Advent Devotions: The Mega-JOY of Emmanuel

Advent Devotions:  The Mega-JOY of Emmanuel

Joy is the flag that flies over the soul when the King is in residence!Chuck Swindoll

Several years ago, I was leading a small group of ladies through Paul's letter to the Galatians.  In chapter 5, we came to a familiar passage:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,and self control. Galatians 5:22-23

Julie was in that small group that year, and Julie was from Great Britain.  I asked her about Chuck's metaphor.  She assured me that it was true.  When royalty is in residence at the palace, the flag flies. It's the signal to the "subjects" that their monarch is present.

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Only one prayer? Give thanks!

Only one prayer? Give thanks!

Early one fall, I had a few moments in between errands, so I decided to follow the "garage sale" signs into a neighborhood off the main road I was traveling on. It was at the end of the day...and the house I stopped at looked a bit bare and disheveled.  But I got out of my car anyway.  And by the time I got back in my car, I was so glad I had stopped.

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Abba's Little Girls: Mama-sisters

Abba's Little Girls:  Mama-sisters

Motherhood is a Sisterhood...unrivaled by any other (except perhaps, Grandmother-hood). So if you are a mom, you are my beloved sister...

And sometimes we mama-sisters just need to be daughters...Abba's (Hebrew for Daddy) little girls.

So this Mothers' Day, let us hear these restful words of promise from our Abba:

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Lenten Meditation: a Word of Reunion

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Reunion

Now I lay me down to sleepI pray the Lord my soul to keep If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take

So goes a traditional nighttime prayer taught by American moms to their children for generations.

It may seem odd to us today that there would be the mention of death in a child's prayer.  But scientists say that sleep is the closest we come to death while still alive.  The Greeks even had a proverb,

Sleep and death are brothers.

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Lenten Meditation: a Word of Personal Need

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Personal Need

Thirst is a primal need in all of us humans...more demanding even than hunger!  We can go quite awhile without eating, but a very short time without drinking. Jesus on the Cross had refrained up to this point from satisfying His thirst.  Instead He drank the Father's cup to the very last drop! He became sin for us...the Sinless One!  Jesus took our place, and the Father turned His back.  The punishment for sin had been accomplished...spiritual separation from God....for US!

Now in fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus expresses His own physical need:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said ( to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. John 19:28-29 ESV

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Lenten Meditation: a Word of Abandonment

Lenten Meditation:  a Word of Abandonment

Abandoned!  Left on the "doorstep of Life"...but with no Rescuer in sight! What happens next in the unfolding drama of the crucifixion of our Lord is incomprehensible!

It's an abandonment so profoundly mysterious that it boggles the mind...but ravishes the believing heart! Let's watch it unfold...

It is noon.

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Lenten Meditation: a Word of Salvation

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Salvation

Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. Luke 23:43

Jesus seems to have a special love for lost people ... This makes me think of the criminals executed with Our Lord Christ. They certainly were the lost sheep, ...the lost coins, ...the lost sons...and Jesus came to seek them.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10

They obviously had been running away from God...who knows what kind of crimes they had committed!  The Bible just calls them "criminals" [thieves, malefactors KJV].  Maybe God didn't come into their thinking...but that's the point.  They had gone their own way.

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Lenten Meditation: a Word of Forgiveness

Lenten Meditation:  a Word of Forgiveness

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), English poet, once said,To err is human; to forgive, divine.

So true...but we humans more readily echo what someone else has said,

To err is human, but to get even? THAT is divine.

We struggle so, with forgiving our offenders!  Perhaps that's why we are amazed and awestruck to realize that Jesus' first words from the Cross were ones of forgiveness.

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Advent Devotions: the WITH-ness of our God {His Presence in prepositions}

Advent Devotions:  the WITH-ness of our God {His Presence in prepositions}

Isn't it wonderful when someone wants to spend time with us?  Not just a token, obligatory, "showing up" to either fulfill an obligation, salve guilt, or ask for something...a real wanting to be with us.

As special as it is in human relationships, think how amazing it is when we realize that the Sovereign God of the universe has wanted to be with us!  Yes, US!  and according to the Bible words used, we see that in Jesus, our Emmanuel, He is with us on every level possible.

In the original language of the New Testament, there are three Greek words that can be translated with.  With is one of a group of many words we call prepositions.  Don't worry about the grammar of it all.  Just keep in mind that the key idea with prepositions is relationship.

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Lenten Meditation: a Word of Personal Need

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Personal Need

Thirst is a primal need in all of us humans...more demanding even than hunger!  We can go quite awhile without eating, but a very short time without drinking. Jesus on the Cross had refrained up to this point from satisfying His thirst.  Instead He drank the Father's cup to the very last drop! He became sin for us...the Sinless One!  Jesus took our place, and the Father turned His back.  The punishment for sin had been accomplished...spiritual separation from God....for US!

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Lenten Meditation: Dust to Dust

I grew up in a liturgical church.  So from my childhood into my early adulthood, I observed the church calendar.   Ash Wednesday marked a real turning point in the calendar year.  It was a turn from comfort, frivolity, and enjoyment (think Mardi Gras) to a time of repentance, self-denial, and mortification called Lent. Ash Wednesday was a day when we all remembered that someday we would each die and face our Maker.  The priest would put the sign of the cross on our foreheads in black ashes and say,

Remember, Man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return. [based on Genesis 3:19]

A  very sobering reminder...and I took it all very seriously.

Even though I'm not a part of a liturgical congregation now, I think it's a good thing to remember that death is up ahead for each of us.

But why death?  The Bible says,

The wages of sin is death...  Romans 6:23a

But the good news is

...the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Romans 6:23b

Pastor and Bible teacher, Chuck Swindoll, takes the symbolism of the ashen cross a step further.  He says,

The mark is a sign of Christ's ownership of the person and a symbol of sorrow for sins...We are His possessions and a true appreciation for the cost of our salvation begins with an understanding of the seriousness of sin.

So while Ash Wednesday reminds us of our sin and our mortality, we can look ahead to Good Friday and Easter Sunday because we are His possession.  We know the end of the story, and (as someone has said) "We win"...because HE won!

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1Peter 2:24

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15

Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” ...thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:54-57

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For more about Lent and Ash Wednesday, visit the Voice blog.

 

 

Coming soon: 

Lenten meditations:  Jesus' Last Words from the Cross

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Total Cardiac Rehab: It takes a Village...

February is American Heart Month. cardiac heartHow appropriate since February is also the month of Valentine’s Day, celebrating the heart’s favorite emotion — LOVE.

Well, these past Februaries,  "American Heart Month" has taken on new meaning because the “love of my life” had a heart attack several years ago.  So the last few years have brought lots of changes to both of our lives, but especially his.  And cardiac rehab had played a big part.   As many heart patients know, cardiac rehab takes a village

It took a village of medical personnel.  There were the paramedics who responded when we called 9-1-1; the doctors who did the heart cath; the nurses who cared for John in the hospital; the physical therapists and technicians who exercised and educated him so he could find his “new normal”…and the list goes on and on.

Then there were the neighbors, family, and friends who prayed, jumped in to help, and emailed, facebooked, called, and sent cards with words of encouragement. There were also fellow heart patients, past and present, who empathized and spurred John on.

It has taken all of these folks using their expertise, gifting, and care to enable John to recover from a “widow-maker” level heart attack.  Now he can live in relative good health for as long as God ordains.  We thank God for the village He’s provided.

All of this makes me think of the village the Lord has provided for our “spiritual cardiac rehab.”

Through our personal heart relationship with the Lord Christ, we have received a new heart and new spirit, so we are complete in Him.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you….And I will put my Spirit within you…  Ezekiel 36:26-27

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  2Cor 5:17

But while we are living in our broken humanness on this earth, we need our minds, affections, and wills continually renewed.  And in God’s eternal plan in Christ Jesus, it takes a village…the Body of Christ, the community of believers, His church.

Our minds get darkened by the enemy’s lies.  Our affections get wooed by the “sweet-talkin’” world.  Our wills are weakened and pulled away from God and His ways.  And all of this even while we have the indwelling life of God in Christ through the Spirit.

Oswald Chambers (July 12, My Utmost for His Highest) says it well:

THE SPIRITUAL SOCIETY “Till we all come . . unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13

Rehabilitation means the putting back of the whole human race into the relationship God designed it to be in, and this is what Jesus Christ did in Redemption… The rehabilitation of the human race on Jesus Christ’s plan means the realization of Jesus Christ in corporate life as well as in individual life.

Jesus Christ sent apostles and teachers for this purpose – that the corporate Personality might be realized. We are not here to develop a spiritual life of our own, or to enjoy spiritual retirement; we are here so to realize Jesus Christ that the Body of Christ may be built up. Am I building up the Body of Christ, or am I looking for my own personal development only?

The essential thing is my personal relationship to Jesus Christ – “That I may know Him.” To fulfill God’s design means entire abandonment to Him. Whenever I want things for myself, the relationship is distorted. It will be a big humiliation to realize that I have not been concerned about realizing Jesus Christ, but only about realizing what He has done for me.

