Archive for April, 2010

April 30, 2010

The Danger of Dull Ears

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 5, Hebrew 5

Street Noise

When out-of-towners come to visit me, they find it hard to sleep because of the New York City noise – cars speeding, people talking, car alarms sounding, or jackhammers pounding. I don’t even hear it anymore.  And, if that noise were the Word of God, I’d be in trouble.

Dull Ears

After already having offered solutions [1], the writer of Hebrews finally identifies his readers’ problem – dull ears: “About this [Melchizedek as a prefiguring of Christ] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” v. 11, ESV. They had heard the Word for so long that it started going in one ear and out the other.

The Danger

How we hear the Word is just as important as whether we hear it [2].  Hearing it with dull ears is a problem because it leads to not believing the Lord and, as we saw on Wednesday, unbelief leads to not entering the Promised Land.  Since God longs for us to enter His rest, He tells us to avoid dull hearing.

In Hebrews, the readers were hearing with their physical ears, not their spiritual ones.  Thus, they weren’t ready to understand deep spiritual truths like Melchizedek and the priesthood of Jesus (v. 11).  They were still “babies” drinking “milk” – unable to digest “solid food” (vv. 12-13).

There’s nothing wrong with being a baby … unless, of course, you’ve been in the world for ten years.  Then, there’s a problem.  These Christians had been believers for long enough that they should’ve been teachers already (v. 12).  Yet, they were losing their desire for God’s Word because they saw no urgency to apply it to their lives.  Since they had no practice in it, they were increasingly unable “to distinguish good from evil.”

How to Avoid

We avoid dull hearing by craving the God’s Word, being satisfied in it, and then discerning between good and evil.  We let His truth enter through our spiritual ears into our hearts so that it can do its saving work in areas where we’ve deeply sinned or been hurt.  In practical terms, we stop passively engaging with the Word; we let it change us.

This Sunday, after you hear the Word preached, sing the Word in songs, and pray the Word in prayers, how will you make sure that your ears are diligent, not dull?

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[1] Hebrews 3:1, 3:8, 3:12, 4:1, 4:14

[2] In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus emphasized the importance of paying attention to how we hear.  He told of a sower who dropped seed in four different soils, each resulting in different yields.  Jesus explained that the seed was the Word of God and the different soils were the people who heard it.  What accounted for the different yields was not whether they heard the Word, but how they heard it: “Take care then how you hear …” (Luke 8:18, ESV).

April 29, 2010

The Danger of Stopping

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 4, Hebrew 4

Marathon

In 2001, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon.  At mile 21, my whole body ached and I was about to give up – until I saw a man in front of me whose t-shirt read, “Seventy-One and Still Running.”  Not wanting to be a complete loser at twenty-six years old, I passed him and finished the race.

Living the Christian life is like running a marathon.  It takes endurance, patience, training, desire, energy, discipline and strength.  And, the longer it lasts, the more it is threatened by fatigue and temptations to give up.

Un/Belief

Hebrews was written to answer the question, “What does it take to finish a long race when you’re tired and aching?”  This is enormously important because, as we saw yesterday, we must maintain our faith to the end [1]. We must finish the race.

The Israelites didn’t enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief.  This is the gospel.  They weren’t banned because they broke the rules, but rather because they didn’t trust in God and His promises [2].  And that is what we must fear for ourselves as well: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it” 4:1, ESV [3].

Rest

Knowing what lies at the finish line helps us endure the race.  God has promised to bring His people into rest with Him, where all weariness and encumbrances will be gone [4].  He has ordained and shadowed that rest for us since the foundation of time:

  • Creation (v. 4).  Our omnipotent God rested after He formed the earth, thus showing Himself to be peaceful and sovereign, not harried and overworked.   [5]
  • Wilderness (v. 5).  As the Israelites wandered, God held the Promised Land for them.
  • Joshua (v. 8). Although Joshua took the people into the Promised Land, he still spoke of another day when there would be a more permanent rest.
  • David (v. 7). Long after the people enjoyed the rest of the Promised Land, David still spoke of a more permanent rest in Psalm 95.

