Hebrews 6:13-20 – Holding onto Hope

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (New International Version)

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Humanity needs hope. We all require a confident expectation that things will be different or better. Hope is what our ancestors in faith had in abundance.

How did Abraham receive what was promised by God?

Abraham received what was promised because of hope. He believed God’s promise of having a place to belong. His faith caused him to make a major move from the city where he had always lived. What’s more, Abraham understood that the promises of God don’t end in this life. He looked forward to being a permanent resident in the eternal city.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going. By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were coheirs of the same promise. He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10, CEB)

Why did God swear an oath to Abraham?

The Lord wanted to reinforce Abraham’s faith and encourage him. God desired to convincingly show that divine promises are sure.

The Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son?…. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.”

Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:1-6, NLT)

What are the “two unchangeable things?”

The promise and the oath. God promised to Abraham:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”(Genesis 12:2-3, NIV)

God confirmed the promise with an oath:

“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:16-18, NIV)

Is there a way to be motivated and encouraged in the Christian life?

Yes. Hope in God’s promises and the confidence that our efforts to live for Christ are being seen and they are not in vain. We need one another. So, it is important to maintain significant relationships with other believers so that we will not lose our spiritual vitality and become discouraged. The author of Hebrews also stated:

We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer. (Hebrews 10:24-25, CEV)

Faith and patience, fueled by an unshakable hope, has always been the way believers have lived their lives. For the Christian, we have a promised inheritance, focused on the person and work of Christ. All of God’s good promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

God of hope, in these times of change, unite us and encourage us with your promise and oath. Help us overcome our fears and enable us to build a future in which all may prosper and share, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 111 – Praise

painting by P.J. Bruzzi

Shout praises to the Lord!
    With all my heart
I will thank the Lord
    when his people meet.
The Lord has done
    many wonderful things!
Everyone who is pleased
with God’s marvelous deeds
    will keep them in mind.
Everything the Lord does
    is glorious and majestic,
    and his power to bring justice
    will never end.

The Lord God is famous
for his wonderful deeds,
    and he is kind and merciful.
He gives food to his worshipers
    and always keeps his agreement
    with them.
He has shown his mighty power
    to his people
    and has given them the lands
    of other nations.

God is always honest and fair,
    and his laws can be trusted.
    They are true and right
    and will stand forever.
God rescued his people,
    and he will never break
his agreement with them.
    He is fearsome and holy.

Respect and obey the Lord!
This is the first step
    to wisdom and good sense.
    God will always be respected. (Contemporary English Version)

Sometimes we forget. Difficult challenges, heavy stress, or daunting responsibilities might become the focus of our lives to such a degree that we lose sight of the big picture. Today’s psalm helps us to back up the truck and take a sweeping panoramic view. The backdrop to all those concerns we presently experience is a Divine Being who is unfazed by any trouble. In other words, God’s got this.

The basis for this settled faith is a realization of who God is and what God has done.

Whereas change and loss is a reality all people must navigate, it is a comfort to know there are some things which never change. God is the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God’s character is always right, just, and good. And God makes good on all promises.

Throughout the psalter, there are admonitions to praise the Lord. I personally do not believe the reason for this is because God requires adoration, like some self-centered narcissist. No, I think it has to do with God knowing we have a need to praise.

Our brains are complex organs. There is a lot we don’t know about it. Yet, what we now know is that things like gratitude, adoration, beauty, affirmation, and praise changes our brain chemistry in a healthy way.

Yes, praising the Lord perfectly syncs with our brains in such a way as to cause mental health.

People’s lives are improved when we are attentive to God’s law, God’s promises, and God’s works. Attention to these will surely result in praise. Everything God has created is good. All creation bears witness to the beauty and majesty of its Creator.

Believers throughout the millennia are a great cloud of witnesses, testifying to the veracity of God’s benevolent and gracious deeds. And together with them, we anticipate with confident faith the culmination of God’s promises when Jesus returns. This is basic Christian theology – and it is theology which is robustly sustains us through any type of trouble.

People need to delight in what is good, right, just, and beautiful.

Our brains are designed for it. The acknowledgment of the good is a sacred conduit which links us to the Designer of all that is good. Enjoyment of food and drink, fellowship with friends, participation in family life, and worshiping together with believers who share our most cherished spiritual values, is a gift from a benevolent God. It is worthy of offering praise.