So our growth in Christ not for our own spiritual “pleasure.”  We all need each other for our “spiritual cardiac rehab” on this earth.

How does this work?

  1. Connect to a community of believers who know and love the Lord, His Word, and His people. Today, there are many options:  from small groups to house churches to mega-congregations; from contemporary & casual to formal and even liturgical. The important thing is…where does GOD want you.  No matter what you choose, it won’t be perfect.  As one Bible teacher I know used to say, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it…because you’ll ruin it.”
  2. Give to & receive from others in the body of Christ. I love the story in John 13 where Jesus washed His disciples feet.  Most of us immediately get the lesson that we are to “wash each others’ feet” by serving them. But tucked in that passage is the added lesson that we need to let our feet be washed by our brothers and sisters.  When Peter protested about the Lord washing his feet, Jesus responded: Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.   John 13:8 It dawned on me one day when reading that verse that perhaps part of what Jesus was saying was…if you don’t let your brothers and sisters serve and minister to you, you are rejecting ME…”no part with ME!”
  3. Use whatever gifts the Lord has given to build up one another and glorify God and His grace. One of my favorite Bible words is “manifold.”  It means various, multi-colored, variegated (like yarn), multi-faceted (like diamonds)…and it’s used in my favorite verses about spiritual gifts: As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1Peter 4:10-11

So each of us is a “facet” in the brilliant diamond of God’s glorious grace when we serve in the fulness of the Spirit in the gifting He’s given us.  What a privilege!  And what a protection as we walk through this sin-cursed world.

Don’t try to do it on your own, dear brothers and sisters.  We need each other in the Body of Christ!  As a friend once said when going through some dark trials in his family, “The Body of Christ is at its best when a believer suffers!”  Why?  Because we are part of each other.   And the Lord’s multi-faceted grace ministers through His people!

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Bible Students:

If you would like to read and study further about spiritual gifts, look at these additional passages:

Romans 12:3-13

1 Cor 12:4-31

Eph 4:7-16

Be sure to note what the goal or purpose (anticipated outcome) of the gifts is in each of these passages.  Our unity in diversity is a beautiful thing to behold!

 

4th Week of Advent: I Wonder as I Wander

My friend Penny is a walker (a very serious, fast walker, by the way).  But Penny doesn't just walk for exercise, she also "walks" closely with the Lord.  So when Penny shares, I listen. And when she shared about a favorite Christmas carol, it made me take notice. Why?  Because while walking, Penny has been doing what this song describes.

The song?  Here are the lyrics:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky, How Jesus the Savior did come for to die. For poor on'ry people like you and like I... I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall, With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all. But high from God's heaven a star's light did fall, And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing, A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing, He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.

So as we get close to the end of our time of preparation,  why not "wonder as YOU wander" -- whether down nature paths or even through shopping malls?  And as you walk, meditate on all the glory of the Incarnation of our God into this world!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvADhdoQ8n0[/youtube]

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Readings for the 4th Week of Advent

Sunday -- Luke 2:1-20 Monday -- Matthew 2:1-11 Tuesday -- Isaiah 9:2-7 Wednesday -- John 1:1-18

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You might also like:

Walkin' n Talkin' with My Savior

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I love this blog post from the Voice blog.  It explains what some Christians believe is "taking 'Christ' out of 'Christmas'." by using "Xmas"  by David Capes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pilgrim Spirit of Faith (Hebrews 11)

We are so tied to the here and now, aren't we?  But at the heart of the life of faith is belief in the unseen God and trust in His promises that this world is not all there is.  People of faith are "pilgrims," "aliens."

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth...Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.  Hebrews 11:13,16

pilgrimage
pilgrimage

A bumper sticker I recently saw says it well,

We are not human [temporal] beings having a spiritual [eternal] experience. We are spiritual [eternal] beings having a human [temporal] experience.

If our existence on this earth is temporal, then it is temporary.  And according to God, it's fleeting...and we need to come to grips with that if we are to have the correct perspective of life on earth.  So...

...let these Scriptures wash over you, and then humbly worship the unseen God, our Father, Who loves us!

Hear my prayer, O Lord!    Listen to my cries for help!    Don’t ignore my tears.For I am your guest    a traveler passing through,    as my ancestors were before me. Psalm 39:12 NLT

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,    who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,    it will become a place of refreshing springs.    The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger,    and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem. Psalm 84:5-7 NLT

Your word has been the music of my lifethroughout the years of my pilgrimage. Psalm 119:54

Those who are wise will take all this to heart;    they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.Psalm 107:43 NLT

your life a vapor
your life a vapor

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. James 4:14 NASB

grass of the field
grass of the field

As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children... Psalm 103:15-17 NASB

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.2 Cor 4:16-18 NASB

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 NASB

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Who am I, that the lord of all the earth Would care to know my name Would care to feel my hurt? Who am I, that the bright and morning star Would choose to light the way For my ever wandering heart?

