Friday, June 15, 2012

God’s People at Crossroads, Part 3

There is a fabulous verse in 1 Corinthians 2:9 in The Message it says this:

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this,
Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—
What God has arranged for those who love him.

Not seen or heard or imagined anything like it.  Wow.  This could be quite a journey. 

So, if this is true why would I ever try to work things out my way?  Why would I want to control things to fit my perceptions?  God has something not seen or heard or imagined by me, well, then I can hardly work toward it no matter how clever or cute I am.   His plan is better.  His desire for me is better.   And even in my wildest dreams I can’t come up with something so grand.  I want what God wants for me.  I want to discover the life truly abundant. 

I am presented with a number of options at the crossroads.  I can choose God’s way or any other way.  But only God’s way leads to the abundant life.  We all make choices.  Jesus tells a story about a man who has a dinner and invites a number of people to come.  They are at the crossroads.  The story has to do with God the Father inviting people to the Kingdom.  Here is how they responded:

18“Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’
19“Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’
20“And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’
21“The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged… Luke 14  The Message

I imagine we have all had our excuses when God has come calling.  He says take a day or a weekend to spend with Me, and we respond no because we have stuff to take care of.  Maybe He says come close to Me, focus on Me for a year I have something I want to do something you can’t imagine and we say “that’s nice, maybe another time, I want to date now and maybe get married and then, of course, after I’m married I won’t be available, but thanks for the invitation.”  Sad, isn’t it?  The God of Glory blown off.  And we miss out on the amazing unimaginable things He has for us.  Jesus says the Master was “outraged” at the response of the people. 

How do you make sure not to outrage the Master?  Go when He invites you to come.  Don’t make anything else more important than God.  Simple really, let God be God in your life. 

Jesus gets very intense and personal a bit later in chapter 14 when He says to people following Him you have to choose.  You are at the crossroads of life and you have to choose…your family or Me?  He said it this way, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple.” The answer for many at this point is to turn and take another path and not be a disciple of Jesus.  He has our good in mind.  He has the best for our family in store, but when we don’t trust Him we cling to our family and make them more than God.  It all seems so cruel doesn’t it?  To choose Jesus who we don’t even see over our kids or the next family gathering?  But for those who have chosen God’s way at the crossroads have seen a bit of that which they had never heard or seen or imagined.  They broke away from self and gave God a chance to do what He has been planning since the beginning.  The explosions of joy and delight in their hearts would flow throughout them.  Now imagine receiving back a loved one who is a disciple of Jesus and has let go of these things to follow Him.  They would be filled with the Spirit and His fruit.  They would bring a new light to the family. 
Jesus wraps up Luke 14 with this:

33“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.
34“Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

God is offering more than we can imagine for this life and the one to come.  But come to the crossroads and decisions have to be made.  God says come and I will show you amazing things, but if a Christian has a hot relationship going, then far too many times they say, “See You later, God!”  God says, “Come!” and the plans for making money or getting projects done or playing with a hobby or a sport catch our attention and, “Thanks, but no thanks, Lord.”

There are those who are saying, “Yes.”  Praise God, there are those saying, “Yes,” to God.  Inside things are happening for them.  Life is more than they had thought.  The relationship with God takes on new dimensions.  Every day and every night God is showing up.  The joy of the Lord is their strength.  The JOY.  People only really get that when they go God’s way at the crossroads. 

Listening to Him is crucial.  Discovering relationship with God above all else is central.  Realizing Who He is and what He has done is vital.  If you need more on this check some of the blogs here. 

God is calling you to a life you have never ever dreamed of…better than anything you have seen or heard.  Come on!

God’s People at Crossroads, Part 2

At the crossroads God has a direction for you and there are, let’s say, three other ways to go.  What happens when the wrong direction is chosen? 

It happens doesn’t it?  The GPS gives the wrong turn and off you go.  Did you know you can’t arrive at the right address if you are on the wrong street?  When the wrong direction is chosen at the crossroads there are bound to be consequences, lost time and lost opportunity.  And, sadly, distance from God further complicated by difficulty discerning and deciding God’s way at the next crossroads.  It is a mess. 

