He Will Never Leave You nor Forsake You

Hebrews 13

 

Hebrews 13 16

Boy, it is hard to think about our life after reminiscing about the lives of those faithful giants listed in Hebrews 11.  We tend to compare ourselves with them, both in the good and the bad.  We’d love to do something great, something extraordinary for God just like them.  When we think of Enoch we can only image what it would be like to be translated.  Translated?? Somebody needs to translate that word for me, so Paul did.  He says that Enoch was translated “so that he should not see death” (Heb. 11: 5).  Wow! His faith was so great and powerful that God allowed him to cheat death.  I want that!  Or Abraham.  God called him to leave his home, his life, and go to a new home even though Abraham did not know where in the world God was sending him.  Nothing like a little adventure with God in control.  Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had a baby in old age because God promised her a son.  When she had Isaac, she had lived longer than most of us will live, yet she was having her first baby. Remember that Abraham was Sarah’s husband and he was ever older than she was.  Through this old man and old lady they had descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the beach.  Each time you run your toes through a sandy beach think about that a little.

Of course God was not through with Abraham yet, so He led him up to a mountain and told Abraham to use his only son as a sacrifice in his worship to Him.  That was tough, but it certainly made life exciting for Abraham!  Even though this looked like a bad thing for Abraham, it certainly appears as though God had some special plans for Abraham.  God just needed to make sure that Abraham was on His side.

It is tough being a parent, I am sure.  But being asked to offer up your son to God might be going a bit too far, but not for Abraham.  Or in the case of Moses’ parents, they chose to refuse Pharaoh’s orders and hid their son for three months.   They were not afraid of Pharaoh and his commandments!  And that courage paid off big time.  For after Moses was grown up he lead the children of Israel safely through the Red Sea—something that Pharaoh and all of his horses and mighty men could not do!

The story of Rahab is a hard one to swallow.  We all know about Rahab.  After all, she was a harlot, not exactly a pillar of the community.  She had a reputation.  Everyone knew who she was.  Surely God knew.  The word was out on the street, after all.  But Rahab, of all people, was chosen for a special part in God’s work.  She hid two spies (and lied about it) sent out by Joshua to check out the land including Jericho.  What she did took great daring on her part.  And what did she get out of all of this?  She got great faith, God spared her, she got a mention in the faith chapter (Hebrews 11), and she became an ancestor of the Messiah, Jesus (Matt. 1:5).  Sometimes it just doesn’t seem right, that someone like Rahab who lived such a bad life, could then be used in such an extraordinary way by God.  In comparison, our lives, which we try very hard to live in a worthy manner for Him, are pretty boring.  I wonder, are we, am I, doing something wrong?  Why don’t we have stories to tell like Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and even Rahab, about how God is using us?  What is wrong with us?

At times we feel as though we are not accomplishing anything for God.  Are we still on the same team with God? Everything is going smoothly, but we are not doing anything really big for God.  I’d love to hide a few spies!  What is wrong with us?  Have we lost our way?  Or, is it God who has quietly slipped out the back door of our lives?

Maybe Paul has read our minds.  Because he seems to speak about these same things, if we look closely and maybe read between the lines a bit.  Hebrews 13 begins with the simple things, the simple acts that we are to accomplish.  Not a lot of fanfare.  Not a lot of glory or bells and whistles.  Certainly no sea parting and walking on dry ground stuff.  Just the basics.

“Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.  Let marriage be held in honor among all…Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said,      ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”( Hebrews 13: 15-16 and 1-5)

 No, He has not quietly slipped out the back door of our lives.

It’s just that God does not demand extraordinary things from us.  He simply wants the simple things.