Not because of who I am But because of what you've done Not because of what I've done But because of who you are

I am a flower quickly fading Here today and gone tomorrow A wave tossed in the ocean A vapor in the wind Still you hear me when I'm calling Lord, you catch me when I'm falling And you've told me who I am I am yours

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin Would look on me with love And watch me rise again? Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea Would call out through the rain And calm the storm in me?

Not because of who I am But because of what you've done Not because of what I've done But because of who you are

I am a flower quickly fading Here today and gone tomorrow A wave tossed in the ocean A vapor in the wind Still you hear me when I'm calling Lord, you catch me when I'm falling And you've told me who I am I am yours

Not because of who I am But because of what you've done Not because of what I've done But because of who you are

I am a flower quickly fading Here today and gone tomorrow A wave tossed in the ocean A vapor in the wind Still you hear me when I'm calling Lord, you catch me when I'm falling And you've told me who I am I am yours

I am yours Whom shall I fear? Whom shall I fear? 'Cause I am yours I am yours

We are Part of Something Bigger than Us! (Hebrews 11)

Hebrews 11
Hebrews 11

John Eldridge in his book The Sacred Romance says that deep inside of us is a longing for intimacy and adventure.  Here in Hebrews 11, we definitely see both!  The intimacy is with a God who spoke us into existence and now can be trusted to care for us every step of the way (we will see this again in Heb 12). And the adventure...oh my!  We are part of something bigger than ourselves...and that's exciting!  We are in the "race of faith" with a long line of "runners"...some famous, like Abraham and Moses; some infamous and unlikely, like Rahab and Samson; and some unknown, like those who were sawn in two (among other horrors)...people "of whom the world is not worthy," the writer to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 11:38).

What is it enables us to endure, like our fellow runners?  It's faith!  Not the world's kind of faith, which makes faith a work, or a "name it and claim it," or an "entity" in myself that I need to muster up enough of to get what I want.  NO!  As Andrew Murray says, "faith is confessed helplessness, casting itself on God [the living God, the "I Am"] and His promises [which are 'yes and amen!']."

Heb 11:1
Heb 11:1

So the nature of true, Biblical faith has to do with the unseen and the future.  It is confidence in what we don't see:  God & His promises; not in what we do see:  circumstances, people, things, feelings, etc.

And the outcome of faith is that it puts "a smile on God's face"...it pleases Him.  He puts His stamp of approval on us!  In fact, He so loves to see faith that He witnesses to it in us...He testifies to it in His children.  Remember how God boasted of Job?  "Have you observed my servant Job?"  That's what God does when He sees true faith!

According to Spiro Zodiates in his Word Studies in the NT, the words, "to be approved, to obtain the testimony, obtained the witness" are all the same Greek word in the passive voice (which means someone else does it).  The exciting thing is that God "lauds" [dare I say, "applauds"] us and "reports well" of us because of our faith (which faith, by the way, is a gift, Ephesians 2 :8-9; as is everything in life!)

So this means that God is looking for faith, not perfection!  And that is good news to those of us who worship at the altar of "doing the right thing" or "doing it perfectly."  It may sound so right to be trying so hard to be perfect or get it right, but where is God in that picture?  That sounds more like self-effort and a "works with a smidge of God" type spirituality.

Heb 11:6
Heb 11:6

As you reflect on these far-from-perfect-people in Hebrews 11, thank God that, despite your "fluctuations of body and soul,"  you can walk by faith TODAY, because HE IS and He rewards those who seek HIM...step by step...by faith!

