Hebrews 10:32-39 – Don’t Throw Away Your Confidence

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So, do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,

“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”

And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (New International Version)

Confidence is necessary for the Christian life. It’s not optional. One can only persevere through trouble with some confident hope.

It’s one thing to bear up under a hard circumstance for a few days or weeks. It’s altogether another thing for that same hardship to continue for months, even years.

Living with such adversity everyday makes one tired… really tired. Feelings of hopelessness slowly creep within. And, after a while, the person or group of people just want the madness to end. So, they simply give up, being lost in their troubles, feeling alone and bereft of options.

Without the confident expectation of better days ahead, while in the throes of difficulty, a failure of faith can too easily happen.

To realize better days, it’s important to remember the earlier days. I’m not talking about living in the past and wishing it were the 1950s again with Beaver Cleaver across the street. This is not about believing that the past was the good old days, and that the present is bad.

Instead, we can recall and remember the ways we endured and persevered with joy in past experiences.

The original Christian recipients of the message of Hebrews needed to recall the various ways they stood firm and tall in their faith, despite the adversity.

In earlier times, they were insulted and persecuted. Yet, they showed solidarity with others in similar situations. The believers were attentive to prisoners and sought to meet their needs. And they responded to the confiscation of their property with joy because they knew there was so much more than this present life and it’s possessions.

But the persecution and the insults continued… day after day… with no apparent end….

The Christians began to lose their grip on faith. They needed to reconnect with their purpose, with why they were Christians to begin with.

Originally, the reason they had such incredible attitudes while enduring hard things is because they were pursuing heavenly treasure. Their earthly possessions were merely temporary things, not of eternal value. They understood that people have eternal value, not stuff, so the believers willingly focused their efforts in helping others.

However, over time, the band of believers lost their focus. All they could see was the pain and the difficulty. They became disconnected with their purpose. And so, they were in danger of losing their faith and becoming utterly hopeless.

What to do? Give up? Renege on faith? Adopt a “whatever will be, will be,” sort of philosophy?

No. Instead,

Remember what God has done for you.

Affirm what is right, just, and true.

Embrace faith and patience.

That’s what the prophet Habakkuk did. And his resilience helped to bring proper perspective to present troubles.

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.”

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Habakkuk was distressed over the corruption of his fellow Israelites. Things were askew and not right. So, he complained to God about it. 

God responded by informing Habakkuk that judgment was coming to Israel through the Babylonians. This was neither what Habakkuk expected nor wanted. The prophet grumbled even more because the Babylonians were more corrupt than the Israelites. 

The prophet was having a hard time, and it seemed God was only making things worse, not better.

Habakkuk struggled to come to terms with what God was doing, and not doing. Finally, he concluded the matter by reconnecting with his faith: 

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT)

Perhaps the most significant faith experience we can have, is to come to the point of complete trust in God so that our happiness is not dependent upon good circumstances. 

The truth we all must eventually come around to is that joy and security is independent of what’s going on around us. 

Even though we face difficulty, and even evil, confidence can still exist and thrive within us. We can still rejoice because we don’t need everything to go our way in order to be happy.

Faith, patience, and joy are neither cheap, nor easy. For them to remain rooted within us, we must affirm our commitment to Christ daily. And that requires remembering.

What’s more, there is a reward ahead if we persevere to the end.

We can remain patient, express faith, kindle hope, and remember necessary things whenever we stop doing unimportant things which do not add value to our ultimate goals.

So, be mindful of the things which are most important to you; and move through life at a pace of hope, not anxiety. Don’t throw away your spiritual confidence, just because things are continually hard.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen. – The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

Joshua 4:14-24 – The Importance of Visual Reminders

That day the Lord brought honor to Joshua before all Israel. They respected him all his life, just as they had respected Moses.

The Lord told Joshua, “Instruct the priests carrying the ark of the covenantal laws to come up from the Jordan.” So, Joshua instructed the priests, “Come up from the Jordan!” The priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the middle of the Jordan, and as soon as they set foot on dry land, the water of the Jordan flowed again and returned to flood stage.

