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.

Hosea 6:1-10 – “I Want Mercy, Not Sacrifice”

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
    let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
    he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.”

“What can I do with you, Ephraim?
    What can I do with you, Judah?
Your love is like the morning mist,
    like the early dew that disappears.
Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,
    I killed you with the words of my mouth—
    then my judgments go forth like the sun.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
As at Adam, they have broken the covenant;
    they were unfaithful to me there.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    stained with footprints of blood.
As marauders lie in ambush for a victim,
    so do bands of priests;
they murder on the road to Shechem,
    carrying out their wicked schemes.
I have seen a horrible thing in Israel:
    There Ephraim is given to prostitution,
    Israel is defiled. (New International Version)

My favorite word in all of Holy Scripture is the Hebrew word חסד (“chesed” pronounced in English “kes-ed).  It is such a rich word that no one English word can capture its depth and import. 

So, chesed is translated in various ways across English translations of the Bible as:

  • Goodness (American Standard Version)
  • Faithful love (Common English Bible)
  • Loyalty (God’s Word Translation)
  • Constant love (Good News Translation)
  • Mercy (King James Version)
  • Love that lasts (The Message)
  • Faithfulness (New English Translation)
  • Loving-kindness (New Life Version)
  • Steadfast love (New Revised Standard Version)

Chesed is God’s committed, gracious, and loving covenant loyalty to people. The Lord’s very attributes are sheer Love.

Since chesed marks the character and activity of God, the Lord very much desires people to reflect this same stance toward one another. In other words, because God is merciful and kind, we, as people created in God’s image, are to be marked with this same character in all we do. 

In today’s Old Testament lesson, God is calling and wooing wayward people to return to a life of closeness with the Lord. God demonstrated chesed by not sending the people away, like a spouse outright divorcing an unfaithful partner. Instead, the Lord is committed to loving the Israelites even when they were unlovely.

At all times, the response God wants from people is not simply to go through the motions of outward worship. Ritual practices mean little if there is no heart behind them. The Lord longs for people to demonstrate both fidelity and fealty through mercy and a steadfast love to God and neighbor.

Both our work and our worship are to be infused with divine mercy. 

God deeply desires a close relationship with humanity. The Lord is deeply grieved when people whore after other gods to meet their needs for love and belonging. Hosea’s prophecy is an impassioned plea for all persons to find their true fulfillment and enjoyment in a committed loving divine/human union, like a marriage.

In Christian readings of Hosea’s prophecy, repentance means accepting God’s chesed through Jesus Christ.

The believer is to allow the character of God to rule and reign in their heart so that love and commitment come flowing out in words, actions, thoughts, and dispositions.

Mercy, in Christianity, finds its highest expression in the person and work of Jesus.

It is no wonder, then, that Jesus lifted Hosea’s prophecy as a treasured principle of operation when asked why he deliberately made connections with “questionable” people:

As Jesus continued on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.

But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13, CEB)

And when confronted about “questionable” activities, Jesus appealed to the same source of Hosea’s prophecy:

“Look! Your disciples are doing something that is not right to do on the day of rest—a holy day.”

Jesus asked them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his men were hungry? Haven’t you read how he went into the house of God and ate  the bread of the presence? He and his men had no right to eat those loaves. Only the priests have that right. Or haven’t you read in Moses’ Teachings that on the day of rest—a holy day, the priests in the temple do things they shouldn’t on the day of rest yet remain innocent? I can guarantee that something  greater than the temple is here. If you had known what ‘I want mercy, not sacrifices’ means, you would not have condemned innocent people. (Matthew 12:2-7, GW)

One can never go wrong with mercy and grace. If in doubt between whether to judge another or show mercy, the Christian’s choice is clear.

Grace and love reconnects the disconnected. The heart of true Christian spirituality is a deep kinship with the divine. Whenever that relation is broken or severed, it is vital to restore it. The means of doing so is not judgment; it’s mercy.

Chesed is more than a word; it is a way of life.

God wants mercy. Grace is the Lord’s divine will. So, let us today receive the forgiveness of Jesus and devote ourselves to prayer and works of love which come from a heart profoundly touched by grace. 

May the result of our return to the Lord be healing of that which has been broken, and reconciled relationships with others.

Merciful and loving God, the One who shows amazing grace, forgive us for our wanderings away from the divine life. Return us, again, to the grace of Jesus Christ our Savior so that our hearts will be renewed and aflame with love for others. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, the Great Three in One. 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.

2 Peter 1:2-15 – We Have Everything We Need

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus, he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

Therefore, I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the greatest deceptions which befall humanity is the lie that we aren’t enough – that somehow we lack something in our core personhood. Another great deception is that God is holding out on us – that we’ve gotten the short end of things.

It is my hope and prayer that today’s New Testament lesson puts a stake through the heart of those twin deceiving vampires. Erroneous beliefs only suck the life out of us. Instead, we must imbibe deeply of sound theology which enables us to live robustly in this old fallen world.

The Lord is my shepherd;
   I have all that I need.

Psalm 23:1, NLT

We have everything we need to grow in grace. God’s provision for us is total and complete. By grace, we can discern between truth and error; endure hostility, hardship, even persecution; live with patience as we await the new heaven and new earth; and face anything in this present life with confidence and hope because we’ve been equipped for it all.

Core to all this provision is the very life of Christ. Jesus is the source of the power and grace needed to live this incredible life. The same resurrection power which raised Christ from the grave is available and provided to us.

Believers are not in some weird holding pattern, like a plane circling the airport waiting to land, twiddling our thumbs until Christ returns. No! This present life is to be fully engaged with the tools given us of faith, hope, and love. And those spiritual implements are sufficient to walk with boldness through the valley of the shadow of death.

It continually must be borne in mind that we are to take up the gifts given us and use them in our present sojourn on this earth. Let us put significant energy into our faith development through knowing our call to holiness; and knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, his power and suffering.

Carefully and confidently using our faith, we are to fully participate in God’s divine power through the qualities of:

  • Goodness. Cultivation of moral excellence is both helpful and needed in all our relationships. Goodness is like a seed planted. We need to give it proper amounts of water and sun and keep the weeds away.
  • Knowledge. There are two words in the ancient Greek for knowledge: one is a reference to acquiring information; and the other refers to actively using the information provided. The Apostle Peter uses the latter – an experiential knowledge which is wise, discerning, and discreet.
  • Self-Control. This is the ability to get a grip on yourself, to avoid controlling others and focus on all things within your own control. Ultimate control belongs to God; and we are called to self-control.
  • Endurance. To see the big picture, to look ahead and keep your eye on the goal, is the lived practice of endurance or perseverance. Everyone has patience. It’s rather a matter of whether we will tap into it, or not.
  • Godliness. The heart of godliness is awareness of self, others, and God – rightly relating to them all with wholeness and integrity.
  • Mutual Affection. Basic human kindness is imperative between two people, especially with fellow believers.
  • Love. This is the Christian’s consummate virtue. Whereas affection is to be mutual, love can always be done whether someone loves us back, or not. Genuine love can be directed at the unlovely, even enemies.

We are to be effective and productive in adding divine virtues to our lives. It’s not a matter of more but better.

Even a smidge of faith can move a mountain.

A kernel of goodness can produce a harvest of righteousness.

A little bit of knowledge can be turned into love.

Small self-control can develop into immense self-control.

Keeping our head up for a few seconds can help us see the goal and endure to the end.

One insight can create a cascade of godliness.

A single act of kindness can change a life forever.

Love, no matter how big or small, can change the world.

We possess all these qualities and are in want of nothing. We are enough because Christ is enough.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. – A Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi