Hebrews 11:39 & 40 [NLT]
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
Hebrews 11 turned out to be a literal page turner for me. I read it in different versions of the Bible and then I read more about these two verses in several commentaries all because of one word – US.
US? Yes…it’s “us!” We have become part of the history of these people from the past because of God’s completed work in Jesus. Those ancestors made it into this “By Faith” chapter because their faith reached into the future of US. That past and their faith has reached beyond time to strengthen our present with the promise of completion for US all as the future unfolds. US is God’s version of “outreach” at it’s most creative. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine the past, present and future as a triangle. The triangle is also the identity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and they are the reality of the Field of Hope for our daily life, past, present and future..
Triangles are the strongest shape. When a force is added to a triangle it is spread evenly through all three sides. They work together like a building truss and make a structure that is extremely strong and stable. That strength is the promise of God. It’s the field of hope that includes all of US.
2 Peter 2
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.
4 For if God did not spare angels
5 if he did not spare the ancient world
6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah
7 and if he rescued Lot
9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.
This is a convicting chapter filled with evidence of the reality of humanity. It’s undeniable evidence that makes it easy to jump to the wrong conclusion. It’s not about “them vs us. It’s about the undeniable separation between God and man. Anything else is a wrong comparison.
I felt a little twinge of mean-spirited satisfaction that I’m not “them” as I read. Having to admit to a mean-spirited attitude at all is bad enough but I read on to discover I have another issue; a kind of holier-than-thou satisfaction that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment” and God “rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless.” That’s the “us” I identified with. I liked it but then I realized I missed the point entirely.
The grim evidence of this chapter is only a reminder we aren’t rescued and renewed by the separation of “them vs us” but by this undeniable truth: God’s Divine justice is absolute, unlimited, unrestricted, unrestrained, unbounded, boundless, infinite, ultimate, total and unconditional.
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
It did occur to me I could read through all the second chapters of the New Testament but it wasn’t until the first few inspirational thoughts this morning that “what’s next” became “why not? If those “Firsts” during Lent and Easter were God’s theme to direct my thoughts toward the goal of Easter – renewal – then maybe these second chapters are God’s Second Chance to explore the mystery of how renewal happens. You already know this story so here’s the cliff notes from Matthew 2.
Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem…Magi from the east came…2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him”…3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed…8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him”…11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him…12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route…16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
We’ve come from the victory of Easter Sunday only to be reminded of the reality of a worn out, run-down and broken world…then. The magi were powerful men who dedicated themselves to search for the King of the Jews: God’s provision that would renew the heart of a whole nation and ensure it’s survival. Their desire was to become part of that renewal and worship “that” King. Herod was a powerful king who’s only desire for renewal was to make certain of his own survival as king of the status quo. Fast forward from that star and the dreams that guided them to the worn out, run-down and broken world…now.
There is a definite relationship between desire and survival that can misdirect our continuing need for renewal. Renewal is the lifelong challenge of being dedicated to developing the ability to judge desires and circumstances of our world in accordance with God’s will [discernment]. Discernment is our guide today and it’s God’s provision that will renew the heart of a whole nation and ensure it’s survival.
Revelation 1:1 This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show his servants what must soon happen. And Jesus sent his angel to show it to his servant John, 2 who has told everything he has seen. It is the word of God; it is the message from Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of God’s message, and blessed are the people who hear this message and do what is written in it. The time is near when all of this will happen. [NCV]
I began The Firsts on January 6, 2019 with a big idea from Matthew’s genealogy list. That list was God’s reminder of lives that were sometimes divine and sometimes way too human but they were part of His Story. For that reason that list has become part of my own revelation. The Firsts have all confirmed God works His Story THROUGH people…not BECAUSE of them.
God’s genealogy is still a reminder of faithful and imperfect lives and now it includes their descendants too. That’s us, and we fit right into my description of that list, sometimes divine and sometimes way too human. Revelation confirms God is still determined to make plain the consequences of what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore at the same time His Word is revealing the reality of the power his Son has to change lives and here’s the big truth of Revelation; Jesus wins!