The crossroads may be about life long decisions, but it could be as close as the next interaction with another person or choice about what to do.  Look at this from Galatians 5:19-21 for an idea of how this plays out. 

19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.

Let’s say Larry the Christian doesn’t really drink much and he isn’t into wild parties, but he interested in being the adult teacher of his group at church.  They have overlooked his obvious abilities before.  He wants this.   It is clear that he is so much better suited than Bill Big Bible.  Come on!  In fact, Larry the Christian has been inviting members of the group’s leadership over for BBQs at his place just to win some favor and because of his Christian hospitality.  The ideas he has about the Second Coming of Christ and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem just needs to get out there he thinks.  Gary the Greek Expert taught the group last year, and Larry found his profound knowledge of the Bible nauseating.  He started letting some of the guys in on his feelings about Gary as the year went on.  Just sharing some “concerns” for the good of the group.  Well, Sam becomes the next adult teacher of the group.  He is a solid, simple, unassuming man, in love with God and lovingly relating to others.  Larry is beside himself.  Before he gets out the doors of the church he is spewing.  He is hot.  He wanted his way.  His way was best for everyone.  Anyone who thought different was obviously an idiot.  What is the problem? 

There were a number of crossroads for Larry.  God was calling him one way, but he chose another.  Here is a challenge for you.  Match the items listed in Galatians 5:19-21 with Larry’s actions and attitudes.  These are typical “Christian” ways of doing things and they take place wherever Christians gather together, but they shouldn’t.  This written list is provided in Scripture to be a sign to each of God’s people to turn and go the other way. 

Move the scene outside the church.  What happens at work?  What happens when the family gets together?  What happens when driving?  Those are crossroads…go God’s way, listen to Him or go our way in another direction. 
Here is another list from Galatians found in 5:22, 23:

22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control.

At the crossroads God’s people can listen to God and go His way and the result is like this list.  Back to Larry the Christian for a moment.  If Larry were learning to listen to God and the Holy Spirit was producing this kind of fruit in his life, then would he have had the issues he did?  And what about us?  If we learn to listen to God and go his way at the crossroads each day will that allow the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the fruit in our lives? 

We can get better at going God’s way at the crossroads.  In the book of Hebrews there is a point where the writer is trying to express some deep spiritual truths, but realizes the shallowness of his audience.  He addresses that.  Then he describes those who are spiritually mature (people good at the crossroads in going God’s way):  Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  Hebrews 5:14 NLT   The mature didn’t magically become that way…they trained…they practiced…they have developed skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  They have listened to God and have His heart in them so that when they come to the crossroads they hear, they know, they go God’s way. 

That should be very encouraging.  It is to me.  Training and practice don’t require that we have it all perfect, but that we are headed in the right direction but we will make mistakes and learn and get better and get back on the right path.  So at the next crossroads or maybe the one after that we make the right decision, the right way, and then go with God.  Then we can start developing a pattern of making the right decisions and have the skill to recognize the difference between what is really right and wrong.   

God's People at Crossroads

God provides guidance and a direction that will bring the greatest good. 

A man or woman of God at the crossroads decides which way they will go.  They may or may not include God in their decision making process.  Many consider God to be silent on such things and assume what they decide is what He would have decided as well.  I have found God to be more active and involved than silent and much more wise and insightful than to give in to our whims.  Many times each year, each day even, God’s people are at crossroads, but are God’s people going God’s way when they get there?  Let’s see. 

The crossroads is the intersection of decision that determines the path a person will take.  Going back is a possibility, but few want to go backward in life.  Proceeding straight ahead may lead to the greatest good or perhaps taking the left turn.  Let’s look at a person God affirmed as being one who took the right path at the crossroad.  Abraham represents a person faced with a decision when at age 75 living in the city of Ur God said, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”  Based on what Abraham heard from God he packed up and left.  God called that good. 