As the writer of Hebrews indicates, God’s rest is still open to all who believe in Him (vv. 9-10).  How can you, therefore, strive to enter that rest by continuing to believe? See 4:11.

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[1] Hebrews 2:14, 19, ESV

[2] God Himself first spoke the gospel on Mount Sinai: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin …” Exodus 34:6-7, ESV

[3] Some of you may ask, “Fear? Didn’t Jesus die to make us fearless?” Hebrews 2:15-16 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” ESV.

[4] Matthew 11:28

[5] See also Genesis 2:2

April 28, 2010

The Danger of Unbelief

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 3, Hebrews 3

Out of Egypt (Exodus 1-14)

In response to the cries of His enslaved people in Egypt, God planned to give them a land flowing with “milk and honey.”  He rescued them from Pharaoh by sending ten plagues, parting the Red Sea, and defeating their enemies [1].

Water, Bread, Meat (Exodus 15-17)

Within three days of their miraculous escape, they began to question God’s goodness.  When they complained about not having water, bread or meat, God provided for them daily.  But they continued to grumble, as they questioned His plan (“Would that we had died in Egypt!”) and His presence (“Is the Lord among us or not?”).  Yet, He still provided.

Golden Calf (Exodus 19-35)

As the Lord was giving Moses the law on Mount Sinai, the people became impatient.  They created an idol and proclaimed, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (32:4).  The Lord was livid, but He remained merciful; He mitigated their punishment and renewed their covenant.

Spies (Numbers 13-14)

Within two years of leaving Egypt, the Israelites were at the threshold of the Promised Land (Canaan).  Moses sent twelve spies to advance.  Ten of them returned and fearfully spoke of the “strong” occupants with well-fortified cities.  Joshua and Caleb, however, spoke of the “exceedingly good land” whose inhabitants were no match for God.  Yet, the people did not listen to them and, instead, plotted against them.

Enough was enough.  Although they’d seen God profoundly, consistently and miraculously work for them, they persisted in unbelief.  Thus, He delivered His verdict – everyone except Joshua and Caleb would wander and die in the wilderness.

Warning (Hebrews 3)

Hebrews 3 offers a sober warning: Don’t be like the Israelites! Although they had enough faith to leave Egypt and enter the wilderness, they did not hold fast.

Likewise, we cannot presume upon God’s grace by thinking that being a Christian is merely about checking a box or praying a prayer.  It’s about receiving His mercy and allowing it to shape our lives and love for Him.  It’s about trusting in Him forever: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence from to the end.”

How can this warning be a promise for you – one that you can put into effect today? (Hint: See vv. 13, 15)

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[1] For a more artistic take on these events, check out two short video clips: Subway Series: Passover (video), Disney’s Prince of Egypt (video clip)

April 27, 2010

The Danger of Drifting

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 2, Hebrews 2

Pay attention

In chapter one, while focusing on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the writer of Hebrews does not mention a single commandment.  Rather, the first duty comes in chapter two: “Therefore [in response to the aforementioned qualities of Jesus] we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it” v. 1, ESV. In this short command, he gives two reasons to “pay much closer attention” to what has been heard.

Reason #1: Jesus is God’s decisive word

We should look on Jesus because he is God’s final word.  In the past, “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1).  Jesus is the heir of all things, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature, and the one who upholds the universe.  Until Christ returns, God will not speak again as decisively as He did in Jesus.

Given who Jesus is, therefore, our believing in him means far more than checking a box or praying a prayer.  If we want to bear witness to our new spirit, we must focus on him (12:1-2).  We must remember to put down the remote control and newspaper and pick up our Bible and pray.

Reason #2: We do not want to fall away

We should look on Jesus because we want to continue in our faith.  Many of us are drifters.  We don’t spend time looking on Jesus and soaking him in and, thus, we “neglect [our] great salvation” (v. 3).  For the Christian, such drifting is deadly.  For, if God’s words were justifiably punishable when they were spoken in the Old Testament through the prophets and angels, how much more so will they create liability when He has spoken through His Son!

