Warnings from Hebrews

The book of Hebrews was written to people who are likely second-generation Christians who are still struggling with the tensions between the traditions of Judaism and the teachings of Christianity. Many had, currently or at one time, relatives who would have seen Jesus as a false teacher. They would have had family and friends reject them, and the temptations would have been great to slip back into the traditions of their past. In this light, the Hebrew writer includes five warnings in his epistle to these struggling Christians.

Neglect

Hebrews 2:1 encourages them and us to give all the more earnest heed to the teachings of Jesus and His inspired apostles, confirmed by signs and wonders from God, lest we drift away in neglect. Hebrews challenges us to ask ourselves how we plan to escape judgment if we neglect and reject so great a salvation, a salvation planned from the foundations of the world.

John 20:30-31 concludes that the miracles and signs recorded in that gospel are for confirming our faith. Like those steps overviewed every time we get on a plane, have we heard God’s word so much that we filter it out? Ephesians 2:8 reminds us of the role grace plays in our salvation. While we were sinful, vile, and disobedient, God sent His Son as an unmerited gift of propitiation. God has given us a gift in salvation and eternal life in His Son, and the Hebrew writer makes sure we understand that we should not neglect so great a gift.

A Hardened Heart

In Hebrews 3, the author repeatedly quotes the 95th Psalm, saying, “Today, if you hear His voice…” He calls on us, in verse 12, to take care we do not develop an unbelieving heart, and he uses the next several verses to help us overcome unbelief – exhort each other, share in Christ, hold confidence, even to fear failure. We need to be aware that it is possible to harden our hearts and miss salvation.

We may simply choose unbelief, but I Corinthians 10:6-13 warns us to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us, lest we be overconfident in our faith and slip into arrogant disobedience. This is why the Hebrew writer warns us against becoming hardened to God’s word, for it can happen without us realizing it.

Immaturity

No one likes being called immature, and, when we most dislike it is when we are most guilty of it. In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author does just this. He admonishes his readers for being too spiritually immature to understand some things they should. He goes on in chapter 6 to then encourage maturation, so they and we do not fall away despite having tasted of the heavenly gift.

When we are not growing spiritually, skepticism, indifference, and apostasy may find room to creep in. An arm kept in a cast for several weeks quickly becomes smaller and weaker than the arm being used every day. Growth takes effort on our part, and it is something we should be working toward every day.

Falling Away

In Hebrews 10:26-31, the author addresses the dangers of deliberate sin, specifically quoting from Deuteronomy 32. Again, these are things his readers are familiar with from Moses’ teachings, but now it is being applied to rejecting Christ’s sacrifice, a sacrifice sealing a covenant greater than the one brought by Moses.

Refusal

The author uses the illustration of Esau in Hebrews 12:16-17, who refused to acknowledge the worth of his family birthright. This is compared to our own spiritual birthright, standing before the holy mountain, and we are warned, in verse 25, to not refuse the one who speaks to us now (Jesus Christ according to chapter 1:1).

Conclusion

In Jeremiah 44, after God calls on His people time and again to listen to His word, the prophet makes a final appeal. In verse 16, though, the people state they will not listen. Rather than refusing the word of grace, we should receive it gratefully, knowing the promises and gifts that come from our God who delivered Him.

God’s word can work in our lives if we avoid turning our back, hardening our heart, and closing our hearts to it. His word can change us from sinful creatures without hope into sanctified children with the hope of eternity. No one can force us to soften ourselves to His word, though. It has to come from within. We need to heed these warnings just as much as those second-generation Christians, holding to our faith despite anything that might try to take it from us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Resolute Resolutions

I’m not the type of person to make resolutions when a new year comes. It’s not that I have anything against self-improvement. It’s not like I don’t want to be a better person. I don’t hold anything against others making resolution, but I’ve just grown a little jaded about resolutions over time. It’s almost as if we make resolutions simply to break them, and we make these resolutions with full knowledge that we will not keep them. Some resolutions, however, are worth keeping, and we don’t have to look any farther than our Bibles to find a few.