Now we will take a look at an American Christian who is married and working and has a house and a car and a nice church to attend.  Let’s say he is about 30 years of age.   Imagine God communicates to Larry the Christian guy and says, “Larry, leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”  What happens next?

Larry has a crisis because he attends a church where he has been assured God doesn’t speak so whatever he is hearing is not from God…not from God…no, not God.   Larry has found a way to deal with this crossroad.  He ignores God’s guidance and keeps doing what he has always done and getting what he has always gotten.  And sometimes Larry wonders why his Christian faith isn’t very vibrant. 

This isn’t Larry’s first encounter however.  No, Larry has heard the voice of God before, but it was disturbing so he turned up his iPod.  

Larry looks good to his Christian friends, his coworkers and even his neighbors.  He cares for his house and car.  He has been through the financial training class at church and has his financial ducks in a row.  He and his wife, Winifred, protect the planet by recycling. They are taking care of God’s temple, their bodies, by eating organic and getting regular exercise.  Their plan for the future includes life insurance and putting money away in a 401K plus some high risk investments while they are young.  When the opportunity comes to do community service or a church work project or go on a short term mission, Larry is right there.  It reminds him of something he did as a youth. 

When Larry was 11 at a Christian camp the glow of the camp fire and the songs about Jesus and the invitation to surrender all struck him.  He became a Christian.  Yes, he sang with all he had, “All to Jesus I surrender.  I surrender ALL.”  Service, projects, and missions bring back a sense of the memory of that special time for Larry. 

Larry may look good to Larry and to others, but there is one whose perspective matters above all others.   There have been others who have looked good before.  Jesus had this to say:

22When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ 23 Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!’ Matthew 7:22, 23 TEV

Come on, now, Larry, wicked?  He is looking good!  Jesus determines what is good.  Jesus has been offering Larry what is truly good for a long time.  Larry has been busy doing what he thinks is right.  The Scripture addresses this: There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Proverbs 14:12 ESV   What is Larry to do?  Go the way God would have him to go.  Larry has to learn to discern the voice of God at the crossroads and to go His way.  God has the very best in mind.  He is looking out for what really is good for Larry. 

Imagine Larry after his encounter with the Lord and singing with all his heart “I surrender all.”  He gets back home and he doesn’t have time for Jesus.  He has sports…practices, games, tournaments.  There are clubs and competitions and school events and homework.  Then with age there is dating, driving, and doing his own thing.  “All to Jesus I…” 

College comes along.  Crossroad.  God is offering Larry something, but with all the brochures and the voices giving direction he can’t hear it.  He is told the most important thing is his education.  Get a good education…get a good job…get a good paycheck…have a good life.  Did God say that?  Was that God saying that at the crossroad or was that the voice of the world or the flesh?  Let’s see.  Larry goes to college and does OK for himself.  He gets connected with some people who like to par-tay, sleeps with his girlfriend, and keeps making the grade.  Not much time for Jesus with all the important things in a young man’s life.  Crossroads all along the way.  Serious decisions made.  All acceptable to a world doomed to the flames, but to the God whose heart is broken by a young man who has rejected His offer of a good life it is awful.  

Jesus communicated a way of living that connects us in love to God.  It is so dynamic that the relationship takes off and keeps getting better.  John records Jesus’ words in 14:21 LB this way:  The one who obeys me is the one who loves me; and because he loves me, my Father will love him; and I will too, and I will reveal myself to him.  A quick review of Larry the Christian.  If Larry loves Jesus Larry will obey Him, right?  Larry has to know what it is he is supposed to obey in order to do that.  How does Larry get some basic information on Jesus so he can get started?  Yeah, you know.  What about at the crossroads of life?  How is Larry supposed to determine which way to go?  Larry doesn’t think God is dead.  He is back in church now that he is settled and a bit older so he assumes God is alive and the right thing to do is go to church.  But at the crossroad Larry isn’t convinced God has anything to say to him about which way he should go.  God hasn’t said made Himself known before at any crossroads according to Larry.  But God has.  Over and over again.  The night Larry decided sex with his girlfriend was the most important thing to do.  Larry was at a crossroad and God was there calling him in another direction.  Larry knows God was there.  He knows, and he chose another path.  One that did not obey the Lord Jesus Christ to whom he had said he would surrender all.  One that did not indicate love for God, but rejected Him and then took Larry down a path that was not light or good or ends well.  Discerning God’s way at the crossroad is part of it, but deciding to go God’s way…well...that, is it. 