Hebrews 11 – Ray Stedman

BY FAITH Keith & Kristen Getty

By faith we see the hand of GodIn the light of creation's grand designIn the lives of those who prove His faithfulnessWho walk by faith and not by sight

By faith our fathers roamed the earthWith the power of His promise in their heartsOf a holy city built by God's own handA place where peace and justice reign

We will stand as children of the promiseWe will fix our eyes on Him our soul's rewardTill the race is finished and the work is doneWe'll walk by faith and not by sight

By faith the prophets saw a dayWhen the longed-for Messiah would appearWith the power to break the chains of sin and deathAnd rise triumphant from the grave

By faith the church was called to goIn the power of the Spirit to the lostTo deliver captives and to preach good newsIn every corner of the earth

We will stand as children of the promiseWe will fix our eyes on Him our soul's rewardTill the race is finished and the work is doneWe'll walk by faith and not by sight

By faith this mountain shall be movedAnd the power of the gospel shall prevailFor we know in Christ all things are possibleFor all who call upon His name

We will stand as children of the promiseWe will fix our eyes on Him our soul's rewardTill the race is finished and the work is doneWe'll walk by faith and not by sight

Mercy Came Running (Hebrews 8-10)

Mercy
Mercy

MERCY!  Ah, what a lovely word.Mercy speaks of compassion, love, tenderness, "thinking the best," overlooking faults and failings...and we could go on.  Those of us who have mercy-showers in our lives are blessed beyond measure! How reflective is mercy of our merciful, loving Creator.  Even throughout the Old Testament, we read of God's tender mercies and loving-kindness toward the children of men.

justice
justice

But there was a "not so little thing" called God's Justice, that is, His holiness and righteousness, that hindered the full expression of His mercy and love to us sinful creatures.  That's where our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, comes in...His Person and His work released us from the just wrath of God against sin so Mercy could come flooding forth upon us.

No where do we see the what's and wherefore's of the mercy of our God better spelled out than in Hebrews, chapters 8 through 10.  There we see the provision God made over generations to show mercy to a stiff-necked people (a.k.a. you & me).

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens… Hebrews 8:1 NASB

As Ray Stedman has so clearly said:

On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took a cup of wine, passed it to his disciples and said: "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:27-28). With those words and that symbolic action, he borrowed the phrase used by Moses when he took the blood of an animal, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words" (Ex 24:8). The contrast was deliberate. Moses used the blood of an animal; Jesus used wine as a symbol of his own blood. Moses spoke of the covenant of the law; Jesus alluded to the new covenant of grace. Moses spoke of God's words which provided for the partial covering of sins so God could remain with his people; Jesus promised the actual remission of sins so God could live within his people forever. It is that excellent new covenant which chapters 8-10 of Hebrews...expounds.

Because of Who He is, Son of God and Man (Hebrews 1-7), what He has done carries infinite weight!  Let's look at what His work entailed according to these chapters in Hebrews:

I.  He is the Mediator of a  New Covenant (8:6-13; 9;17-22), “based on better promises.”

new covt
new covt

Compared to the Old Covenant (Law), The New Covenant is immeasurably more glorious!  No longer is it, "I do it; therefore God does it."  This was at the heart of the Law ("If you obey, I will bless you and be your God.").  Rather now in the New Covenant, it's all about, "God does it: therefore, I do it."

Isn't that the way, Jesus lived His life on earth?

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19 ESV

So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. John 8:28

For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. John 12:49

The New Covenant then is all about God and what He has done through the finished work of His Son.  And it's also about what He is now doing in His world, in and through His people.

10 commandments
10 commandments

But the problem is that the Old Covenant proved that we humans are not reliable vehicles of the divine life and ways.  So how can the change take place from the "I do it, so God blesses me" mentality to "God does it, and I'm His instrument?"  That's the beauty of the New Covenant provisions and promises.  Take a look at those amazing truths stated in our passage (Hebrews 8:6-13):

  1. The Law written on the heart (Heb 8:10; 10:10).  No longer are God's ways (the Law) written on tablets of stone (2Cor 3), but now they are written on human hearts.  And even that heart of ours has been changed.  Look at an important cross reference: And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  Ezek 36:26-27 ESV Not only is the Law written on a new heart, but the Holy Spirit is united with our spirit.  He causes us to walk in God's ways...isn't that incredible?!  So now there is the truth united with desire and power!
  2. Intimacy with the Living God (Heb 8:10-11).  Jesus said that the heart of His zoe, eternal life, is that we know God! And this is eternal life [zoe], that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  John 17:3 Since we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, the resident Teacher, we know God! The Apostle John referred to this glorious truth in his first epistle: But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know... But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.   1John 2:20-27
  3. Complete Forgiveness of Sins (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).   And this is primary.  Until sin was permanently dealt with, God's justice and holiness "prevented Him" from uniting with His people.  But now the way is open...Why?  Because...
The_Holy_of_Holies
The_Holy_of_Holies

II.  He is the Minister in the  True Tabernacle (8:2-6; 9:1-14, 23-28)....Jesus entered the True Tabernacle...the Holy of Holies of the throne room of heaven.   And what did He do there?