-Luke Elwell

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Weight and Clingy Sin

Hebrews 12

Hebrews 12 1 b NRSV

Pretend with me for a few minutes.  You are a well- conditioned athlete.  You have exercised hard, gone to every team practice, listened to your coach, and now you are about to get into the blocks awaiting the sound of the starting gun.  You are scared, shaky, and sweaty.  This has been your goal since you were 10 years old—to run this race and maybe even win!  You wonder, do I have everything that I need?  Shoes—check.  Proper clothes—check.  Cell phone—check.  Umbrella (in case of rain) —check.  Change of clothes (in case of rain) —check.  Sunglasses—check.  A pocket of change—check.  Bottle of sun screen—check.  First aid kit (heaven forbid if I fall, but just in case) —check.  House keys, car keys, church key, and safety deposit box key—check.  Clean underwear (just in case) —check.  Last Will and Testimony—check. Tomorrow’s homework assignment (unlikely, but) —check. Girlfriend’s picture —check.  Ear buds —check.  Full water bottle —check.  Protein snack—check.    When the call comes to get into the blocks, you try but all the stuff you are carrying begins to fall out of your pockets, off your head, out of your briefcase, and the suitcase breaks open unleashing tons of video games and decks.  You try in vain to get all of this essential stuff back into its containers so that you can run the race.  You could leave it all sitting on the track at the starting block, or you could just pack it all back up and slowly drag it off the course, and maybe try another day.  Maybe you could get better organized the next time.  Don’t say that bad word, downsize, because all of this stuff is absolutely necessary to run the race properly and without worry.  Regardless, this does not look like a good day to run a race.

You drag your stuff slowly off of the track.  Got to have that stuff, right?  Stuff is more important than the race.  What is life worth without our stuff?  Some of the stuff, I guess, you might be able to part with, such as the homework assignment, and the girlfriend’s picture (there are always more girls), but most of this stuff is essential.

That is the mistake a lot of people make.  We get so caught up in stuff that it hinders us from running our race and we end up staggering down the track and never finishing because our back is broken from carrying all of our stuff. We stumble, we fall, we slowly pick ourselves back up, we lick our wounds, and then head for the locker room. Paul talked about this, but instead of calling it our stuff, he called it a weight and our sin. Truly, sin is heavy and is a weight.   Not only that, but Paul tells us that sin is clingy.

“Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Maybe some of you have actually washed and then dried clothes in a clothes dryer before.  I have a few times.  Well, one thing that is essential to use when you dry clothes is fabric softener sheets which control static cling.  If you forget to throw one into the dryer, when the clothes are dry they are really, really clingy.  The clothes are fastened to one another with a death hold.  You have to peel them off of one another, and then make sure that the individual pieces of clothing don’t start clinging with themselves, like an arm to an arm, or the leg to the waistband.  You can get into a real take down trying to un-cling laundry.  That is the way it is with sin, according to Paul.  Sins are very clingy.  Once you start accumulating sin in your life, the sins cling to one another and to you.  Apparently, they like company.  If you don’t keep ahead of the sin in your life, you are going to have a clothes dryer type of disaster on your hands.  Imagine what having a lot of clingy sin in your life will do to you as you try to run the race set before you.  Your mind will be on the sin and not on Jesus.  Lay aside the sin and look to Jesus!

Besides all of the clingy sin in your life, Paul talks about the weights that you attempt to carry while running.  When you are overcome with a lot of weight, be it worry, cares, anxiety, unneeded possessions, or unhealthy relationships— you name it, you are slowed down to a snail’s pace.  If you run at all, you lack energy and enthusiasm for the race.  Paul says to get rid of the weight!  Just like the runner in the example, weight can sabotage your efforts and actually cause you to withdraw from the race.  Keep things simple:  Get rid of the weight of worry and all of his buddies, and get rid of the clingy sin.

What kind of weights and clingy sin do you need to drop at the starting line so that you can make it to the finish line?

-Luke Elwell

 

Not Worthy of Them

Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11 1

There is that word again.  I liked it before but not so much now.  The word is “confidence”.  We read it before in Hebrews 10:22 where we discovered that we could confidently enter into the very presence of God because of Jesus, where we could get close to God and be His child.  I like the idea of being a child, having child-like faith.  That sounds safe and secure.  That feels comfortable and peaceful.  But now Paul is using that word “confidence” again, but this time it does not sound at all safe or smart.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11: 1

Faith is confidence in what we hope will happen, and assurance about what we can’t even see?  Hoping something will happen and believing it will happen even if we can’t see anything? Really??  Quite frankly, this sounds a little crazy and unnerving.  It sounds a lot like stumbling around in the dark, not seeing where we are going, not knowing where the light switch is, not knowing when the big, bad boogie man is going to jump out at us.