God feeds us in many ways – with both physical and spiritual food. Pausing for gratefulness and thanksgiving is an appropriate and mentally healthy way of responding to the gift of nourishment. And acknowledging that all God’s commands and laws are trustworthy, through lifting prayers of gratitude for such a rich bounty of spiritual food, moves us into a healthy groove of wellness.

All of this healthy living is the way of wisdom. Attention to God and God’s Word is the starting place for a wise way of being in the world. The biblical psalms are much like a tutor which teaches us the best paths to walk in our daily life.

When we take the narrow road of righteousness, we discover the gifts of understanding informed by wisdom, self-control established through sage counsel, and knowledge guided by love.

The activity which bookends and binds such gifts together is praise to the Lord. Praise is what opens us up to the possibilities of life as it is meant to be lived. To press the transformation and enjoyment even deeper, believers shout their praise with raucous noise.

For true spirituality is not always staid and silent. It is also boisterous and loud.

Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, forever and ever. Amen.

Numbers 6:22-27 – A Blessing

The Lord spoke to Moses: Tell Aaron and his sons: You will bless the Israelites as follows. Say to them:

The Lord bless you and protect you.
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift his face to you and grant you peace.

They will place my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them. (Common English Bible)

Life operates by blessing, not cursing.

The world cannot stand up under the curse. The new earth will endure forever with a blessing.

People wither without a blessing. They die when cursed. Not necessarily in body. Most definitely in spirit.

Something must be said about the word “blessing.” It gets used and misused a lot, especially by Christians.

As with most words in the Old Testament, “blessing” is a relational word. It means to have God’s stamp of approval on your life. It’s meant to convey that the Lord’s presence is with us. To be blessed by God is a multi-dimensional experience – receiving promises, enjoying peace, having right relationships with both God and other people, and knowing divine comfort and security.

A blessing isn’t simply having money and/or family and a good job. One could have none of those and still be blessed by God. And being blessed is not getting everything you want. Some people continually get what they want and are cursed, not blessed.

Blessing is tied not to human activity but divine initiative. We can’t finagle a blessing out of God. Plenty of folks try to do that, and, like Jacob, they might get away with it in their family – but it will not work with God. The grace of blessing is freely bestowed by a benevolent and merciful Lord.

Everything comes down to God. The Lord is not stingy but generous – not subject to the whimsy of human cajoling but deeply influenced by the unending unity, harmony, and love within the divine godhead.

In other words, divine blessing is a gift – not something earned or cleverly received through trickery or manipulation.

Blessing one another is also a gift. In fact, God clearly communicated to Moses and Aaron how they were to bless the people with powerful words.

I believe we all intuitively know that words and language have the power of life and of death, of blessing and cursing. And withholding words of blessing and keeping silent is to withhold goodness and love from another. Speaking words of blessing and backing up those words with an active commitment, is vital to humanity’s spiritual and emotional health.

Fathers and mothers everywhere across the world stand in a unique and special position as those who have the power of bestowing a blessing on their children – a blessing of being with them, approving of them, affirming their gifts and abilities, envisioning for them a special future of how God can use them. Those words of blessing have the power to help children navigate the world with assurance and confidence. Armed with blessing, they can filter-out the choices in front of them and walk in the way of God.

Notice in the New Testament Gospels how the God the Father blessed the Son:

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17, NRSV)

God provided a constant presence and an active commitment through the Spirit; God spoke words of approval and affirmation; God the Father had a special future for Jesus the Son, which helped Jesus to repel the words of Satan. Since Jesus needed and received a blessing from his Father, how much more do we? 

Jesus passed the blessing to his disciples with a promise of presence and commitment:

Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, CEB)

Jesus informed the disciples his presence would be with them; communicated an active commitment to give them authority to do the job of disciple-making; pictured for them a special future of reaching the nations; affirmed and approved them. “The Great Commission” is really a statement of God’s blessing.

One reality needs to be recognized and affirmed with all confidence: You and I already possess God’s blessing; there is no need to try and earn it. The words of blessing state what is, in fact, already true.

We have the privilege and the ability to reverse the world’s curse and turn it into blessing. Those blessed with money can be a blessing by giving it away. Those blessed by growing up in a loving family can provide love to others who are unloved and need a special blessing. Those blessed with wisdom can mentor and instruct those who need wisdom. Those blessed with the mercy of God can be merciful to others. Those blessed with a wonderful relationship with God can pray people into the kingdom of God.

