Continuing the story
Hebrews 11: Their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole.
This chapter of the Bible is called the “faith chapter” because of its almost poetic description of the power of faith. Now, it’s not just faith in faith. The focus of this powerful faith is clearly identified as “trust in God.” If I place my faith elsewhere, no matter now sincere that faith might be; it will be an act of foolishness that will take me down the path of disappointment and maybe even destruction. The heroes of faith described in this passage didn’t believe in belief. Rather they believed in, and trusted in, God. These people weren’t disappointed as the Lord came through for them in wonderful ways. The writer takes us on a faith tour, stopping before each exhibit just long enough to remind us of their victorious stories. Before we’re ready, he tells us time is up and we get just a glance down the hall of “current events” where we see people making great sacrifices for their faith, believing whatever it is they’re facing is worth the reward they’re earning. As we prepare to move on, our host says something quite surprising. As wonderful as their examples of faith is, it’s incomplete. We’re not on this tour just to look back. Rather, we’re here to be inspired to join in; to add our stories to theirs. Their looking-forward-to-God’s-better-plan-faith is to be balanced and completed by our embracing-the-better-plan-that’s-now-available-faith. As we live in this new salvation plan we prove the validity of their faith years ago. They carried the torch of faith as far as they could; now it’s been passed on to us. What an honor, what a privilege, and what a responsibility is ours.
Take Away: We don’t just remember great faith of years gone by – we embrace it and advance it to our day and age.
The Antichrist and the last days
2Thessalonians 2: Don’t let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter.
The congregation at Thessalonica is, in the words of Elvis, “All shook up,” over some gossip that Paul says Jesus has already returned and they’ve missed it. Paul reminds them of what he told them about this topic while he was with them. The events surrounding the Second Coming will be too big to miss. Two huge, worldwide events will dominate all else: a great Apostasy and the rise of a very bad person who’ll pretend to be God Almighty. The spirit of this personification of evil is already evident in the world, so they already have an idea of what it will be like but when the real deal comes no one will be left wondering whether or not “this is it.” The Apostle hurries to reassure them that everything’s going to be okay. Just when it seems all is lost Jesus will appear and without any difficulty at all, will handle this bad guy. Paul tells his readers he’s not all that concerned about this stuff. After all, he has bigger fish to fry. Just what is that? Why, it’s putting his time and energy into thanking God for what he’s doing and is going to do in their lives. So, what am I to do with “end days” concerns? I’m to be aware that some bad things are coming to the world. I’m to remember that Jesus is coming back and he’ll handle it all with ease. Especially, I’m to keep my eyes on the Lord and use my energies in living for him and in him and not let myself get worked up over stuff I barely understand in the first place.
Take Away: I trust the Lord, not my knowledge about how everything will happen at the end of time.
Galatians 3: Anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure.
It’s astounding to read the writings of this once exemplary Pharisee as he takes on the failure of rule keeping. Paul was, at one time, a Pharisee’s Pharisee. He was cheered for his dedication to a thousand-and-one rules; zealous for that way of life to the point that he hunted down and imprisoned any who threatened it. Now, years later, he’s making a lawyerly case against that approach, urging his friends at Galatia back from the brink of yielding to a “Jesus-and” approach to God. When a past Pharisee says rule keeping dooms a person to spiritual failure I’m wise to listen. Paul says the key to spiritual life isn’t trying harder, rather it’s trusting God more. He says this secret has always been out there, hidden in plain view. After all father Abraham is counted as righteous, not because he’s so good at always doing just what God wants (in fact, he’s notoriously bad at it) but rather because he trusts God. Rather than creating a human powered way to God the rules prove to me once and for all that that approach will never work. I’m left in a hopeless condition unless a superior way is made available to me. And that’s exactly what happens. Jesus, the Son of God, accepts my failure as his own. What rule keeping can’t do, he does. The door to righteousness is opened wide. To surrender to a “Jesus and” approach is to take a step backward to a failed system. My hope is firmly fixed on “Jesus only.”
