later.  Sin is the opposite.  We enjoy it in the moment, but we frequently find its fruits to be bitter.

Sometimes this is due to the nature of wickedness.  God warns us away from sinful things precisely because they are harmful and will make our lives worse.  When we don’t listen to Him, we are likely to find out why He instituted the commandment in the first place!

At other times, though, it may be that God’s providential care is responsible for our painful lesson.  I am reminded here of the drought in Israel in 1 Kings 17 that followed Ahab’s decision to worship Baal in 1 Kings 16.  Baal was a fertility god, responsible for sending rain and making crops grow.  Though Ahab didn’t get the message, God wanted him to understand that seeking agricultural blessing from a false god would have the opposite effect.

So too with the Baals of our lives.  When we turn to sin because we think it will make our lives better, and it has exactly the opposite effect, we should suspect the presence of God’s providence.  He wants to leave us with no cause to doubt that serving Him is best.

The response to God’s correction, though, is up to us.  We can pull an Ahab and ignore it.  Alternatively, we can listen to the Hebrews writer and strengthen the weaknesses so painfully highlighted for attention.  This process often isn’t pleasant either, but only through perseverance can we hope to inherit eternal life.

The Lord Is My Light

Thursday, May 20, 2021

As hopefully most of us have picked up on by now, our congregational theme for the year is “Be the Light”.  As a result, Clay and I are going to be spending the rest of the Sunday mornings in May preaching on various aspects of light.  We aren’t going to be following any particular theme, just looking at the abundant Biblical discussions of light.

This morning, though, I’d like to look at a passage that reminds us that we’re mirrors, not light bulbs.  The light that we shed isn’t our own light; instead, it is the light that we reflect from God.  Without His light, we would spend our lives in darkness.

This is important all the time, but it is especially important in difficult times.  Even when we feel like the night is closing in around us and there is no hope, God still gives us hope.  His power, compassion, and love constantly show us the way forward.  Without Him, we cannot succeed, but with Him, we cannot fail.  This is not a new insight; indeed, it is something that David understood very well 3000 years ago.  Let’s consider what it means, then, that the Lord is the light for each one of us.

Our text, of course, will be Psalm 27, and in it, David first identifies God as THE STRONGHOLD OF MY LIFE.  Look at Psalm 27:1-3.  David’s fearlessness really shines through in this reading, but the important point is that David’s confidence isn’t in himself, even though he was a gifted man.  His confidence is in God.

The same holds true for us.  God is the only reason we can have to be fearless.  Somebody who goes through life without God and is confident and unafraid isn’t courageous.  They’re a fool.  Sooner or later, something is going to happen in every one of our lives that we cannot handle.  However, there is nothing that can happen that God can’t handle, so fearlessness in Him is completely justified.

Second, notice how David looks to the past for confidence for the future.  God defeated his enemies for him before, so no future enemies can make him afraid.  This is a vital lesson for us.  Repeatedly, God has proven Himself to be faithful.  We see it in the lives of the people of the Bible, and if we’ve been Christians for any length of time, we’ve seen it in our own lives too.  On that basis, we can be sure that God will be faithful in the future too.  Whatever lies in front of us, He will get us through it!

In the next section of the psalm, David asks for ONE THING FROM THE LORD.  He explains in Psalm 27:4-6.  This is an interesting text.  David asks God to let him dwell in His house and His temple all the days of David’s life, but as far as we know, there wasn’t a temple in existence during David’s time at all.  We should understand this, then, as not being about any earthly building, but as being about God’s heavenly presence.

This is sort of like walking with God.  It doesn’t mean that we can look over and see Him trotting down the sidewalk next to us.  Instead, it means that we are abiding in Him. 

It’s vital for us to be with God because when we’re with Him, He’s with us.  As David observes, that’s when He protects us in times of trouble.  David describes Him as simultaneously hiding us in His tent and putting us on a rock.  Basically, the protection that God offers is the best that it can possibly be.

When God is faithful to us, though, we have a responsibility to be faithful to Him by doing what David describes—praising Him for His goodness.  Too often, we busily bang on God’s door when we’re in trouble and need help, but as soon as He helps us, we go our way without even a thank-you.  That’s not right.  Every time we experience God’s blessing in our lives, let’s make sure that we glorify Him as He deserves.