Parents, it is never too late to bless your children, even if they are adults. Children, it is never too late to bless your parents and your siblings, even if they are prickly and hard. To not bless is to curse. Bless through words that build up, and do not tear down. Use those words to picture a special future of what God can do. Follow through with those words by demonstrating an active commitment to embodying blessing.

I leave you with a blessing:

May God answer you when you are in distress; may the name of Jesus protect you. 

May the Lord send help when you need it and give you support when you cry out to him. 

May the God of heaven remember your good deeds done in faith and accept you just as you are. 

May the Lord give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

When the Almighty goes out of the way to answer your prayers, then I will be the first to shout with joy!

I know the Lord is God. There is a special future for you beyond what you can even ask or think. And I will be there on the sidelines, encouraging you all the way.

Some people trust in the political process, others trust in the strength of the economy; but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

May God answer when you call.

May God bless you with an everlasting love. 

May you know Christ, and him crucified, risen, and coming again. 

May God’s presence and power be with you now and forever.  Amen.

*Above painting of the Trinity by Alek Rapaport, 1994

Psalm 20 – There Is Help from Heaven: Just Ask

I pray that the Lord answers you
        whenever you are in trouble.
    Let the name of Jacob’s God protect you.
Let God send help to you from the sanctuary
    and support you from Zion.
Let God recall your many grain offerings;
    let him savor your entirely burned offerings. Selah
Let God grant what is in your heart
    and fulfill all your plans.
Then we will rejoice that you’ve been helped.
    We will fly our flags in the name of our God.
    Let the Lord fulfill all your requests!

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed one;
    God answers his anointed one
        from his heavenly sanctuary,
    answering with mighty acts of salvation
        achieved by his strong hand.
Some people trust in chariots, others in horses;
    but we praise the Lord’s name.
They will collapse and fall,
    but we will stand up straight and strong.

Lord, save the king!
    Let him answer us when we cry out!
(Common English Bible)

Sometimes, the connection between our present situations and the past biblical historical context is readily apparent; and sometimes it’s not so clear. In the crucible of life, and the struggles of daily living, we might too quickly pass over the grace, relevance, and truth of God’s Word to us. 

The psalms are both prayer and worship directed to God. Many of those prayers are for oneself. Others, like today’s psalm, are intercessions for others. It is my sincere and ardent desire that you will experience a good life, even when that life has a bevy of challenges, stresses, and difficulties baked into it. And so:

May the Lord answer you in the stress of your life.

May the name of the ever-living, ever-present God protect you.

May the Lord send you help from the holy habitation, and give you support from heaven itself!

May God almighty remember all the ways you have given and served.

May the Lord be pleased with everything you have sacrificed on behalf of divine purposes and plans.

May God grant your heart’s deep longing and carry out every good plan you conceive.

May we together shout for joy when you overcome incredible pressure, and in the name of God throw a big ol’ party because of answered prayer!

May the Lord bring to fruition every one of your prayers.

I have supreme confidence God’s people shall be delivered. The Lord will answer from heaven with the full force of saving power. Some put their ultimate trust in military might. Others place faith in financial security. But the people of God trust in the name of the Lord our God.

We may collapse and fall. There might be obstacles galore. Stress and pressure may be our constant companions. No matter. We get up and stand again with confidence. The Lord will save us. God will answer when we call.

For the Christian, all God’s good promises are realized in Jesus. Ultimate help and deliverance come from Christ. Even more, Jesus came to give victory to all people. Consider the following New Testament expressions of salvation’s opportunity for everyone:

Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ERV)

This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone! Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved. (Acts 4:11-12, CEB)

God made a promise to our ancestors. And we are here to tell you the good news that he has kept this promise to us. It is just as the second Psalm says about Jesus,

“You are my son because today
    I have become your Father.”

God raised Jesus from death and will never let his body decay. It is just as God said,

“I will make to you
    the same holy promise
    that I made to David.”

And in another psalm, it says, “God will never let the body of his Holy One decay.” When David was alive, he obeyed God. Then after he died, he was buried in the family grave, and his body decayed. But God raised Jesus from death, and his body did not decay. My friends, the message is that Jesus can forgive your sins! The Law of Moses could not set you free from all your sins. But everyone who has faith in Jesus is set free. (Acts 13:32-39, CEV)

“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need humans to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?”

“God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged, and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:24-31, MSG)

There is help from heaven. It is available to us – if we but ask…

*Above art by Stushie Art of Psalm 20:4