Take Away: There’s no other way to God than through faith in Jesus.
The heart of the matter
1Corinthians 15: It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection.
Even a casual journey through this book of the Bible convinces us that the church at Corinth is a troubled church. Paul has received word of all that’s happening there and in this letter he takes on the most outrageous problems and promises to deal with other issues in person. Apparently, he’s saved his biggest concern for last. Some in the church are beginning to doubt the Resurrection. He warns his readers stay away from such talk and launches into a reasoned defense of this core doctrine of Christianity. At the heart of it is simply this: if there’s no resurrection, Jesus isn’t resurrected and if Jesus isn’t resurrected we’re still in our sins. Resurrection is, for believers, vitally important. Our hope of salvation is in it and our hope for eternity rests on it. All the other problems at Corinth are minor in comparison to their wavering on this key point of faith. The Apostle says he wouldn’t be out on the front lines taking the hits if he didn’t believe in the resurrection. The resurrection defeats sin in our lives today and, in the end, it defeats our final enemy, Death. I’m thankful for this reminder today. Life tends to wrap us up in an ever tightening grip. Even “being a Christian” gets loaded down with non-central stuff like committee meetings and various activities that are fine but not central. A reminder like this refocuses our priorities, taking us back to that which really matters.
Take Away: Christianity without the Resurrection is something other than Christianity.
You aren’t down for the count
Romans 11: Are they down for the count…the answer is a clear-cut no.
The people of Israel, Paul says, have, in general, messed up royally. They had an inside track to God but rejected him. Because of their disobedience and unbelief they’ve been cut off and are no longer connected to the “root” of God’s love and faithfulness. The Lord, who specializes in taking bad situations and turning them into good ones, has used their rejection as a way to open the door for all peoples of the world to come in. When an “outsider” believes in Jesus that person is grafted into the “vine” of God’s grace. In this the outsider becomes an insider. Now, what of those people of Israel who became dead to God because of their unbelief? Is it too late for them? Is their permanent loss a sad necessity that the way to God be opened for the non-Jews? Paul answers, “No way!” He serves a God of Second Chances and even now the Lord’s working out a restoration for those who’ve been cut off. In his plan it’s never been “Jews verses Gentiles.” The Lord’s working right now to bring salvation to all, grafting in all who will come, making them part of his family. Isn’t this good news! The Gentiles have never known God, but now a way has been made for them to connect to him. The people of Israel have a long history with God but blew it. Still, God works to bring them back home. Maybe you were raised in church and knew the Lord as Savior at one time but now all that’s past tense in your life. I have Good News for you. As it was for the people of Israel who messed up royally there remains hope. Right now the Lord invites you to return and be reattached to the vine of his mercy, love, and grace. Even if everyone else has given up on you, God hasn’t.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Romans 10: Grand prossessions of people telling all the good things of God!
Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah all through this passage. In his day, Isaiah extolled the value of messengers who went from place to place proclaiming the message of hope to their generation. That, he says, is a beautiful thing. Paul is sorry that the people of Israel of his day aren’t the “message-proclaimers.” They’ve had every opportunity to play that role but instead insist on doing things their own way. They’re the losers in that. Now, I read this scenario and think about my own generation. Like the messengers of Isaiah’s day, the Church has Good News. We should be happily “telling all the good things of God.” All too often though, like the people of Israel of Paul’s day, we’ve retreated to our church buildings and busied ourselves with committees and programs, hanging our shingle outside inviting those want to know more to come on in. Beyond that, we’ve divided up into different camps, drawing lines and building walls. We’d rather argue over finer points of the Bible than go next door to offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. Isaiah reminds us that it’s a beautiful thing when God’s people take the Good News to those who need it so desperately. Paul, though, reminds us that it’s possible for those with the Good News to fumble and fail. Does this kind of thinking alarm us? It should.
Take Away: Who do I know who needs the Good News?
Grace extended to both insiders and outsiders
Romans 3: Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself.