The third part of the psalm is about SEEKING GOD’S FACE.  Consider Psalm 27:7-10.  Once again, I think this is a passage about not taking God for granted.  My father-in-law likes to joke, “I told you I loved you once.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.”  That’s not how our relationship with God ought to be.  If we truly are intent on dwelling in His house, we need to be calling out to Him and seeking His face continually.

We do this in part because we recognize the all too ample reasons we give Him to turn away from us.  When David is worried about God turning him away in anger, he’s not just being paranoid.  He says this because he knows he’s an imperfect man seeking a perfect God.  When we get complacent about our sin, God will turn away from us in anger too.  Instead, we must seek Him in humility and repentance.

Notice, though, what the result of seeking God in this way will be.  He will be a better protector for us than our own parents would be.  For some Christians, sad to say, this is a low bar to meet, but in my case, I had amazing parents, and God is still a more faithful friend than they were!  How good it is to have a God we can trust so much!

Finally, the psalm discusses WAITING FOR THE LORD.  Let’s read here from Psalm 27:11-14.  One of the things that I love about the Psalms is the way they capture the divided thinking of humankind.  On the one hand, we see that David is concerned about a new batch of enemies that has risen up.  On the other, though, he expresses complete confidence in a positive outcome despite his fear.

Isn’t this so often the way that our own minds work?  I know who God is.  I know that I’ve seen His goodness in my life, over and over again.  And yet, every time I see some new challenge ahead of me, there’s that little voice inside my mind that says, “This time is different.  God won’t get you through this one.” 

When we hear that little voice, it doesn’t mean that we are unbelieving, any more than David was unbelieving.  It means that we’re human.  Always, our hearts will be divided between faith and fear.  God knows that, and He wants us to know that it has always been so with His people.

Look, though, at what the conclusion of David’s self-talk is.  He tells himself, “Wait for the Lord.”  This is where our self-talk should end too.  No matter what our problems are, waiting for the Lord is always the right answer.  Even if we do not see how it possibly could work out, God knows just what He will do.  He will be faithful to us as He always has been faithful to all of His people.

The Heroes of Faith Are Watching

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Hebrews was my father’s favorite book of the Bible.  I have his old Bible in my office, and inside it, the pages of Hebrews look like somebody used them to scrub the kitchen floor at Long John Silver’s.  I spent countless hours discussing Hebrews with him before I ever moved out, and yet, to this day, every time I study the book, I find some new proof of the writer’s extraordinary vision and power.

During this particular reading, I was struck by the connection between the argument of Hebrews 11 and its conclusion at the end of the chapter and the beginning of the next.  I see the theme of the argument really begin to emerge in the writer’s discussion of Abraham in 11:8-10.  He notes that by faith, Abraham left his homeland, even though he didn’t know where he was going.

This is true in two senses.  First, Abraham had never laid eyes on the promised land of Canaan.  Second, though, the writer notes that Abraham wasn’t really seeking Canaan.  Instead, he was looking for the city whose builder and architect was God.  By faith, he was seeking an eternal dwelling place—even though he had no idea that such a dwelling place existed!  He listened when God said “Go out to the place that I will show you,” without the foggiest idea of what his reward would be.

In Hebrews 11:39-40, notes that what was true of Abraham was true of all the Old Testament heroes of faith.  They gained God’s approval, but they never received the promise.  They never experienced the fulfillment of God’s purpose in Jesus, and they could not be perfected until that purpose was fulfilled. 

Neither of those things is true for us.  In Christ, we already have been perfected.  As per Hebrews 12:2, in Him we see the fullness of the revelation of God’s mystery.  The progress of the faithful, from suffering and shame to eternal glory, is spelled out for us in His life, death, and resurrection as a matter of historical certainty.

In the face of these facts, the writer urges us to do two things.  First, we must keep our gaze fixed on Jesus.  If we do not grow weary and lose heart, what happened to Him surely will happen to us.  His glory will be our glory too, and if He is always before us, we constantly will be reminded of that truth.

Second, even as we fix our eyes on Jesus, we must remember that others have their eyes fixed on us.  In Hebrews 12:1, the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us is none other than the faithful people of Hebrews 11.  They ran the race without the advantages that we have, and they want to see how we will run it with those advantages.  Abraham didn’t know where he was going, but he arrived there anyway.  How sad it would be if we, with our knowledge of what awaits us, fall short of his example of faith!

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