In another scenario imagine God communicates to Larry the Christian guy and says, “Larry, leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”  And Larry listens to God.  Abraham, as you recall, left the great city and lived in a tent.  God said Abraham would be the father of a nation, but he had one son of the promise.  So, Larry, may not go to college or have a well stocked 401K retirement or even have a house he owns, but he has obeyed God.  Jesus loves him and the Father loves him and Jesus reveals Himself in greater beauty, power and presence to him.  Larry in this scenario may not look like all that much to his family, his friends, his coworkers or his neighbors, but God says He is well pleased and that this world is not worthy of Larry the Christian. 

God is at the next crossroad for you.  You have to make a decision.  Do you go God’s way?  Do you even know how to determine what God’s way is?  Can you hear God’s voice?  Do you see His directives in the Scriptures?  What will you do?  God wants you to go His way.  He has good for you.  Grace awaits. 

For more on how God provides guidance at the crossroads check back.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hearing God God’s Way

A sighting of the planet Venus in its orbit around the sun took place yesterday on June 5th.  That view with Venus set against the disk of the glowing sun will happen again in 2117.  It happened just as God arranged it when He put into motion in the beginning. 

1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known. Psalm 19

There was attention to the Solar System because of the great view of Venus.  God spoke.  The glory of God was there.  His craftsmanship was also there in the design of the star, the orbiting planet, our planet, the alignment of our orbital plane with that of Venus.  And such magnificence takes place in space and in our skies every day and every night pointing to God and telling more and more of Him. 

Hearing God God’s way is to allow Him to do the talking while attentively listening.  This is not of human creation or manipulation.  There are people who see in the sky a divine scheme.  They are called astrologers.  The movement of planets and the arrangement of stars is all about them.  That is not God’s way.  That is not what God is telling them.  They are not listening.  They have created a view of the heavens of their own making and manipulated what they see to fit their own imaginings.  And yet God is communicating.  It is good to remember James 1:19: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  By way of application to hearing God this seems to be a good guide. 

A fascinating exercise for discovering how to allow God to do the talking while attentively listening is an examination of the Gospels.  The second person of the Triune Godhead, the Son of God, Jesus, was walking on earth and speaking.  Observe the conversations and how people listened and spoke to Him.  He is still communicating and He says His sheep hear His voice.  So, today, as then, people have the opportunity to listen attentively to Him.  And those who do listen and follow through will have even more of the Lord revealed.  Jesus says, Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” John 14:21 

Jesus spoke the words recorded by John while with His disciples on earth.  His relationship with them and His interaction with them are precursors to what His relationship would be with His followers (you) later.  To walk with the Lord is an expression used by Christ followers.  I think it has merit.  Here is Colossians 2:6 ESV:  Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.  The preposition “en” in Greek, and can be translated in a number of ways including “in” as it is used in Colossians 2:6 or as “with” as it is translated in Matthew 1:18 and Luke 2:5 where Mary was found to be “with child.”  With a little play on the translator’s work and for the benefit of illustration maybe we could read Colossians 2:6 like this:  Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk with Him.  The change in preposition to “with” allows us to conceive of really being alongside the Lord as we walk as distinct from a philosophical faith walk in Him.  You are probably familiar with Mary Stevenson’s 1936 poem called Footprints in the Sand.  A man envisions being with the Lord walking along the sandy beach and he sees two sets of footprints and then one.  Assuming the single set to be his own he complains to the Lord about being left alone.  The Lord told him the single set of prints was when the Lord carried him.  That is walking with the Lord.  You know the lines to the hymn Trust and Obey? 

