Let Us Persevere in Our Faith

The book of Hebrews tells us how to react to what God has done for us

An interesting passage in Hebrews opens with a reminder of who we are in Jesus and through Jesus (Hebrews 10:23-25). With this as our perspective, the author tells us four things we should do in response.

Let Us Pursue God: The NIV says to “draw near to God.” I like this imagery of us steadfastly moving toward God, getting closer and closer, almost as though he gently pulls us to him. Though we can accept or reject his supernatural yearning to pull us close, we consent to his attraction when we pursue him.

May we pursue God as if nothing else matters—because nothing else does. We need to do this with a sincere heart and full of faith.

Let Us Hold Onto Hope: Next we need to grasp the hope we claim to have within us. If we say we have hope but don’t act like it, what good is that? Instead our behavior, both in thought and in action, must align with what we believe.

And if we face temptation to waiver in our hope, Hebrews reminds us that he will faithfully give us what he promised. Cling to our hope.

Let Us Encourage One Another: Third is the reminder to encourage each other. While we can nurture many godly traits in others, this passage specifically mentions two: love and good deeds. It’s as if nothing else matters.

We love others in the same way God loves us. He shows us his perfect love and we strive to follow his example. And we help others. Why? Not to get God’s attention or to achieve some agenda, but because he says so.

The practical extension of love is to do kind things for others. Love connects to good deeds.

Let Us Not Isolate Ourselves: We can’t realize all God desires for us if we separate ourselves from his other followers. Together we stay strong. Apart we falter. As the Bible says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

The oft-quoted text for this is to let us not give up meeting together, which many misapply (more on this later). The point is to hang out with others who follow Jesus. The details of what this looks like is for us to determine.

As followers of Jesus, may we pursue God, cling to hope, offer encouragement, and spend time with each other.

What’s the One Thing That Matters Most?

The list of faith essentials is short—a list of only one item

Jesus is the one thing that's essential to our faithTwo thousand years ago the religious leaders, called Pharisees, heap a bunch of manmade requirements on the backs of the people so they can be right with God. Some scholars place the number at over 22,000 regulations, far more than the 613 items the Law of Moses contains, which far exceeds God’s top ten instructions (aka The Ten Commandments).

While today’s religious leaders have numerically fewer requirements for their followers, they, too, heap a pile of expectations upon us: of things we shouldn’t do and things we should, of hoops to jump through to be accepted into their group (their church).

They spout requirements for us to meet, a checklist of tasks to complete—or behaviors to avoid. We need to agree to their specific theological mindset, and if we question just one item they hold sacrosanct, we’re booted as a miscreant, likely on our way to hell. Branded as a heretic, we’re banished from their community. 

They call their requirements, the essentials. These so called faith essentials sometimes carry a prooftext, but more so than not they are no more than traditions, conventions, and preferred practices, with an elevated status for us to adhere to.

Some enlightened pastors advise to hold a short list of essentials. They have the right idea.

Jesus has this in mind when he says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). The essentials of Jesus are simple. He creates no undue burden for us, much unlike the Pharisees of his day—or the Pharisees of our day.

But how short should this list of essentials be? Ten items, perhaps five or six? Can we boil it down to three?

How about one?

Yes, there is one faith essential. Jesus says so.

What is this one thing that matters most? It’s Jesus.

At the house of Martha and Mary, Martha is worried about many things (in a practical sense, her list of essentials), while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. She focuses on one thing, and Jesus affirms her for that (Luke 10:39-42).

This one thing isn’t baptism. It’s not saying a certain prayer or joining a church. It’s not witnessing or tithing. It’s not going to church on Sunday or taking communion. It’s not reading a certain version of the Bible or being filled with the Holy Spirit. And it’s not going through a class or completing a spiritual rite of passage.

It’s Jesus.

Jesus is the one thing, the one faith essential.

Avoid Suffering Needlessly For Our Faith

Religious persecution is real for many people, but some people needlessly bring opposition upon themselves

Avoid Suffering Needlessly For Our FaithIn many parts of the world religious oppression is an everyday reality that affects adherents’ ability to move about freely, earn an income, and purchase life’s necessities. A deep religious hatred limits the daily freedom for some people of faith. Their unwavering devotion to what they believe only earns them more revulsion. In some cases this animosity results in physical harm, sometimes fatal.

While horrific, I don’t have the perspective to write about this kind of severe religious persecution with the insight it deserves. Instead I’ll address a lessor form of suffering, the suffering we bring on ourselves: self-inflicted persecution.

I once had an employee who had recently converted to Judaism. She didn’t know much about her faith practices, at least not that she could explain to me, but I did admire her unwavering commitment to follow what she had been taught. (Once, at a company luncheon, she declined a cheeseburger but couldn’t tell her perplexed coworkers why she was prohibited to eat it. I later explained to them the Levitical law behind the practice.)

A few months into her employment I noticed a disturbing trend. She would sometimes leave me a voicemail message—always after 5 p.m.—informing me that she wouldn’t be working the next day because it was a religious holiday for her. And she had lots of them that fall.