Resolute Examples

We see, in Daniel 1:8, that Daniel resolves to eat no unclean food while in captivity. Even though he is away from the temple, away from many of his peers, away from the priests and Levites, he resolves to do what is right in God’s eyes. This pattern then continues throughout the rest of his life.

Think also of Joshua, in Joshua 24:14-15, challenging the people of Israel to choose their allegiance between Jehovah and other gods. Joshua is resolute in his faith, and his example impacts his entire generation and the one to come after him.

In Acts 19:21, Paul resolves to go to Jerusalem despite the trials that will face him there. He purposes in his heart that this is the path he will take. Again, his resolute nature impacts many more than himself.

Being Truly Resolved

We should be resolute  followers of Christ, but our resolutions cannot be lip-service. Simply making the statement does not make us follow it. Nor can we be purposeful because of peer pressure, for we cannot maintain a resolution if we lack individual commitment. If we are to serve God the way He deserves to be served, it takes a sincere determination of will that we will put our all into working for our God.

How could Daniel keep himself pure in God’s eyes despite all the ungodly influences around him? He and his companions could maintain their faith because they were determined to do so. Joshua, as well, sincerely wanted to serve God despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges associated with that service. Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus – determination of will is what separates them from the pretenders of their day.

We should so want to do what is right. We need to be determined and we need a heart willing to sacrifice for that resoluteness.  Paul, in Romans 12:1-2, speaks of spiritual service in terms of sacrifice, holiness, transformation, renewal, and proving. Long before Daniel, Joshua, or Paul demonstrated their own spiritual resoluteness, they had particular mindsets. We need to change our minds to be followers of God. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, for we have died to all else. Philippians 2:5 simply calls on us to have the mind of Christ. When we set our minds to be like His, we can do anything.

This determination, however, requires a compliance of our hearts. In Matthew 22:35-40, one asks Jesus what the greatest of the commandments is. Jesus answers with two, and they both come down to love – loving God and loving our fellow man. We may readily submit to God intellectually while our hearts remain far from Him. Romans 10:8-10 reinforces the need of both heart and mind in faithful service to God. Finally, Ephesians 6:6, in the context of discussion serving earthly masters, admonishes us do God’s will from the heart.

Conclusion

Our spiritual resolutions do not have to be empty. Will you resolve to be a more faithful servant to God in all things? Philippians 4:13 encourages us that we can do anything in Him who strengthens us. We can rid ourselves of skepticism, uncertainty, and indifference if we are determined to have a Christ-like mind. We can be holy in an unholy society if we but yield our hearts and our minds to our Creator.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Waiting Upon Jehovah

In Psalm 27, we see David writing about coming through trials by the grace of God. Remember David spends much of his young life fleeing a murderous King Saul. His wife is taken from him to be given to another man. Priests who help David are murdered by Saul. A city David delivers from possible enslavement betrays him to Saul. He lived in what shelter he could find in woods and in caves. Later, David would have to flee from Absalom, usurping the throne. Time and again, David faced distress, trials, and discouragement.

Among all of this, we have Psalm 27, where David calls God his light and salvation. David asks, in verse 1, who he should fear. He expresses confidence in God’s deliverance and ultimate salvation. He trusts in God’s protection, and he sings praises to the God in whom he trusts. David calls on God to never hide from him or forsake him. Where all others may turn from David, he trusts in the God of his salvation. He concludes by admonishing any reading this psalm to wait on the Lord and take courage in Him.

David’s Patient Trust

In the first six verses, David declares his trust in God. His focus is on God’s house, His temple, His tabernacle. David expresses a desire to be where God is, and, in faith, he looks forward to that reunion with his Lord. Verses 7-12 then expresses the difficulties David faces in his faith. He pleads for God’s continual presence, knowing difficulties surround him at every turn.

Finally, verses 13-14 conclude with ultimate confidence. Wait on the Lord. This is the difficult part, for we are creatures that like instant gratification. We are a culture of instant rice, same-day delivery, and ten-minute oil changes. We do not like to wait, but, when it comes to God, we must be patient, for He is patient with us.

A Fellowship with God

Waiting on the Lord requires continued fellowship with God. In I John 1:6-7, we have fellowship with God, one to another, when we walk in the light, when we follow His ways, the path He set out before us. This is built upon a life of prayer. I Thessalonians 5:17-18 calls on us to pray continually. We see this in David’s life, in thanksgiving, in praise, in petition, in repentance. In all things, David would turn to God. For us to have fellowship with Him, we must continually turn to Him.

Maintaining our fellowship with God takes continuous effort. Hebrews 2:1, Hebrews 4:6, Hebrews 6:1 – these verses and more highlight the effort it takes to maintain our relationship with God. We have to stay in the fight. Remember Elijah, in I Kings 19, when Jezebel puts a price on the prophet’s head. Elijah flees to Mount Horeb where God appears in a quiet voice, pushing Elijah to continue his work and to prepare others to participate in that work. Elijah’s work lasted his whole life and extended beyond it. His relationship with God was a continual effort, and ours is as well.

Waiting on the Lord

Once we’ve established that relationship, we have to work with God on His timeline and on His terms. There are some things He simply does not promise us. He never promised to remove our trials. See those under persecution in Acts 4. They do not pray for God to remove all obstacles. Rather, in verse 29, they pray for strength and boldness. Also, God never promised us to make life easy. In fact, we know the Christian life brings trials and difficulties.

The most difficult thing is that God does not have to explain Himself. Remember Job. He asked God for that very thing before being humbled in God’s presence. He has promised, however, to strengthen our hearts and hold us up. James 1:2-3 tells us our trials will make us stronger, and James 5:15-16 shows us those trials equip us to then help others through theirs. Finally, James 4:6-8 promises us that the nearer we draw to God, the nearer He will come to us. Like David, we can turn to God in all things, growing closer to God while facing our trials, looking to a future with Him. As David writes in Psalm 28:6, we can trust in Him, bless Him, and pray Him. He is the Rock of our salvation.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Good King Hezekiah

In II Kings 18, we read of a king in Judah called Hezekiah. The scriptures tell us there was no one like him before or after him of those kings of Judah. In the first month of his reign, Hezekiah begins to restore Jehovah worship. He tears down idols and idolatrous places of worship. He stands up to overwhelming forces due to his steadfast faith in the Lord. What is it, though, that really made him such a great man? Why is it that the Bible tells us no king before or after him was greater?

Factors Working Against Him

It was not his father who made him great. His father Ahaz, recorded in II Kings 16, was very wicked. In II Kings 16, Ahaz engages in child sacrifice. He shuts up the temple of the Lord. He participates in excessive idolatry, and he leads the nation of Judah into those same practices. Hezekiah is not the product of his father. Still, remember II Timothy 1:5, Proverbs 3:1, and Ephesians 6:4. God does want us to set the proper examples for our children. He does care about the responsibilities of parenthood, but Ezekiel 18:20 reminds us that children can do well despite our parents. Hezekiah was great despite his upbringing.

Unfortunately, neither was Hezekiah great because of his family legacy. In II Kings 21, we read of Hezekiah’s son Manasseh, who rebuilds the idols, even placing alters to false gods in God’s temple. Manasseh restores child sacrifice to the land of Judah. Now Manasseh does repent in his old age, but his actions lead to deep personal loss on his own part. Hezekiah may have been a great king, but the legacy he left was far from great.