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

And there is this wonderful 8th century BC prophecy by Isaiah which is picked up in Matthew 1:23 which says: “…they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  OK, God with us.  Walk with Jesus.  This is much closer to me than God out there…God did something way back then…God will do something sometime in the future, but today I can walk with the Lord. 

To help with God being with us Jesus asked God the Father to send God the Holy Spirit.  He is the Paraklete.  The Paraklete (or Paraclete) is the one “called alongside” us.  This seems to me to speak of access and reliability and walking “with.”  Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit in John 16:12-14:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” 

Do you see the communication from God to His people there?  Jesus knew how much His people could take at any given time.  The Holy Spirit comes and guides and speaks and declares and glorifies.  And He does it to each one of them and by extension to each one of us. 

Hearing God God’s way includes listening to the Holy Spirit as He comes alongside to speak.  I find that exciting to consider.  In my walk with God I found Him incredibly intriguing from the start.  But what I knew of Him in the first years of walking with Him wasn’t all the Lord had to say to me.  I studied the Scripture.  I did Bible studies.  I listened to messages and tapes and read books, but there was more.  Some of the learning process included digesting the truths I had discovered then beginning to practice them in life.  As in all practice sometimes it goes well and sometimes not so much.  The “not so much” times are as valuable as the times when things go well in learning so there is no down time.  The Spirit was guiding as I sought to walk with the Lord.  And He did it carefully as I was ready.  The Lord was saying He still had many things to say, but I couldn’t bear them yet.  So, He waited until the time was right to say more.  How cool is that? 

Some people describe an actual sense of another person coming alongside.  You have that ability beyond the five senses to know when someone is watching you.  When you turn or look up and there they are, but you didn’t see them or hear them or smell them you just knew.  So it is with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  He comes alongside and you can know it.  There is a conversation or instruction or encouragement or guidance of some kind, and then He breaks away and it is over.

 This is like the statements in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Lord came to me and said.  It seems to be a different way of communicating to us.  As believers we receive the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Spirit is at work in us and communicating to us as well, but this type of communication is more of a coming alongside interaction.

  Not long ago I was praying in the early winter morning while still in bed.  The bedroom windows and door were all closed since it was cold outside.  We only have a radiator for heat with no fan.  I sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence and my inner being was glorifying Jesus. I reached up above me to acknowledge Him and I felt the wind on my hand.  Surprised by the wind.  I brought my hand down and up again.  There it was with no reasonable source for the movement of air.  I simply asked: “Is that You?”  To which the answer was: “Yes, I am the Pneuma, the Ruah of God and I blow where I will.”  Wow, OK, thanks.  I wanted to go on asking important things like…how did You do that? But I didn’t.  There were other things to discover.  That encounter was more physical, but it was a reinforcement of the sense that He had come near and was with me. 

Typically, the sense of His presence in this come alongside way is about recognizing He has come and then that the conversation or lesson is over.  Again, not long ago while working on a passage of Scripture I sensed the presence of the Spirit who began to instruct in ways I heard internally and then ended with “This ends the lesson.”  And the presence of the Paraclete departed.    I figured we were done for the time being. 

Hearing God God’s way takes us into the Bible.  The Bible is the written and revealed communication of God.  It is His truth and it is filled with examples of people living God’s way.  For those wanting to hear from God there is no shortcut here.  Read, study, memorize, meditate and apply God’s written Word.  It is a life-saver.  Have you experienced this?  You are reading a passage of Scripture and it bursts out in bold and maybe it is highlighted in some sense.  You have read it dozens of times before, but this time…THIS TIME it is really standing out.  The Holy Spirit is at work.  You are hearing God. 

There are some who look for ways to get closer to God that are way out there.  Just a few days ago Rudy Eugene who said he wanted to get closer to God went and chewed off the face of another man.  The police couldn’t get him to stop and had to shoot him.  There was some suspicion that he had taken some drugs that led to the bizarre behavior.  This is extreme but in milder forms people try to find ways to God that aren’t God’s way at all.  FYI.

Hearing God is about closeness to God; an intimate relationship with the amazing being who deeply loves you.  Let Him speak to you His way.  He will work to communicate to you through the Scriptures.  He wants you to know Him in His stories.  He wants you to grasp His principles for living.  He wants you to break harmful patterns and develop healthy ones.  Sometimes He will guide you with an inner urging to act, move, give or speak.  Listen to Him.  Sometimes He will speak in a whisper which way you should go.  Sometimes He will sound like thunder or like waters thundering as He speaks.  Listen to Him. 

Hearing God God’s way is a grand adventure for which there is no comparison.  There is so much more on this which will have to wait for another time. 

Go see what God has to say to you!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Proper Christian Propellants

There are different ways to get going.  We need some way of getting going in order to overcome initial inertia.  Motivation. 

I have the image of a donkey pulling a cart with the driver holding a long pole and on it he has tied a carrot.  The carrot is just out of the donkey’s reach so the donkey moves forward in an effort to get the carrot.  And just in case the donkey doesn’t keep going the driver has a stick for motivating from the other end.  The carrot and stick method seems to be one Christians gravitate toward.  Of course, heaven with its rewards and hell with its punishments are something of a motivator.  But beyond that in week to week church life there are some who seem stuck spiritually.  Haven’t you seen them?  They can’t get out of the starting gate on their own.  They are looking for kudos from fellow believers to keep them motivated.  Some struggle until a strong rebuke gets their attention and then they are good for a week or two.  What is that? 

A baby in order to grow and mature has to differentiate itself from its mother and begin eventually to develop self-propulsion, self-feeding, self-care which eventually becomes the basis for sharing, caring and giving to others.  Imagine an adult sized person who had no motivation to move or work for food or care for bathroom issues.  You can see how cool it would be to get big boy to go to the bathroom by rewarding him with Skittles.  Well, apply that picture to our Christian lives.  Got it?

The Lord has a better way and warns against our being difficult to motivate.  In Psalm 32:9 we see: “Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
What are some proper Christian propellants?  Here are some to consider.  I like this one because it is real and that is what is required before God getting real.  There was a Pharisee (real detail oriented Type A personality ladder climbing religious type) who was in the Temple praying to God.  He noticed a tax collector (low life scum working for the Roman government for money) and the Pharisee says to God:  “Thank You that I am not like that guy!” “Thank You that I am quite a man.  I have my books in order, my life well scheduled, my religious calendar in line.”  “I am looking pretty good.”  The tax collector turns to God and says: ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ Luke 18:13  Jesus says the tax collector and not the Pharisee had it right and the tax collector left there right with God. 

Getting right before God by dealing with the reality of our lives and humbly coming to Him is a great propellant.  Barriers to motivation come down.  Energy comes up.  Fear of facing God is gone.  Desire to get near to God comes. 

Here is another I like.  Start feeding yourself the best stuff available…God’s Word.  The Apostle Peter said it this way: 2Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. 1 Peter 2:2, 3 NLT

Find that other things in life are more interesting or make their way to the top of your to-do list way before the Bible?  Hmmm?  Why is that?  Peter says like newborn babies…crave…cry out for this nourishment.  You know what that looks like, right?  Every couple of hours…feed me, feed me, waaa!  What if they don’t get fed…good or bad?  So, what happens to God’s people, you, if other things get in the way of good spiritual eats?  Exactly. 

This is a good one.  A deep relationship with and longing for God.  The Psalmist says it this way:  Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.” Psalm 73:25 NLT  Carrot and stick Christians don’t get this.  But, wow, if they only would. 

Here is another.  Getting close to God so you can get His instructions for living.  It takes some practice spending time with God, studying His Word, learning to discern, but it is motivating to hear from God.  This is how Isaiah says it: Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:21 NLT
This one goes along with God’s speaking.  In Romans 8:14 it says, For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. In an amazing dynamic the Holy Spirit of God comes alongside and leads God’s people.  That is comforting because that is one way to know you are His.  It also goes with His personal involvement and communication to us.  The leading of the Holy Spirit is a proper Christian propellant. 

