Hebrews 10:32-39 – Believe, Be Patient, and Remember

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,

“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”

And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (New International Version)

Sometimes we get stuck in our troubles. We might get lost in adversity and cannot see either how we got here or a way out. This is hopelessness. Without a confident expectation of better days ahead, while in the throes of difficulty, a failure of faith can too easily happen.

To realize better days, it’s important to remember the earlier days. I’m not talking about living in the past and wishing it were the 1950s again with Beaver Cleaver across the street. This is not about believing that the past was the good old days, and the present is no good. Rather, I’m referring to remembering the ways we endured and persevered with joy in past experiences.

The original Christian recipients of the message of Hebrews needed to recall the various ways they stood firm and tall in their faith, despite the adversity. They were insulted and persecuted, showing solidarity to others in similar situations. They were attentive to prisoners and sought to meet their needs. And they actually responded to the confiscation of their property with joy because they knew there was more than this present life.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12, NLT

The believers needed to reconnect with their purpose, with their why. The reason they had such incredible attitudes while enduring hard things is because they were pursuing heavenly treasure. Their earthly possessions were merely temporary things, not of eternal value. It is people who have eternal value, and the believers willingly focused efforts in helping others.

However, the Christians eventually, over time, lost their focus and could only see the pain and the difficulty. They became disconnected with their purpose. And so, they were in danger of losing their faith and becoming utterly hopeless.

Remember what God has done for you. Affirm what is right, just, and true. Embrace faith and patience. That’s what the prophet Habakkuk did. And his resilience helped to bring proper perspective to present troubles.

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.”

Reinhold Niebuhr

Habakkuk was distressed over the corruption of his fellow Israelites. So, he complained to God about it. God responded by informing Habakkuk that judgment was coming to Israel through the Babylonians. This was neither what Habakkuk expected nor wanted. The prophet grumbled even more because the Babylonians were more corrupt than the Israelites. “The Babylonians need judgment, too!” believed Habakkuk. 

Habakkuk struggled to come to terms with what God was doing, and not doing. Finally, he concluded the matter by reconnecting with his faith: 

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT)

One of the most significant faith experiences we can ever have, is to come to the point of complete trust in God so that our happiness is not dependent upon good circumstances. The truth is that the Christian’s joy and spiritual security is independent of what is going on around us. Even though situations might be difficult and even evil, believers can still rejoice because we do not need everything to go our way in order to experience happiness.

Faith, patience, and joy are neither cheap, nor easy. It requires daily affirmations of faith and patience. It requires remembering. There is a reward ahead if we persevere to the end.

We can remain patient, express faith, kindle hope, and remember necessary things whenever we stop doing unimportant things which do not add value to our ultimate goals; be mindful of those things which are most important to us; and move through life at a pace of hope, not anxiety.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Hebrews 10:26-31 – On Rejecting Divine Love

 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (New International Version)

Love isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes it’s downright tough, unabashedly truthful, and concerned for appropriate justice.

Love is compassionate, kind, and full of good deeds. Love is also subversive. Love takes a breach in relations seriously. Love announces that the hurt which has happened is not to be accepted as normal. Love is a refusal to settle for what is.

So, whenever God’s people drift away and slide into unhealthy or damaging ways of living, God’s love is not okay with it.

There’s a reason why we feel emotional pain. That’s because God feels pain. We don’t have to go very far into that thick book, the Bible, to find the hurt:

The Lord saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil. He was sorry he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (Genesis 6:5-6, NCV)

There is perhaps no more awful pain than being brokenhearted. A thousand kidney stones are not as painful as becoming heartsick over a relationship gone awry. Love can be an affliction – a deep ache which longs for wholeness, integrity, connection, and unity.

Perhaps we have neglected how much God hurts and longs for prodigal people to return in love to a divine relationship of grace. Just because God is always content, happy, and celebrating within perfect Trinitarian Love does not mean that God isn’t also profoundly sad, full of grief, and gazing from heaven, watching and waiting for sinful humanity to come to their senses.

God’s wrath exists because of God’s love.

God doesn’t paper over humanity’s guilt and shame and pretend it isn’t there. Instead, God has gone to the ultimate length to realize a restored relationship with fallen people. God got down in the trenches with us, in the person of Jesus, and dwelt among us – willing to suffer and die for us. Grace is most certainly free; however, it is anything but cheap.

Therefore, to know this great Love, then spurn it, is much more than agonizingly painful – it isn’t right. The preacher in the New Testament book of Hebrews captures the pathos of God against all that separates people from such perfect Love.

To renege on a commitment to Jesus is tantamount to crucifying him all over again.