In II Kings 20, we see that pride does not make Hezekiah great while he shows off his great possessions to the Babylonian emissaries – people from that same nation that would eventually enslave Judah. Proverbs 16:18 reminds us that pride precedes a fall, and Hezekiah’s pride did not please his God.

Hezekiah’s Great Stature

Despite these things, we cannot discount II Kings 18:5.

…There was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.

Why? Because he sought God’s word first. II Chronicles 31:20-21 tells it all.

Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.

He may not have been the leader the people wanted, but he was the leader they needed. He spoke out against, and removed, evil. II Kings 18:4 records him purging idolatry from the nation, even idolatry introduced by his own father. In II Chronicles 31, we can read the details of his restoration of true Jehovah worship in Judah – to the point of inviting their rival brethren from the northern kingdom of Israel to that worship.

Hezekiah sought to know and do God’s word. He sought to restore true worship in the land and purge all forms of evil from among his people. Finally, II Kings 18:5 tells us that Hezekiah trusted in the Lord. In II Kings 19:14, when Hezekiah receives an ultimatum from an unstoppable enemy, we see the king abandon self, go to the temple, spread the letter out on the floor of the temple, and prayed.

Conclusion

That the same could be said of us! Could God claim about you or me, “There was none like him/her,” in our efforts to follow God’s word, in keeping evil from our lives, and in trusting Him in all things. Nothing can keep us from that standard – our upbringing, our culture, our flaws. We can be like Hezekiah, setting our hearts to serve the Lord. We may never be great in the world’s eyes, but we can be good and faithful servants to our Lord, great in His eyes.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Christianity is Not a Detour

What do we do when we come up on detours in our daily commutes? Do we ignore them and get stuck in a position where we have to turn around? Do we follow them? Have you ever been on a detour where you’ve been unquestionably lost? We might have missed a sign while following other cars; a marker may have been misplaced or marked incorrectly; and we unquestioningly ended up in entirely the wrong place. We not only completely avoided the dangerous area of road, but we also managed to accidentally avoid our destination.

A Road, Not a Detour

In John 17:15, Jesus prays for the well-being of His disciples, and He prays that they might have the protection they need to keep them from evil. See, our faith is not a detour around the trials and temptations of this world. Instead, it is a path right through the dangers of our world to lead us to a safe destination in the end. In this same prayer, Jesus prays that His disciples not be “of the world,” in verse 14, even while they live “in the world” (verse 11). Where our faith is the road we travel, the things of this world can serve as detours themselves, distracting us from our chosen path.

In Luke 6:12-13, when Jesus chooses his disciples, He does not conduct interviews, check references, or cite popular opinion polls. No, instead He prays to God for guidance. When we seek out these other things – popular opinion, following others – we are easily detoured. Only by trusting in God and living prayerfully can we hope to keep on the correct path without diversion. Then we can be in the world without being of the world, just as a ship must be in the sea without the sea being in the ship.

Remembering Our Surroundings

Staying on God’s path does not mean disregarding this world He created. In fact, the deeper our connection with God, the deeper our connection with the world around us. Knowing Christ awakens a more powerful concern for those around us. Even though it’s a pain, road construction usually makes our commutes a little better when it is finished. Can we say the same about ourselves? Do we leave this world a better place when we pass by?

Roads always have to be torn up before they can be rebuilt, and we will have disagreements and moments or stress with our fellow workers in Christ. We might feel torn up, or we might tear into another. We can, however, learn from those times and work toward building each other up, reconstructing ourselves into a stronger church. The problem comes when a road is torn up and forgotten. Sometimes we might hurt a brother or sister, tear them down unintentionally even, and be negligent in our responsibility to build them back up.

Bringing Others to God’s Road (And Keeping Ourselves On Too)

Remember Saul of I Samuel 17:11. All he did was complain about Goliath, looking to man for the solution instead of to God. What about Paul and Silas in prison. Instead of dealing with their situation as ones with no hope, they lived the path they followed and brought another along with them in the end. WHen we’re working with others, are we trying to bring them to God’s highway or to our own?