Take a look at this one.  An unquenchable desire for God’s way to be expressed and experienced.  It is so hard to separate our way or the world’s way from God’s way.  We often redefine God’s way to be what I think is right, but that isn’t it.  It is for us to get on board with Him.  Observing the brokenness of people, relationships, systems, governments and businesses ought to drive us to our knees before our God and cause us to get up and try to live out His way more effectively.  Jesus included this in His sermon on the mount:  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled.  Matthew 5:6
I like the picture of hunger and nourishment used in some of these verses because they indicate the need to take these things inside myself.  Down deep inside is where God works and creates in me a new heart, a new motivation.  No longer do I need to get a slap on the back or a gold star (not that they are evil or that we shouldn’t give them, but they are not the main propellants).  I walk with God because I want to walk with God.  I want to know Him better.  I want to know what He is thinking.  I want to work where He is working.  I want to be part of what He is doing.  Not because someone holds out a carrot or pushes me on with a stick.  No.  I want to go with Him.  Who else?

66At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
68Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  John 6:66-68 NLT

Way to go, Peter.  Proper Christian propellant indeed. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Warning…Danger…Hebrews 6 Ahead

The joy of Bible study often becomes a storm of clashing views when Hebrews 6 is involved.  J. Vernon McGee had this to say:

As we study this section, we are immediately confronted with the amazing fact that generally commentators have avoided this chapter. Even such a man as Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, the prince of expositors, has completely bypassed it in his book on Hebrews. However, when we do come upon the interpretations available and summarize each, we can well understand why men have chosen to remain clear of this scene of confusion because we can get many interpretations. (McGee, J V: Thru the Bible Commentary:  Thomas Nelson)

Makes you consider staying away from Hebrews 6 and going for a nice walk in a peaceful park.  But wait there may be something very helpful in all this.  Hang on until the end and see what good may come.  The primary passage of concern is this:

4For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—6and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.  
Hebrews 6:4-6 NLT

Now that you have taken a look at the passage consider what you think it is saying.  Compare what you think with the following views supplied by Charles Ryrie:

This much-debated passage has been understood in several ways.
(1) Arminians hold that the people described in these verses are Christians who actually lose their salvation. If this be so, notice that the passage also teaches that it is impossible to be saved a second time.
(2) Some hold that the passage refers not to genuine believers but to those who only profess to be believers. Thus the phrases in verses 4-5 are understood to refer to experiences short of salvation (cf. v. 9). The "falling away" is from the knowledge of the truth, not personal possession of it.
(3) Others understand the passage to be a warning to genuine believers to urge them on in Christian growth and maturity. To "fall away" is impossible (since, according to this view, true believers are eternally secure), but the phrase is placed in the sentence to strengthen the warning. It is similar to saying something like this to a class of students: "It is impossible for a student, once enrolled in this course, if he turns the clock back which cannot be done, to start the course over. Therefore, let all students go on to deeper knowledge." In this view the phrases in verses 4-5 are understood to refer to the conversion experience. (The Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Translation: 1995. Moody Publishers)

Did you find a view that seemed to fit what you saw in the passage?  Good.  There are general and technical pros and cons to each.  The more research you do on this the more details will emerge.  It is worth discovering more about the passage. 

If you have patience for another perspective I’ll share this with you.  The book of Hebrews is an incredibly encouraging book providing glorious views of Jesus and of what God is offering His people.  He invites us all to enter into this life of faith and enjoy the richness of the promises of God some of which we will experience in this life and some yet to come.  So, what of Hebrews 6? 

Hebrews 6 is indeed a warning of the seriousness of missing out on what God has planned for those who walk faithfully with Him in Jesus.  The book of Hebrews is addressing those who are God’s own and those who are going to heaven so it isn’t a passage about heavenly salvation, but of the earthly.  Let me explain, if you will. 

