Grace for Breakfast

The year is really no longer “new,” and the image I’ve chosen for this study is — thankfully and finally — out-of-date (although we did have snow flurries on Sunday morning), and so today we conclude our study of Hebrews with the rich content of chapter thirteen.  For weeks, I’ve been planning and pondering how to tie up some of the major themes we’ve covered together.

For instance, we noted very early on that the writer of Hebrews gives very few exhortations in his letter that are strictly moral or behavior oriented.  Instead, he focuses on warnings against the sin of unbelief, for it was this very thing that lay at the heart of Israel’s downfall.  However, here in the last chapter we have some do’s:

  • love one another
  • practice hospitality
  • care for prisoners
  • honor your marriage vows
  • be content

Yet, even now, the author is careful to tie his admonition to the believer’s standing in Christ, for the exhortations given in verses 1-5 are given in the power and the promise of verse five:

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

Another theme that I had planned to review in detail begins in Hebrews 6:12 with the encouragement to imitate the faith and patience of those who have inherited the promises.  This theme is perpetuated in a huge way with chapter eleven’s table of contents of Old Testament saints, and now chapter thirteen urges readers to consider who else they might emulate.  The message is, “Go find some heroes,” for this is the sort of hero worship in which the hero will deflect attention to where it belongs, heroes who motivate us to worship God.

Best laid plans notwithstanding, I have found that with every reading of Hebrews 13, verse nine has been the burdock on my coat sleeve:

 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Is this a strange verse to focus on?

Not if you remember that we said from the beginning that our study of Hebrews would increase our appreciation for the book of Leviticus!

Apparently there was an unhelpful teaching at large that involved food — perhaps  Jewish dietary restrictions were being taught as a path to righteousness?  The author is not specific, but without a doubt, in our century there is no shortage of unprofitable thinking about food whether it’s excessive dieting, addictions of all sorts, and even obsessions over what goes (or doesn’t go) into our bodies — as if that could defile us more than our faithless words or ceaseless striving, (Matthew 15:11).  Efficient idol-factories that they are, our hearts have even found ways of turning fasting and the Lord’s supper into something they were never intended to be, when the truth is:  There is no food regimen that will fix your life!

With both feet planted firmly in his understanding of the Old Testament, the author reaches back for truth from Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement.  The offering for sin made on that all-important day was carried outside the camp — and burned.  None of it was eaten.  Hebrews 13:12 draws a dotted line all they way forward to the cross, where, outside the city gate the sin offering to end all sin offerings was offered, and the “food” upon which we all now are strengthened is grace.

This truth unmasks the hollow place that sends me to the refrigerator (again?) between meals.  Over-eating or boredom-snacking or stress-binges may be signs of a grace hunger that no food on this earth will satisfy.

The drooping spirit that sends me to the third (or fourth?) cup of coffee just to put one foot in front of the other may be more than just fatigue, but rather a sign that strength of spirit is lacking.

Where does this strength of spirit come from?

According to Hebrews 13:9, it doesn’t come from food.  It comes from grace.

Is it possible to eat grace for breakfast?

The only reliable resource for feeding the spirit is Christ.  This final chapter of Hebrews points us to the altar which brings us the abiding presence of Christ who is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”  It points us to “the outcome” of the conduct of those who have run and are running the race of faith ahead of us.  Most of all, the book of Hebrews points us to faith, the power that fuels right conduct, the source of all true righteousness.

As we bring our study to a close, here is my prayer for you and for me:

Lord, sweep us into the river of Your grace that we may remember — and never forget — where the strength comes from that will keep our wandering hearts close to you.

Amen.

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Thanks to all of you who have persevered in this journey through the Epistle to the Hebrews.  I’ve appreciated your input and your encouragement!

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers.