This is an emotional and spiritual pain which transcends any human disappointment or failed friendship. Because God’s heart is so large, so God’s agony over defiant persons who turn from Love is immense beyond what we can even imagine.

Yes, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. Those who hate ought to beware. The ones trampling God’s moral law and ethical will into the ground, like some animal dung, ought not to think they are outside the reach of Divine Love, complete with Divine Wrath purging the resentment and rancor from Earth.

The warning of the preacher is of rejecting the spirit of Love and replacing it with the ancient evil spirt of hubris, animosity, and fear. Perfect Love drives out fear, restores comity, and embraces humility.

We are responsible for our own transgressions against others; our own failures to love as we ought; and our own neglect of God. Therefore, we must forsake willful and deliberate treatment of God and others by denigrating the work of the Spirit and attributing evil intentions to them.

If we focus on loving God and neighbor, then there is no room for apostasy, for lashing out and being an evangelist of wickedness. By clarifying and focusing on what matters most; being non-retaliatory; and reminding oneself of divine Love, we can cultivate a spirit of grace and forsake the hateful spirit.

Whenever we are wounded by another, or even by God, holding onto the hurt only causes gangrene of the soul. Yet, through forsaking all forms of violent and destructive language and behavior, and embracing the wounds of Christ, we can experience healing – even if our present adverse circumstance does not change.

So, be kind to yourself and others. Allow God’s kindness to penetrate the deep portions of your heart. Live a life of grace. Why be punished for acting like a foolish person? If you must suffer, suffer for doing good, not evil.

O Lord God, I confess and acknowledge your infinite mercy and goodness to me, and my ingratitude for such grace shown. You have saved me and made me your own child, and an heir of heaven. And I end up ignoring your gracious blessings, giving into temptation, and treating faith like a paper plate to be trashed when I’m done with it. I am truly sorry for my offenses toward you and admit my failure to observe your goodness. Accept my imperfect repentance, forgive my wickedness, purify my uncleanness, strengthen my weakness, heal my unstable spirit, and let your divine Love rule in my heart, through the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Don’t Give Up!

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again, and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice, he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

“This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.”

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (New International Version)

The book of Hebrews was originally a sermon preached to a group of struggling Jewish Christians who were discouraged. They were a congregation in decline. The preacher’s approach throughout is to demonstrate that Jesus is better and superior to anything or anyone ever.

With this high view of the person and work of Christ, the preacher comes to the punch line of his sermon. He insists that what the believers need is perseverance to keep going – no matter what adversity they face. For without the ability to endure hardship, the sagging congregation would continue to decline and eventually give up.

Yet, giving up is not an option when it comes to the Christian life. The Christians may not have been going through a Job-like experience, but they needed to get some spiritual spine to them so that they could stand up for Jesus. 

Sometimes, because most of life is lived in the mundane, we can slowly drift from our spiritual moorings and just go through the motions of Christianity without really living for Jesus. Boring and repetitive work; the monotony of caregiving; the tedium of busywork; and the continual grind of it all can be an effective tool in the devil’s workshop. 

When we begin sleepwalking through life, we are in danger of wandering from faith. We then need some stout spiritual stamina. “I didn’t sign up for this!” can be the cry of both the person who is downtrodden with hard circumstances, as well as the person who is simply living a dull life. 

We all have our quitting point – that point where we say, “enough is enough” and we give up and cry uncle. Those times usually come when the pain or inconvenience of what is happening overcomes the resolve to persevere. The devil keeps detailed notes on everyone’s quitting points, and he tries to get us to that point of being ineffective and giving up on the Christian life. 

It easily begins with some minor irritation or complaint against from another. Then moves further along by the loss of someone close. Frustration mounts if financial hardship happens. After a while, if things do not markedly improve, living day in and day out with missed expectations and disappointing situations may lead to bailing out, blowing up, or binging on a sinful desire.

At the quitting point, we throw up our hands, wrongheadedly believing others don’t care and that God is indifferent to our situation.

The preacher of Hebrews knows that the one real measure of a person is the learned ability to push through the quitting points of life. We need endurance and perseverance. But how will we get it?  How can we endure, living for Jesus for the rest of our lives?

There are three indispensable elements of the Christian life, necessary to persevering. Perseverance is a privilege, and not some drudging duty to slog through. Following Jesus for a lifetime comes as we embrace our spiritual privileges.

Faith is the privilege of continually approaching the Lord with confidence

We possess the incredible privilege of approaching the throne of grace with confidence because Jesus has opened the way to God. No longer do we need the elaborate Old Testament sacrificial system in order to approach God. So, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.

We need faith to keep going in the Christian life. Faith is more than doctrinal confession; it is something we experientially live by every day. By faith, we come to God through Jesus – not only soaking in more information but also drawing near to Christ.