  “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” Hebrews 11:3

As I keep reading this chapter, things seem to get worse. We are told that the whole universe which we can see with our eyes, was not made out of stuff that we can see.  Quite frankly, that does not make any sense.  How can you make something out of nothing? Who would believe such a thing?

The answer to my question is that Abel did.  Enoch did.  Noah did.  Abraham and Sara did.  Isaac did.  Jacob did.  Joseph did.  Moses did.  The walls of Jericho did.  Rahab did.  Women did, and a whole lot of other people did.

None of these people saw the end result of their faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises…” Hebrews 11:13. They simply lived their faith.  They were confident that if they lived their faith, that God would be faithful. “and were persuaded of them (the promises) and embraced them” Hebrews. 11:13. They believed that they were making something out of something even though they could not see it.

This chapter of Hebrews is full of action words.  Abel offered, Enoch pleased, Noah moved, Abraham obeyed, Sara received strength, Jacob worshipped, Joseph gave instructions about his bones, Moses endured, the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab perished not, women received their dead back to life, and others were tortured. They were all confident that they were making something out of something that the world thought was nothing.  That something that the world thought was nothing was God’s promises.

All these people mentioned were giants in the faith.  They all judged God faithful simply because He promised. They endured hardships, were stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, tormented, afflicted, and wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  The world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:37-38).

Now that I have read to the end of this chapter, all of this still does not make any sense to me, but for a different reason.  Even though you and I will probably not experience the hardships that these giants endured, yet we will be right there with them when God fulfills His promise of the Kingdom. That does not make sense.   We are so not worthy of them.

“God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Hebrews 11:40

 

-Luke Elwell

No Longer a Slave to Fear

Hebrews 10

Hebrews 10 22a NIV

How often have you wanted to run away or turn away from God?  Perhaps it was shame, guilt, or maybe despair that was making you unable to even look at your own self in the mirror, let alone approach God.  Those feelings of regret, shame, fear, and a guilty conscience often make us want to crawl in a hole and hide. Fear is a powerful emotion and pushes us away from God.  But the words of Paul tell us that we no longer have to feel that way.  We no longer have any reason to run away or turn away from God.  We no longer have to hide in shame and disgust.  We no longer have to be fearful of who we are, or what we think we are.  Instead of running away from God, we can run to Him, and fall into His loving arms.  When we run to God into His loving arms we are entering the most holy place.  Paul calls it such in Hebrews 10:19.  That should take your breath away.  Just think about it.  No matter who you think you are, or what you are, you can enter the holy place, into the very presence of God Himself.  But Paul says one more thing that is almost too good to be true.  He does not say that we have to crawl into that holy place, hide behind someone else, or that we have to enter wearing sack cloth and ashes.  We don’t even have to sneak in the back door so no one sees us.  No, he says we can come into that holy place in God’s presence with CONFIDENCE.  Wow!  How often do we enter a classroom about to take a test, and go in feeling confident? But Paul says we can enter the presence of God feeling confident!

How is that possible?  Is this all just a dream or make believe?

No, it is real.  Very real.

Let Paul explain.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” (Hebrews 10:19-22a)

We no longer have any excuse for running away from God, turning away from God, or hiding in shame or despair.  Instead we can approach God and enter His presence without fear but rather with confidence.   Paul even tells us to come up close, draw near, maybe so close that we feel as if we are sitting in His lap just as we would sit comfortably in our dad’s lap as a child. Paul tells us in Romans 8:15  “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!”   We are no longer a slave to fear.  Instead, we have been adopted by God, and we are His children.  We call Him Father! We are surrounded by the arms of God our Father.    And all of this is possible because of the blood of Jesus.