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Running the Race of Faith

Soaring on lyrical thermals, the author of Hebrews piles image upon image, linking his thoughts with conjunctions that urge the reader to keep a finger in the preceding pages — all the while pressing forward for more encouragement.  Finding that ten out of the thirteen chapters begin with a conjunction, this last thunderous “therefore” that launches chapter twelve sends my mind back — not merely to the previous chapter, but ALL the way back . . .

Because God has spoken;
Because He has provided an escape from the endless downward pull of sin;
Because it is still Today — but it won’t be forever;
Because there is an urgent rest offered as a gift to the people of God;
Because Jesus, High Priest and Sacrifice, has ushered in New Covenant realities that fulfill all the Old Testament shadows.
Because of ALL this . . . and “because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” let’s lay aside the encumbrances;
let’s jettison the load of sin,
and let’s join the race!

Salvation is the starting line for everyone (there are no head starts or short cuts), and this race of faith is no stroll in the park.  The Greek word used for “race” [agon] is the root for our English word agony.  In this race, we’re not competing against the other runners, but against everything that deters holy living.  Hebrews 12:1 reminds me that trying to run the race of faith while entertaining known sin in my life is like setting off on my daily walk with my shoe laces untied.  But it’s the “weights” or “encumbrances” that have my attention today, those subtle distractions that prevent me from finishing well:

  • too much sugar
  • not enough sleep
  • a call to a friend instead of time spent in prayer
  • a five-minute “check my e-mail” that turns into a half hour of answering Facebook messages and responding to blog comments
  • reading or writing before I’ve opened God’s Word for the day

Your list will likely be different from mine.  I hear that the Hallmark Channel is a glorious distraction  . . .

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Notice the “great cloud of witnesses” who surround us, and who are offered as motivation and encouragement for running our race of faith.  Through the years, I’ve imagined these saints “who have gone on before” watching me, “witnessing” my walk . . . and I’ll admit that it feels a bit creepy to me.

John MacArthur explains the cloud of witnesses in this way:  “They are examples, not onlookers . . .They are not looking at us; we are to look to them.”  This is a helpful clarification, for their stories witness to the truth upon which we build our faith.  They have run the race, and they finished it!  Hebrews 11 serves as a table of contents for the Old Testament examples of people who, though not perfect by any means, put their faith in action in ways that reassure me that even though the race of faith is always strenuous — and sometimes grueling  — it is run successfully only in the power of God.

When I read about Sarah’s life, I hear her calling to me from the sidelines:  “Whatever seems impossible to you — even if you’ve meddled with it and messed things up — keep running!  You can do it by faith!  You can do it!”

Remembering Noah’s faith, I imagine him saying:  “Your path may not make sense to anyone but you.  This is because they have not heard God’s voice as you have.  Keep listening to God.  Keep running in faith!”

When my faith feels flimsy, I imagine Rahab’s encouragement:  “Remember the truth that you have heard about the power of God – and ACT on it by faith! You will not be disappointed!”

The “witness” of their lives encourages me to ask hard questions about my readiness to run, faithfully and unencumbered.  Hebrews 10:36 is a rebuke and a rallying cry for all who have entered the race of faith:  “You have need of endurance!”

Yes, I really do.

Which of the Old Testament saints listed in Hebrews 11 speaks to your need for endurance? Do you have found-wisdom to share for laying aside the encumbrances that hinder the race?  I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Only one week left in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My Sunday school class and I have been landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s last week’s blog post.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers.

The Heart of Faith

 

We don’t know who he was because he didn’t sign his name.

Was it fear that drove this anonymity in an age of persecution?  Or was it humility?

When we studied Hebrews 7, we marveled together at the author’s ability to connect the dots between Melchizedek and Jesus, our High Priest forever, based on the power of an indestructible life.  Whoever wrote this letter we now refer to as “Hebrews” certainly knew the Old Testament scriptures, and once again in chapter eleven he’s connecting the dots between a concept — faith — and the way he sees it lived out in the recorded lives of Old Testament saints.

