Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Strengthening Weak Hands, Feeble Knees, and Lame Limbs - Hebrews 12:12

"Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak
and the knees that are feeble,
and make straight paths for your feet,
so that the limb which is lame
may not be put out of joint,
but rather be healed."
(vs 12)

Oh what a precious verse! What a privileged command! What a daunting duty!

Here on the heels of a wonderful sermon on God's Fatherly discipline we have these words regarding our need to care for the weak, feeble and lame. Are we caring?

I have to admit that I have been in that weak and feeble and lame state and sadly have found that many within the body of Christ could have cared less. (Sorry, just being honest.) There have been times when I have been incredibly open regarding my weaknesses and struggles and have even gone so far as to give some very simple tangible things that my brothers and sisters could do to help strengthen me. Repeatedly I have seen many friends bail. Thankfully I have seen others pick up the slack and stand in the gap in remarkable ways and help carry me until I have been able to walk again on my own.

The picture in this text is of one who is weighed down from the burdens of affliction, discipline, suffering, etc. This is not one who is fighting against God's discipline, but one who is honestly weak and full of sorrow from it. This is one who needs our help.

"A burden of affliction is apt to make the Christian's hands hang down, and his knees grow feeble, to dispirit him and discourage him; but this he must strive against; that he may the better run his spiritual race. Faith, and patience, and holy courage and resolution, will make him walk more steadily." (Matthew Henry). This he must strive against and friend, this we must help him strive against. We are not lone wolves - we are the body of Christ and we need each other - desperately!!

What are we doing with those around us who are weak, feeble and lame? The admonition for us all is to "strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed."

Praying for grace to walk strong and to serve strong,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Discipline with a Purpose - Hebrews 12:4-11

"You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation with is addressed to you as sons, 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.'
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of Spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."
(vs 4-11)

I don't know about you, but I have some experience with discipline. I've experienced it as a child. I've doled it out as a parent. I've had it administered to me in correct ways and in incorrect ways and must admit that I've dished it out both properly and improperly. I've been on the receiving end of it from family, friends and from administrations of higher learning. I've been a part of churches that have used it to restore straying sheep to the fold. Discipline is not an unfamiliar thing to me.

These verses talk to us about the discipline that God pours out upon His precious and prized children. His discipline is perfect - it is without sin or selfishness, without angst or anger, and without retribution or revenge. God disciplines His children with a purpose and that purpose is "that we might share in His holiness."

Several important things regarding God's discipline are pointed out in these 8 verses.

1. No matter how bad things seem to us while we are under God's discipline we have NEVER come close to experiencing what Christ did on our behalf!! "You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin."

Certainly, many of us have suffered much but we most certainly could have and honestly deserve to suffer more! Christ deserved NONE of what he endured and yet He took it upon Himself for our sakes. Christ took our spanking! In the garden his sweat turned to drops of blood from the sheer weight of the trial He was facing for us. There was nothing pleasant about what He bore for us and His prayer at Gethsemene illustrates that truth clearly.

Now, I'm not suggesting a false smile nor a "oh it's no big deal" attitude regarding our sufferings. However, while we should be honest about our circumstances we also need to keep them in an eternal perspective and fix our eyes on the Author and Perfector of our faith that we might not grumble and complain under His rod. We need not "magnify our afflictions but note the mercy of God in them" (Henry). The next few verses will begin to amplify just how great the mercy of God's discpline is.

2. God's discipine is not to be despised. "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the LORD loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives."

Our natural tendancy is to wiggle and squirm and attempt to wrestle our way out of the disciplining arms of our Father. We don't like to be corrected. No one likes a reproof much less the rod that often accompanies it. Yet, we are told not to despise the discipline of our Lord.

Matthew Henry reminds us that "they are divine chastisements from our heavenly Father. He has His hand in them all; of this He has given us due notice, and we should not forget it." Henry goes on to say, "Those afflictions which may be truly persecution as far as men are concerned are actually Fatherly rebukes and chastisements as far as God is concerened. Men persecute us because we are religious; God chastises us because we are not more so." Wow!!

He continues, "God has directed His people how they ought to behave themselves under all their afflictions. they must not despise the chastening of the Lord. Those who make light of affliction make light of God and make light of sin. They must not faint when they are rebuked."

I suppose the question is am I wiggling like a 2 year old trying to escape the chastising grip of God or am I resting in His divine sovereignty, great compassion, and perfect wisdom to dole out to me what He deems best for me?

3. God's discipline is a mark of sonship! "It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discpline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitmate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live?"

Verses 5-9 go into great detail regarding the fact that fathers who truly love their children discipline them in order to see them grow into mature, wise, and righteous adults. The book of Proverbs tells us "He who spares the rod hates his son." A child left to himself will digress, daily, into more and more of a sinful creature. I don't have to teach my children to be selfish but I must train and teach them to be selfless. I don't have to schedule lessons to teach them how to lie but must work diligently to see them formed into truth tellers. There is no need for me to sign them up for a class on "how to grumble and complain" but there is much need to direct their little hearts and minds toward the biblical principles of contentment and thankfulness. I love my kids, therefore I discipline them - with purpose - to see them conformed more and more to the image of our heavenly Father.

So it is with God.

Mr. Henry's words are poignant. "Afflictions, though they may be the fruits of God's displeasure, are yet the proofs of His paternal love to His people and of His care for them. The best of God's children have their faults and follies, which need to be corrected. He will correct sin in His own children; they are of His family. In this He acts as becomes a father; no wise and good father will wink at faults in his own children as he would in others. to be suffered to go on in sin without a rebuke is a sad sign of allienation from God; such are bastards, not sons. They are the spurious offspring of another father, not of God."

The next time you find yourself facing God's discipline remind yourself that it is a precious privilege reserved for His adopted children. It is a sign of your sonship and it comes to you in holy love!

4. God's Fatherly discipline comes to us with the purpose of making us holy! "But He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness."

God is not frivolous in his dealings with his children. He uses His rod to drive the folly and sin out of our hearts and lives. It is as the refiner's fire which is used to burn off the worthless and degrading dross. Discipline heeded makes us even more precious because it makes us more like our Father. In your experiences with heavenly discipline have you submitted to and learned from your Father? Are you reflecting His holiness or your bitterness? Are you more beautiful because you look more like Him or are you stained and scarred because you've loved your sin more than your Savior? Child of God, if you've not learned your lesson yet then know that He will not cease in His holy and loving discipline of you until you do.

5. God's Fatherly discipline hurts. "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

I'm not going to candy coat it - there's nothing pleasant about the rod! It hurts! It's painful! It is distressing! The apostle doesn't pretend that it isn't. He shoots straight with us and that's important. "Afflictions are not grateful to the senses, but grievous." We need to recognize that and acknowledge the truth of the fact, otherwise we'll be caught off guard and "tank" in the midst of the pain!

We need to know that discipline is uncomfortable. We also need to know that the discomfort will bring forth a peaceful fruit. I've birthed 2 children. My labor with Joshua was 63 hours long. (That is not a typo - yes, I said 63 hours.) It was painful, it hurt, it wore me out - but the fruit was a beautiful baby boy whom I love with all my heart. In the same sense, the sorrow of discipline - if we will by grace be trained by it - will yield the "peaceful fruit of righteousness."

Friends, how do you view discipline? Do you have your eyes fixed on your own sufferings rather than on the suffering Christ endured for you? Do you despise it or are you willing to embrace it for what it is - a sign of your sonship, a means to partaking of God's holiness, the seed of the fruit of peaceful righteousness? Do you trust your Daddy? That really is the bottom line - do I trust my heavenly Father to know best what I need most?

Praying for grace to be trained by His loving rod of reproof,

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Running With Fixed Eyes - Hebrews 12:1-3

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses
surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance
and the sin which so easily entangle us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame,
and has sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility
by sinners against Himself,
so that you may not grow weary and lose heart."
(vs 1-3)

We've just seen the examples of the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before. The apostle has held out to us the lives - weak, feeble and failing as they were - of men and women of faith. Many have gone before us - by grace, through faith - and we need to follow them as they follow Christ.

In verses 1-3 we are given a practical "how to" on doing so. These are "put off/put on" verses. We are to put off "every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us." Matthew Henry writes that we are to put off "that which has the greatest advantage over us and against us by the circumstances we are in, by our constitution, and by our company."

What are our weaknesses? What things lend themselves to tempting us towards our weaknesses? What situations do we find ourselves most tempted to entanglement from? What people are most likely to drag us into those encumbrances? Know and be aware of your Achille's heel - your constitution - and be aware of the circumstances and company that most lend to the re-opening of that destroying wound.

"If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matthew 5:29-30)
Put off - lay aside - all encumbrances and entanglements and put on running the race. "And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Quoting Henry:

"Christians have a race to run. This race is set before them; it is marked out unto them, both by the word of God and the examples of the faithful servants of God, that cloud of witnesses with which they are compassed about. This race must be run with patience and perseverance. Faith and patience are conquering graces, and therefore must be always cultivated."

OK - so nicely said but not necessarily so easily done. I am reminded of the words of John Monsell - "My sins, my sins, my Savior! They take such hold of me." His words echo Paul's - "Wretched man that I am, who shall save me from this body of death?" Our sins entangle us and that by which we are entangled can be quite difficult to lay aside. Oh - grace - amazing grace how sweet the sound!!

Have we need of laying aside our sins and running the race? Yes we do! And not only do we have a need but we have ONE who has supplied all that is necessary to accomplish the task to which we've been called - the LORD Jesus Christ! See the fullness of this command : "let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." As is always the case, it is through Christ that we can do these things. He is not only the object upon whom we fix our gaze but He is the author and the perfecter of the faith by which we may do so!!

Look to Christ! See Him in His Word! See His works on your behalf! See His mercy and compassion! See His power and promise! Fix your eyes upon Him - your Lord, your Savior, your Elder Brother, your Advocate, your Surety, your only Hope, your All in All! Christ sets us free from the encumbrance and entanglement of sin - only Christ, always Christ! Fix your eyes, O sin gripped saints. Fix your eyes upon Him "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Christ endured the cross for us that we would be set free from the damning bonds of sin. He did His difficult duty with joy knowing what His obedience on our behalf would accomplish. And it did accomplish what it was intended to - the price was paid, the chains were broken and He has now sat down at the right hand of the throne of God as a testimony to the sufficiency of His labors!! Fix your eyes upon Him who has taken your punishment upon Himself and has given you precious promises in its place!!

We have a race to run - so did Christ - and He ran it with great endurance. Fix your eyes and "consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart." Are you weary in this race? Look to Christ! Consider Him who has endured for you! Consider Him who has endured, persevered, and conquered that we may not grow weary and lose heart!

"Our duty is to look unto Him and set Him continually as our example. We should meditate much on Him. And in so doing we shall see that His sufferings far exceed ours and His patience far excells ours." (Matthew Henry)

Run with fixed eyes looking not upon your sin but upon your Savior!! Run with fixed eyes staring not at the mess but at His mercy!! Run with fixed eyes gazing not at your weariness and fatigue but at His strength and faithfulness!!

"There is a proneness in the best Christians to grow weary and faint under trials and afflictions. The best preventative is looking to Jesus. Faith and meditation upon Him will fetch fresh supplies of strength, comfort, and courage!"

Let us lay aside our sin and run the race with fixed eyes upon our Beloved Savior!

With fixed gaze, this day,

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mighty Deeds, Many Sufferings, Eternal Rewards - Hebrews 11 part 14

"Who by faith conquered kingdoms,
performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises,
shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire,
escaped the edge of the sword,
from weakness were made strong,
became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
Women received back their dead by resurrection;
and others were tortured, not accepting their release,
in order that they might obtain a better resurrection;
and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes,
also chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawed asunder,
they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword;
they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins,
being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated
(men of whom the world was not worthy),
wandering in deserts and mountains and
caves and holes in the ground.
And all these, having gained approval through their faith,
did not receive what was promised,
because God had provided something better for us,
so that apart from us they should not be made perfect."
(vs 33-40)

So - you think you've had a bad day?! Check out these last words in Hebrews 11! Things are not always easy for the "hall of faithers." Sawn asunder? Stoned? Destitute? Afflicted? Ill-treated? Yeah!! That's what I want. Here is the sadist's dream! Yet here is the reality, at times - oft times throughout history - for the people of faith.

Peter reminds us "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange things were happening to you..." Paul reminds Timothy "and indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Our Lord Jesus, Himself, tells his disciples "in the world you will have trouble, but take courage; I have overcome the world."

Theses verses stand soberingly well on there own. There's just not need for much comment. However, as you read them let the three main dividing points catch your eye. Take note of:

1). The mighty acts that were done as a result of their faith (vs 33-34): they "conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight."

Friends, please note that there is MUCH opposition to true godliness in this world. The faithful are enlisted in an army - we are soldiers of the cross - and at times we are at "war" with kings and kingdoms. In times past there have been entire governments opposing the message of Christ, some still do, and others yet will until the day when He finally and fully puts all of His enemies under His feet. Faith is able to "conquer kingdoms". May we be faithful citizens in the land of our earthly abode, ever recognizing that our greater citizenship is in heaven.

As was the case for Daniel, faith is also able to "shut the mouth of lions." Mr. Henry, commenting on the power of faith that is held forth in 33-34 writes: "Faith engages the power of God for His people, whenever it shall be for His glory, to overcome brute beasts and brutish men."

Of course all of these mighty victories fall under the sovereign and wise counsel of Almighty God. While kingdoms have been conquered, lion's mouths have been shut, fires have been quenched and swords have been escaped. In God's greater purposes our outward physical victory is not always the greatest victory. That brings us to the second part of this section:

2) The many hardships suffered because of their faith (vs 35-38). "Others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground."

Multitudes have suffered. Many have been martyred and "the world was not worthy" of those who have! Our brothers and sisters have suffered physical pain and emotional anguish. They have faced much mocking, have been the victims of verbal abuse and have seen destruction of their reputation by the lying tongues of the wicked. Some have been treated in a most inhumane and cruel fashion. They have been terrorized, demonized, and ostracized. Yet, they have continued to walk by faith, not recanting, not relenting, pressing forward with their eyes to the prize!

Henry writes: "Such sufferings as these they endured then for their faith; and such they endured through the power of the grace of faith; and which shall we most admire, the wickedness of human nature, or the excellency of divine grace, that is able to bear up the faithful under such cruelties, and to carry them safely through all?"

Our response to suffering is a great aid to us in our endeavors at evangelism. When the Christian is cut, the way in which he bleeds will say more than all the sermons espoused during the good times.

3) The eternal reward for their faith (vs 39-40). "And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect."

If we stop short with verse 39 we can find ourselves discouraged. "Wait a minute! They suffered all of these things and didn't receive what was promised?!?!" Oh, but read on to verse 40. They did not receive an earthly inheritance - because the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of God is not for this land but for the next. "God had provided SOMETHING BETTER...."

Friends, what are we looking for - earthly treasures or heavenly? Fading gems or eternal ones? As for me, by faith, I am looking toward the city of God and know that on the day of my arrival in that place I shall "obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away." (1 Peter 1:4).

May the God who is the author of our faith increase our faith that we might serve Him mightily in this land of our sojourn. May we be willing to suffer and die for Him, even as He suffered and died for us. And may our gaze always be fixed on the Celestial City where our faith will be made sight!