III.  He Himself is the Offering of a Perfect Sacrifice (10:1-18).

He offered HIMSELF!  He was the perfect, eternal sacrifice because of His perfect, indestructible life (Hebrews 7). He presented His perfect blood so that He could perfect for all time, those who are in the process of being sanctified while on this earth (10:10,14) It's a finished work that is a done deal forever.  It is totally true, perfectly and forever int the eternal realm.

images-4
images-4

But you may ask, "Why am I not experiencing this now?"  The answer is all about faith.  Just as we enter the New Covenant by faith in the finished work of the eternal Son of God, we also live by faith every day of our lives in this temporal realm (Col 2:6-7).  As we run our lap in the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1-4), we fix our eyes on the indwelling Christ.  We surrender to His indwelling, resurrection zoe Life.  Then we experience the glory of the New Covenant:  "God does it; therefore we do it!"  If we begin to live according to our own, even morally "good" way," we go back to OC living, expecting something of God in response to our "good works" (like a reward) or in addition to our "good works" (like help to do what I'VE determined to do).  Then we're back to, "We do it ; therefore God does it."

So let me ask you a question.  What would change for you if you took the risk to abandon yourself to the New Covenant, Indwelling, Risen Christ...ceasing from your own labors, self-effort, good works...and live in His Sabbath Rest (Hebrews 4:9-11)?

Freedom!  Joy!  Fruitfulness!  Rest!

Listen to how two brothers from the past describe this glorious life:

...The most wonderful secret of living a holy life does not lie in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfect qualities of Jesus exhibit themselves in my human flesh. Sanctification is “Christ in you . . .” (Colossians 1:27). It is His wonderful life that is imparted to me in sanctification— imparted by faith as a sovereign gift of God’s grace...Sanctification means the impartation of the holy qualities of Jesus Christ to me. It is the gift of His patience, love, holiness, faith, purity, and godliness that is exhibited in and through every sanctified soul. Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be holy— it is drawing from Jesus the very holiness that was exhibited in Him, and that He now exhibits in me. Sanctification is an impartation, not an imitation. Imitation is something altogether different. The perfection of everything is in Jesus Christ, and the mystery of sanctification is that all the perfect qualities of Jesus are at my disposal. Consequently, I slowly but surely begin to live a life of inexpressible order, soundness, and holiness— “. . . kept by the power of God . . .” (1 Peter 1:5).    (Oswald Chambers)

If today I am patient, it is not I but He who lives in me who is patient. If today I love, it is not because I try my best to love, for the power of love is not in me.  But it is because there is One who loves in me. If today I forgive, it is not due to my generosity or effort or ability.  It is instead purely due to the One who lives in me and always forgives.  He is my forgiveness. If today I am humble, this does not happen because I remind myself how proud I am and that therefore I need to be humbled.  My humility does not come through suppressing my needs and then determining to be humble.  It is the Person (the Lamb) in me who is humble.  Since He is my humility, I therefore am humble.   (Watchman Nee)

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I love the imagery of this song.  Can't you just visualize our Father God "bursting forth" when Jesus cried from the Cross "Tetelestai/It is finished!/the sin debt, paid in full!" and breathed His last?  Usually we think of us finally being able to come into the throne room of God (Heb 4:16).  But here we see it from the opposite direction -- God "chomping at the bit" (I hope that's not irreverent) to get at us with His loving-kindness and tender mercy.  When the veil was rent, God came flooding out to the world of men.  Oh, embrace Him by faith today!

Mercy Came Running Phillips, Craig, & Dean

Once there was a holy place Evidence of God's embrace And I can almost see mercy's face Pressed against the veil Looking down with longing eyes Mercy must have realized That once His blood was sacrificed Freedom would prevail And as the sky grew dark And the earth began to shake With justice no longer in the way

Chorus: Mercy came running Like a prisoner set free Past all my failures to the point of my need When the sin that I carried Was all I could see And when I could not reach mercy Mercy came running to me Once there was a broken heart Way to human from the start And all the years left it torn apart Hopeless and afraid Walls I never meant to build Left this prisoner unfulfilled Freedom called but even still It seemed so far away I was bound by the chains From the wages of my sin Just when I felt like giving in

Repeat chorus

Sometimes I still feel so far So far from where I really should be He gently calls to my heart Just to remind me

Repeat chorus

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For further meditation:

Hebrews 8-10, Ray Stedman

Oswald Chambers, "Sanctification"

The Beauty of the Incomparable Christ...the Son of Man (Hebrews 2:5-18)

Incarnation
Incarnation

CS Lewis calls the Incarnation "The Grand Miracle."