Paul calls this a new and living way (Hebrews 10:20). Instead of fear and guilt we’ve been liberated from our bondage and shown a new way of living.  Our sin is washed away with pure water, and our guilty conscience is wiped clean (Hebrews 10:22).  That guilty conscience, which we often lug around in our heart, has been wiped clean.    The chains are broken, we’ve been redeemed.  I know, it is almost too hard to imagine or fathom.  We can hardly understand something so great and wonderful.  But it is real.   Now, without fear or guilt, we can fall into His loving arms because Jesus has opened the door for us.  His blood became the pathway into God’s presence!  No more sin and guilt!  We have been set free!

Luke Elwell

Are You Eagerly Waiting?

Hebrews 9

Hebrews 9 15

I asked you a question yesterday as we considered some passages in Hebrew 8.  That question was for you to decide what kind of heart you have.  The reason that is important is because the kind of heart that you have determines what other people see in you.  Do they see a person who loves God?  Do they see a person with a heart for serving Jesus and others?  Do people see a person who trusts God no matter what might happen in your life?  Or, are you like the Israelites?  Do people see a person overcome by sin?  A person impatient with God, who wants things right now?  Do they see a person who is willing to give up everything for all the wrong reasons?  What we learned was that God’s laws and commandments don’t change us unless we allow God to write them in our minds and write them on our hearts.

But allowing God to write on our hearts and in our minds is not easy.  Taking out our old heart of stone and replacing it with one of flesh, required a blood sacrifice.  It always had, but now we know that no more blood is required.  In the past the blood of goats and calves was used to obtain purification and forgiveness for people.  But this ritual had to be repeated regularly and often.  That is, until Christ.  Christ was the perfect sacrifice; He was the only sacrifice without blemish.  His sacrifice was able to totally purify our conscience (minds and hearts) from dead works in order to serve the living God!

Because of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice, He was able to enter heaven itself in the presence of God Himself.  There, Christ, our high priest, continually intercedes on our behalf, to put away our sin.

End of story.  Right?

No.  Not the end of the story.  There is much more good news for us.

Take your Bible out.  Take your pen or highlighter and mark this verse: “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with (your) sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”  (Hebrews 9:28)

Today’s question:  Are you eagerly waiting for Him?

Luke Elwell

 

What Kind of Heart Do You Have?

Hebrews 8

Hebrews 8 10

The messes people get themselves into.  Moses had gone off to the top of the mountain to be with God.  Out of that mountain God called out to Moses and laid out a wonderful plan for his people.  God told Moses that He had done wonderful things for His people, Israel, and that His people had seen with their own eyes what He had done to those miserable Egyptians.  Through those terrible trials with the Egyptians, God had been like an eagle and had bore His people, Israel, on His wings and had brought His people to Himself.  They were safe.  They were free.  They had a wonderful future ahead of them.  He described those blessings to them.  Israel would be His very own treasured possession, they would be a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.  Oh, the life, safe in the arms of the God of the universe!  It was theirs.  All they had to do was…. if only…why couldn’t they have done what He asked?  Oh, the messes we get ourselves into (Exodus 19:3-6)!

It would have been simple.  Very simple.  If only.  Instead they decided to build that stupid calf.  Not only did they build a calf, but they used their own treasured possessions to build it.  They gave up their own treasured possessions of gold to build a calf which would cause them to lose their position as the most treasured possession of God Himself.

All they had to do was simply obey God’s voice.  Instead they decided to obey the voice of sin.  Aaron described them well.  He told Moses, “you know these people.  All they think about is evil.”  (Exodus 32:22).  All they had to do was simple…simply listen to the voice of God Who had delivered them out of the worse mess they had ever been in while they were in Egypt.  All they had to do was listen to the voice of Him who loved them the most and keep His commandments.