Therefore, we must beg the Lord to satisfy us in Him: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” Psalm 90:14, ESV.

Look on Jesus

The greatest commandment is not to work or labor for God; it is to look on, love and worship Him [1].  Is God awakening in you a desire not to drift from Him?  If so, this is a great sign!  But what practical steps will you take to continue looking on Jesus so that you will not drift?

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[1] Looking on Jesus is not only essential for continuing in the faith; it is also essential for coming to faith. For a short “testimonial” video that I ended up not using in this post, see here.]

April 26, 2010

Who Is Jesus?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 1, Hebrews 1

The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee.  Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.  So people who don’t know what the h*** they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.
– You’ve Got Mail

Hebrews and Choice

Today, there is an omnipresence of choice.  We have choices in small things (e.g., coffee) and big (e.g., abortion).  By our choices, we define who we are.

Hebrews offers a choice.  The people to whom it was written had been persecuted for their faith and were being tempted to depart from it [1]. The author, therefore, exhorts his readers to choose Jesus.

Who is Jesus?

In the first century, there were servants of God who were religious leaders and some Christians were tempted to follow them (rather than Jesus) since doing so would have been less morally demanding and socially awkward.  Therefore, the writer of Hebrews lays out who Jesus is.

  • He is the Son. While the other leaders were servants of God, Jesus is His Son.  He is the “heir of all things” and “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” [2].
  • He is eternal.  There was a long line of other leaders because “they were prevented by death from continuing in office” [3].  Jesus, however, “continues forever” [4] with a permanent priesthood.
  • He is human without sin.  The servants of God were passing because they sinned [5].  Although he is human and “tempted as we are,” Jesus is “without sin.”
  • He is the perfect sacrifice.   The other leaders had to repeatedly offer sacrifices because they were imperfect and offered imperfect sacrifices [6].  Jesus, however, was a complete and perfect sacrifice – once and for all [7].  He made perfect forever those who are being made holy [8].

Jesus as the Final Word of God

Jesus is God’s decisive word.  Hebrews 1 celebrates Jesus and declares who he is.  Have you chosen this person and, if so, will you continue to persevere in that choice?

This is the topic of Hebrews and, for the next two weeks, we will consider the dangers of not choosing and/or not persevering in him.

[1] See 10:32-34; 6:10; 5:12 [2] 1:1-5, ESV [3] 7:23, ESV [4] 7:24, ESV [5] 5:1-3 [6] 5:3; 10:4 [7] 7:26-28 [8] 10:14.

April 23, 2010

Life in Waiting

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ecclesiastes 10, Titus 2

Volcanic Ash

Two weeks ago, my dad went golfing in Scotland with three friends.  Although they planned to return last Saturday, the volcanic ash caused a four-day delay.

On Tuesday, my mom called me.  I remained silent as she anxiously and tearfully updated me.  When she asked me what I thought, I tried to be tender yet truthful: “Well, the good news is that his life’s not being threatened in some third world country where there’s civil unrest.  In fact, he’s actually sending pictures of him golfing.  So, isn’t this just a delay?  And, if so, isn’t life all about waiting?”

Life in the Waiting Room

We’re all in the waiting room – for a test result, a baby’s arrival, a husband’s return, a college acceptance, or a job offer.  We wait and we don’t like it.  Yet, how do reconcile our impatience with our calling to be patient?

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Christians wait by looking backward on what Christ has done:  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age …” vv. 11-12, ESV. The past appearance of God’s grace in Jesus teaches us how to live presently.

Yet, merely looking backward with gratitude tempts us toward a debtor’s ethic [1] and insufficiently motivates us toward godly living [2].  We must, therefore, also look forward to what Christ will do: “ … while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” vv. 13-14, ESV. Our hope in Christ’s future return in glory motivates us to live a godly life today.

Application

Here, Paul is not encouraging us to hope in Christ’s return so that we can endure some difficult circumstance [3] – this is often when we think of Christ’s return.  Rather, he is encouraging us to hope in His return so that we will obey.