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation...God became Man.  Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this….it was the central event in the history of the Earth–the very thing the whole story has been about. Miracles, “The Grand Miracle,” C.S. Lewis

In chapter 2 of Hebrews, we continue the thought that Jesus Christ is better than the angels...not just because He's the Son of GOD, but because He's the Son of MAN.  What an incredibly important truth for fallen man!

Our destiny that was lost (Hebrews 2:5-8) is now regained in the God-Man Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:9-18).  Here are a couple suggestions for your study of this passage:

  • Go through Hebrews 2:9-18 and see if you can give 5 descriptions of Jesus as our God-Man.  They are listed for you below,* but why not try them on your own first.
  • Spend time reflecting on how your Great High Priest has come to your aid in the past and how you need Him to come to your aid today.  Praise and pray!

*Descriptions of Jesus Christ, the God-Man:

1.  He is my Substitute (2:9)

2.  He is my Savior (2:10-11a)

3.  He is my Brother (2:11b-14a)

4.  He is my Deliverer (2:14b-15)

5.  He is my Helper / High Priest (2:16-18)

The Beauty of the Incomparable Christ...the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1-2:4)

images-2
images-2

Back in 1995 we lived in Centerville, Ohio.  Centerville had a wonderful little post office in those days right behind Bill's Donuts.  In February of that year I stopped by to buy some stamps, noticing a large poster of the current stamp. As I awaited my turn in line, I reflected on the picture of the cherub I saw on the wall.

sistine madonna cherubs
sistine madonna cherubs

"Wait a minute," I said to myself, "I've seen that cherub before, but in a bigger painting."

I had taken art history in college and loved it! So I was wracking my brain to try to remember what painting it was part of. I couldn't let it rest...so it sent me to the library to those big, dusty art books.

Sure enough, here's the painting those little cherubs are part of:

sistine madonna, raphael
sistine madonna, raphael

The cherubs are hardly noticed in this painting.  The obvious focal point is the mother and child...but the mother, more than the child!

"Wow," I thought, "Isn't that just like what we do in our Christian life?  We loose our focal point -- the Lord Jesus Christ!  Rather we focus on all the peripheral Christian things, as good as many of them may be...things like the spiritual disciplines, godly behavior, our motivation, the latest Christian best-seller, the current Christian "band-wagon," the retreat or conference everyone is talking about...the Christian to-do list!

I love this "equation" that says it all:

Jesus + nothing = Everything

Right here in the first chapter of Hebrews, we see the exalted Christ...God's final revelation...the culmination, the fulfillment of all that has gone before.

He's better than prophets and preachers; better than angels and other emissaries; He's God's Son...God Himself!  The Father has spoken in His Son, the Logos, the Word (John 1)!

And as with any speaking, there's the expectation that someone will listen.   So it is and much more so when it comes to hearing God in His Son:

This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! Matthew 17:5

Why must we hear HIM? He's the Darling of Heaven! He's the Indescribable One, beautiful beyond human words! The Incomparable Lord Jesus Christ! 

He's the One our God describes and compares in the letter to the Hebrew Christians of the first and second century.  And He's the One our God wants US to hear in the 21st century.  So, my friends...

Let us HEAR HIM!

I Stand in Awe by Mark Altrogge

You are beautiful beyond description, Too marvelous for words, Too wonderful for comprehension, Like nothing ever seen or heard. Who can grasp your infinite wisdom? Who can fathom the depth of your love? You are beautiful beyond description, Majesty enthroned above.

(Chorus) And I stand, I stand in awe of you. I stand, I stand in awe of you. Holy God, to whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of you.

You are beautiful beyond description, Yet God crushed You for my sin, In agony and deep affliction, Cut off that I might enter in. Who can grasp such tender compassion? Who can fathom this mercy so free? You are beautiful beyond description, Lamb of God, Who died for me.

(Chorus)


Practical Help in Reading the Letter to the Hebrews

Letter to the Hebrews
Letter to the Hebrews

The letter to the Hebrews can be a bit daunting.  Yes, we have our favorite passages.  Who doesn't know about the giants of the faith in chapter 11 or the exciting challenge to run our lap of the race in chapter 12?  Then there's the assurance that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever in chapter 13.  But what about the message of the entire book? For those of you who would like to understand the message of this Christ-exalting book, there is help!  Here are a few tips for those of you who are reading the letter to the Hebrews.

Please don't get discouraged...do what you can. One of my mottoes of life is "Something is better than nothing."  "All or nothing" used to be my motto...but that is unrealistic, and you'll end up with nothing most of the time.  God wants to speak to us in this glorious word of His. Listen for HIM as you read!