Jesus, when on this earth, drew near to the Father. We are to follow Christ in his example. Jesus practiced solitude, silence, and extended times of prayer. Our Lord oriented his teaching and healing ministry around his relationship with the Father by engaging in basic spiritual disciplines that put him in a position to hear and listen so that he could then do the will of God. 

“We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the culture of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail.”

Oswald Chambers

A successful student orients her life around certain study disciplines in order to learn and reach graduation day. A winning athlete orients his life around certain daily practices in order to develop the skills needed to face the upcoming competition. Likewise, if we want to follow Christ and draw near to God, we need to reorient our time and commitment in order to take advantage of the privilege of growing and maturing in Jesus. 

The perspective of Hebrews is that we must orient our lives around basic disciplines of faith and put our hands out in order to receive the gift of faith God wants to give us.  Faith is a muscle that must be exercised, or it will atrophy and become useless. And with puny weak faith muscles, it is easy to give up because we have no “umpff” for the Christian life.

Hope is the privilege of living for Jesus with a confident expectation that God keeps divine promises

Perseverance requires hope. Hopelessness happens without the continuing practice of faith expressed in drawing near to God. Hope in Scripture is not wishful thinking; it is a confident expectation that God is good for his promises. 

Hope enables us to bank on the words and ways of Jesus. In those times when we feel hopeless; when there is negativity in the air that brings us to the quitting point; when we sense a season of blessing is not going to come; it is in those very times the preacher of Hebrews says to hold unswervingly to your profession.

We will not always squint our spiritual eyes, looking for the least little hope. Just as young mothers must remember that constant lack of sleep and caring for a needy infant is not always going to be the status quo; just as kids must remember that they will not be in school for the rest of their lives; in the same way, we must remember that God will accomplish everything he sets out to do; that there is an end and a goal to Christianity; and we will be richly rewarded if we keep going and do not give up.

Love is the privilege of encouraging fellow believers

We are to pay thoughtful attention to one another. Believers are to take an interest in each other’s welfare, and put some significant thought into how to spur, incite, cajole, and provoke others into keeping up with Jesus. 

A major opportunity for encouragement is corporate gatherings. Attendance is not an end in itself. Worship services, small group Bible studies, and other ministries of the Church are important because they are moments for us to encourage other people.

Let’s play good response/bad response to this. Bad response: “I feel guilty about what you just said, so I will try harder to love and encourage others.” That’s a prescription for frustration and failure. It ends in reaching the quitting point because we are focusing too much on the strength of our own will, or lack thereof.

Good response: “Wow!  God wants to use me to love other people! I’ll seek to know Jesus better so that I can learn to live and love, just like him. I can’t wait to encourage someone and build them up in the faith.”

Church is not optional equipment for the Christian life. We need each other. We need the Church.

“Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride. Grace cannot be received privately: cut off from others, it is perverted into greed. Hope cannot develop in solitude: separated from the community, it goes to seed in the form of fantasies. No gift, no virtue can develop and remain healthy apart from the community of faith. ‘Outside the church there is no salvation’ is not ecclesiastical arrogance but spiritual common sense, confirmed in everyday experience.”

Eugene Peterson

“No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother.”

Cyprian (210-258 C.E.) Bishop of Carthage

“May Christians be guided by the Church’s maternal care until they grow up to maturity and attain the perfection of faith…. To those whom God is a Father, the Church must also be a Mother.”

John Calvin

The Church:

  • Creates a unique presence with God. (Matthew 18:20)
  • Provides the nurture, guidance, and encouragement necessary for spiritual development. (Romans 12:4-5)
  • Helps form our identity as Christians. (Ephesians 2:19-20)
  • Enables endurance through suffering and brings comfort and encouragement in difficult times. (James 5:14-15)
  • Nourishes with the Word in preaching and sacrament. (Acts 2:46-47)
  • Lifts up godly examples to imitate. (1 Corinthians 4:16)
  • Intervenes when sheep go astray. (Colossians 3:16)
  • Fosters spiritual transformation. (Philippians 2:12)
  • Brings maternal care and help. (1 Thessalonians 2:7)

Conclusion

Let’s be encouragers – loving others with the grace of Jesus. The following are six types of encouragers displayed in the book of Hebrews for us to emulate:

  1. The Promoter. Cheering others on to endurance. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on and promoting us to push through the quitting points. They did it, and so can we (12:1).
  2. The Professor. Affirming others’ work as valuable and important. God will not forget your work and the love you have shown God’s people and how you continue to help them (6:9-10).
  3. The Preacher. Rebuking and admonishing in love (Proverbs 27:5). We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  How shall we escape punishment if we ignore such a great salvation? (2:1-3).
  4. The Prayer Warrior.  Approaching the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (4:16).
  5. The Partner. Coming alongside one another daily so that no one may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13).
  6. The Pastor. Shepherding others through the confusing situations of life. Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Together, let’s go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore, as we look forward to the heavenly city to come (13:12-14).