Are you, therefore, able to say: “I know that I am prone to sinful anxiety in this situation, but I will obey the Lord in ‘not being anxious about anything,’ [4] for I know that He will return again because He has appeared already”?

[Note: Be sure to check out the footnotes in the comments section. If there were not a 400 word limit to these devotionals, I would have put all of the footnotes in the main text!]

April 22, 2010

Who Founded the Church – Jesus or Paul?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ecclesiastes 9, Titus 1

Who Founded the Church

Some people think that Paul, not Jesus, founded the Christian church.  After all, thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are attributed to Paul and eleven of those were written before the first gospel was written [1].  In contrast, Jesus did not write a single book of the Bible and the only recorded instance where he transcribed anything occurs in sand and we don’t know its contents [2].

Additionally, some people think of Jesus as a wise, compassionate and submissive softy.  Paul, on the other hand, is often seen as an arrogant, overbearing and demanding leader – far more suited to establish a religion.  Even in the first century, people had problems with Paul [3].  After all, he claimed to have apostolic authority even though he wasn’t a disciple, wrote before the gospels were penned, and murdered Christians prior to conversion.

Paul Defends Himself

Therefore, in introducing himself to Titus and his church, Paul vigorously defended his own role to instruct Titus on how to continue his work on the Mediterranean island of Crete:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. vv. 1-3, ESV

To Reject Paul Is to Reject Jesus

Paul puts any dispute concerning the origin of his mission to rest. For those who preferred the Torah, Paul called himself, “a servant of God.” For those who preferred Jesus, he called himself, “an apostle of Jesus Christ,” since Christ called him [4].  He was on orders from his Master in everything that he did.  Paul did not have some grandiose vision to be the founder of a religion; he was a servant of God sent by Jesus.

Therefore, in Paul’s letters, we read the Lord’s counsel.  We cannot reject those parts that are controversial or challenging because Jesus did not say them.  For Paul was sent by God and commissioned by Jesus to be a messenger of the gospel.

What do you do with the parts of Paul’s letters that you don’t like – toss them out or ask the Lord to open your eyes?

April 21, 2010

Are You a Success?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ecclesiastes 8, 2 Timothy 4

The Metrics of Success

At the New York Stock Exchange, success is measured at the end of each trading day when the closing bell rings.  On Capitol Hill, success is measured every other November when constituents go to the polls.  When it comes to our lives, however, when do we measure success?

Paul

Paul’s second letter to Timothy was his last.  He was aging and imprisoned.  He knew that his life was ending: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” [1].

Paul was an itinerate pastor for over 30 years. He had been deserted, opposed, flogged, beaten, betrayed, imprisoned, shipwrecked, left for dead, and stoned [2].  According to tradition, a few days after he penned this letter, Nero handed down his verdict – he was beheaded as a criminal.

Was Paul successful?

Paul’s Letters

Did his letters bring success to the church at Ephesus, where Timothy was pastor?  According to John, their success was a mixed bag: “ … I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first …” [3].

Did his letters bring success in Timothy’s life?  According to tradition, during the reign of Emperor Nerva in the first century, an idol celebration took place.  Timothy opposed the public frenzy and, in response, the mob became enraged. They beat him, dragged him, and stoned him to death.

Were his letters successful?

You

What if you’re aging and your health is failing, you’re unemployed and bankrupt, you’re cold, imprisoned and facing execution? Or what if you’ve never married, were born in a stable, and are facing death on a cross?

Success is not measured at the end of our lives; it is measured at the beginning of eternity. Although Paul and Jesus were failures at the end of their lives, they gained immeasurable success in eternity: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” [4].

Are you careful to measure your success in eternal terms rather than in earthly ones?

