Imperishable Inheritance

There are a lot of things in life that get old, fade, spoil and eventually go away. Relationships end. Health fails. Money is squandered. Old t-shirts become rags. Possessions end up at the dump.

It gets old that everything in life gets old. It’s all temporary. And the suffering that results from our grief is inevitable. Because, sadly, the momentary, transitory nature of things applies also to the things we love the most.

But in the gospel there is hope. We have the promise of something that will never, ever get old. Something that will not fade or spoil. Something that will never perish.

There is something that is permanent.

That something is our eternal inheritance being kept for us in heaven. This is the inheritance that Jesus won for us through his death on the cross and three days later, his resurrection.

When the apostle Peter thought of the permanence of this inheritance, he couldn’t keep himself from rejoicing. The joy overflowed from his heart, tumbling from his lips in poetic words of praise.

Even in the midst of suffering, Peter proclaims, this promised inheritance brings us great joy. It gives us patience and perseverance. It stills our troubled hearts.

As the Psalmist wrote, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV). And Peter says it this way:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV).

Heavenly Father, I praise you for your gift of heaven, and I thank you that because of your Son, Jesus, I can be confident that by faith in him, this inheritance is assuredly mine.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 22, is Ezekiel 41:1 – 42:20, 1 Peter 1:1 -2:3 and Psalm 131:1-3.

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How to Be Patient

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance,” wrote Samuel Johnson.

There’s a reason for the fact that great works are performed by perseverance. It’s because truly great works are performed by God. Sometimes we go through troubled times because God needs to teach us to know this. He wants us to rely on him rather than our own wisdom, ability or strength.

Wise farmers  get this. And they are also smart enough to know that you can’t rush the harvest. The finish line is the finish line. Crops cannot be rushed. There are no shortcuts. You do what you can do, and you trust God, and you keep your eye on the day when the harvest will be brought in.

The Old Testament prophets also got it. There were times when life was pretty unbearable for them. Think of Elijah under the constant threat of Ahab and Jezebel. Or consider Hosea being asked to marry — and then redeem and remarry — his unfaithful wife. Or recall Jeremiah who was thrown into a muddy, mucky cistern for a prison cell and left to barely survive.

Job understood too. Job’s patience in all his troubles is legendary. After all Job went through — including losing his property, his possessions, his friends and most of his family — he was hurting and he struggled, but he persevered in his faith in God.

You get the picture. Life was often extremely difficult for an Old Testament man or woman of God. The only thing that kept them going was their Lord, and their faith that God would make good on his promises. Patience and perseverance was the result of having an eternal perspective. They knew there would be a finish line. They knew a harvest day was coming.

And so, in the midst of all their difficulties, they kept their eye on the end goal, not knowing exactly when it would arrive, and they waited for God to perform a great work in their lives. Whatever events were telling them, they clung to their faith that God’s plan for them was full of compassion and mercy.

The truth is, when our trials and troubles seem to provide proof that God has disappeared from the scene, God’s promises assure us that his plans never fail. There is an end in sight, because the Lord is coming.

So in the meantime, we can recall that great works are performed not by our strength, but by God’s strength. Knowing that, we can be patient and persevere.

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5: 7-8, 10-11, NIV).

Lord, I know your plans and promises for me are great. It is hard for me to be patient and to wait for your plans to come to fruition. I fail many times at being patient. Please forgive me and help me to always keep the finish line in mind as I wait for you to do great things in my life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 21, is Ezekiel 40:1-49, James 5:1-20 and Psalm 130:1-8.

Header image based on "Henri J. M. Nouwen Let's be patient and trust..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

The Way Up Is Down

The way God works is sometimes counterintuitive. This happens in so many areas of our life. With God, for instance, we don’t find happiness by pursuing happiness. We find it by pursuing God. We don’t discover our true selves by looking to ourselves and following our own path. We discover our true selves by looking to Jesus and following his path.

And it works that way with moving upward in life. Most of us hope to see some kind of progress in our life. So we try to climb the corporate ladder. Or we try to move the needle on our saving accounts upward. Or we take the extended trip to discover ourselves. All of that, we hope, will tell a story of us moving on up.

We try to go up by going up. Seems natural.

But this too, with God, requires a counter-intuitive approach. God’s grace is the operating principle of the Christian’s life. That is, God’s undeserved love and favor on our lives is what makes our life truly move in a positive direction.

Earning God’s grace and favor is not possible. But we certainly can ward off that grace and favor. We do that with a prideful heart. By definition, grace requires a person to know that he doesn’t deserve it, to realize that he has not earned it. Pride says, “I did this. I have earned the credit for achieving and accomplishing this result.”