In His glorious grace,


Thursday, September 24, 2009

In the Bad Company of Faithful Men - Hebrews 11 part 13

"And what more shall I say?
For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak,
Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel, and the prophets,
(vs 32)

Many faithful saints have gone before us. This last section of Hebrews 11 is a reminder of that. "For time will fail me if I tell of...." The starting words of Hebrews 12 are appropriate: "we have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us." We should be encouraged that we have not been alone in history - nor are we alone now - a remnant remains that has not bowed the knee to Baal - and it is a mighty remnant. Time would not allow us to write or speak of all the faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the final moments of our tour through the Hall of Faith, the apostle seeks to grant us a sweeping summary of a few who remain. There's Gideon who God used to set the Midanite army to flight in the midst of their confusion. Gideon is listed as a man of faith - yet Gideon's faith was feeble - he was a man of many "if's" - and he tossed out a fleece as a tangible way to have it increased. Gideon was a doubting sinner. Gideon was real! Amazingly, it is not his fearful need of a fleece that is recorded here, but his faith!

Next we see Barak, another man from the time of the judges. Barak led the Israelite army under the command of Deborah. There's nothing about Barak that would have caused me to include him in this museum of the faithful - but God did. In the biblical account, Deborah commands him to send the army to attack Sisera's men. His response - "I'll go if you go!" Come on, this is the leader of the military - and he comes across as a childish coward. Deborah goes and thus Barak and his 10,000 men come too.

Josephus gives an account of Barak in his history and writes that when "Barak saw Sisera's army drawn up, and attempting to surround the mountain on the top of which he and his forces lay encamped, his heart quite failed him, but Deborah animated him to make a descent upon Sisera." It's a good thing she was there, for his faith faltered. Truthfully, its hard to find anything spectacular about Barak. He's an average guy, full of flaws, deep in doubts, nominally normal. Yet, he is listed here. Along with Gideon, that gives me reason for hope!

Yet, the hope doesn't end there. Samson is the third in this final short list of faithful followers of our God. Samson!! Strong but stupid Samon! ! Mighty but repeatedly immoral Samson!! Big, blind Samson!! If Samson's inclusion doesn't give you hope - who's will?

Amidst all of his shortcomings he is here in the hall. Matthew Henry remarks - "If Samson had not had a strong faith as well as a strong arm, he had never performed such exploits. True faith is acknowledged and accepted, even when mingled with many failings." Is not Samson an illustration to us of the amazing grace and marvelous mercy that accompany true faith. Oh, we are sinners! Oh, there is nothing good that dwells in us! Oh, praise God for Christ!!

From Samson to Jepthah - the rash vow maker. Here is one with faith and unbridled zeal. He believes, but he is foolish in his faith. Jephthah, the son of a harlot, is used mightily by God to defeat the Ammonites. Yet he tragically makes a "deal" with God - as though we need to make deals or barter or bargain with the Almighty. We need to walk in faithful obedience - not work out an offer with God that He might work one out with us.

Upon his victorious return Jephthah announces that he will sacrifice to the Lord the first thing that comes from his tent. When he arrives from defeating the enemies of Jehovah his own dear daughter runs to meet him and he is undone by the weight of his promise. It was a needless vow. It wasn't a vow of faith but one of foolishness. He followed through with his word rather than repenting for his error. Jehpthah was a flawed man - faithful but flawed. As Gideon was a man of doubt who wanted a sign, as Samson was a man of moral ineptitude who wanted his lusts, so was Jephthah a man of zeal who spoke before he thought. Do you have anything in common with these sinful, fallen men? Oh, there is such hope for us found in the Lord Jesus. These sinners are numbered among the faithful!!

After he records several men from the time of the judges, the apostle turns to David. You'd think King David would get his own chapter on faithfulness, but his mentioning is reserved to the short list. David, a man after God's own heart. David, a man like us - full of sin.

Mr. Henry writes: "Few ever met with greater trials, and few ever discovered a more lively faith. The same faith made him a very successful and victorious prince, and, after a long life of virtue and honor (though not without some foul stains of sin), he died in faith, and he has left behind him such excellent memoirs of the trials and acts of faith in the book of Psalms as will ever be of great esteem and use."

David experienced it all - victory and loss, sin and salvation, fear and forgiveness, acclaim and disdain, triumph and tragedy. David, great as he can seem, was a mortal - a sinful, human, fallen mortal in constant need of the grace of God. By that glorious grace, he was a man of faith.

Finally, Samuel is listed. The great prophet of the first kings. Called by God as a child to lead His people in the proper path. A man of faith, yet a man who's own children wandered from it. This hall is full of humans, all in need of the exact same thing - the redeeming, atoning, certain blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Are you weak? Are you foolish? Are you full of doubt? Do your morals lapse at times? Are there days when your zeal for Christ is as much of a hindrance as your shame of Him is? Friends, look around this hall of Hebrews 11. We're in "bad" company - and that is good news. For Christ came to save sinners - among whom I am the chief! Even our faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8-9) and this side of heaven we will never attain to any semblance of perfection with it. May the tour of the hall of faith cause us all the more to sing loudly the songs of the faithful. The songs of those who are kept by the grace, mercy, and power of God Almighty! It is HE alone who keeps us from falling therefore, may our only boast be in Him and His abundant care for us. To Him alone be the glory, honor, power, and dominion now and forevermore. AMEN!

By grace, numbered in the hall,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Of Jericho and Rahab - Hebrews 11 part 12

"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down,
after they had been encircled for seven days.
By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish
along with those who were disobedient,
after she had welcomed the spies in peace."
(vs 30-31)

"Joshua fought the battle of Jericho" - more correctly God fought the battle of Jericho, through a seemingly ridiculous method and with a miraculous outcome. Once again, Israel's faith is held forth as an example for us.

It would definitely take some faith to wage war in this way. "Walk around the walls of this city for seven days without uttering a word. At the end of your march you are to blow some trumpets and shout and the walls of this great and mighty city will tumble down before you and Jericho is yours!!" "Yeah - right!" Faith - only faith could follow those marching orders!

Faith is what it would take - faith is what God granted - and by active, obedient faith "the walls came tumbling down."

Henry summarizes thus: "Here was another great trial of their faith. The method prescribed seems very improbable to answer such a great end. But this was the way God commanded them to take, and He loves to do great things by small and contemptible means, that His own arm may be made bare.

"There was powerfull success to these prescribed means. The walls of Jericho fell before them. God can in His own time cause all powerful opposition that is made to His interest fall down, and the grace of faith is mighty through God for the pulling down of strongholds. When He has something great to do for them, He raises up great and strong faith in them."

Does that not encourage you as you look at the insurmountable walls and obstacles that you are facing? Walk in that which God has commanded of you in His word! March in obedience to the drum of the Scriptures and trust Him with the results.

Attached to this account of Jericho we find the harlot Rahab. Rahab the prostitute makes it into the hall of faith. Oh, how glorious!! What a picture of grace. "Christ had saved the chief of sinners and where sin has abounded, grace has superabounded!" (Henry)

So what did Rahab do by faith? Again I will turn to Mr. Henry:

"By faith she received the spies in peace. She not only bade them welcome, but she concealed them from their enemies, and she made a noble confession of her faith. True faith will show itself in good works, especially towards the people of God. Faith will venture all hazards in the cause of God and His people. A true believer is desirous, not only to be in covenant with God, but in communion with the people of God.

"By faith she gained much. She escaped perishing with those that believed not. It was an utter destruction that befell that city; man and beast were cut off. Only Rahab was spared. Joshua gave a strict charge that she should be spared, and none but she and hers. Singular faith, when the generality are not only unbelievers, but against believers, will be rewarded with singular favors."