From a planning standpoint this frustrated me. Often I had specific things I needed her to do that next day, but she was giving me little time to make adjustments. I explained that I was happy (okay, willing) to accommodate her religious observances, but I needed advanced warning. A list of holidays would be helpful.

She said that wouldn’t be possible because sometimes she didn’t know until the day before. Really? When I pressed her on this, she was steadfast that she couldn’t give me a calendar of her religious holidays. I suggested she ask her Rabbi for a list. She didn’t too much like that.

A week or two later she shoved a sealed envelope into my hands. The stationary bore the name of a Rabbi. Glad to be making progress, I opened the envelope in excitement, but the Rabbi hadn’t given me a list of dates as I requested.

Instead, he had drafted a tersely worded missive to inform me what I already knew, that I needed to provide her time off to observe Jewish holidays. And that a failure to do so discriminated her for her religious preference. He implied I was persecuting her for her faith.

No, I just wanted a list of holidays so that I could provide time off in the best way possible.

I don’t know what she told her Rabbi, but I doubt she asked for a calendar of Jewish holidays so that I could plan better. I doubt she told him I was making the accommodations she sought and merely needed some basic information to do so better.

Based on the tone of his letter, I suspect she presented me as someone who discriminated her for her faith, perhaps even anti-Semitic. (I have great affinity for religious Jews, as their faith history is my faith history.)

I considered contacting her Rabbi directly to explain—since she didn’t understand when I tried, once again, to clarify—but with the press of other work I never got around to it. A month later she quit, likely believing that I had persecuted her for her faith.

In truth she brought the situation on herself.

She told me that her new employer would provide her the time off that she sought, something I had done every time she asked, even though she failed to provide a simple list of holidays.

While we can experience varying degrees of negative reactions to our faith practices, we need to be careful that we aren’t the reason for the animosity. Maybe it’s not our beliefs that cause the problem but the unwarranted way we conduct ourselves.

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?

Paul sends Timothy to check out the church in Thessalonica

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?The missionary Paul and his crew wonder how things are going with the church they started in the city of Thessalonica. He can’t send them an email, follow them on social media, or give them a call. His only option is to dispatch someone to check things out. Paul sends Timothy, a worthy disciple who he trusts fully, to investigate.

Timothy’s concluding report of them is a positive one. He brings back good news of their faith and their love. That’s it; nothing more: Faith, check; love, check.

Although he could have chronicled the numeric growth of their church, the size of their collections, or their latest board decisions—all things seemingly important in today’s church—he doesn’t. He addresses matters of the heart: faith and love. They excel at both and nothing else matters, at least as far as Paul is concerned.

If God sent someone to check out your church, what would its report card be? Would you get a passing grade or fail?

More personally, if God sent someone to evaluate you, what would the testimony be? Would God say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant?” or would the conclusion be more along the lines of “epic fail?”

If these questions make you squirm, even just a bit, then reduce your action list to the core essentials: faith and love.

Do you have a growing faith in Jesus? Is your faith in Jesus shown by your love of others? If the answers are “yes,” then the report will be a positive one. May it be so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 1 Thessalonians 3:6.]

The Power of David’s Example

David models bold action and his nephew learns from it

The Power of David's ExampleMost people are familiar with the story of David and Goliath in the Bible. It tells of the young boy David, armed only with godly confidence and a sling, killing the warrior giant of a man Goliath. It’s an inspiring tale of courage and faith in the presence of improbable odds. But this story isn’t in our text for today. It’s found in 1 Samuel 17 instead.

Though today’s passage is about David, it occurs much later when he is king. Squeezed among three chapters packed with battle stories of strategy and victory stands an incidental tale of David’s nephew Jonathan. In this story Jonathan kills a huge man from Rapha. In addition to his ginormous size, he is noted for having six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Like Goliath before him, this man from Rapha taunts the army of Israel. And like his uncle before him, Jonathan slays the cocky titan.

Why is this significant?

Jonathan, no doubt, heard of the exploits of Uncle David in confronting the jeering giant of a man Goliath. Of how, in godly confidence David, though completely outmatched, fell the hulk with a small stone guided by his sling and then cut off the fallen warrior’s head using his own sword.

Talk about inspiring.

What bold action will we take in our lives that will inspire others in theirs? When we trust God with the outcome, it isn’t hard.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Chronicles 18-20, and today’s post is on 1 Chronicles 20:6-7.]

When Given a Faith Ultimatum is Martyrdom Required?

Elisha seems to allow an alternative to taking a life-threatening stand for God

When Given a Faith Ultimatum is Martyrdom Required?I love the story of Naaman in the Bible. He commands the enemy army, conducts raids into Israel, and even has a Hebrew girl as a slave. It’s this girl, full of faith and void of resentment, who suggests Naaman go to the prophet Elisha for healing of his leprosy.

