Hebrews 3:7-19

            Although many people do their outdoor grilling with propane and propane accessories, there are still some who go with the old charcoal grill.  The key to a good hot grill is in the stacking of the briquettes into a neat pile before lighting them.  If this is not done, it is likely the white hot fire will never get going.  At the most, the briquettes will become warm but quickly grow cold and die.
 
            The New Testament lesson for today operates with the same principle.  “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  Just as a pile of charcoal needs all the individual briquettes together in order to become hot and not grow cold, so every Christian needs other Christians to speak into his/her life every day.  If this dynamic does not happen, the heart will grow cold and hard and eventually lead, if unchecked, to a falling away from the faith.
 
            There is much we can learn from the Korean church on this matter.  Every day they have opportunities early in the morning to gather together for prayer and encouragement before going off to their jobs and busy lives.  There is a reason that the Korean church has grown hot for God with many Christians and lots of missionaries going all over the world.  It would be not only wise, but necessary to re-think and re-do our American spiritual practices to better accommodate and reflect an obedience to these very verses in Hebrews.
 

 

            Blessed Holy Trinity, I have been made in your image – the image of the triune God.  Help me to reflect that image every day by encouraging my fellow believers and allowing them to exhort me toward love and good deeds in the faith of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Hebrews 11:17-22

            I have always thought that kids are collectively closer to God than most adults.  The older one gets it is far too easy to become cynical, having had a bevy of expectations and/or dreams squished in the press of life.  But kids tend to not have that kind of history.  They simply believe. 
 
            Maybe Abraham was a kid at heart.  When God gave him a promise that it would be through his son Isaac and not anyone else that the great spiritual inheritance would be passed on, Abraham simply believed.  In fact, he was so thoroughly convinced that God was good for his word that even when the most contradictory of circumstances seemed to warrant that it was not going to come to pass, he still believed.
 
            At the heart of genuine authentic biblical faith is the simple unshakable conviction that one can completely bank his/her life on the promises of God.  So, even when God came along and told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, child-like Abram just reasoned that even if his son were dead, God would just do the most impossible thing of all by resurrecting his lifeless body.
 
            Abraham is the father of all who believe not because he always did the right thing and never stumbled.  He is our spiritual ancestor because of his simple faith placed firmly in the God whom he believed could do the impossible.  It is faith that ought to dictate how we pray and how we go about living.  It is faith that really should determine how we make decisions and how churches should lay plans.  And it is faith in the promises of God which ought to cause us to respond to him like a little child.
            God of the impossible, you are the one who fulfills every good word in and through Jesus Christ.  I trust you, that as I proclaim the good news you will continue to do your work of raising others from spiritual death through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Hebrews 12:3-13

            Perseverance is important to God.  It is important enough to him that he disciplines us for our own good so that we can endure for a lifetime of being faithful to Jesus Christ.  Our response to the disciplining work of God depends upon how we look at it.  If we view discipline as a dirty word to be avoided at any cost, then any time there is trouble or difficulty, we are going to spend our efforts trying to wriggle away like an earthworm to a flashlight.  But if we discern that discipline comes from God as a gracious means of developing perseverance within us, we will patiently endure the circumstance knowing that God is doing an important work in us.  We can submit to God and look forward to the righteous fruit that he will produce in us; or, we can buck our adverse situation and refuse to learn from it.
 
            Even Jesus himself endured hostility, trouble, and eventually death despite the fact that he did nothing to deserve such treatment.  We are not above our Master.  Just as he suffered, so we will, as well.  The real question is:  What will we do when we face painful difficulty?  God loves us enough to not leave us alone but is active in allowing us to endure hardship as discipline so that our faith will grow and develop.  This is a healthy thing, and not a thing to avoid.
 
            We are to consider Jesus, his attitude and way of life, so that we ourselves will not grow weary and fainthearted.  We are to lift our drooping hands and strengthen our feeble knees and find fresh inspiration to keep going through looking squarely at Jesus, our faithful example.  Whether our painful trial is a very real physical disability, a relationship problem that is constantly on-going, or an emotional situation that seems to maintain a constant vice-grip on your head and heart, there is a God in heaven who sees it all and desires to bend each and every adverse circumstance for use in developing your faith and bringing you closer to him.  Allow God to do the expert work that he alone is suited to do.
            Gracious God, I believe that you discipline me for my good.  Help me to not grow weary when you bring adversity into my life.  Instead, strengthen me as I submit to your will for me through Jesus Christ my Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Hebrews 12:1-3

            Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame.”  Our Lord experienced the ultimate in suffering and shame; the cross was painful physically, mentally, and spiritually.  It was awful.  Yet, there was joy set before him.  This does not mean Jesus relished in the pain; rather, he clearly understood what his suffering would accomplish: the saving of many lives.
 
            Trying to make sense of this great sacrifice on our behalf can be mind-blowing.  No earthly illustration or word-picture can begin to adequately capture the idea.  However, perhaps what we can understand is undergoing the necessary discipline, effort, and pain in order to accomplish a goal.  Back in the day, I was a cross country runner (back far enough for Sherman to set the way-back machine).  When I was running I would sometimes get that super nasty pain in my side while running.  It is called a side cramp, or side stitch.  If you have never experienced it, the pain feels like an intense stabbing, as if someone were taking a knife and twisting it inside you.  There is really only one thing to do when this occurs:  keep running through the pain and it will subside in a few minutes; to stop running only exacerbates and prolongs the hurt, not to mention losing if it occurs during a race.
 
            Jesus faced the cross knowing that he was going to experience terrible excruciating pain.  He also knew that not facing the shame of it all and avoiding the agony would only make things worse and not take care of the problem.  Jesus endured all the foulness and degradation of the cross for you and me.  The pain was worth it to him.  He did not circumvent it, but embraced it so that the result would be people’s deliverance from sin, death, and hell.  The end game of his redemptive work was joy over deposing the ruler of this dark world.
 
            Suffering often does not fit into our equation of the Christian life; but it should.  Since Jesus bled and died for us, it is our privilege to follow him along the way of suffering.  Holy Week is a time to reflect and remember on such a great sacrifice, and to consider our Christian lives in the face of such great love.
            Gracious Lord Jesus, I give you eternal thanks for your mercy toward me through the cross.  It is a small thing for me to follow you even it means great suffering on my part.  My life is yours.  Use it as you will, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.