Take comfort Christian. That which lies in your past can be forgiven - Rahab's harlotry didn't keep her out of the hall of faith. That which you face alone can be overcome through faith in Christ - Rahab ALONE stood for Jehovah in the midst of a land of perdition.

May God grant us the faith to believe to the forgiving of our sins and to the conquering of our situations!

By faith,

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Walking on Dry Ground - Hebrews 11 part 11

"By faith they passed through the Red Sea
as though they were passing through dry land;
and the Egyptians, when they attempted it,
were drowned."
(vs 29)

Thus far we've looked at individuals here in the hall of faith - Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses. For a moment we turn our gaze to the covenant community - Israel.

We really should find great comfort and encouragement for our own sinful, weary, often faithless souls in the recording of these folks. Think about it - Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, Sarah laughed, Moses pitched a fit, and Israel - well, what didn't they do?!?! Yet it is their faith that is recorded. Oh, praise God for His faithful forgiveness.

  • "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn 1:9).
  • "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Ps 103:12).
  • "For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (Heb 8:12)

In the recorded act of faith before us, Israel is between a rock and a hard place - literally they are between an enormous blood thirsty army and a raging river. Here's a great cliff hanger for a mini-series!

Allow me to paint the scene with some clips from last week's show. Moses has confronted Pharaoh to "let my people go." Repeatedly Pharaoh has refused. Plague upon plague upon plague has been sent to Egypt as judgment for Pharaoh's stubborn, hard hearted rebellion. The final plague being the death of all the first born sons. That was the breaking point and Pharaoh cries "uncle". Israel goes free - but not for long. That hard-hearted, wicked demi-gog Pharaoh changes his mind and goes after them. Now - back to our show.

The stage is set. The dust in the distance is steadily inching closer as Egypt's army approaches. The deep and wide Red Sea is Israel's only hope of escape - I suppose drowning may be a better option than being run through with a dagger!! What will they do? They will believe! Faith will conquer fear and Jehovah will remember His covenant promises to His people!

God parts the water of the Sea. It divides and miraculously stands up as a wall on two sides. The ground, which should have been a muddy muck is dry and all of Israel passes through without so much as a slip! Can you even imagine what that must have been like? Your darkest hour, your greatest danger, daunting doom staring you square in the eye? Suddenly - WHOOSH! - the sea splits in two and you are walking between the waters! I can't fathom it - but know it must have been forever embedded in the minds of many of those people. "Hey grandkids - did I ever tell you about the time...?" How powerful and protecting is our God!!

Israel was given safe passage. "Israel's danger was very great. Their deliverance was very glorious. The grace of faith will help us through all the dangers we meet with on our way to heaven." (Matthew Henry)

Egypt was doled out deserved destruction. "Their rashness was great, and their ruin was grievous. When God judges, He will overcome; and it is plain that the destruction of sinners is of themselves."

Egypt's army didn't have to perish - and they wouldn't have if they'd just stayed home and minded their own business instead of messing with the people of God. Presumptuous sin always leads to something bad!!

But faith is glorious! The Israelites had faith to walk between the watery walls! Saving faith! Faith in the mighty power of God to protect and preserve His people.

May I ask, how's your faith this day? What army pursues you? What sea lies ahead of you? Look to Christ your King. Fall upon His promises. Walk according to His word - and believe! Believe - even if He has you walk into the wet waters rather than the dry ground. His way is best - regardless of where it leads!

By faith, walking forward another day,


"When through the deep waters I call you to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; for I will be with you, your troubles to bless, and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace all sufficient shall be your supply; the flame shall not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake."

(Rippon's Selection of Hymns, 1787)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ill treatment or passing pleasures? -Hebrews 11 part 10

"By faith Moses, when he had grown up,
refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;
choosing rather to endure ill-treatment
with the people of God,
than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin;
considering the reproach of Christ
greater riches than the treasures of Egypt,
for he was looking to the reward."
(vs 24-25)

This is a powerfully thought provoking passage - and it spanks me bad!!

Moses was carried safely in his basket made of reeds to the safe harbor of the palace of the very king who had decreed his death! God is powerful - much more powerful than the greatest of earthly potentates. Remember that, dear one!

Moses grows up in Pharoah's court. He is well educated, well fed, well dressed, well everythinged! He was as Pharoah's own son. He ran with the big dogs and had the opportunity to inherit big rewards!

But nope! Not Moses! Though raised in the palace of a pagan king, the covenant of grace had taken hold of his heart and mind. Somehow, by the grace of God, Moses knew he was the son of a greater King - the King of kings - Jehovah the God of Israel. That was more important to him than all the power and wealth of Egypt. Would it be to us?

Henry writes: "Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, whose foundling he was, and her fondling too! How glorious was the triumph of his faith. He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter lest he should undervalue the truer honor of being a son of Abraham, the father of the faithful; lest it should look like renouncing his religion as wells as his relation to Israel; and no doubt both these he must have done if he had accepted this honor.

"He was willing to take his lot with the people of God here, though it was a suffering lot, that he might have his portion with them hereafter (vs 25). Herein he acted rationally as well as religiously. The pleasures of sin must end in speedy repentance or in speedy ruin. The pleasures of this world, and especially those of a court, are too often the pleasure of sin. A true believer will despise them. Suffering is to be chosen rather than sin, there being more evil in the least sin than there can be in the greatest suffering."

Whoa! (Going for the sackcloth and ashes once again!) Indulge me to turn to Mr. Henry once more:

"See how Moses weighs matters: in one scale he put the WORST of religion - the reproaches of Christ, in the other scale he puts the BEST of the world - the treasures of Egypt (vs 26). For Moses, the worst of religion wieghted down the best of the world!"

Which side are the scales tipping for us? What are our eyes fixed upon? The now or the not yet? Do we walk by faith or feelings? Do we live for our lusts or our Lord?

Pause with me, honestly for a moment. Can it be said of you, can it be said of me, as it was said of Moses: "choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin"? Which side of the scale holds the most weight? God, make us willing to suffer for the Christ who has suffered all hell for us!

Humbled, convicted, and weighing,

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fear Conquering Faith - Hebrews 11 part 9

"By faith Moses, when he was born,
was hidden for three months by his parents,
because they saw he was a beautiful child;
and they were not afraid of the king's edict."
(vs 23)

Moses life began with persecution. The king of Egypt had given a command, "When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, it is a son, then you shall put him to death!" (Ex 1:16).

No sooner is Moses born than the enemy of God's elect seeks to have him destroyed. Here Moses serves as a type of Christ, who was also pursued from the womb - so much so that Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt to escape the politically ordered baby boy slaughter of Herod.

Moses mother and father hid him for three months, until it would impossible to hide him any longer. What great risk did they take to themselves in this concealing act?

Why? What reason lay behind their bold, fear facing, edict ignoring stand? Certainly they loved their son - but did not all the other Hebrew parents as well? Most assuredly, parental fondness played a part but it was not strong enough to move the other moms and dads to revolt. So what was it with Moses?

Matthew Henry answers the question in this manner:

"No doubt, natural affection could not but move them; but there was something further. They saw that he was a beautiful child. There appeared in him something uncommon; the beauty of the LORD sat upon him. Sometimes, though not always, the countenance is the index of the mind.

"There was a prevalency of faith over their fear. They were not afraid of the king's commandment. They believed that God would preserve his people, and that the time was coming when it would be worth while for an Israelite to live. Some must hazard their own lives to preserve their children, and they were resolved to do it. Faith is a great preservative against the sinful slavish fear of men."

So, Moses folks walked in faith against the hurricane force winds of fear - and it was an understandable fear! For three months they concealed his very existance and then they built a small basket boat out of reeds and by faith set their son sailing on the river Nile. Just as the ark of Noah was carried by the hand of God safely over the flood waters of destruction, so the ark of reeds was carried on the river of providence - straight to the protective embrace of the king's very own daughter. The rest is hall of faith history.

What "edict" are you fearful of today? Walk in faith knowing that "perfect love casts out all fear." By faith, "love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength" and as you faithfully pursue first His kingdom and His righteousness may He enable you to walk leaving your fears on Egypt's bank!

By faith,

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bury My Bones - Hebrews 11 part 8

"By faith Joseph, when he was dying,
made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel,
and gave orders concerning his bones."
(vs 22)

It would be decades before it was to happen. The Exodus was a long way off, yet Joseph with his dying breath made mention of it. By faith he believed all that God had said and through faith's eyes was just as certain of it as those would be who witnessed it with the eyes of their body.

Joseph is dying and what is on his mind? Being numbered with the people of God! "He made mention by faith of the departing of the children of Israel, that the time should come when they should be delivered out of Egypt. Though he should not live to see their deliverance, yet he could die in the faith of it. He gave commandment concerning his bones, that they should preserve them unburied in Egypt. Though he had lived and died in Egypt, yet he did not live and die an Egyptian, but an Israelite. He preferred a significant burial in Canaan before a magnificent one in Egypt."

Wow! What do I prefer? In covenant mercy, may I be numbered among the people of God. Bury my bones with them!

In His glorious grace,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Worshipping Without Excuses- Hebrews 11 part 7

"By faith Jacob, as he was dying,
blessed each of the sons of Joseph,
and worshipped,
leaning on the top his staff."
(vs 21)

I almost zoomed on past this one. In verses 20 and 21 we find these brief - incredibly brief - mentionings of Isaac and Jacob. Of all the things that happened in their lives they are only momentarily mentioned in the hall of faith, and the thing that is held forth relates to their giving blessings to their children.

In reading over these verses, I almost missed it. Then IT grabbed me. Jacob is about to die and is granting a paternal blessing upon the sons of Joseph. This is almost his final act this side of heaven - but there is one more thing he MUST do. He must worship!

Obviously worship was not "easy" for him at this point in life. Come on, the man is dying. He is not even able to sit up in bed by himself. He has to lean on the top of his staff. Jacob has PLENTY of excuses to just fall back on his pillow and go to sleep. But he does not - and he shames us in the process.

For many, any excuse will do to miss worship. For Jacob - not even looming death and utter physical inability would suffice.

Matthew Henry writes: "Jacob worshipped, leaning on his staff. He praised God for what He had done for him, and for the prospect he had of approaching blessedness. He was not able to support himself, so far as to sit up in his bed without a staff, and yet he would not make this an excuse for neglecting the worshipping of God; he would do it as well as he could with his body, and well as with his spirit."

Pardon me for a moment - I need to go find some sackcloth and ashes, shall I bring some for you as well?! I am shamed!!

May we love and long for worship. May we "not forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some" - not even on our death bed, not even if we must lean upon a staff to do it. Thanks for the almost missed lesson, Jacob!

Leaning and longing for worship,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Great Test of Faith - Hebrews 11 part 6

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac;
and he who had received the promises was offering up
his only begotten son;
it was he to whom it was said,
In Isaac our descendants shall be called.'
He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead;
from which he also received him back as a type."
(vs 17-19)

There are some of Abraham's adventures that might be fun to imitate - this is most certainly NOT one of them. Here are the deep, dark waters of faith. There is nothing easy in this test!

Matthew Henry writes: "God had, before this, tested and tried the faith of Abraham. But this trial was greater than all; he was commanded to offer up his son Isaac. 'Take thy son, thy only son by Sarah, Isaac thy laughter, the child of thy joy and delight; take him away to the land of Moriah; do not only leave him there, but offer him there for a burnt offering!'

"There are several things that very much added to the greatness of this trial. He was put upon it after he had received the promises. In being called to offer up his Isaac, he seemed to be called to cut off his own family and to cancel the promises of God.

"This Isaac was his only-begotten son by his wife Sarah, the only one he was to have by her, and the only one that was to be the child and heir of the promise. Besides his most tender affection to this his son, all his expectations were bound up in him, and if he perished, they must perish with him. To have this son offered up as a sacrifice, and that by his own hand; it was a trial that would have overset the firmest and the strongest mind."

Yet, Abraham obeyed. He loaded up his things, he put a pack on his son, and they set off. At the most critical moment Abraham didn't "tank" - he obeyed! Genesis 22 tells us that he arose early - he didn't sleep in, he didn't linger - he got up and went!

This was also no short trip. On the third day of their journey he looked up and saw Mount Moriah from a distance. There was plenty of time for mind racing as they moved toward the pinacle. I cannot begin to fathom the thoughts that ran through Abraham's head. What scenes were playing? What questions were tormenting him? What weight was he bearing?

As they walked, Isaac finally spoke up and his question had to pierce Abraham to the quick.

'My father!", he said.
And Abraham answered, "Here I am, my son."
Isaac responds, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Ouch! What would you say?

In his response, we get a glimpse of the great faith of Father Abraham. "And Abraham said, 'God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together."

Wow! That's faith in the promises of God -and it shames me in my little insignificant trials!!

God did provide the lamb. Isaac was bound - but Isaac was freed and suddenly there was a ram in the thickets who would pay the price.

Beloved, God provided the lamb for Isaac and He has provided the Lamb for us. Are you bound? Flee to the Lamb crucified on Calvary's cross. Flee to Him in faith and find freedom from the flames.

In the Lamb,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mother Sarah - Hebrews 11 part 5

"By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive,
even beyond the proper time of life,
since she considered Him faithful who had promised."
(vs 11)

I had to laugh as I paused to dwell on Sarah. I had to laugh becaue Sarah is the one who laughed at the promise of God. She didn't believe it. She thought it was the silliest thing she'd ever heard. "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" This is a really funny one - so she laughed!

My laugh this morning is one of great joy at the pardoning mercy of God to unbelieving sinners. Hebrews 11 doesn't record Sarah's laughing doubt it records her considering faith. "By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised."

Sarah faultered in her faith - she found it funny. Yet God, in His sustaining mercy, dusted her silly doubt off and set her face firm as flint to believe and to receive the promise!! Her unbelief is pardoned and forgotten in these verses but her faith is recorded for all to see.

Have you laughed at the promises of God? I have and still do far too often. Oh, may He record our names as Sarah - may He scatter our sins as far as the east is from the west, may He remember them no more and may He count us among the faithful.

Now that I think of it, I'm not laughing one bit,

Monday, September 14, 2009

Father Abraham - Hebrews 11 part 4

"By faith Abraham, when he was called,
obeyed by going out to a place which he was
to receive for an inheritance;
and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise,
as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob,
fellow heirs of the same promise;
for he was looking for the city which has foundations,
whose architect and builder is God."
(vs 8-10)

Abel worshipped. Enoch walked. Noah worked. Abraham went! Faith has feet attached to it.

At the onset we see that "the ground of Abraham's faith was the call and the promise of God." Abraham when he was called, obeyed.... God called and Abraham up and went. He packed up everything, left everyone, and headed out not even knowing where he was going. That's faith!

Think about it - Abraham left his father, family and friends. He left the only place he'd ever known. He left the only gods he'd ever worshipped. He turned from them - to HIM! Here is a picture of faith and repentance. He believed God and he went with God.

"The call of God upon Abraham was an effectual call. It was an effectual call by which he was convereted from the idolatry of his father's house. God calls us not only to leave sin but to leave sinful company..... Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went. He put himself in the hand of God, to send him whithersoever He pleased. All that are effectually called resign up their own will and wisdom to the will and wisdom of God. Though they know not always their way, yet they know their guide!"

This is authentic, genuine faith - trusting God though we see not where He leads us. Father Abraham teaches us much. He teaches us to love the Lord our God more than anyone or anything this world has to offer. (Do note, however, that God - while having him leave his father and mother, friends and extended family - had him bring his wife and his children along. Abraham had covenant responsibilities to do if he was to receive the covenant promises.)

Abraham lived as an alien in the land of promise. He didn't have a mansion or a palace - he didn't even have an adobe!! He had a tent. Ultimately the city he was headed for was "the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God."

Abraham would never tangibly take hold of the earthly part of the promise - though his descendants would. Hebrews 11:13 tells us that he "died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance." While on the earth, Abraham's happiness lay "more in the promise than in the actual enjoyment and possession of it." Though he held it not, the eyes of faith granted him strong and clear vision and in mercy he saw from a distance that which he would take hold of in heaven. He walked by faith and has now eternally taken hold of that heavenly city which is our ultimate inheritance - the full consummation of the promise.

Abraham believed. Abraham went. Abraham arrived - by grace through faith - at the blessed city that he so longed for.Ultimately, he was desiring a better country than Canaan. May we do so as well.

In His glorious grace,

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Noah - the Obedient Boat Builder - Hebrews 11 part 3

"By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen,
in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household,
by which he condemned the world,
and became an heir of the righteousness
which is according to faith."
(vs 7)

Noah is among the well known. The world is all too familiar with this character yet, I fear, not familiar enough. He has been fashioned into a cute little child's toy. You'll find him on quilts, in plastic play sets, in books, on balloons, and years ago he even appeared on a video game. Noah is known about yet perhaps not known as he should be. Verse 7 gives us a good glimpse into the faithful character of this righteous man.

Noah was "warned by God" and he obviously listened to the warning! He set out to do all that God had instructed him. Though rain had never fallen, though the skies were clear, though the scoffers hurled their insults at him - he set out to build an ark and he built it "in reverence" to his God.

Most of us don't take kindly to insults. We're prone to give up and run and hide. Not Noah. He didn't run, he didn't cower, he walked in obedience to his God despite the mockery of his neighbors. With every hit of the hammer he preached to them of the coming wrath of a holy God. Every plank of wood foretold their end. He built the ark by which he condemend the world.

"A warning had been received from God of things not yet seen. God usually warns sinners before He strikes, and where His warnings are slighted, the blow will fall the heavier." Noah heard and believed and "his holy fear condemned their vain confidence; his faith condemned their unbelief; his obedience condemned their contempt. Good examples either convert sinners or condemn them. This is the best way the people of God can take to condemn the wicked; not by harsh and censorious language, but by a holy exemplary conversation."

Noah's walk witnessed as much as his words and through his faithful walking the wicked were condemend and his family was redeemed. As we conclude the third stop in the tour of these hallowed halls might I ask - how are we walking, working and witnessing this day?

In His glorious grace,

Friday, September 11, 2009

With Abel and Enoch - Walking, Dying and Eternally Living in the Hall of Faith - Hebrews 11 part 2

Italic"By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain,
through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous,
God testifying about his gifts,
and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death;
and he was not found because God took him up;
for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up
he was pleasing to God.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him,
for he who comes to God must believe that He is,
and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."
(vs 4-6)

Big names, little names. Names that are famous in the books of ancient history and names that could almost pass unnoticed by us - yet they are known, seen and fully acknowledged by God. Hebrews 11 contains them all.

This historical tour of the faithful begins with Abel. "One who lived by faith, and died for it, and therefore a fit pattern for us to imitate." (Matthew Henry). Abel is the first Christian martyr.

The text tells us that he "offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain." Since the fall had occured, God had instituted sacrifice as a means of worshipping Him - those sacrifices pointing to the One great and perfectly sufficient Sacrifice that would one day come through Christ. Abel's sacrifice is preferred to Cain's. Why? "Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement - brought of the firstlings of the flock. Cain brought only a sacrifice of acknowledgement, a mere thank-offering, the fruit of the ground." (Henry). While thanksgiving is a good thing, it is not the best thing. In order to offer praise to Him we need to receive propitiation from Him. Abel's atoning sacrifice was a testimony of his realization that he was a needy sinner.

We must worship God as He tells us to, not as we wish to. That's what Abel did. He offered his sacrifice with an eye to God's will as his rule and God's glory as his end. And he is recorded forever in the pages of Scripture as an example of a faithful man. Abel, through his sacrifice "obtained the testimony that he was righteous" and "though he is dead, he still speaks." May the faithful outworking of the grace of God in our lives cause us to speak long from the grave of the tender redeeming mercies of our God!!

Enoch was a man who "walked with God" (Gen 5:24). Not much more is said of him. What more needs to be said of any of us?! Actually more is said of him in Hebrews than is said in the Old Testament narrative about him. "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God."

It is said that Enoch walked with God and was no more. What is said of Enoch's faith is instructive to us. We need to be among the walkers with God in all the affairs of our mortal life until we are transported to the land of immortal life. May God, the giver of faith make us people of faith, for "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."

Mr. Henry writes: "We cannot please God without such a faith as helps us to walk with God, an active faith. God is again to be found of us through Christ. God has prescribed the means and ways wherein He may be found. Those who would find God must seek Him diligently; and when once they have found Him, they will never repent of the pains they have spent in seeking after Him."

Abel, though He lost His life for the faith, wouldn't trade the reward for anything. Enoch, walked with God on this earth and now walks eternally with Him in heaven. May we, with our fathers, be willing to walk in faith and, if necessary, die for faith.

Believing by grace,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Help My Unbelief - Mark 9

"And when they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. And immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed, and began running up to greet Him. And He asked them, 'What are you discussing with them?' And one of the crowd answered Him, 'Teacher, I brought you my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth, and stiffens out. And I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.'
And He answered them and said, 'O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring Him to Me!'

And they brought the boy to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling about and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, 'How long has this been happening to him?' And he said, 'From childhood. And it has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!' And Jesus said to him, 'If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.'

Immediately the boy's father cried out and began saying, 'I do believe; help my unbelief.'
And when Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, 'You deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.'
And after crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, 'He is dead!' But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. And when He had come into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, 'Why could we not cast it out?' And He said to them, 'This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer and fasting.'"
(Mark 9:14-29)

In my last post I began looking at Hebrews 11 - the faith chapter. The apostle gave us the Biblical definition of faith - "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Before taking a tour down the hall of faith that we find in verses 4-40 of that beautiful chapter, I wanted to camp out for a day in Mark 9.

I don't know about you (well, actually I've got a pretty good idea about you), but from time to time I struggle with my faith. Within me there is a sad and at times sickening mixture of great faith and of great doubt. 

I'm fickle. 
I'm foolish. 
I'm fallen - as we all are. 

Recently, a good friend pointed me to the words of J.C. Ryle from Mark 9. They have been a balm to my mustard seed soul and I will quote them in their entirety trusting and praying that they will soothe yours as well.