It’s our privilege to persevere through the spiritual gifts of faith, hope, and love. Use them for building up one another so that together we can endure for a lifetime.

1 Samuel 3:1-18 – Speak Lord, For I Am Listening

Stained glass of the boy Samuel at the bed of Eli the priest

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So, he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore, Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore, I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So, Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” (New Revised Standard Version)

There are two different ways of being silent.

Old Testament narrative stories are typically arranged in such a way that we can perceive clear contrasts between two different people. In our lesson for today, the boy Samuel and Eli the priest are contrasting characters. They each display a different way of silence – one good, and one not.

Stained glass of Eli and Samuel in Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford, England

Samuel takes a posture of listening. He is quiet so that he can hear the voice of the Lord. Samuel responds with few words. 

Eli is also quiet – but for all the wrong reasons. His sons are also priests who receive sacrifices from God’s people. However, they do not handle their responsibility with any care for what the Lord really desires or wants.  Eli knew what his sons were doing, and he was silent about it.

Wisdom knows when to speak and when to be silent. And when being quiet is required, it is to be for the purpose of listening. 

Listening is a lost art and a forgotten skill today. Many people are so concerned to express their opinions and say what they want to say that the virtue of listening is not valued. Yet, God puts a premium on taking the stance of listening.

A person who talks too much gets into trouble. A wise person learns to be quiet.

Proverbs 10:19, ERV

Busyness and constant locomotion are the bane of listening well. Taking precious time to stop and truly listen to another is very much needed in today’s world. If we are to hear God’s voice, it will require being still and silent for long enough to listen to what the Lord is saying to us.

Many folks are also quite uncomfortable with silence. They seek to fill any quiet space with noise so as to avoid facing what is really going on inside the soul. I once attended a pastor’s retreat in which I got to know a church planter in an urban ministry. He grew up in a large family and incessantly talked. The man was a beehive of words and was constantly moving. 

Having been to these types of retreats before, I knew what was probably going to happen, and it did. The retreat host made a pronouncement after dinner on the first day that there was to be absolutely no talking until lunch the next day. There was to be a full eighteen hours of total silence.

Some might think this is some sort of punishment. However, that line of thinking likely expresses how much we prize our words and how much noise means to us. 

The sole purpose of the retreat’s imposed silence was for listening to God. Some of us are so busy moving from one thing to another, and constantly talking, to the point of drowning out the voice of the Lord. 

When we broke our silence the next day, the pastor confessed that in his whole life, he had never been quiet for more than fifteen minutes. He said this:

“Those eighteen hours of silence were the loudest hours I ever experienced. My mind was so noisy and so filled with stuff that the evening nearly drove me nuts. But in the morning, as the noise started to fade away, I could begin to hear the still small voice of God.” 

This wonderful brother went back to his church a different pastor, determined to sit still long enough and be quiet long enough to hear what God wanted for his life and work.

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

Blaise Pascal

If we want to hear God speak to us, we can take the same approach as the boy Samuel and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Then, be quiet and listen…. 

Any fool can babble on about their gripes and opinions. But in the Bible, talking is generally viewed as being overrated. Solitude and silence are prized so that we might listen and learn.

Genuine listening can be scary. We might want to avoid what God is saying because it may be something we don’t want to hear. Eli got bad news from Samuel’s listening to God. Yet here is where words are to follow listening. When we take the time to listen to God, we must do and say what God tells us. And God might tell us to say or do something we may not want. 

Therefore, we must take up the shield of faith with which to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one who wants to keep us trapped in either a cycle of constant chatter without listening, or continual silence without acting upon what we hear from God. We need to have times of silence so that we hear God speak, and we must act in faith to say and do what God calls us to.

Loving God, we admit we are uncomfortable with silence; we do not like to listen because it is such hard work.  We confess to you our idol of filling every nook and cranny of our lives with being busy and productive, achieving and doing. There are so many words and so much information we hear every day that we do not hear your voice. We admit we keep looking for you to act without first listening to what you are saying to us.  We confess we feel that we cannot get away with you; and feel powerless over the forces at work in our lives.

Today, we choose a posture of listening to your Holy Spirit speak to us through your Holy Word. As you speak and have spoken, fill us with the courage to act upon what you tell us to do. We lean into the faith we have in the Lord Jesus so that our lives may be shaped and formed in ways that please you. Be gracious to answer us and lead us to the green pastures and quiet waters of your sacred space. Amen.