Hebrews 13:17-25 – Pray for Pastoral Leaders

Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?

Pray for us. We have no doubts about what we’re doing or why, but it’s hard going, and we need your prayers. All we care about is living well before God. Pray that we may be together soon.

May God, who puts all things together,
    makes all things whole,
Who made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus,
    the sacrifice of blood that sealed the eternal covenant,
Who led Jesus, our Great Shepherd,
    up and alive from the dead,
Now put you together, provide you
    with everything you need to please him,
Make us into what gives him most pleasure,
    by means of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah.
All glory to Jesus forever and always!
    Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Friends, please take what I’ve written most seriously. I’ve kept this as brief as possible; I haven’t piled on a lot of extras. You’ll be glad to know that Timothy has been let out of prison. If he leaves soon, I’ll come with him and get to see you myself.

Say hello to your pastoral leaders and all the congregations. Everyone here in Italy wants to be remembered to you.

Grace be with you, everyone. (The Message)

A survey on American clergy by the Schaeffer Institute found some of the following information:

  • 90% of pastors report working between 55-75 hours per week.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they had another job lined-up right away.
  • 80% of pastors believe church ministry has negatively affected their families.
  • 80% of pastoral spouses feel lonely and underappreciated by church members.
  • 40% of pastors report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 50% of pastors starting out will not last five years.
  • Only 10% of pastors will actually retire as pastors.
  • Over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month in the United States; 1,300 of them are fired by their churches.
  • The number one reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and support the goal of the pastor; pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction, but the people are not willing to follow.

As a church pastor myself, the one thing I want every single church member to know is: Your prayer support is the Pastor’s life support. 

Without regular, earnest, sustained, fervent, and constant prayers lifted upwards on behalf of pastoral leaders and their families, no matter how hard they labor or how much they work, the church ministry will go nowhere. 

Conversely, however, with habitual and spirited prayer, even the most anemic weaknesses of an individual pastor can be transcended, and the church can thrive and flourish with spiritual health and joy.

Lift prayers for your pastor today and every day, appealing to God concerning the following:

Protection from the enemy

Rest

Anointing of the Spirit

Yielded heart to God

Effectiveness in ministry

Righteous life of integrity

The spiritual and relational glue which binds believers together is prayer. Churches are bound to clergymen and clergywomen, not by a legal agreement, but by a bond formed and sustained by God. 

The heart of prayer is listening, and as we allow God to speak to us through Holy Scripture, in the events of the world and in the silence of our hearts, we are enabled to unite our prayer to the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The renewal of the Church everywhere will not occur through the latest program or becoming expertly savvy webmasters. Instead, sustainable church ministry will come through a renewal of spirituality.

Ordinary Christian parishioners who are prepared to share their lives with God in focused, daily, intentional prayer will be the spiritual means of seeing God’s benevolent rule and ethical will done here on earth, as it is always done in heaven.

Loving God, thank you for being our shield and strength. You are a God of compassion and faithfulness. Please protect, nourish and sustain clergy, church councils, and faith community leaders everywhere through the work of your Holy Spirit. May they find rest and encouragement in your loving care.

Gracious God, without you we can do nothing. Clothe Christian leaders everywhere with your Holy Spirit so that with joy and reverence they may lead your people with integrity and effectiveness, worthily proclaiming your gospel of love.

Righteous God, you have shown us what is good. So, help ministers everywhere to do what you require: act justly; love mercy; and walk humbly with you.

Almighty God, through your Son, Jesus Christ, you gave the holy apostles many spiritual gifts and commanded them to feed your flock. Inspire all pastors to preach your Word diligently and your people to receive it willingly so that together we may receive the crown of eternal glory, through Christ, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hebrews 11:4-7 – Let the Future Shape Your Present

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. (New International Version)

Faith is important. It’s part of us. We are all people of faith – maybe not sharing the same faith – but it is faith, none-the-less.

Belief transcends time. Faith is rooted in the past, experienced in the present, and future-oriented. In Christianity, faith is historically moored to the redemptive events of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. This historic faith has continuing ramifications into the present time. And it is a faith which believes Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead.

All of this means our salvation encompasses past, present, and future. So, it is appropriate and accurate to say the Christian has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell was achieved on the cross. We are presently in the process of being delivered from our sinful nature and the effects of a fallen world. And we will be completely delivered at the end of the age when there will be no more disease, death, or grief-stricken crying.

The New Testament brings out all these dimensions of time. Whereas the Apostle Paul tended to continually look back to the past of God’s action in history, the author of Hebrews consistently looks ahead and brings out the future orientation of our faith.