When we come to a crisis in our spiritual path, how do we respond? In Genesis 22, Abraham responds to a crisis presented by God with faith and obedience. We will be tested in this life. We will come to forks in our road. When we hit these rough spots, we should be relying on God’s directions more than man’s. We can scour all over our Bibles and see people who have responded to crisis in faith (Paul, Apollos, Timothy) versus those who were detoured by roadblocks in their paths (Demas, John Mark, Ananias and Sapphira). Who will we be more like?

What road are you on? Have you chosen broader and easier paths, or have you chosen to walk in Jesus footsteps up the narrow way of salvation? Only one will take you to a final destination with God, but, in striving toward that goal, we cannot be derailed by the detours in our lives. If we place our faith and hope in Him, if He is the source of our strength and hope, then we can find our way home, even when they way seems dark.

lesson by Mike Mahoney

Christ My Rock

We live in an unstable world. Economy, disease, politics – these factors and more create unsettling circumstances around us. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. Jesus says, in John 16:33, that we will have trouble as long as we are part of this world. Where then do we turn in a life of uncertainty and troubles? Where do we take refuge when the storms of this life assault us?

God has promised us that He will be our refuge. He is our sheltering rock in the time of storms. He is our fortress against the battles of this life. Nahum 1:7, Psalm 18:2, Psalm 94:22, Deuteronomy 32:30, Isaiah 44:8 – these passages and many more call God our shelter, our rock, our refuge. He is the certainty we can have in a world of uncertainty.

Our Trust in God

We can trust in God even when friends and family fail us. The imagery of God as our refuge comes largely from the writings of David, one whose best friend’s father wanted him dead, whose wife and son turned against him on more than one occasion. David knew what it was to have friends and family turn on him. In Psalm 41:9 and Psalm 55:12-14 speaks of friends abandoning him. Likewise, Job saw his wife and friends turn on him in his strife, but, in Job 42:2, he turns his trust to God, expressing confidence in God’s deliverance. We will have friends and family fail us in this life, but we can be assured our God will never forsake us.

We can also trust in our God when the things in this life fail us, when we see the unfairness, crime, and injustice in this world. We ourselves have been victims of these things, and we cannot find shelter in the things of this world as long as injustice and unfairness continue. In the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, Moses contrasts the injustice of man versus the fairness of God, and Isaiah 26:4-7 calls God an eternal rock, the upright one who directs the path of the just. He alone is just and fair, and we can place our trust in the fact that His ways are right. He plays no favorites. We are all equal in His eyes, and we can trust Him to deal fairly with us in a way the world never could.

Finally, we can trust God to ultimately save us. Psalm 44:6 records the sons of Korah saying they would trust in nothing but God to save them. A strong military, a strong government, a strong stock market, our right to bear arms, strong foreign policy – these things will not save us in this life or the one to come. Jeremiah 11:12 criticizes the people of Judah for trusting their idols; we make idols of our investments, of our military, of our favorite politicians, of our savings. These are where we so often place our greatest trust and efforts, but they cannot save us. Only God can shelter our souls.

The Lord of Our Strength

Psalm 18, one of David’s later writings, proclaims God as our strength, fortress, deliverer. He is the horn of our salvation, our stronghold, worthy of praises. He is the living rock, the God of our salvation. Psalm 62:5-7 expresses confidence that God can be our only source of strength and salvation. This is the confidence we can have in our God.

We can look to Him for comfort, shelter, and strength. This comfort and security is open to all who would know Him and come to Him in humility and obedience. David, in Psalm 18, expressed a very personal relationship with his God, and David knows, in Psalm 18:20-26, that he is blameless before God, and he knows the relationship they have together. When we draw toward God, He draws toward us. We can have that same relationship, that same hope, that same security, even in the face of friends, family, and the securities of this world failing us.

lesson by Tim Smelser