Hebrews 11:1 provides a two-pronged description of faith:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

  1.  The assurance of things hoped for.  By faith, we are sure of God’s promises and are enabled to live in a hope that is so real it gives absolute assurance.
  2. The conviction of things not seen.  According to John Piper, this Greek word rendered as “conviction” in our ESV appears nowhere else in the New Testament.  Used elsewhere, it means “argument, evidence, reason, or proof.”  This is helpful when coupled with Hebrews 11:3:
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

In the mind of this Hebrew writer, faith is a kind of spiritual seeing that enables the believer to know that God exists and to live in the reality of  Psalm 19:1  in which the sky above our heads, the detailed architecture of a pine cone, the majesty of a fluking whale, and the sweet whorl of downy hair on the crown of a baby’s head all bear the fingerprint of God.

The “elders” he speaks of in verse two (and then goes on to describe for the remainder of the chapter) were living proof of the assertion of Hebrews 11:6:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

He would have found this truth in Habakkuk 2:4, and then he draws it out into an anthem, honoring the faithful throughout redemptive history, for since the fall, it has been God’s intention to honor faith and to regard works as evidence of that faith.

But the author does something else in Hebrews 11:6.  He restates his two-pronged description of faith:

  1.  Believing that He exists;
  2. Believing that He rewards those who seek Him.

 

Capture
Belief that God exists in Hebrews 11:6 corresponds to “conviction of things not seen” in verse 1.
Capture
Belief that God rewards those who seek Him corresponds to the “assurance of things hoped for” in verse 1.

 

The description of faith in the book of Hebrews steers my thinking toward a better understanding of who God is, but also guides my “living by faith,” for I see that God is not interested merely in what I do.  Abel worshiped and Enoch walked.  Noah worked, and the Patriarchs all waited for a glimpse of the promised land, but it wasn’t what they did so much as why they did it.  Motive is everything in the kingdom of God.  This week I will be asking myself questions about why I do what I’m doing, and I invite you to join me.

Is my worship, my manner of living, my work, and my understanding of the promises of God coming from a heart of faith?

Does the way I exercise my faith put God’s reality — His beauty — on display?

Am I communicating an accurate picture of God’s intense desire to reward and His unrivaled ability of fulfill every one of His promises?

 

Photo credit

Only two weeks left in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My Sunday school class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s last week’s blog post.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers.

The Glorious Right Angle

The patient husband and I have challenged ourselves to be more purposeful in our practice of hospitality this year — to “meet the stranger at the gate” in our own little rural setting by inviting someone new and different into our home each month.  January was wonderful!  We enjoyed an evening with a couple we’ve worshipped with for a long time, but have never (shame on us!) taken time to get really connected.

Hospitality is really not all about preparing food and vacuuming up the dog hair before the guests arrive.  Karen Mains defines it as “serving people and making them feel welcome and wanted.”  Dorothy Patterson emphasizes hospitality’s “unselfish desire to meet the needs of others.”  Of course, a nice meal and candles on the table created that welcoming environment, but the writer of Hebrews is cheering me along and clarifying my thinking about this practical discipline, basing his encouragement upon the solid foundation of our open invitation to enter the presence of God.  In the first eighteen verses he reviews the amazing provision that comes to us through the offering of Christ’s body.  I’ve highlighted “therefore,” because the rest of the chapter follows from a relationship based upon this understanding and embrace of New Covenant realities highlighted in pink:

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Biblegateway.com has a highlighting feature that makes it possible for you to organize your thoughts as you study a passage!

 

The blue highlighted phrases are God’s invitation to draw near, to live in unwavering hope, and to enter into community for the purpose of maximum love and acts of righteousness.

This summons to community is a demonstration of the exquisite geometry of God’s grace which flows vertically into the life of a believer.  Then, in a healthy community, it keeps on moving at a right angle, bent outward, into the life of another.  This is the “mechanics” behind the work of the Spirit in gifting believers for mutual care:  encouraging, strengthening, warning, comforting one another.  According to I Corinthians 12:8-10, when the church gathers, God gives gifts for whatever needs to be done.  As each one expresses her unique combination of gifts in her own distinct way, the glorious right angle of God’s grace flows and needs are met through love and good works.