And that is what the great Hall of Faith in chapter eleven of Hebrews is about – giving repeated examples of individuals who transcended their present hard circumstances through realizing what will be eventually coming. All of them acted particular ways in the present time because of what they believed would happen in the future. In other words, people of faith allow their belief in what is coming to shape how they live now in daily life.

Abel took the absolute best of his flock and made it an offering, with the intent of giving God an appropriate gift. Whereas his brother Cain cobbled together some of the leftovers from his vegetable harvest and gave them a nonchalant toss to God. Then, he got upset when God looked with disfavor on it.

Abel’s actions demonstrated the attitude of his heart. His belief and his practice worked together. And the gift he gave to God cost him his life, as Cain was inflamed with anger and killed his brother. Only by looking ahead and seeing that God’s reward is better than anything this world can offer, can we endure hardship.

Enoch focused on pleasing God through his three-hundred year life, knowing he would then enjoy an eternity with the Lord who provides good rewards. Enoch displayed his faith through obedience to God. He believed God existed and that God is good.

Noah, despite the jeering of his neighbors, took one-hundred years of his life to build a big ark, believing without a doubt that God’s judgment was coming. The daily grind of constructing an ark for such a long time was made possible because Noah was looking ahead. His present actions were shaped by his forward thinking faith.

In each individual’s life, their daily actions were a result of their unshakable belief in what was to come.

Faith enables us to persevere patiently through any kind of adversity. Knowing we have a better reward ahead; realizing our present trouble will not last forever; and believing Christ will eventually make all things right in this world which has so much wrong – forms the foundation of our faith in such a way as to buoy us so that we do not drown in a sea of injustice, microaggressions, unhealthy power dynamics, as well as plain old meanness and insensitivity from others.

So, when we face those times which tempt us to get lost or stuck in an ever-enclosing existential angst, take a pause, back up the truck, and see a more expansive big picture view of yourself, your situation, and others. You’ll be glad you did.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Amen.

-Prayer of St. Patrick

Hebrews 2:5-9 – Christ is Qualified

It is not to angels that God has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (New International Version)

Christ’s suffering qualified him to unite people.

By Christmas eve of 1914, World War I had come to the point of trench warfare. On one point along the miles of trenches, on one side were the allied troops of French and Scots, and on the other side, Germans. That night, a Frenchman began singing Silent Night. Eventually his comrades joined in. Much to their surprise, the Germans on the other side of the trench, recognizing the familiar tune, began singing the song in their native tongue, along with them. The Scots then joined in with their bagpipes.

After the song, heads began to stick out from the trenches. Both sides realized they had a common celebration in song. This led to white flags going up on both sides, and then the unthinkable happened. Both trenches, allied and axis powers, enemies of one another, left their holes in the ground and met in the middle, exchanging pictures, and communicating with each other. The evening was capped off with the Scottish chaplain leading all the men together in a celebration of communion. The 2005 movie, Joyeux Noel, recounts the actual events.

Whenever we come together, expressed for the Christian through the sacrament of communion, it puts our differences in their proper perspective – we all come together as one, not seeing each other as rich or poor, black or white, American or Asian, or anything else.

The events of that Christmas eve in 1914, however, did not have a happy ending. The two sides found that, once the holiday passed, they did not have the will to fight their new brothers. The top brass on each side were upset and sent the Germans to the Russian front (and certain death); and the Scottish chaplain was defrocked for his actions and sent home never to pastor again, letting us see in dramatic fashion that unity has a price.

The book of Hebrews was originally written (or preached) to encourage and exhort struggling Jewish Christians. The author pointed them squarely at Jesus. The people were in danger of forgetting what the pioneer and champion of their salvation had done for them.

What’s more, they were in danger of reneging on their commitment to Christ. So, the entire book is dedicated to demonstrating and reminding discouraged believers that Jesus Christ is superior to everything, both in heaven and on earth.  Because of that truth, Jesus is worthy of our eternal devotion and remembrance.

Jesus is qualified to be our Savior and Lord. Every day and each minute of our lives are an opportunity for a fresh commitment to Jesus.

The regular practice of Christian communion and consistent spiritual practices are meant to lead us into celebrating our Savior’s work. The worldwide communion of saints is celebrating with us in remembering and committing ourselves afresh to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

A great victory has been won, not just in the trenches of human wars, but on the cross of Christ. This singular death on our behalf qualified Jesus to be our Savior from sin, once and for all.

Christ’s suffering qualified him to be our Savior.

Jesus suffered an inglorious and ignominious death. Yet, paradoxically, glory came through suffering. Jesus did not only suffer at his crucifixion; he experienced the full range of human suffering throughout his life.  He knew what it was like to face adversity and hardship. It is Christ’s suffering that helps us make sense of our own suffering.

