Hebrews 13:7-21 – Keep On Doing Good

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so, Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (New International Version)

I once rode a horse named “Old Glue.” The tired old horse got his name because he stuck to the ground like glue. I can testify firsthand that it took a furious amount of kicking to get that the old guy to move at all. 

I think about Old Glue every time I look at the final chapter of Hebrews. It feels like the author is firing off exhortation after exhortation trying to kick some life into a group of people who have lost their enthusiasm for Jesus:

  • Don’t forget about your spiritual leaders who faithfully keep watch over you and model how to live the Christian life
  • Don’t be fooled by a bunch of unfamiliar and strange gobbledygook teachings
  • Share in the disgrace of Christ by sharing in his sufferings
  • Keep offering praise to God in the name of Jesus
  • Don’t forget to help others through benevolence and generosity
  • Live a sacrificial life
  • Pray for your spiritual fathers and mothers
  • Be generous
  • Do good!

All these exhortations come kicking one after the other in a short amount of space. The reason why we ought to pay attention to them is that we were bought at the price of Christ’s blood. God has redeemed us with the ultimate price.

Let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up or quit.

Galatians 6:9, MSG

We need to work at becoming holy and to serving with genuine Christian love as if this was the last day of our lives. 

We are to run like wild stallions for Jesus, instead of being stuck to the ground like Old Glue. 

Don’t be hateful to people, just because they are hateful to you. Rather, be good to each other and to everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15, CEV)

There is no advantage to only moving when there is something in it for “me.” There is no benefit in griping and complaining. Yet there is eternal advantage in trotting along for the Savior. There’s life in following the trail outside the camp and meeting Jesus at the place of humility, disgrace, and suffering. 

After all, if it is God’s will, it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong. (1 Peter 3:17, GW)

There is no advantage to being stubborn and having to constantly be prodded into moving. However, there is joy awaiting the believer who learns to move with the unforced rhythms of grace.

Don’t be like Old Glue.

Keeping going. Keep doing good.

May Jesus help you do what pleases God. To Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever! Amen.

Luke 6:6-11 – Every Day is Meant for Doing Good

On another Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So, he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. (New International Version)

Lectio Divina is an ancient Latin term which means “spiritual reading.”  It means to read Holy Scripture not just to know its contents, but to experience its power to restore, heal, transform, and draw close to God.

Lectio Divina is a simple way to prayerfully read Scripture, meditate on its message, and listen for what God may be saying for us to do. It can be done privately, or with a small group of people. The goal is to become more Christ-like.

Lectio Divina is based upon reading a selected text of Scripture three times. Each reading is followed by a period of silence after which each person is given the opportunity to briefly share what they are hearing as they listen to God (if done in a group).

For today’s Gospel lesson, I invite you to give it three different readings, as is common to a Lectio Divina approach:

  1. In the first reading, read the text aloud slowly and carefully. Listen for a word, phrase or idea that captures you attention. As you recognize a word, phrase or idea, focus your attention on it, repeating it several times.
  2. In the second reading, focus your attention on how the selected word, phrase or idea speaks to your life right now. What does it mean for you today? How is Christ speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase or idea?
  3. In the third reading, focus on what God is calling you to do or to become. Experiencing God’s presence changes us. It calls us to something. What is that something?

So, here are my reflections from reading today’s Gospel lesson three times:

  1. In my first reading, the phrase “watched him closely” stood out to me. As I sat and pondered this phrase, I thought about how there are always people watching us. How I live my life, and what I say, are continually on display. Mostly, this is a good thing, because I believe that modeling an authentic and devout life to Christ is important. Yet, whenever someone is watching us closely, in the sense of continually looking over our shoulder, or scrutinizing every word and action so as to find fault, this is a very bad thing.
  2. In my second reading, I hear God speaking to me about how Jesus experienced this bad sort of watching, and yet, he did not let it deter him from doing good and following through on what is right by healing a man on the Sabbath. In fact, Christ confidently had the man with the shriveled hand stand up in front of everyone. He wanted the entire congregation, including those who were watching him with judgmental eyes, to see exactly what he was doing. Jesus neither healed him quietly nor waited till after the synagogue service was over; he was very open about what was happening.
  3. In my third reading, I felt Jesus beside me – not looking for something to correct or chastise me about – but rather putting his arm around my shoulder, knowing exactly what it feels like to be the object of criticism, scorn, and malevolent plotting against. I sense my solidarity with Christ, my union with him, believing that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ, my Savior and Lord, who always has my back. I hear Jesus graciously calling me to stand firm and openly do what is good and right, every day, no matter who is watching or why they are watching.

Today’s Gospel lesson shows us Christ’s disapproval of those who focus so narrowly on the traditions and laws of religion that they end up losing sight of God’s message.

For the Christian, the message is a gospel of grace, not condemnation. Jesus challenges the legalistic way of keeping the Sabbath holy by asking a penetrating question: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

By showing compassion to the man with the withered hand, Jesus points us to a way of holiness that’s a whole lot more than keeping the law and performing rituals.

By healing the man, Jesus teaches us to respond to God’s call to do good and save lives. Traditions should never interfere with our compassion for those in need.

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

James 4:17

If you haven’t already done so, give the Lectio Divina a healthy try – because God is always speaking to us; we just need to be still and silent in order to hear.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, and grant me your peace. Amen.

Galatians 6:7-10 – You Harvest What You Plant

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Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (New Revised Standard Version)

“You reap what you sow” is one of those famous (or infamous) phrases of the Bible. Some people have a visceral reaction to the statement because it was used in the negative sense to keep kids obedient. 

However. the actual context for the statement, while not excluding the need to avoid disobedience, is aimed much more toward the necessity of doing good works for others. 

In the Church’s and the Christian’s work of burden-bearing on behalf of those with crushing loads to carry, we are not to become weary as the walk goes on and on. Persevering in good works will eventually lead to a bumper crop of righteousness.

We don’t typically use the words “sow” and “reap” much anymore. We really don’t use very many agrarian metaphors anymore since most folks are no longer living on farms and working the soil. We’re likely more familiar with the words “plant” and “harvest.”

We understand that if we plant seeds in our garden, it will take some time for them to germinate, take root, break the ground, grow, and produce what we want from them. The same is true in life. To expect instantaneous results for the spiritual life is unrealistic; it just doesn’t work that way.

The main orientation of today’s New Testament lesson is patience and perseverance in the doing of good works. Although it might not seem, at the moment, that our labors are really making a dent at all, God is taking notice. The Lord sees each act of service.  Eventually, if we will keep up the slow, tedious, and often dull work of persisting in doing what is right, it will all pay-off in a harvest of righteousness.

Perhaps you have been struggling lately – wanting to see something happen that you’ve been working on or praying for. And it hasn’t happened yet. You’re ready for the harvest and are tired of waiting. 

There are times when I grow weary of having the same conversations with people over and over again. I sometimes grow impatient with impenitent people who only seem to think of themselves. Alas, welcome to the human race! 

God cares just as much, or more, about the process of planting and tending as the actual end of the harvest. In other words, the means of how we go about things are as important as the end result. To help us be accountable, we very much need the encouragement of others in our Christian pilgrimage through this life. 

Accountability is a humble willingness to accept the consequences of our choices, our words, and our behaviors. That is, we need to own our part in situations we’ve been in. It’s about taking responsibility (not for others and their behavior) for one’s self and making things right.

Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, NET)

Honesty, integrity, wisdom, courage, forgiveness, and humility don’t simply fall out of the sky for us. A good and abundant harvest which can be shared with many requires patient and tedious work. These virtues, along with the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control – need careful attention. Like a faithful and patient gardener, we must tend to them, keeping ourselves free of weeds, bugs, and critters.

As we daily tend to our personal garden, we pay attention to how we use our time; know and honor our limits; and remain open to change. We cannot control outside forces, such as the weather, but we can take responsibility for our own choices and the consequences which result from them.

We cannot care for others and do good works unless we have done the work of self-care. Doing good flows from being good, first to ourselves, then to others. We can only give what we have. If we have tended to our garden with care, then the bounteous harvest can be shared with many. But if we neglect our own garden, there will be nothing to give when the season of harvest comes around.

“Which of the commands is most important?” Jesus answered, “The most important command is this: ‘Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’The second command is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There are no commands more important than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, NCV)

Caring for ourselves isn’t a luxury. We must give ourselves permission to do it. The way in which we talk to ourselves will eventually become the manner in which we talk to others. The care we learn to extend to ourselves will be the care we give to others.

If we sow and plant good things in our own lives, then we will reap a harvest of good works for others. So, let us do good, especially to our sisters and brothers in the faith.

Patient God, you have been waiting for several millennia to complete your work in this world. It is a small thing for me to keep doing your will with perseverance over the span of my own lifetime. I look to my model, Jesus Christ, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and reaped eternal life for all who would believe. Amen.

Psalm 1 – Two Different Ways

Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.

But not the wicked!
    They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
    Sinners will have no place among the godly.
For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
    but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (New Living Translation)

Today’s psalm presents us with two differing ways we can choose to shape our lives: The way of the upright and virtuous, or the way of the unethical and depraved. 

The way of the right and just person leads to human flourishing and life – whereas the way of the wicked and unjust person leads to human degradation and death. 

Distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked is not always as easy as it looks.

Only at the end of the age, when the Day of Judgment comes, will we know for certain the righteous and the wicked.

The magisterial Reformer, Martin Luther, contrasted these two ways with his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. Luther called the way of the wicked a theology of glory – and described the way of the righteous as the theology of the cross.

The cross of Christ, as expressed by Luther, is God’s attack on human sin. Christ’s death is central to Christianity, and one must embrace the cross and rely completely and totally upon Christ’s finished work on the cross to handle human sin. Through being crucified with Christ, we find the way to human flourishing and life. In other words, righteousness is gained by grace through faith in Christ.

Conversely, the theology of glory is the opposing way of the cross. For Luther, the wicked person, and the vilest offender of God, is not the person who has done all kinds of outward sinning and heinous acts. The worst of sinners do good works.

Specifically, the wicked person is the one who does all kinds of nice things – yet does them disconnected from God by wanting others to see their good actions. Another way of putting this: The wicked person is one who seeks to gain glory for self, rather than giving glory to God.

Our good works can be the greatest hindrance to righteousness.

It is far too easy to place faith in our good works done apart from God, rather than having a naked trust in Christ alone. And it is far too easy to do good things for the primary purpose of having others observe our goodness, rather than do them out of the good soil of being planted in God’s Word. 

The remedy for sin is the cross, and the sinner is one who lives apart from that cross, trusting in self so that people can recognize and give them their perceived due respect and accolades.

“It is impossible for a person not to be puffed by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.”

Martin Luther

We are not to avoid good works but do them from the good soil of being planted in the law of God and connected to the vine of Christ. When the psalmist uses the term “law” he is referring to Scripture as a whole, to all the acquired wisdom about how life is supposed to be lived in God’s big world.

The righteous are those who immerse themselves in the law; secretly rise early to meditate on God’s Word; privately pour over Scripture’s message and pray to put it into practice because they want to delight in God. Their fruit will be abundant and sweet.  

The wicked, however, are simply too busy to take note what the law says; only serve to be seen; and publicly desire to be recognized for their charity and works. Such works will not stand when Judgment Day comes.

You’re nothing but show-offs. You’re like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth. (Matthew 23:27, CEV)

Truly righteous people have a humble sense that they could easily drift from God, if not staying connected and rooted in Jesus and the way of the cross. 

The wicked, in contrast, are like chaff – worthless, and not adding value to anything. They are arrogant and annoying – wanting all the attention that God rightly deserves. The wicked have nothing to contribute to God’s kingdom. They hinder the harvest of souls God is working toward with their irritating attitudes.

Generosity marks the righteous because God is generous. Grace defines the righteous because God is gracious.  Gentleness is the way of the righteous because Christ is gentle. Spiritual prosperity is the result of a righteous relationship cultivated with Jesus Christ. The Lord watches over the way of such persons.

The way of the wicked will perish.

We have sixteen prophetic books in the Old Testament, all given to a single message: Judgment is coming because of wickedness.  And the wicked turn out to be God’s covenant people, because they selectively did their good works to gain glory for themselves. They withheld the good they could have done because it did not add any value to their reputation or their personal goals.

God desires genuine spiritual growth for us. That will only happen if we avoid the theology of glory and embrace a theology of the cross – delighting in God and the law.

Every day, we have a choice to make: The way of connection and life, or the way of disconnection and death. 

Look here! Today I’ve set before you, life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong. If you obey the Lord your God’s commandments that I’m commanding you right now by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, his regulations, and his case laws, then you will live and thrive, and the Lord your God will bless you…. But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and so are misled, worshipping other gods and serving them,I’m telling you right now that you will definitely die…. I have set life and death, blessing and curse before you. Now choose life—so that you and your descendants will live—by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to him. That’s how you will survive and live long…. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, CEB)

The idols of our hearts can so easily draw us away from God so that our own good works are done for an audience who will recognize and affirm. Instead, our daily choice must be to love God supremely and give God glory for everything good in our lives. 

What will you choose this day?