Hebrews 3:1-6 – Fix Your Thoughts on Jesus

Christ of Mercy
Byzantine Christ of Mercy, circa 1100

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (NIV)

It is hard to be patient. Perseverance is difficult. If the Christian life were all bunny rabbits and rainbows, there would be no need for the strengthening of faith and the development of endurance – it would all be fun and easy. However, we know life is often hard and demanding. It requires effort and faith is the muscle that gets us through adversity. If unused, faith atrophies. Faith needs strenuous exercise to grow, and must be tested in adverse circumstances to mature.

The author of Hebrews wrote his letter to Jewish Christians because they were losing their grip of faith. The hard circumstances of the believers were leading them to entertain the notion of returning to their old ways of life, apart from Christ. They needed to refocus and set their thoughts on Jesus in the present moment.

When in the middle of situations, we neither asked for nor want, it can be tempting to view the past as “the good old days.” Yet, if you stop to think about it, you really know better. Because of your present struggle, the mind conveniently filters out all the crud from the past to make the bygone days look romantically better than they really were.

“Better” is what the book of Hebrews is all about.

The author persistently insists that Jesus is better than anything from the Hebrew Christians’ past. Moses is one of the most revered figures in Old Testament history. The writer of Hebrews acknowledges this basic respect for Moses, and goes beyond the glittery Mosaic-era reminiscing to remind the people that whereas Moses was faithful within God’s house, it is Jesus who is the Master over the house. Reality check, believers: Jesus is better than Moses.

What is more, followers of Jesus are the house. Jesus Christ is Lord – not Moses, or anybody else. Jesus cares for and protects his house. It might be tempting to believe that a previous house we had in another city or town was better. That was then, this is now. Today we live in God’s house. Therefore, we must hold on and not let go of the confidence we have in Jesus and the privilege we have living in God’s house.

When life is tough, daydreaming about a rosy past is easy. For sure, we can find all kinds of things we miss from previous days elsewhere. I have moved dozens of times in my life, and each place I have lived has a unique and special place in my life. Yet, trolling our personal histories, much like time-wasting gallivants on the internet, does nothing for the development of faith and perseverance.

Faith needs strengthening so that it is sustainable through the entire Christian life.

Just as a bodybuilder needs disciplined routines of exercise, so the Christian requires spiritual disciplines for a faith conditioning program which focuses the mind on Jesus. There are many spiritual practices, all which are wonderfully useful. Three of the most basic of those disciplines are: Scripture reading and spiritual reflection; personal and corporate prayer, and worship/fellowship. They are the Christian’s barbells.

  • Since God has revealed himself through Holy Scripture, we have the gracious privilege of reading the Bible to encounter the living Lord. I look at this not so much as reading but as taking a posture of listening to God. So, I read slowly and carefully, being alert to the Spirit’s voice.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, NIV)

  • Since God desires conversation with us, prayer opens us to a divine dialogue with the Lord. The Russian Orthodox monk, Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894) describes it this way: “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing, within you.” With this kind of description, prayer is sustained much less by duty and much more by a desire to connect with God.

Therefore, 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. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)

  • Since God exists in the fellowship of three persons, our fellowship with one another spiritually forms us for the sake of blessing the world. As we share in the life of our Triune God in worship, we gain ability to live in healthy community and learn from each other. By opening our lives to both God and others, we discover newfound faith and learn to strengthen one another.

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. (Hebrews 3:12-14, NIV)

In the present moment, right now, today, Jesus has a hold of you. Fix your thoughts on him. Today, Jesus wants to walk with you through your trouble – not transport you to the past. Now is the time to follow Jesus into all the situations that are in front of us. You are not alone. You can do this. We are all in this together.

Lord Jesus, you are sovereign over my past, present, and future.  Today has its situations and problems.  Help me walk into and through them with your gracious protection so that perseverance is developed within me and my faith in you is strengthened for tomorrow.  Amen.

Mark 1:9-15 – Thrown into the Desert

 

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River.  While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him.  And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him. (CEB)
 
            We stand at the beginning of the Lenten season, the six-week 40-day period leading to Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  But now is a time of preparation.  Just as Jesus identified with his people Israel in their desert sojourn for 40 years, so Jesus wandered the desert for 40 days.  Our Lord’s entire earthly life was devoted to identifying with lost humanity and leading them to the Promised Land of forgiveness, peace, and joy.
            Lent is our 40-day journey in the desert, identifying with Jesus.  Perhaps you think such a season is optional, even unnecessary.  It’s likely that God will put you in the desert whether you recognize the season or not.
            In a wondrous event, Jesus is baptized and comes out of the water with some of the most gracious words you’ll find in Scripture: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”  In this story of identification with God it’s not a stretch, but intended, that we see our own identification with Christ.  Jesus so closely links himself with God’s people that when God expresses his love to the Son, he is saying words of grace to us, as well.
            If the story ended there, it would stand as a glorious account.  But a hard transition follows, and the language indicates a swift turn of circumstance.  Immediately after the baptism and the loving words, Jesus is “forced” into the wilderness by the Spirit.  The word quite literally means “to hurl.”  We are given the picture that as soon as Jesus is up out of the water, the Spirit picks him up and hurls him into the desert.
            The desert is a place of solitude where the greatest temptations occur: coming face to face with oneself.  If Jesus needed the desert experience, how much more do we?  How much more do we need to observe and practice Lent and submit to the 40-day experience of the desert?
            God desires to meet with us in the secluded backside of the desert.  He has some things to teach us.  He has a work of preparation to do in our lives.  The way in which we respond to the desert we are aggressively thrown into by the Spirit will set the course of our lives.
O Lord, you have demonstrated and shown love to your Son and to your people.  You have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing.  Send your Holy Spirit to hurl us into the desert time of teaching so that love might be poured into our hearts.  Grant this humble request for the sake of the Son whom you love, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