We can only truly be free from all that binds us by embracing that which makes us suffer. And because we live in a fallen world, we all personally suffer in some way. In addition, entire groups of people suffer – whether it is religious persecution, racial profiling, class warfare, or government oppression. This suffering is very real, damaging, and dehumanizing, resulting in terrible living conditions and even death.

Maybe because of this reality, some tend to minimize their own suffering. After all, what is a harshly worded e-mail, trying to lose a few extra pounds, or an unexpected car repair compared to families devastated by COVID-19? It is all suffering none-the-less.

It is good to keep our life situations in proper perspective; and we must be careful to not tell God what he should and shouldn’t care about in this world. If the only things that matter and qualify as hardship and difficulty is human trafficking, the terrors of war, or grinding poverty, then you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding over-enthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing. Happy with-it Christians are insufferable, (pun intended).

We must find commonality and solidarity with Jesus in our own personal and corporate suffering. An admission of weakness, trouble, hardship, or suffering is neither a lack of faith nor the unpardonable sin. Identifying with the adversity of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world can be transformed into suffering that has meaning and significance. Our temporary sufferings now will someday result in the glory of being with Christ forever.

Christ’s suffering qualified him to be our compassionate helper.

Through the death of Jesus on the cross we have victory over Satan and all his wicked spirits.

I have heard more than one motivational speaker say: “If you could do one thing in your life and not be able to fail, what would it be?” The truth is, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we have victory and can live our lives in confidence and commitment to Jesus.

Temporary failures and failings are not the end of the story. We possess a union with Christ because of the cross. Jesus is our champion. He stands with us in our suffering and temptations. 

In solidarity with all who suffer, along with brothers and sisters who agonize throughout the world, we have the blessed opportunity of bringing our troubles to a gracious God – thus finding forgiveness and hope. 

May your burdens be lifted, and may you know Christ, and him crucified, died, buried, risen, ascended, and coming again. Jesus knows you because he tasted death for you – and for everyone.

Merciful Lord help me to remember in these troubled times the cross you carried for my sake so that I may better carry mine and help others do the same. Since you tasted death that I might taste life, I forever belong to you and offer up all that I am and all I hope to be to the glory of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

**Above picture: Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Hebrews 4:14-5:4 – What is Your View of God?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. That’s why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. (NIV)

Metaphors matter. How we view, imagine, and picture God influences the way we live.

Recently, I met with a young man who was severely distressed, depressed, and had attempted suicide several times in the past several months. After listening to his story, I asked him a question: “How do you see or picture God?”  Without hesitation, he answered, “God is my CO (Commanding Officer).”  He went on to portray and picture General God who gives commands and of good soldiers who obey what’s expected of them. 

As a soldier, you would never walk up to your CO and vent all your feelings. You wouldn’t have a dialogue.  There would be no extended conversations. In the throes of trying to deal with emotional trauma, General God isn’t a metaphor that’s helpful.

Today’s New Testament lesson reminds and invites us to consider Jesus, the Son of God. Christ is pictured as our great high priest. A priest is a person who intercedes for you with God. He stands in the gap and effectively communicates your needs, desires, and feelings to a gracious and loving God.

When you are too emotionally tired to face another day, Jesus our great high priest, has our back and is graciously present with us.

Soldiers don’t have confidence to approach General God with their abject weakness or their ongoing temptations. There is only the giving and receiving of orders and strategies to be implemented. Far too many Christians have such an understanding of God and think there is something wrong with them when they cannot live up to be the kind of soldier that would make others proud.

Grace and mercy, however, are found through the confidence of approaching our great high priest. It is Jesus who thoroughly, completely, and mercifully has a first-hand understanding of what you are dealing with and is able and desirous to help.

As our permanent high priest, Jesus is uniquely positioned to hear us, empathize with our situation, and care for us in ways which truly aid us.

It’s easy to get discouraged. It takes no effort to find yourself on the outside of happiness and on the inside of a black hole. Living in this broken world can sting and hurt like hell. Yet, we have a Savior who has brought deliverance from hell by taking on hell itself.  Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation, knows better than anyone what brokenness feels like. Christ absorbed all the sin of the world on the cross. 

Jesus is presently, this very moment, sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven, awaiting your approach with merciful eyes, a compassionate heart, and listening ears. Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord. Christ is so much more than a military officer. Jesus is our ample and able great high priest. He is awaiting you now….

Ascended and living Lord Jesus, you are my colossal high priest. You live to intercede for me. What a privilege!  May you strengthen my nascent faith today and bolster my confidence as I consider your grace and mercy in this messed-up world. Thank you for your kindness, empathy, and ability. Amen.