"The contrast between these verses and those which precede them in the chapter is very striking. We pass from the mount of transfiguration to a melancholy history of the work of the devil. We come down from the vision of glory, to a conflict with Satanic possession. We change the blessed company of Moses and Elijah, for the rude intercourse of unbelieving Scribes. We leave the foretaste of millennial glory, and the solemn voice of God the Father testifying to God the Son, and return once more to a scene of pain, weakness, and misery - a boy in agony of body, a father in deep distress, and a little band of feeble disciples baffled by Satan's power, and unable to give relief.
The contrast, we must all feel, is very great. Yet it is but a faint emblem of the change of scene that Jesus voluntarily undertook to witness, when He first laid aside His glory and came into the world. And it is after all a vivid picture of the life of all true Christians. With them, as with their Master, work, conflict, and scenes of weakness and sorrw will always be the rule. With them too, visions of glory, foretastes of heaven, seasons on the mount, will always be the exception.
Let us learn from these verses, how dependent Christ's disciples are on the company and help of their Master! We see this truth brought out in a striking manner in the scene which meets our Lord's eyes, when He came down from the mount. Like Moses, when he came down from Mount Sinai, he finds his little flock in confusion. He sees His nine apostles beset by a party of malicious Scribes, and baffled in an attempt to heal one who had been brought to them possessed with a devil. The very same disciples who a short time before had done many miracles and "cast out many devils," had now met with a case too hard for them. They were learning by humbling experience the great lesson, 'without me ye can do nothing' (Jn 15:5).
It was a useful lesson, no doubt, and over-ruled to their spiritual good. it would probably be remembered all the days of their lives. The things that we learn by smarting experience, abide in our memories, while truths heard with the ear are often forgotten. But we may be sure it was a bitter lesson at the time. We do not love to learn that we can do nothing without Christ.
We need not look far to see many illustrations of this truth in the history of Christ's people in every age. The very men who at one time have done great exploits in the cause of the Gospel, at another time have failed entirely, and proved weak and unstable as water. The temporary recantations of Cranmer and Jewell are striking examples.

The holiest and best of Christians has nothing to glory of. His strength is not his own. He has nothing but what he has received. He has only to provoke the Lord to leave him for a season, and he will soon discover that his power is gone. Like Samson, when he hair was shorn, he is weak as any other man
Let us learn a lesson of humility from the failure of the disciples. Let us strive to realize every day our need of the grace and presence of Christ. With Him we may do all things. Without Him we can do nothing at all. With Him we may overcome the greatest temptations. Without Him the least may overcome us. Let our cry be every morning, "leave us not to ourselves - we know not what a day may bring forth - if Thy presence go not with us we cannot go up.
Let us learn, in the second place, from these verses, how early in life we are liable to be injured by Satan. We read a fearful description of the miseries inflicted by Satan on the young man, whose case is here recorded. And we are told that he had been under this awful visitation from his very infancy. It came to him, 'as a child.'

There is a lesson of deep importance here which we must not overlook. We must labor to do good to our children, even from their earliest years. If Satan begins so early to do them harm, we must not be behind him in diligence to lead them to God. It is never too soon to strive and pray for the salvation of the souls of children - never too soon to speak to them as moral beings and tell them of God, and Christ, and right, and wrong. The devil, we may be quite sure, loses no time in endeavoring to influence the minds of young people. He begins with them even "as a child." Let us work hard to counteract him. If young hearts can be filled by Satan, they can also be filled with the Spirit of God.
Let us learn, in the third place, from these verses, how faith and unbelief can be mixed together in the same heart. The words of the child's father set this truth before us in a touching way. 'Lord,' he cried, 'I believe; help thou mine unbelief.'
We see in those words a vivid picture of the heart of many a true Christian. Few indeed are to be found among believers, in whom trust and doubt, hope and fear, do not exist side by side. Nothing is perfect in a child of God, so long as he is in the body. His knowledge, and love, and humility, are all more or less defective, and mingeld with corruption. And as it is with his other graces, so it is with his faith. He believes, and yet has about him a remainder of unbelief.
What shall we do with our faith? We must use it. Weak, trembling, doubting, feeble as it may be, we must use it. We must not wait till it is great, perfect, and mighty, but like the man before us, turn it to account, and hope that one day it will be more strong. 'Lord,' he said, 'I believe.'
What shall we do with our unbelief? We must resist it, and pray against it. We must not allow it to keep us back from Christ. We must take it to Christ, as we take all other sins and infirmities, and cry to Him for deliverance. Like the man before us, we must cry, 'Lord, help mine unbelief.'
These are experimental truths. Happy are they who know something of them. The world is ignorant of them. Faith and unbelief, doubts and fears, are all foolishenss to the natural man. But let the true Christian study these things well, and thoroughly understand them. It is of the utmost importance to our comfort to know, that a true believer may be known by his inward warfare, as well as by his inward peace."

The passage ends with Christ exercising complete and total dominion over Satan and all of his minions. Christ speaks with authority and they obey. 

The Lord Jesus is mighty to save. 
He is mighty to save us from our sufferings.
He is mighty to save us from Satan. 
And He is mighty to save us from ourselves 
     - even from the doubting self that lurks within.

"Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." Friend, let us use the grain of faith, though it be as small as a mustard seed. Resist the mountain of unbelief and flee to One who makes mountains into valleys.

May our very warfare in this area be a source of peace and comfort assuring us that He has planted the seed of faith deep within our souls.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Faith: Assurance and Conviction - Hebrews 11

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen."
(vs 1)

Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the Bible's "Hall of Faith." It begins with faith's definition and then proceeds to show us what faith has looked like in the lives of numerous fathers and mothers who've gone before. Over the next few days I'll pause to examine the lives of some of these precious saints. But for today - what is faith?

The apostle tells us, simply, that it is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Matthew Henry breaks it down this way: "Faith is a firm persuasion and expectation that God will perform all that He has promised to us in Christ. It is the evidence of things not seen. Faith demonstrates to the eye of the mind the reality of those things that cannnot be discerned by the eye of the body. It is designed to serve the believer instead of sight, and to be to the soul all that the senses are to the body."

Christian faith is a faith full of "assurance" and "conviction". It is a "hypostasis" - an assured belief in that which we have not fully within our hand but in that which we know we shall take hold of one day. "The apostle reminds us, that faith regards not present things, but such as are waited for" (Calvin). It is not a "hope so" hope but a substantial trust in that which is to come. It is the conviction or the evidence of things not seen. We are waiting patiently, with assurance and conviction, for the full realization of things that we have by promise now.

Calvin's comments on the "not seen" nature of faith are poignant. He writes:

"Then these two things, though apparently inconsistent, do yet perfectly harmonize when we speak of faith; for the Spirit of God shows us hidden things, the knowledge of which we cannot reach by our senses. Promised to us is eternal life, but it is promised to the dead! We are assured of a happy resurrection, but we are yet involved in corruption. We are pronounced just, and yet sin dwells in us. We hear that we are happy, but we are as yet in the midst of many miseries. An abundance of all good things is promised to us, but still we often hunger and thirst. God proclaims that He will come quickly, but He seems deaf when we cry to Him. What would become of us if we were not supported by hope, and did our minds not emerge out of the midst of darkness above the world through the light of God's Word and Spirit? Faith, then, is rightly said to be the substance of things which are not yet the objects of hope and the evidence of things not yet seen."

The character of God is the source of this type of faith. Faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8) and the assurance and conviction of it are based upon the promise and power of God. God has told us what will come and He cannot lie. God has told us what He will do and He, as the omnipotent God, will bring it about.

How's your faith? Are you assured and convicted here in the shadowlands?

Waiting patiently for the full realization of that which I long for with assurance & conviction,


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Stimulating, Assembling, Encouraging - Hebrews 10 part 2

"And let us consider how to stimulate one another
to love and good deeds,
not forsaking our own assembling together,
as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,
and all the more, as you see the day drawing near."
(vs 24-25)

These are regularly quoted verses. Almost anytime you find yourself in a conversation regarding the importance of church attendance someone, most assuredly, will quote Hebrews 10:24-25. They'll do that with good reason. The verses apply!

In working my way through Hebrews, however, it struck me how 24-25 fit into the grand scheme of 1-39. We've just seen that chapter 10 begins with Christ - the once and for all sufficient sacrifice. As a result of His perfect atoning work we have seen that there are precious privileges that now belong to us, due entirely to His promise and His faithfulness. Verse 23 reminds us to "hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering" with Christ as our means and motivation so to do.