  • This is how we draw near to God.  In community, we see God more clearly because He becomes visible in His people.  John Piper challenged his congregation whenever they learned anything new about God to share it with someone else right away!
  • This is how we hold fast in hope.  Amy Carmichael urged her orphanage staff members to “hold one another to the highest” — a most gracious way of saying, “Confront one another about unworthy attitudes, sloppy discipleship, and faithless communication.”

This assumes, of course, that when we gather, each one is in the business of “considering one another,” that is to say,  looking past the end of my own nose to the needs of someone else.  This also assumes a level of interaction that really is not practical in the context of Sunday morning worship.  While Hebrews 10:24, 25 has been used as a call to roll out of bed on Sunday morning and get yourself to church, the work of getting close, staying close, and going deep with one another requires something more.

Hebrews 10:25 ends with an air of urgency, indicating that mutual care may become increasingly essential the further we progress along the arc of redemptive history.  The “perilous times” that Paul predicts in II Timothy are not an excuse to download those plans for a family bunker and then take refuge — unless you invite your neighbors into the bunker with you!  What we see here is a call for an even more intense focus, a greater leaning into the spiritual discipline of fellowship “as you see the Day approaching.”

Will you join me in the challenge to “stir up love and good works” through the ministry of hospitality?  We’re only just beginning, because plans for February didn’t work out.  The couple invited had to cancel:  their adorable granddaughter was born several weeks early!  Nonetheless, we’re committed to reschedule for the month of March.  It’s pretty much a guarantee that the house won’t be as clean as I’d like, but the food will be plentiful, the boys will be rowdy, the socially overwhelming “home-schooled” St. Bernard will be banished to the basement, and we will follow God’s prescription.  We will draw near to Him; we will hold fast to our hope in Him; and we will let His power and blessing flow through us into the lives of others.

**Be sure to share (in the comments section) your plans/goals for mutual care based on Hebrews 10!  You’ll encourage me and others, I’m sure!

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Only three weeks left in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My Sunday school class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s last week’s blog post.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers

A Gift for All Times

Living on this country hill, it’s easy to feel as if I’m a throw back to an earlier time.  My clothesline and my garden; the rows of canning jars full of colorful vegetables and homemade spaghetti sauce in the furnace room; the daily task of sweeping the bark and wood chips off the floor around the wood stove all tend to keep me well-grounded in the past.

However, a quick reading of the first seven verses of Hebrews 9 lets me know that I am not as comfortable in the past as I might imagine.  The author describes the Tabernacle, it’s furnishings and fittings, the sacred relics in the Ark of the Covenant, and the priestly activities that were part and parcel of relating to God under the Old Covenant.  The words that come to my mind when I picture the scene have nothing to do with worship: foreign, distant, and even frightening seem more descriptive.

I can just barely imagine the priest entering the Most Holy Place, cringing over his own sinful condition, his hands carrying the blood of an animal.  It gives the words “forgive my hidden faults” a whole new urgency, doesn’t it?

I’m learning all sorts of unexpected things on this journey of raising four sons, and one of them is welding practices — not that I’m actually doing the welding myself, but with two sons who weld, I overhear conversations between them about the importance of a welder “achieving good penetration” with his torch.  He doesn’t just move it in a straight line along the seam, but makes tiny circles very close together so that the metal he is laying down actually looks like a stack of dimes that has been laid on its side.  The Holy Spirit has inspired this sort of approach to communication in the book of Hebrews as the author circles back around again and again, being certain that the truth of what Jesus has done (and what he has done away with or fulfilled) in His death and resurrection fully penetrates our understanding.  There is even a weld called a “multi-pass,” and with each pass over his material, our author seems to emphasize a different aspect or provision of the New Covenant:

  • We are invited into His rest;
  • Our eternal High Priest makes intercession with God so that we can draw near;
  • My continual holding fast to faith is a work of God.