That being said, here are some ideas that, I think, can be helpful.

There are some major warning passages scattered throughout the book...5 of them, in fact.  I have found that if you block off these passages and then read through the book without them several times, it's much easier to get the flow of the author's thought.

Then after reading through that way, read the warnings within the context of the flow of thought.  It is really amazing how you will be able to see why the warnings come where they do.

Here are the passages (I have drawn a box around each of them in my text of Hebrews):

Warning #1 = 2:1-4 Warning #2 = 3:7-4:13 Warning #3 = 5:11-6:20 Warning #4 = 10:26-39 Warning #5 =  12:15-29

After you read and get the flow of thought and then put the warnings back in, take a look at this outline to further help you:

Plan of the Epistle to the Hebrews

Listening via audio can also be helpful. If you have the Bible on CD or MP3, pop that in your player and listen. Here is a link to a youtube audio of Hebrews:

May you be blessed as you read, dear sisters and brothers!

Thy Word

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet And a light unto my path Thy word is a lamp unto my feet And a light unto my path

When I feel afraid And think I've lost my way Still, You're there right beside me Nothing will I fear As long as You are near Please be near me to the end

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet And a light unto my path Thy word is a lamp unto my feet And a light unto my path

I will not forget Your love for me and yet My heart forever is wandering Jesus by my guide And hold me to Your side And I will love You to the end

Nothing will I fear As long as You are near Please be near me to the end

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet And a light unto my path Thy word is a lamp unto my feet And a light unto my path And a light unto my path You're the light unto my path

Holy Week: 7 Sayings of Christ with B.C. 2001

I love this post because it was such a serendipitous delight to find this clipping in my file a few years ago. So I can't help but share it year by year.

Would you meditate along with me ... and revisit Christ's seven sayings for the Cross this holy week? It's truly "holy ground" as we reflect on the Cross, what our Lord went through, but mainly, what He accomplished there. What a perfect preparation for the joy, freedom, and release of the Resurrection.

www.johnhartstudios.com.

A few years ago, I came across an inspiring cartoon in my "Easter" file.  I think my husband John (who had been the family reader of the Sunday funnies in years gone by) cut it out and gave it to me back in April 2001.  So there in my file, this little treasure has been tucked away for all these years.

For those of you who have been following the Lenten Meditations on a branch in the Vine, this piece serves as a fitting climax during Holy Week, which corresponds to Passover this year.

There's an interesting story behind this controversial cartoon.  Apparently for Easter 2001, cartoonist Johnny Hart wanted to do something special. He stated,

I noticed one day that the center section of the Menorah -- the sacred symbol of Judaism, bore the shape of the cross. I wanted everyone to see the cross in the Menorah. It was a revelation to me, that tied God's chosen people to their spiritual next of kin -- the disciples of the Risen Christ. http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/BCcomics_easter.htm

Take a look at the enlarged version below.  And then peer deeply into the empty tomb, and remember HIM!

Behold the Lamb (Communion Song)

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,Slain for us - and we rememberThe promise made that all who come in faithFind forgiveness at the cross.

So we share in this bread of life,And we drink of His sacrificeAs a sign of our bonds of peaceAround the table of the King.

The body of our Saviour Jesus Christ,Torn for you - eat and rememberThe wounds that heal, the death that brings us lifePaid the price to make us one.

So we share in this bread of life,And we drink of His sacrificeAs a sign of our bonds of loveAround the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,Shed for you - drink and rememberHe drained death's cup that all may enter inTo receive the life of God.

So we share in this bread of life,And we drink of His sacrificeAs a sign of our bonds of graceAround the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we riseTo respond, - and to rememberOur call to follow in the steps of ChristAs His body here on earth.

As we share in His sufferingWe proclaim Christ will come again!And we’ll join in the feast of heavenAround the table of the King

Words and Music by Keith and Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend

Devotions for Holy Week:

Perhaps for the days of Holy Week, you would like to meditate on Christ's sayings one by one.  Here is a summary of the links from our Lenten Meditations at  A Branch in the Vine.

Last Words and Conversations:

  1. Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. Luke 23:34 -- a Word of Forgiveness
  2. I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43 -- a Word of Salvation
  3. Dear woman, here is your son...Here is your mother. John 19:26-27 -- a Word of Family Affection
  4. My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me? Matthew 27:46 -- a Word of Abandonment
  5. I am thirsty. John 19:28 -- a Word of Personal Need
  6. It is finished! John 19:30 -- a Word of Completion
  7. Father, into your hands I commit My spirit. Luke 23:46 -- a Word of Reunion

www.johnhartstudios.com.