The last of The Firsts – Revelation 1 has coincided with Easter Week. I’m grateful for that because the one part of the many mysteries of John’s prophecy I understand with some clarity is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” has happened in me. The miracle of His Story is that God continues “to show His servants what must soon happen” THROUGH His sovereignty, not because he’s had to work around the faithful but imperfect people in His genealogy. “Blessed are the people who hear this message and do what is written in it.”
Galatians 1: 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being…21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me. [NIV]
My first thought was the wisdom of Paul essentially tying his relationship to God way back to the womb, the safe place where growth first begins. We know a lot about Paul’s gift of evangelism. We know Paul by his fruit that expanded God’s church enough to include the likes of us. We also know Paul’s history of his dark in-between years and that’s what caught my attention. Paul’s story is really a story of God’s provision to redeem the flaws of “in-between” years.
The church is our second womb. It’s a God created place full of flawed people with their own in-between years. People that need a safe place to grow. I’ve begun to understand why God would choose to fill his house with those flawed people and still give them Spiritual gifts. We admire those gifts when we see them work. They’re not just gifts given because they build his church. They’re the same gifts God uses to rebuild the flawed people who find a home there.
There’s a blessing in knowing I’m a part of the place of rebuilding where what I lack is not the downfall of the church I love. God has made the church his provision for each of us where your Spiritual gift can become part of my growth as we learn how to expand his Kingdom together.
Paul writes of that marvelous work of God and his own in-between years that were designed to destroy. His words are reminders that God uses gifted, flawed people to reveal himself in each of us, in his church and the world. It wasn’t boasting that gave the Apostle Paul the courage to say “…they praised God because of me.” It was knowing God had taken the dark flaws of his in-between years and made them the reality of his redemption when “preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
II Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Being an ambassador “…as though God were making his appeal through us” become more real to me this week. I wanted to implore these people I really care about but instead my appeal was full of frustrated emotion and more loaded with the need to persuade than the desire that anyone might be reconciled to God. It’s so easy to spout off when you get your mouth and emotion involved. The fact is being an ambassador for Christ has obligations of grace.
I lost track of the reality that grace at it’s most basic level is God working to give me time to change. My motivation was more of the problem than my words were, and I blew it. I disappointed myself, and my two best advocates, Christ and my husband. It’s been a reminder to me of the obligation of, and my need for, grace AND it’s purpose.
Forgiveness has bound me to these people and grace in a new way AND loosed me to transformation “so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God”…together.
Colossians 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ…22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
17 reality, however, is found in Christ
* 22 things that are all destined to perish with use
23 self-imposed worship…[ 3 versions]
– lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence NIV
– no value against fleshly indulgence NASB
– no effect when it comes to conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires TLB
Sometimes I begin by reading a passage of Scripture and jotting phrases that catch my attention [see above]. My go-to version is usually the NIV. I frequently re-read the same passage in a few other versions hoping slightly different words will gel into a focus. Then the hard part begins: to trust God really has something in that Word that will nourish faith in my daily life. I try to write a sentence or two based on those phrases. Today that focus seems to be either/or.
Either you learn how to live every day as if “reality, however, is found in Christ” OR all you’re investing yourself in is “self-imposed worship.” Is it possible, even likely, the very best spiritual nourishment we choose, reading the Bible, praying, service, church attendance and even writing a blog about faith, can become self-imposed worship of rules and regulations, not Christ?
We all know the answer to that question is yes. The Scripture is very discreet about how it words *verse 22 so I will be too. “Reality, however, [that’s] found in Christ” requires the same diligence of daily nourishment for our hearts that food does for our bodies. Both kinds of nourishment are subject to the same natural processes. Unless our investment is able to renew the reality of Christ in us and become our true worship that has real “effect when it comes to conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires” it’s just the waste of “self-imposed worship.”