The book of Hebrews uses Hebrew imagery throughout to illustrate New Covenant truths.  One great lesson of the Hebrews was their walk of out of bondage and into the land of promise.  Remember the land flowing with milk and honey?  It was a real place.  Truly offered.  The people had seen the great acts of God in delivering them from Egypt, in crossing the Red Sea, in the giving of the Law, in the provision of food and water and in guiding them.  Then when offered the land they refused.  They were afraid God wouldn’t or couldn’t take care of them.  Caleb and Joshua were two strong voices for going on with God, but the masses of the Hebrew people said no to God.  They died in the wilderness and missed out on what God had for them.  Even Moses sinned against the Lord and was not allowed to enter in to the land of promise. 

There is a New Covenant with God in Jesus.  A promise of better things.  It is available now.  In the book of Hebrews it is often referred to as God’s rest.  God doesn’t want us to miss out as the Hebrews leaving Egypt did.  Did those who sinned and missed out on the land of promise miss out on heaven too?  No.  In fact, Moses, who was denied entrance, is found meeting with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration along with Elijah.  Moses was with God and was sent for this special meeting.  Missing out on the earthly promises doesn’t mean expulsion from heaven.  But God desires His people to enter into His rest in this new amazing relationship in Jesus. 

The book of Hebrews repeatedly says: “When you hear God’s voice; don’t harden your hearts.”  It is a reminder not to do what the early Hebrews did and miss out.   We are told in chapter 4 that we have a great High Priest in Jesus.  And He will be there for us.  To help us enjoy a deep intimacy with God.  To help us enter into all His wonderful plans and promises in this life in His rest. And as a result we are invited to come to the throne of God:

 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.                              Hebrews 4:16 NLT

We will find grace to help us when we need it most.  Have you thought about that?  Out of context this verse is used to apply to anything and everything people imagine.  However, there is a context, and it is dealing with God’s people entering into God’s rest.  We are invited by God to boldly go to Him and get the gracious help we need to enter into His rest…”the land of promise.” 
The book of Hebrews elaborates on the role of the High Priest and of Jesus being the greatest High Priest.  It is in the midst of the discussion of Jesus as High Priest that Hebrews 6:4-6 falls.  More on the priesthood follows and in greater detail.  At the end of chapter 5 the writer of Hebrews stops and says he would like to say more about the astounding things regarding Jesus and Melchizedek and the priesthood, but the readers are not able to handle it.  They are immature.  They need to get the basic realities down and then move on. 

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. Hebrews 6:1 NLT

Look at that verse.  Rehearsing the elements of salvation over and over again.  The author says, “Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.”  The assumed answer is, of course, no.  Why would the person who wrote this straightforward statement of the assurance of salvation begin a few verses later to tear it apart?  That would be strange.  The controversy about who has salvation and if it can be lost is the very thing the writer says to stop.  This isn’t about heavenly salvation.  Heavenly salvation is wonderful, but it is basic, and we are now going on to maturity.  Because God has more for you. 

So what is happening in Hebrews 6:4-6?  The person who is a true believer has rejected the Lord’s way and gone with his or her flesh back into the world’s way of doing things.  Just as the people of Israel did at the edge of the land of promise.  They were still God’s people, but the benefits that could have been theirs they would now leave behind.  There are consequences.  What about the phrase they cannot be brought back to repentance?  Ryrie says it well.  It is like the student wanting to reset the clock and start the class over…it is impossible.  Our only option is to go forward.  Which is the point of the passage as a whole.  Let us go on to maturity.  Let us go on with God.  Let us enter into His rest.  Let us go His way. 

Going on in Hebrews 6 we come to this in verses 7 and 8:

When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.                    Hebrews 6:7, 8 NLT

You can see how the idea of consequences from verses 4-6 is picked up in 7 and 8.  A Christian who is fruitful (cf: Mark 4, Galatians 5, John 15) has God’s blessing.  The consequences for going another way are to burn off the field and start over.  The burning isn’t a picture of hell, but of discipline or like pruning or correction in order to get something good going.  God wants all His people to enjoy His goodness and to enter into His rest.  Sometimes it takes some tough things to get their (our) attention so they (we) will do what is good for them (us). 

At the end of Hebrews 6 in verses 18 and 19 are these comforting words:

Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.


Randy Huddleston