The two attitudes cannot coexist.

Which is why James says we are to humble ourselves before God, and submit ourselves to his will. Shout a loud “No!” to Satan, and a quiet but firm “Yes!” to God.

That may mean hitting rock bottom. It may mean pain, grieving, and getting really, really tired of where our rebellious streak is leading us. It may mean a period of time in our lives that is dark and gloomy and depressing. The fun and games are over. Hitting rock bottom hurts because rock bottom is hard.

But it also humbles us enough that we become willing to cry out, confess our sin, grieve over the hurt we have caused ourselves and our God, and finally — finally! — stop trying to lift ourselves up and make our own progress.

Because lifting us up is God’s job. And he promises to get his job done.

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

‘God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.’

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6-10, NIV).

Father, humble me so that you can lift me up.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 20, is Ezekiel 38:1 – 39:29, James 4:1-7 and Proverbs 28:7-17.

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Perfect Protection

God’s promises are like a powerful shield that guards us from the slings and arrows of life. Make no mistake, life will throw its best blows at us. But God’s promises are our perfect protection — whether from sin, the temptations of Satan, or even death itself.

God’s promises are our rest. We can lie in them when we feel exhausted.

God’s promises are our rescue. We can look to them when we feel lost.

God’s promises are our medicine. We can find healing in them when we feel broken.

God’s promises are our power. We can find strength in them when we feel weak.

God’s promises are our vindication. We can find justice in them when we feel wronged.

God’s promises are our guidance. We can find direction and purpose in them when we feel life has lost its meaning.

And the Israelites were all of these when they were exiled in Babylon. They were exhausted, lost, broken, weak, wronged and felt life had lost its meaning. So God sent Ezekiel to them to remind them of his promises.

According to Ezekiel, the Israelites would find everything their souls were missing in the promises of their gracious God.

And so will we!

“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 18, is Ezekiel 33:21 – 35:15, James 2:1-26 and Psalm 128:1-6.

Lord, your promises are wonderful. Help me to always remember how important and helpful they are. They are my perfect protection. I want to look to your promises for everything my soul needs in life.

Header image based on "Museum of London - London before London - Bronze shield" by Elliott Brown, CC By 2.0

Endurance

It’s so easy to get tangled up in sin. Walking our way through life is like walking through a thick forest of mesquite trees. The branches and thorns just keep grabbing at us, clinging to our sleeves and holding us back.

Imagine trying to run a race in such a place. You’re trying to make your way through as quickly and directly as you possibly can, but there is always another tree, another bramble, another thorny branch, trying to force you back, or make you go around.

That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews describes the “race” of our life of faith. Greed, pride, lust, despair, depression, anger, hatred, shame and guilt — these grab at our hearts and cling to our thoughts, he says. But we must throw them off and turn the spotlight of our attention away from sin to Jesus.

Recalling the joy with which Jesus ran his race — all the way to the cross! — will inspire us to run with gratitude. Such amazing love and sacrifice will motivate us to be ready to run our race.

Leaning on Jesus will help us be able to dig deeper when necessary, because he is the sole power behind our faith. Jesus is the one who created our faith and he is the one who will bring our faith to a beautiful state of perfection. Faith keeps us going even when times are tough.

Looking to Jesus as a model will instruct us in how a great race is run, so that we can imitate his racing skills and receive our crown. Even now, Jesus sits on his throne in heaven and is fully in control of the world for our benefit. So we do well to consider both his race and his final victory!

We must not grow weary, and we must not lose heart. That’s not easy to do when the briars and the bramble constantly grab hold. But Jesus has already marked out our race for us. He has promised to run ahead and clear a path for us.

The answer to keeping on going despite the challenges and the obstacles is to fix our eyes on Jesus. With the energy he gives us, we will find the endurance to run our race well.

Brush those thorny branches back. And keep on running.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV).

Lord, help me to throw off the spiritual enemies that want to hinder me and the sin that entangles me. I am sorry for listening to the voice of the world, of the devil, and of my own sinful flesh. Help me to focus my eyes on you, and on your forgiveness, love and power. And give me the strength to run my race with perseverance and endurance.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 14, is Ezekiel 26:1 – 27:36, Hebrews 12:1-13 and Psalm 125:1-5.

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Believing Is Seeing

Augustine of Hippo was a fourth and fifth century Christian theologian and philosopher. Viewed as one of the most important “fathers” of the early church, it was said of him that “he established anew the ancient faith.”