[1] 2 Timothy 4:4:6, ESV
[2] See 2 Corinthians 11:16-33
[3] John wrote Revelation. Revelation 2:2-7, ESV
[4] 2 Timothy 4:7-8, ESV

April 20, 2010

What a Difference the Word Makes

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ecclesiastes 7, 2 Timothy 3

Thinking and Acting

What we think affects how we behave.  If we think it’s going to rain, then we bring an umbrella. If we think exercise will burn calories, then we go to the gym.  If we think God can change us, then we read His Word … Right?

Unfortunately, there’s a statistical disconnect between what we think about the relevance of the Bible and how often we read it.  According to Gallup [1], 65% of Americans agree that the Bible “answers all or most of the basic questions of life” and 75% say that they are either “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in deepening their understanding of the Bible.  Yet, only 16% of Christians read the Bible daily and almost 41% read it rarely or never at all.

Although we say that we think the Bible answers life’s basic questions, we don’t believe it.  We don’t think it’s relevant or that it changes us.

What a Difference the Word Makes

According to Paul, there are at least two ways that the Bible is relevant.

First, it is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  v. 15, ESV.  By the Word, we come to know God and His plan for salvation.  Because His salvation gives life, there is nothing more exciting or relevant.  It can never be exhausted.

Second, it can equip you for every good work since it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” vv. 16-17, ESV.  The Word is imminently practical because it equips us for “every good work.”  Good works, however, are not those that merely do good for others or us.  As Jesus told his followers, good works are those that give glory to God [2].

How It Makes a Difference

The Word does not reveal salvation or equip us for good works by giving us a list of do’s-and-don’t’s. Rather, it reveals the magnitude, splendor, authority, wisdom and kindness of everything that God is for us in Jesus.  As we daily read and meditate on it, He changes our taste buds so that we become dissatisfied in all else and satisfied in Him: “Taste and see that the LORD is good” [3].

Therefore, will you taste and see how He saves and equips us through His Word?

April 19, 2010

Passing on the Baton of Faith

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ecclesiastes 6, 2 Timothy 2

Future Generations

We recycle so that we can give a healthy world to future generations.  We preserve family photos to serve as reminders. What can we do, though, to pass down our faith?

Son in the Faith

On his second missionary journey, Paul met Timothy when he visited Lystra. Timothy was well respected by the believers in Lystra and Iconium [1], and Paul also came to have high regard for him. Over  the years, their friendship deepened to the point that Timothy became like a son to Paul [2].

Timothy was a pastor in Ephesus, a city given over to the worship of the Greek goddess of love, Diana (also called Artemis). Thus, Paul wrote to him in order to ensure that the church was sustainable in its faith against such pagan superstitions. He wanted Timothy to pass down the faith to the next generation.

Teachers Teach Teachers

Paul proposed that Timothy accomplish this by teaching teachers:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. vv. 1-2, ESV.

Paul taught Timothy and then told Timothy to teach others. These “others” were to be “faithful men” who would remain in the truth and teach more people.

Our Spiritual Lineage

If we did a spiritual genealogical study of our own faith, we would find an unbroken chain between our faith and the Apostle Paul – my mom told me, her sorority sister told her, and so on and so on, until the first century.

We must be teachers of teachers, passing down the gospel to faithful teachers. This is especially true in our pluralistic post-modern society, where truth competitions are commonplace.

How It Is Done

On Thursday night, if you live in New York, you have the opportunity to support Young Life Gramercy Park, a ministry that passes the faith to high school immigrants. There are 37,500 recent immigrant high school students who speak 143 languages in New York City. Many of them have never heard the gospel.

Young Life shares the good news with them so that they can believe and pass it on. Thursday is their First Annual Skit Night (details below), which will display how fun it is to pass down our faith to the next generations. Won’t you join us?

First Annual Skit Night
Thursday, April 22 @ 7 pm
Calvary Episcopal Church at Anderson Hall
227 Park Avenue South (enter on 21st Street)
Suggested Donation: $10
RSVP to ruthieemrick@yahoo.com or just show up

More information here.

[1] See Acts 16:1-5.

[2] In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul called him his child: “To Timothy, my true child in the faith,” and “To Timothy, my beloved child.” 1:2, ESV.

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