The Jews, Paul says, have a special relationship with God. They’re the writers of Scripture, introducing God to the world. That’s a place of great honor, but it’s no guarantee of salvation. Not only that, but these custodians of God’s Word have, themselves, failed to live according to it. Meanwhile, the outsiders have gone their own way. Ignorant of God’s commands, uninterested in his ways, they too have failed. The result is “that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else.” So now what? Those with the inside path to God haven’t followed it and those on the outside haven’t found it. Hope for salvation has to come from, not within, but from outside of humanity. Enter Jesus. Through him the remedy for failure and sin is offered. The Jews need him because they’ve rejected what they knew God wanted. The outsiders need him because they’ve never started down God’s path in the first place. The generous provision of God is his making a way to life for all people, Jews and non-Jews alike. The hope of salvation, then, is in this wonderful expression of God’s grace to a lost human race.
Take Away: For those who know the law but haven’t kept it and for those who never kept it because they never knew it, that is, for all of us, our only hope is God’s grace.
Acts 23: That night the Master appeared to Paul: “It’s going to be all right.”
Paul, the former pursuer and persecutor of Christians is now himself, a Christian who is pursued and persecuted. When similar pressure broke out in other places the believers have secreted him out of town and out of danger. Now, though, he’s held prisoner by the Romans. When forty or more men take an oath to kill Paul the Romans take action similar what has been done before; they move him out of town. Paul, at the center of this whole storm, is surprisingly calm and filled with hope. Why? It’s because he’s heard from the Lord that “It’s going to be all right.” His confinement has just begun and things will get worse. How many times will he return in spirit to that night at the Roman garrison in Jerusalem when the Master, himself, came to encourage him? This visitation of the Lord will become his anchor as the storm of adversity crashes down on him. We not only need some midnight visits from the Lord as we deal with the issues of life, but we also need to cherish them; to remember them and draw strength from them. Then, as the storm’s fury is unleashed on us we can draw from those midnight visitations and be strengthened to perseverance and peace.
Take Away: We not only need some midnight visits from the Lord as we deal with the issues of life, but we also need to cherish them as well.
What do we do now?
Acts 2: Get out of this sick and stupid culture!
It’s the Day of Pentecost. Those in the Upper Room have received the Promise of the Father. The power of the Holy Spirit flows out of them and they proclaim the Good News of Jesus with authority they’ve never had before and in languages they’ve never spoken before. Thousands come running to see what’s happening and Peter preaches his Pentecost sermon. Good people hear this message and are alarmed that the Messiah has come, been executed, and has risen from the grave. Is it too late for them? Has the long awaited Messiah come and they missed the boat? Pleading, they ask, “So now what do we do?” Peter’s answer is this: “Change your life…turn to God…be baptized…receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” A corrupt, Christ-denying culture has brought them to the brink of disaster. Their only hope, Peter says with Spirit-filled confidence, is to “get out of this sick and stupid culture.” This message of both warning and hope is still the one people need to hear today. Our culture of self and materialism is destroying our souls. We’re on the brink of eternal disaster. Our hope is in the resurrected Savior of the world. The message of God to this generation is the same as the one Peter gave to his so long ago: “Repent, turn to God, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit.”
Take Away: There’s a way through to God and that Way is named Jesus
John 7: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
One of the big events in Jewish life in this day is the feast of the Tabernacles. Everyone moves outdoors for the event, camping out, and there are special worship activities at the Temple each day. Jesus is here, teaching at the Temple and many believe he’s the Messiah. On this last day, as the priest pours water mixed with wine on the altar Jesus shouts out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus offers to all who will come what’s being symbolized at the altar. What an offer it is. To the weary one who has been worn down by their journey in life he offers himself as the Living Water. To the bruised one who has tried other things that promised satisfaction only to be disappointed and scarred by their effort Jesus calls out “Come to me.” To those hurting, confused, and broken Jesus offers healing, understanding, and wholeness. To you and me Jesus extends the invitation to come and be satisfied.
Take Away: The only one who can really satisfy our lives invites us to come and receive what only he can give us.