 

Isaiah 59:1-15


            “Truth stumbles in the public square.”  That is the prophet Isaiah’s summary phrase of ancient Israel’s moral situation.  He wrote to a post-exile community that was still reeling from losing their land and finding their way among the rule of others.  They were not a free people – by a long shot.  And their deliverance from Gentile dominance was not coming anytime soon, for a reason.  They still had not really dealt with their own problems.  They wanted salvation without confession, and freedom without repentance.  But Isaiah reminded them that their separation from God was a result of their violence, deceitfulness, and corrupt system of justice.  The Jews were neither pursuing peace, nor the common good.  There would be no deliverance apart from facing those sins and renouncing them.
             Without a virtuous citizenry, truth stumbles in the public square.  That is, if national morality and personal ethics are absent, truth erodes and any system of laws and justice devolve into a morass of selfish agendas and lack of concern for all persons.  People might haggle and disagree on what is the best way forward for a given nation, but if they do not begin with the foundation of truth and virtue, then violence is the ultimate outcome because people want what they want and do not give a damn about anything else.  They will kill and covet, but they will not get what they want since their motives are unethical and immoral.
             This is why the spiritual tools of prayer and fasting, confession and repentance, faith and public moral action must be the underlying conscience of a nation.  Without virtue, truth may stumble but will always be present to speak to power.  Government is designed as an institution to promote the common good of all citizens.  If divine intervention is necessary, the proper course of action is acknowledgment of transgressions.  
             Sovereign God, you are the invisible ruler among the nations.  Our sins are many and they bear witness against us that sound judgment has left the room.  Christ, have mercy upon us, and grant us your peace through the blessed Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Sacred Space of Prayer

 
 
“Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God” (Daniel 6:10).
 
            I really believe that the Old Testament character of Daniel is our best model in all the Bible of a person who exercised a planned, deliberate, and consistent prayer life no matter the situation.  There were two major characteristics of Daniel’s prayer life:  his planned approach to prayer; and, his consistent perseverance of prayer.
 
Our prayers need to be planned with deliberate practice.
 
            Daniel had an intentional plan for prayer.  Daniel did pray spontaneously in his life – all the time.  But that was not his bread-and-butter day-in-and-day-out life of prayer.  Daniel had set times in which he prayed three times a day.  I am not insisting that we all ought to pray at the set times of 6am, 12pm, and 6pm, as Daniel did every day of his life (although I think that is good biblical plan to emulate! – see Psalm 55:17).  However, there needs to be some planning and some intentional purpose behind creating and carving out time for prayer each and every day of our lives.  In other words, we need to approach prayer with the same deliberate discipline that we would approach anything else in our lives, like a person doing housework, a student writing his paper, an athlete preparing and practicing, or an employee getting her work accomplished.
 
            Prayer takes a lot of planning, energy and commitment.  On July 16, 1969 three astronauts (Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldren) went into space aboard NASA’s Apollo 11.  The rocket they were in was carrying over 5 million pounds of fuel.  At the liftoff, it took 5 engines producing over 7 million pounds of thrust in order to reach the velocity of 17,500 miles per hour which was needed to break the earth’s gravitational pull and get them into orbit.  Here’s the deal:  Prayer is the way we escape the gravitational pull of our fleshly lives and enter into God’s orbit.  It takes planning; it takes energy; and, it takes commitment; it takes focus; it takes discipline; prayer takes a lot of fuel.
 
            Using the example of Daniel, we have two plans that need to be worked out in order to engage in and sustain a consistent prayer life:  We need a set time to pray; and, we need a set place to pray.  Just as we set aside a special room in our house just for sleeping (a bedroom); just as we set aside a particular place (a bed) just to sleep; so, we really need a sacred space just for prayer.  Just as we understand that a good night’s sleep will not come with a nap, but with a plan for going to bed and arising in the morning, so we need to arrange a time to get in a particular actual place of prayer and go about the effort and energy of wrestling with God.  If prayer is important, then we will demonstrate and plan for that value by setting aside a place and a time to do it. 
 
Our prayers need to persevere with consistent practice.
 
            Daniel was a teenager when the Babylonians came to Jerusalem, tore down the wall, and took the best young people of the city into captivity.  Daniel lived to be an old man well into his eighties.  For over sixty years, Daniel prayed three times a day, every day, without fail.  His prayers were consistent and sustained.  He never gave up.  The reason he always opened his window and prayed toward Jerusalem is that he was praying consistent with God’s promise that the exiles would someday return to Jerusalem.  He looked out that window every day, three times a day, praying over and over again for the return, for God’s help, and for the peace of his people.
 

 

            So you see, in light of this biblical teaching about prayer, why setting aside a special room in your church building and/or home for the expressed intention and practice of prayer is invaluable.  If you have never considered such a room, then I suggest you breach the idea with your pastor or church board.  Apart from God we can do nothing.  Therefore, prayer is not just a nice idea or optional equipment; it is vitally necessary.  So, it only makes sense to create a sacred space where prayer occurs with some planned consistency.