Augustine was well-known for his deep thinking. He once wrote: “Faith is to believe what you do not see. The reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” He may well have derived that thought from chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews. It’s a perfect summary of what that chapter teaches.

The truth, however, is that we may not see what we believe right away. And it’s important to know that sometimes we might not ever see the fulfillment of what we believe in this life at all.

This seems ridiculous to many. As humans, we like the tangible and the empirical. We want to see the evidence. And most of the time, if you want us to be truly convinced, we don’t want to just see it, but hear it, taste it, touch it, and if possible, smell it too.

Augustine thought like Moses. And that means he thought differently from the run of the mill person. When the book’s author describes Moses, he points out that he took great risks despite the fact that he could not physically see God. He could only see him through the eyes of faith.

Nevertheless, Moses gave up all the riches and power of being “the prince of Egypt.” He accepted being disrespected and mistreated. He chose the hard path with the people of God, rather than the easy path with their oppressive masters, the Egyptians. Even if it meant disgrace, it was disgrace for the sake of Christ, and he could handle that because he was looking forward to the reward that Christ would win for him.

Moses had the ability to look ahead and anticipate the good things that would come. He relied on God’s words and promises, not his own thoughts and experiences. He kept his eye focused firmly on the promised Messiah, and the forgiveness and eternal life he would bring.

Faith is like a set of binoculars. When you have faith in your heart you see things in a way that you haven’t seen them before.

How about us? Are we ready to trade the tangible for the intangible? Are we prepared to exchange the physical for the spiritual, the seen for the unseen? Are we open to seeing the future through the eyes of faith, and through the prism of God’s words and promises? Are we willing to take up the binoculars of faith so that we can see things we wouldn’t see otherwise?

If we are receptive, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, to trusting God and accepting trouble because of our faith, then we will persevere as Moses did. And like Augustine says, we will see what we believe.

We can’t physically see it now. But we’re good with that, because what we do see is God’s promises. And believing God’s promises is seeing our future and our reward very clearly.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27, NIV).

Lord Jesus, give me the same eyes of faith that you gave Moses. I want to believe so that I can see.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 13, is Ezekiel 24:1 – 25:17, Hebrews 11:17-40 and Psalm 124:1-8.

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Anchor for the Soul

Merriam-Webster defines the word “anchor” this way:

  1. a device usually of metal attached to a ship or boat by a cable and cast overboard to hold it in a particular place by means of a fluke that digs into the bottom 
  2. a reliable or principal support :  mainstay
  3. something that serves to hold an object firmly

The author of the book of Hebrews recalls the hope we have in Jesus — our hope of forgiveness despite the ugliness of our sins, our hope to have the power and the help of the Holy Spirit to change our way of life, our hope that heaven is real and that Jesus is preparing a place for us there.

And in his letter to the Hebrews, the author calls this hope an “anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

The words strongly imply that our souls are never steady all by themselves. But you already recognize that, don’t you? Experience alone would tell you that. Worry, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, frustration, greed, lust, envy, jealousy — these are all winds that blow our soul around and create waves, waves that cause our soul to bob unsteadily and erratically through life.

Nothing within us will keep us steady. We need something outside of ourselves to hold our souls steady. We need something reliable to be our support and mainstay. We need something that can resist the force of the winds and the waves and hold us firmly in place in the grace, mercy and peace of Jesus Christ.

And that “something” is the hope that Jesus gives us. Hope secures us to the bedrock of God’s promises and holds our soul steadily in place.

So the bottom line is this: Don’t set sail in life without an anchor on board. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you don’t need an anchor for your soul. Take Jesus, and the hope he gives you, with you everyday wherever you go.

Then you will have a soul that is firm and secure.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the hope that I have in Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord and Savior. Help me to carry this hope with me every day in life and use it as an anchor for my soul. I want to live a life and have a soul that is firm and secure.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, November 5, is Ezekiel 7:1 – 9:11, Hebrews 6:13 – 7:10 and Psalm 119:161-168.

Header image based on "Ancora, ancla, anchor." by Miguel Campo, CC By-SA 2.0

Grab and Go!

Answer this one question: Who is Jesus, really?

According to the author of the book of Hebrews, he is…

  1. God’s Son
  2. Our great high priest, who represents us before the Father
  3. Our ascended Lord, who from his powerful seat at God’s right hand rules the entire universe for the church’s benefit
  4. Our empathetic Savior, who understands us perfectly because he subjected himself to every temptation we face in our daily lives
  5. Our sinless Substitute, who offers his perfection so that we might claim it as our own righteousness, and be made acceptable in the eyes of a holy God

Since this is who Jesus is, we should let no person and no event diminish our faith in him. Our faith is rightly placed when it is placed on Jesus Christ. By faith, we should fiercely cling to Jesus — like a person being lowered over the edge of a cliff by Bear Grylls clings hold of the climbing rope.