Verse 24 is a continuation of the "since" Christ / "Let us" pattern. We are commanded to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering and one of the practical aids to accomplishing that is that we be actively involved in the communion of the saints. Just as we are to put off an unbelieving heart through putting on the encouragement of one another (3:12-13), so here we are to put off a wavering hope through stimulating one another. "And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together...."

Christians - we need one another. We are not lone wolves nor lone rangers. We are a body - connected, joined, united with each part serving an important role in the functioning, thriving and surviving of every other part!

We "ought to have a tender consideration and concern for one another. We are to exhort one another, to watch over one another, to be jealous of ourselves and one another with a godly jealousy. This is the best and greatest friendship." (Matthew Henry)

Do these verses describe the type of friend and church member that you are? Are conscientious about stimulating one another to love and good deeds? Are you serious about assembling together for worship and for fellowship or are you among those whose habit is otherwise? Are you encouraging your brothers and sisters in Christ and helping them to fix their eyes on the eternal prize?

If so - press on in the mercy and strength of Christ. If not - is it not time to be the type of friend Christ has called you to be? Friends - I need you in my face, you need me in yours. By His grace and for His glory may we be true, faithful, and stimulating friends.

Looking forward to this Lord's Day's assembling,

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sincere, Assured & Sprinkled Clean- Hebrews 10

"Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence
to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,
by a new and living way which He inaugurated
for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,
having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed with pure water.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for He who promised is faithful,"
(vs 19-23)

This is a passage of privilege. It speaks of our privilege to enter the holy place of God. It encourages us to draw near to Him. It speaks of our ability to have a sincere heart, full assurance of faith, and a conscience that is sprinkled clean from evil. I know for myself that these are all things I greatly long for. In Christ, they are things that I can possess!

Verse 19 begins with "since." It is a word with a purpose and its purpose is to point us back to the context which has gone before. Verses 1-18 of chapter 10 point us to the work and sufficiency of Christ. They tell us that the Old Testament Law and sacrifices were but a shadow of the perfect One who was to come.

We are reminded that those sacrifices had to be repeated. Over and over and over they were carried out - year after year after year. "In those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (vs 3-4).

Creature blood can't save. Christ's blood can. Therefore, we are pointed to Christ, the true high priest, the true atoning sacrifice. The great high Sacrificer became the one sufficient Sacrificee. Verse 9 reminds us that Jesus came to do the Father's will and that will was that we would be "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (vs 10). Does not your heart leap?! Can not you sense the Father's love?! How magnificent is this message!!

The levitical priests stood daily ministering and repeatedly offering sacrifices time after time after time. "But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time sat down at the right hand of God" (vs 12). Once for all! He did the job He was sent for and when it was completed He declared "it is finished" and sat down. Duty done! Task taken care of! "For by one offering He has perfected for all time, those who are sanctified" (vs 14).

How powerful is our Savior! He saves completely! He saves to the utermost! He saves eternally! He saves effectually! He saves!

It is of these great truths that verse 19 refers. "Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus...." It is the blood of Christ that secures the privileges that follow. It is only through the work of Christ that we can obtain these things. The blood of animals could not. The religious duties of men could not. Christ alone apprehends for us that which we most need! "Our way to heaven is by a crucified Savior - His death is the way to life!" (Henry). Are we washed in the blood?

Christ is the fountain of never ceasing grace. He alone is the source of the eternally flowing gospel privileges. "Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." "Since" He has done this "let us" do these things.

Matthew Henry writes the following:

"We must draw nearer and nearer to Him - in conformity and communion with Him, still endeavouring to get nearer and nearer, til we come to dwell in His presence. We must draw near with a true heart. God is the searcher of hearts and requires truth in the inward parts. We must draw near in full assurance of faith. Laying aside all sinful distrust for without faith it is impossible to please God. We must draw near having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. Our consciences can be cleansed from guilt, and from whatever evils the consciences of men are subject to by reason of sin."

Let us draw near to Him that we may take hold of these blessed privileges and in so doing so "let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." Notice that Christ - He who promised - is the motive for our holding fast our confession. Not only that, but He is also the means by which we may hold fast. It is His faithfulness that leads to ours!!

I turn again to Matthew Henry: "Our spiritual enemies will do what they can to wrestle our faith and hope out of our hands, but we must hold fast - without wavering. Those who begin to waver are in danger of falling away. What is the reason enforcing this duty? Christ faithfulness! There is no fickleness with Him, and there should be none with us. We must depend more upon His promises to us than upon our promises to Him."

The privileges of Christ are ours. They are ours by His doing and by His giving. May we, through Him, apprehend that for which He has apprehended us.

Drawing near that I may be sincere, assured and sprinkled clean,

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Appointed to Die - Hebrews 9 part 2

"... it is appointed for men to die once
and after this comes judgment..."
(vs 27)

God is sovereign.

God is sovereign over the day we are born. It is He who made us and not we ourselves (Ps 100). It is He who knit us together in our mother's womb (Ps 139). It is He who opens and closes the womb. God is sovereign in our birth.

God is sovereign in all of the days of our lives. Man plans His ways but it is the Lord who ordains His steps (Pr 16:9). God has carved our paths in perfect faithfulness, even before the foundation of the earth (Is 25:1). The good, the bad, the simple, the complex, the happy, the hurtful - all the twists and turns of this life fall under the sovereign providence of God. "He works all things after the counsel of His will "(Eph 1:11).

God is sovereign in the day of our death. Hebrews 9:27 informs us that the day of our departure from this earth is an "appointed" day. It has been determined, planned, layed out. It is known by God when, where, and how we will die. All the fretting and fuming in the world will not change it. It is set in the stone of the eternal counsel and wisdom of God. Christ asks us in the sermon on the mount: "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Luke 12:25).

We will all die - for the wages of sin is death. We will all die and the day upon which we will die is appointed. I suppose the greater question is "How shall we then live?" The Bible tells us that "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Ph 1:21). We are given these days in between our birth and our death that we might glorify and enjoy God. We are to live our days, not storing up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven where they are eternally secure (Mat 6:19-21). "For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?" (Mat 16:26).

It is appointed for us to die and it is appointed for us to face the judgement. "This is a matter of comfort to the godly, but it is a matter of terror to the wicked, who die in their sin." (Matthew Henry)

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Ps 116:15) "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord...that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them" (Rev 14:13). For the righteous, "the day of one's death is better than the day of his birth" (Ec 7:1). But for the wicked it would have been better had he never been born (Mk 14:21).

Christ alone is the refuge to carry us safely, securely, and certainly through the gates of heaven. He alone is "the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him" (Jn 14:6). He alone removes the sting of death (1 Cor 15:55-56) and leads us graciously through the valley of the shadow of death that we may fear no evil (Ps 23).

The day is appointed. The judgment is as well. Are we ready?

Longing for the day, thankful for the Redeemer of the day,
"Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! Thy sting is gone forever!
He who deigned for me to die,
lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust!
Jesus lives and reigns supreme;
and, His kingdom still remaining,
I shall also be with Him,
ever living, ever reigning.
God has promised; be it must:
Jesus is my hope and trust!
Jesus lives, and by His grace,
vict'ry o'er my passions giving,
I will cleanse my heart and ways,
ever to His glory living.
Me He raises from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust!
Jesus lives! I know full well
naught from Him my heart can sever,
life nor death nor pow'rs of hell,
joy nor grief, henceforth forever.
None of all His saints is lost:
Jesus is my hope and trust!
Jesus lives and death is now
but my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul, for thou
hast a crown of life before thee;
thou shalt find thy hopes were just:
Jesus is the Christian's trust."
(Christian F. Gellert, 1757)