Now, Hebrews 9 brings to light a truth that transcends all time.   The Old Covenant pointed up — toward a reality in Heaven —  and ahead — toward a reality that would occur in history, an event that would make it possible for human beings to experience a clear conscience:

12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

The animal sacrifices were sufficient for ceremonial cleansing, but they didn’t begin to deal with conscience cleansing.  In fact, since that time, no invention, no medical or psychological breakthrough, no technological advance has even begun to touch the clearing of a conscience, and I expect that we will travel to Mars and even cure cancer without getting any closer to resolving the problem of guilt that alienates loved ones from each other, that triggers countless creative methods of self-medication, that hinders worship, and that robs our hearts of peace.  People have donated millions of dollars, cut their skin, and volunteered their time at soup kitchens in an effort to balance out the weightiness of their own known darkness — only to wake in the night to the sound of lack roaring in their ears.

Hebrews 9:14 is a path toward a living God that has been cleared by the One who offered absolution to a thief as both hung dying.  It is a message of relief to the guilty that God will do what we cannot do on our own.  It is the whispered reassurance:  “You will be with me in paradise.”

Photo credit

Thanks for joining us in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My Sunday school class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. This is the seventh week in the series, and if you’re interested, here’s last week’s blog post.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers

 

 

 

Keep On Drawing Near

A couple of weeks ago, my grandson walked into our house on his own two feet for the very first time.  There was snow on the ground — an indescribable delight to a sixteen-month-old — and, although he is still working on balance, he strode manfully across the lawn.  The expression on his face revealed that he was fully in the moment, completely unaware of the miracle of physics and biology manifested in his teetering steps.

My approach to Hebrews 7 this week feels a little like that toddling journey across my driveway.  With barely a thimbleful of scriptural information available as background, the mysterious Melichizedek holds sway over the chapter and demonstrates the amazing ability of the author of Hebrews to connect the dots between Old Testament shadows and New Covenant reality.  The truth is exquisite, the implications are breath-taking, and I am fully in the moment, enjoying them — all the while being dimly aware that I am barely scratching the surface of this topic.

Here’s what we know:

  • Genesis 14:18 – Melchizedek was a contemporary of Abraham, thus pre-dating the Levitical priesthood. His name meant “King of Righteousness,”  and he was the king of Salem — an ancient name for Jerusalem, which also gives him the designation “King of Peace.”
  • Psalm 110:4 – David speaks of the coming Messiah as a “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  This unending priesthood supersedes the traditional Jewish priesthood which ended in 70 A.D. with the destruction of the Temple.  These words of God to the Son elevate Melchizedek’s role to that of a pointer to (or type of) Jesus.
  • Hebrews 5 – Picking up these strands of truth, the author of Hebrews tightens the weave, presenting a whole cloth of truth in which Jesus emerges as The Superior Priest, not a flawed human being who requires a personal sacrifice for his own sin before he is qualified to represent the people before a holy God.  His is not a veiled heart whose selfish neediness prevents Him from entering into the needs of those He represents.
  • Hebrews 7 – Here the author, dipping his paintbrush into what he knew of Melchizedek, reinforces the truth that Jesus, our King and Priest, has completely superseded the traditional priesthood, the shadow of the former now being replaced by the solid reality that had been pre-figured.  Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi, but of Judah; not temporary but eternal; not a hopeless merry-go-round of many priests, but a “better hope through which we draw near to God” through a “better covenant” based on Jesus’ indestructible life.