The people went up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month and camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. Now Joshua set up in Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. He told the Israelites, “When your children someday ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones represent?’explain to your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you while you crossed over. It was just like when the Lord your God dried up the Red Sea before us while we crossed it.He has done this so all the nations of the earth might recognize the Lord’s power and so you might always obey the Lord your God.” (New English Translation)

On my hospital office desk, where I can see it every day, is a scapular. “Scapular” is the Latin word for “shoulders.” A scapular typically consists of two small pieces of cloth, a few inches in size, which has a religious image on one, and a message on the other. There are two bands of cloth connecting the message or image.

The wearer places one square on the chest, rests the bands on each shoulder and lets the second square drop down the back. Worn by some Catholic faithful, the scapular serves to remind the believer of their commitment to live a Christian life.

The particular scapular I have in my possession was given to me by a patient when I was first starting out as a hospital chaplain. I was called to the room of a dying patient. He was afraid of death. So, we conversed together for an hour about his life, his fears, and his devotion to faith. At the end of the conversation, the patient took off the scapular he was wearing, which states, “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”

Regardless of what you think about scapulars and the particular message on this one, most important to me is what the patient said next with tears in his eyes: “I’ve worn this scapular every day for the past forty years. Here, I want you to have it. I don’t need it anymore. I am no longer afraid of death.”

The patient died. But he died at peace with God and without fear. I keep his scapular on my desk as a constant reminder of why I am a hospital chaplain, and how important the work I do is. Anytime I get discouraged or have a hard day, when I return to my office, the scapular reminds and reorients me that the spiritual care of patients is a privileged and sacred responsibility.

The ancient Israelites were finally ready to enter the Promised Land. The twelve tribes miraculously crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. God had stopped the water from flowing. After everyone crossed over, the river went back to flowing again.

Joshua, their leader, instructed people from each tribe to take a large stone from the river and place them in a heap for two didactic reasons:

1) To educate future generations inside Israel that God kept the promise to bring them into a land of abundance; and

2) To educate those outside Israel that God is mighty.

It’s important that we all have a continual awareness of why we are here on this earth and what our purpose is. Our history is significant and needs to be remembered.

Yet, there are many families and faith communities in which the children know little about how God worked in their parents’ lives, not to mention the many previous generations. Having tangible reminders of God’s past actions helps everyone remember. 

Just as people ask me about why I have a scapular on my desk, so having reminders of God’s grace in prominent visible places serves to aid all ages of folks to ask why those mementos are there.

It is good to have visual reminders of faith and the faithful people who influenced us around our homes, places of work, and communities so that others may discover and know the redemptive acts of God, that the Lord keeps promises.

Almighty God, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in faith and patience. May we remember them and their service well. We humbly pray that, at the day of resurrection, we and all who are members of the mystical body of your Son may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen

Revelation 3:1-6 – Remember, Hold On, and Change

Ruins in the ancient city of Sardis (present day Sart, Turkey)

Write this to the angel of the church in Sardis:

These are the words of the one who holds God’s seven spirits and the seven stars: I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, and you are in fact dead. Wake up and strengthen whatever you have left, teetering on the brink of death, for I’ve found that your works are far from complete in the eyes of my God. So, remember what you received and heard. Hold on to it and change your hearts and lives. If you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief, and you won’t know what time I will come upon you. But you do have a few people in Sardis who haven’t stained their clothing. They will walk with me clothed in white because they are worthy. Those who emerge victorious will wear white clothing like this. I won’t scratch out their names from the scroll of life but will declare their names in the presence of my Father and his angels. If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. (Common English Bible)

Many Christians reflexively think of good old Apostle Paul when it comes to biblical epistles (letters) to churches. Yet, contained within the first three chapters of Revelation are seven succinct letters to seven different churches. These letters are short and packed with a punch – and they don’t come from Paul.

What makes these short bursts of exhortation so powerful is that they come from Jesus himself. Yes, that Jesus – the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church. So, it seems to me that Christ’s observations about the church ought to carry more weight than anybody else’s thoughts.  

Christ was concerned about how far the church was from completing the work of God. So, he gave a pointed admonition, almost like a parent trying to awaken a teenager in the morning. “Wake up!” said Jesus because he found the church’s obedience incomplete and lacking strength. If this were the Apostle Paul talking, he would likely have framed it this way: “You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Our Lord went directly to the heart of the church’s life… and it’s death. The stark reality is that these statements from Jesus remain penetrating and relevant for today’s church.

So, what is to be done about the situation of spiritual deadness in the church? 

Jesus did not leave the church hanging but in a few compact words let them know exactly what they are to do to remedy their spiritual malady: Remember. Hold on. Change. Keep the memory of sound instruction alive, always adjusting the life of the church to it. The Christian term for this is “repentance.”

Sometimes, if not many times, we may tend to forget the things we need to remember and remember the things we must forget. We are to follow God in a pattern of remembering and forgetting. God has said:

I wipe away your sins because of who I am. And so, I will forget the wrongs you have done. (Isaiah 43:25, CEV)

I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins. (Jeremiah 31:34, CEB)

I will forget their sins and never again remember the evil they have done. (Hebrews 10:17, ERV)

Concerning those who have wronged us, we are to emulate God’s grace, mercy, and kindness through forgiveness. To “forget” does not mean performing a personal lobotomy but simply not to hold an offense against another by continually bringing it to mind. On the other hand, God remembers divine promises made to people. Likewise, we are to constantly bear in mind what God has put before us to remember:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, NRSV)

We need an abiding remembrance of the Lord Jesus, the very person who spoke to the church hundreds of years ago. It is in those times when we become distressed that we must center our memory on Christ:

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. (Hebrews 12:2, GW)

Remembering Jesus Christ sets us on the path to fulfilling the work of God and completing that which has been given us to do. This is precisely why I choose to follow the Christian Year and remember time by having it centered around the life and ministry of Jesus.

Always think about Jesus Christ. He was brought back to life and is a descendant of David. This is the Good News that I tell others. (2 Timothy 2:8, GW)

I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NLT)

Let us remember together in prayer:

Awesome Lord Jesus, your words penetrate to the core my being. Strengthen me by the continuing presence of yourself through the Holy Spirit so that my every thought, word, and deed is done in your holy Name. Kindle in my heart a vision of your love and shine the light of your victory over sin, death, and hell over this dark world. Continually take me to yourself. Keep me in your wounds and mindful of your presence so that I shall fulfill all the will of God for my life through your divine enablement. Amen.

Psalm 105:1-42 – Getting Rid of the “Meh”

Praise the Lord
    and pray in his name!
    Tell everyone
    what he has done.
Sing praises to the Lord!
    Tell about his miracles.
Celebrate and worship
his holy name
    with all your heart.

Trust the Lord
    and his mighty power.
Remember his miracles
and all his wonders
    and his fair decisions.
You belong to the family
    of Abraham, his servant;
    you are his chosen ones,
    the descendants of Jacob.

The Lord is our God,
    bringing justice
    everywhere on earth.
He will never forget
his agreement or his promises,
    not in thousands of years.
God made an eternal promise
    to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
    when he said, “I’ll give you
    the land of Canaan.”

At the time there were
only a few of us,
    and we were homeless.
We wandered from nation
to nation,
    from one country
    to another.
God did not let anyone
    mistreat our people.
Instead he protected us
    by punishing rulers
    and telling them,
“Don’t touch my chosen leaders
    or harm my prophets!”

God kept crops from growing
    until food was scarce
    everywhere in the land.
But he had already sent Joseph,
    sold as a slave into Egypt,
    with chains of iron
    around his legs and neck.

Joseph remained a slave
until his own words
    had come true,
    and the Lord had finished
    testing him.
Then the king of Egypt
    set Joseph free
    and put him in charge
    of everything he owned.
Joseph was in command
    of the officials,
    and he taught the leaders
    how to use wisdom.

Jacob and his family
came
    and settled in Egypt
    as foreigners.
They were the Lord’s people,
    so he let them grow stronger
    than their enemies.
They served the Lord,
and he made the Egyptians plan
    hateful things against them.
God sent his servant Moses.
He also chose and sent Aaron
    to his people in Egypt,
    and they worked miracles
    and wonders there.
Moses and Aaron obeyed God,
    and he sent darkness
    to cover Egypt.
God turned their rivers
into streams of blood,
    and the fish all died.
Frogs were everywhere,
    even in the royal palace.
When God gave the command,
    flies and gnats
    swarmed all around.

In place of rain,
God sent hailstones
    and flashes of lightning.
He destroyed their grapevines
    and their fig trees,
    and he made splinters
    of all the other trees.
God gave the command,
and more grasshoppers came
    than could be counted.
They ate every green plant
    and all the crops that grew
    in the land of Egypt.
Then God took the life
    of every first-born son.

When God led Israel from Egypt,
    they took silver and gold,
    and no one was left behind.
The Egyptians were afraid
    and gladly let them go.
God hid them under a cloud
    and guided them by fire
    during the night.

When they asked for food,
    he sent more birds
    than they could eat.
God even split open a rock,
    and streams of water
    gushed into the desert.
God never forgot
his sacred promise
    to his servant Abraham. (Contemporary English Version)

This morning, did you get up on the wrong side of the bed? Or did you awake feeling refreshed and ready to seize the day?

Maybe it was neither. Seems like, most days, we are neither energized nor grumpy. We are somewhere in the middle, feeling something like “meh.” 

Just as the importance of a decent breakfast is necessary to get a good start on the day, so beginning the day with some good spiritual food is a must to fortify our lives and set them on a solid trajectory for personal happiness and blessing the world. 

We cannot simply rely on feeding upon God when we feel like it, for then we will succumb to all the vicissitudes and variegations of life, becoming a slave to the almighty “meh.” 

As we get out of bed and orient ourselves from sleep to work, we need to tend to our spiritual selves and prepare for the day, just as we need to daily clean up our bodies and begin focusing our minds on our future tasks.

One way of taking charge of our spiritual lives is beginning the day with some vitamin-packed whole grain goodness of the biblical psalms. 

Today’s psalm calls on us to:

  • Give thanks to God
  • Call upon the name of the Lord
  • Make known the mighty deeds of God
  • Sing to the Lord
  • Glory in God’s name
  • Seek the Lord
  • Remember God’s wondrous works 

Feeding upon the psalms will help shoo the “meh” away.

God faithfully keeps all divine promises. As we recall and remember those promises, realizing that God remembers us, praise, singing, and thanksgiving arise along with our bodies. The Lord never has a “meh” response to us.

Perhaps before even getting out of bed in the morning, we can reach over, grab our Bible, tablet, or smartphone and read these words of Psalm 105 so that our day is formed around the positive promises of God and not the negative thoughts of our minds. 

And at night, the same ritual could be done before falling asleep so that our day is bookended with remembering God’s works. For the Bible is not simply some old book to adore from afar, but a living word from God to shape our minds and form our hearts.

The “meh” comes when there is a famine of God’s Word. Whenever we find ourselves saying things like, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” or “I’m sleeping until I feel better,” then its time to cozy up to the psalmist and have a heart-to-heart.

You’ll be glad you did.

God almighty, you have remembered your people throughout the millennia with wondrous works and powerful deeds. Today I give thanks to you for giving your Son, the Lord Jesus, and accomplishing the mightiest work of all: securing my deliverance from sin, death, and hell. May the Name of Jesus be praised! Amen.