God’s anger burned hot against His people! Moses’ anger burned hot against the people!  Then things really turned crazy!  Moses came down that mountain with his hands full carrying the commandments of God, written by God Himself, on two stone tablets front and back (Ex. 32:15-19).  It doesn’t say, but I think Moses’ might have thought he could straighten out the people by showing them those stone tablets containing the commandments of God.  Instead, they became part of the carnage.  When Moses saw what the people were doing, dancing and singing and worshiping a stupid calf, he threw those tablets made of stone and they broke in a million pieces.  He then took that golden calf, burned it and ground it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the people drink it!  Their precious golden calf made by their precious golden jewelry was gone forever!

But God was not through with them yet.  God sent a plague on the people because they (correction – Aaron) made the calf.  We reap what we sow.  (Exodus 32:35).

End of story, right?  Nope.  God was not through with them yet.

Let’s fast forward to Hebrews 8.  Amazingly God was not through with the house of Israel and the house of Judah yet.  Here, Paul tells us that God is establishing a new covenant with them and with us.  The first one, written on tablets of stone long ago, will be replaced with one written in our minds and on our hearts.  Until the commandments and promises of God are written on our hearts and become flesh, we cannot become new people.   We are simply stone people. This new covenant, of which Jesus is the high priest, will not be displayed on tablets of stone which can be broken into a million pieces, but will be in our hearts and minds. Our old heart of stone will be removed, and a new heart of flesh will be given to us (Ezekiel 11:19).  This new covenant will change our minds and hearts because Jesus, the new high priest, is able to save us to the uttermost (completely and at all times).

What kind of heart do you have?  One of stone which serves sin and will break in a million pieces when sin is exposed?  Or one of flesh which loves and serves God who considers us His most treasured possession?

Luke Elwell

No Daily Patch Needed

Hebrews 7

Hebrews 7 24 25 NIV

So often when we pray for ourselves or for others, we are concerned about certain specific things that are happening in the present moment of our life or their life.  This is okay, because sometimes we feel so overwhelmed by a situation or weakness in our life, that we want immediate help.  We fall on our faces or knees and plead for help in this particular situation or with this particular weakness, but never see the whole picture.  That’s because we are human, after all.  We often can’t see past the present moment. We want to put patches on what is torn or broken. We feel the pain right now, we experience the embarrassment of a sin and hope no one else notices, or we share in part with another in their present experience.  All of that is well and good as we plead for ourselves and intercede for others.  But then a new day comes, laced with all the same trials, tribulations, and temptations of life all over again and we look for another patch.

That was the life of a priest before the time of Christ.  Before a priest could do his job of offering up sacrifices for the sins of others, he first had to take care of his own personal business—his own sins, his own cares, his own violations.  So, each day, as he lit the fire to begin his godly work, he took inventory of the sins of his people and his own sins (Hebrews 7: 27).  Day after day, moment by moment, his mind raced with all these shortcomings.  His job was difficult and exhausting.

Then Christ came and became the high priest, and He holds this position permanently and forever (Hebrews 7:24).  He was after-all, “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7: 26).  Not only that but “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27).   The daily grind of fire building, killing a sacrifice, inner-searching, and finally offering up prayers ended.  Jesus paid it all.

That does not mean we do not pray for others or ourselves.  Indeed Peter says that we are to be “a royal priesthood” (I Pet 2:9), meaning we are to pray for others.  But unless and until we accept without question and wholly the atonement of Jesus in our lives, the daily grind of being a priest will continue for us. We will never get out of that cycle of embarrassment, regret, remorse and the need to pray for that “daily patch” to cover our sins along with the sins of those for whom we pray.

Jesus lives to make intersession for us (Hebrews 7:25), He prays for us continually.  It is because of His intercession that we can do our work of intercession for others.  It is all possible because Jesus has saved us to the uttermost.  No daily patch needed.  Jesus saves us totally and at all times.  Once we believe this as a little child of God, and we draw near to God through Him, He is able to save us to the uttermost! (Hebrews 7: 25).  Then, with full assurance of our own atonement, we can put our full energy into praying for others which is our greatest work.

Luke Elwell