At Hebrews 7:25, the author guides us to a magnificent conclusion with the word “therefore”:

“Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

As theologically and historically fascinating as all this is, there are three excruciatingly practical truths embedded in this one verse, corresponding to the three clauses:

  1.  Christ is able to save forever.  Filling up the word “save” with biblical meaning brings me back to the truth that God is infinitely holy — and I am not.  My own righteousness is insufficient, in itself, to take me into the presence of God.  John Piper describes Jesus as our “Asbestos-like Priest” who can take the believer into the center of the fire of God’s holiness.   There would be no “coming to God” without this great salvation.
  2. He can save forever because He “always lives to make intercession.”  Jesus’ on-going role as intercessor adds depth to my understanding of His role as Savior.  While it is imperative that He died and rose again at an actual historical point in time, it is equally imperative that He continues to serve in the role of Advocate, Intercessor, Great High Priest.
  3. He “saves . . . those who come to God through Him.”  Just as Jesus’ role was not a one-dimensional point-in-time, over-and-done-with deal, my role is also on-going.  I am to keep on drawing near, every day looking back at the anchor that secures my hope, and then entering into the minute-by-minute journey of enjoying God.

How would your relationship to God change if you lived in the realization that it is not a static, past-tense transaction but a living, ongoing work?

How would your day be impacted by embracing this statement:  “I, today, will draw near to God through Jesus Christ”?

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Photo credit

Thanks for joining us in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My Sunday school class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. This is the seventh week in the series, and if you’re interested, here’s last week’s blog post.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers.

 

Skidding into a Steadfast Hope

A quick (but extremely thorough) bout with a stomach virus provided some quiet in which to ponder the word “hope” in my preparation for this week’s study of Hebrews 6.  Skidding to a stop, writing not one word, reading not one sentence, resting in the enforced quiet, I was able to see some road signs that the busy blur had obscured.

I’m learning that blogging can be an exercise in hope.  Floating words out into an unseen readership that shifts from day to day keeps me wondering if the words I write will reach eyes who need them, and January was especially unusual.  “Wow, look at that,” I thought to myself as, for a couple of days, the tiny bar graph leapt toward the heavens.  And then there was the return to earth, and suddenly my “daily views” didn’t seem like enough anymore.  The thought came to me in the midst of my virus-riddled thinking:

It’s just as easy for me to lose my hope in God when things are going really well as it is when times are rough.

At the end of the skid came the realization that I had begun to put my hope in numbers, a completely unworthy object.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of a hope that is an anchor for the soul, a mighty hope sworn by the immutable God concerning my future in heaven and the security of my soul in the meantime.

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil,”  Hebrews 6:19.

Notice the strange configuration of images attached to this anchor.  I’m no sailor, but the anchors I have seen always hang downward when they are doing their job.  This anchor is running into the Holy of Holies, through the veil that was split by Jesus’ redemptive death.  Spreading His own blood on the altar of sacrifice on my behalf, Jesus made atonement for me, and as my Great High Priest, he has secured a hope of future blessing that should be impacting the way I view every aspect of life — that is, if I have eyes to see.  This hope becomes a lens, bringing focus to the mundane duties here at home and clarity to my motivation for any ministry activity.

Looking over my shoulder at the long skid leading to this pondering of the steadfast hope, I see in God’s invitation to lay hold of the hope set before me an implicit promise:

He is holding me in that hope.

Listening to a sermon by John Piper in preparation for next Sunday’s class, I was reassured that even though I become distracted by other lesser hopes, my end of the rope is not left dangling.  The security of my anchorage in Christ does not depend upon these weak hands or my shifting loyalties.  Rather, my continual holding fast is a work of God.

How delightful that the Apostle Paul strengthens this reciprocal metaphor of holding on and being held:

“I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me,” Philippians 3:12.

Through Christ’s enabling, we take up the rope holding fast to the anchor which has been sunk deep into the soil at the bottom of the New Covenant.  This (and only this) is a hope through which to view with peace the rolling billows of everyday life.

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Thanks for joining us in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My Sunday school class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. This is the seventh week in the series, and if you’re interested, here’s last week’s blog post.

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