Grab hold tightly. Have no plan to loosen your grip.

And then?

We go freely to God. We approach him with confidence, as a child approaches their loving parent or grandparent. We go to him with boldness. We’re not held back by guilt or shame. We’re not worried that we’re not enough. We don’t turn and run because we’re frightened by his holiness. And we’re not angry and frustrated because we can never seem to measure up.

Jesus has that all covered for us.

So, we go to God in full freedom and with absolute confidence. And we find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

Simple. Grab Jesus and go.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me by your Spirit’s power to grab hold tightly of you. And then, confident of your grace and mercy, guide me to go to the Father’s throne in prayer and make my requests with boldness and confidence.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 3, is Ezekiel 1:1 – 3:27, Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10 and Psalm 119:153-160.

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It Takes One to Know One

There are all kinds of catch-phrases we use: “That’s the pot calling the kettle black… It takes a thief to catch a thief… I can’t put anything past him because he’s been there.”

And my personal favorite, “It takes one to know one.” Apparently, this little phrase is a classic retort to an insult, one that dates all the way back to the early 1900’s.

The author of the book of Hebrews uses this idea in a much more gentle, compassionate sense. He is referring to Jesus in his role as our High Priest, our intercessor. And he tells us that the reason Jesus is so good at mediating is that he completely gets where we’re coming from.

Why? Because he’s human too. He was made like us in every way. Though true God, at his conception he became true man as well. “He entered into every detail of human life,” as The Message translation puts it.

He became human so that he could destroy death by his death. He lowered himself and humbled himself so that through humility he could defeat Satan and break sin’s power over us. He stepped down from his throne in heaven so that he could make atonement for our sins and bring reconciliation between God and man.

Never doubt that Jesus understands your position, no matter how painful it might be. He’s been there — and probably worse than “there,” depending on where your “there” is right now. If it takes one to know one, he knows you perfectly. And he perfectly empathizes with all you’re going through.

He knows exactly who you are. And he knows exactly how you are. And that’s no put-down. Because the very same One who “gets” you is here to help you.

“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human 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. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18, NIV).

Lord, thank you for becoming one of us. I know you were willing to do that because of your great love for us. I also know that you fully understand me. More importantly, you have paid for my sins and you will stand by my side when I am tempted and help me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 31, is Obadiah 1-21, Hebrews 2:1-18 and Proverbs 26:13-22.

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Keep It Together!

Starting with Moses and ending with Malachi — with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others along the way — God delegated many different prophets to speak to his people. There were many spokesmen, but with one voice they all made sure the world would hear of God’s plan to rescue them from sin and death.

Sometimes people think it’s still that way. They look for signs and revelations from God. They want to hear his voice directly, or they latch on to someone who claims that they have heard his voice directly. And there are certain people all too willing to exploit those who seek God this way.

The author of this letter to the Hebrews says that things have changed. Now God speaks to us through one person. That person is his Son, our Savior Jesus. If we want to know God, if we want to understand his plan for us and his message to us, then we are to listen to him. We do this today when we read what the evangelists and apostles recorded and reported in the New Testament.

By his Son, God created this beautiful world in the beginning. Jesus shows us exactly who God is. Jesus paints a portrait of God and all his characteristics so vibrant that it leaps off the canvas.

And just as Jesus created all this, created us and all our loved ones, this same Jesus continues to provide, protect and nurture us. He is the Creator and he is the Sustainer too. Just as he created all things from nothing by his powerful world, so he redeems us from our nothingness and purifies us from our sins by his powerful word — the gospel.

Jesus now sits in the seat of power, commanding and controlling all things for the benefit of his church — for your good, and my good. So when we listen to him, when he becomes our One Source (of information), and our One Sustainer (of life, peace, joy, and forgiveness), then his power becomes our power.

Keep it together, people tell us. With Jesus’ love and authority in our lives, we absolutely can and will keep it together, no matter how challenging the circumstances. Because he holds it all together for us by what he says to us — in his powerful word.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to daily draw on your word for my life. I know that your words and promises help me keep it together. Without you, and without your word, I also am sure that I cannot keep it together. I repent of trying to live independently. Help me to know you, Jesus, as true God, and my Creator and Sustainer.

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 30, is Lamentations 3:40 – 5:22, Hebrews 1:1-14 and Psalm 119:129-136.

Header image based on "Holding together" by Tom Good, CC By 2.0