Despite Naaman’s complete unworthiness (sound familiar?), God has compassion and wants to remove this disease. Though there are some twists along the way, God does heal him. However it’s easy to miss a small detail in the middle of the story.

After he is healed, Naaman seeks forgiveness for something he knows he will do in the future, something he now comprehends as wrong. In the course of his service to his king, Naaman will have to go into the temple of Rimmon and bow down in worship.

Naaman’s life will be on the line if he doesn’t. If he fails to kneel to this foreign god, he will be summarily executed.

Today we hear stories of those fully committed to their faith in Jesus; they refuse to bow in worship to anyone but him. They stand firm and are summarily executed. They take a stand for Jesus and are martyred.

I expect Elisha to tell Naaman to do just that, to affirm God as the only true god, to refuse to bend his knee, and to die for his convictions.

But Elisha doesn’t. Instead he gives approval for Naaman to not take a stand and permits him to bow in worship to another god. Elisha says, “Go in peace.”

This gives me pause.

God knows Naaman’s heart and that his bowing to Rimmon is merely a life-preserving subterfuge. Through Elisha, God gives Naaman permission to pretend to worship another god and live, instead of refusing to and die.

Most martyrs have no control over their fate and are helpless victims of hate and opposition, but some have an option: affirm your faith and die or equivocate and live. While we shouldn’t take this passage as permission to avoid taking a stand for Jesus if our life is at stake, we also shouldn’t conclude that God doesn’t allow for exceptions. Our response, if faced with such a situation, is for us to discern. May God grant us the wisdom to do so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Kings 5-7, and today’s post is on 2 Kings 5:18-19.]

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Why Does God Sometimes Say “No?”

We must trust that God always has our best interest in mind regardless of what happens

Why Does God Sometimes Say “No?”I recently prayed for a friend who was interviewing for a job. I have prayed for her interviews many times in the past only to not receive the answer we wanted. Sometimes she was summarily removed from consideration at the very beginning of the process, but often she would make it to the final round only to be edged out by another candidate.

This time the position was a perfect match; the situation, ideal. I prayed in faith with confident expectation. I knew this was it: the right job, in the right place, at the right time. I assumed God would finally say “Yes.” How could he not? This was exactly what my friend had been waiting for.

She progressed through the interview process; all indications aligned. It got down to two people, a fifty-fifty chance, but with God on our side, I was sure it was a slam-dunk. But slam-dunks don’t always work out, and neither did this job opening. The final answer was “No.”

Devastated for my friend, with my faith a bit deflated, I vented to a wise friend. He tactfully reminded me what I already knew but had forgotten in the emotion of the moment. Here is what he shared:

Protection From Unseen Danger: It could very well be that a landmine of troubles surrounded this job: internal strife from coworkers, personal attacks from patrons, a hostile work environment, poor working conditions, or any number of potentially devastating hazards. Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly shielding her from harm.

A Better Opportunity Ahead: It could be that God has an even better job awaiting my friend, one even more ideal: better pay, closer to home, superior hours, more fulfilling, or a better work environment. Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly guiding her to an even better one, a job she wouldn’t be looking for if she had received this one.

The Other Person Needed the Job More: It’s not all about us. God isn’t our personal wish-granter. He has other children he cares for, too. It’s quite possible the other person also prayed for this job. What if his need was more pressing, his situation more urgent? Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly caring for another of his children whose situation was more dire.

In this life it is likely we will never know the reasons why sometimes God says “No.” Yet we must move forward, despite profound disappointment, confident that God wants the very best for us and will provide it at exactly the right time. After all, that’s what the Bible says: that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

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Are You One of God’s Chosen People?

Isaiah tells the people that God will choose them again, but did he ever stop?

Are You One of God’s Chosen People?One phrase jumps out from today’s passage in Isaiah’s prophecy to God’s people: “once again he will choose Israel,” (Isaiah 14:1, NIV). God, through Isaiah, gives his people hope for a better tomorrow.

At this particular time, however, God’s people are discouraged; they feel he has abandoned them. They have no reason to celebrate; they have no cause for joy. God, it seems, has turned his back on them; it feels like he has left.

In reality he’s giving them a timeout, a deserved punishment to get their attention over their repeated disobedience. He wants to remind them of who he is and how they should act.

Yet they despair. They call out for him, desperate for a response.

But God delays.

Yet as he tarries he offers them hope for a better tomorrow. He promises he will choose them once again.

He chose them in the past, and he will choose them in the future. And though they don’t realize it, he chooses them now. But they don’t see it; they don’t feel chosen.

We all have times when God feels distant, when it’s hard to pray, when his voice remains silent, when faith falters. Some people call these the dry times or their desert experience. Yet God will choose us again.

The reality is that God never un-chose us. We remain chosen by him – even when we don’t feel like it. We are his chosen people. May we remember to act like it.

Do you feel chosen by God? Are you in a desert place waiting for him to choose you again? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 14-17, and today’s post is on Isaiah 14:1.]

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?

Should we emulate the man who drove merchants from the temple and denounced hypocrisy?

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?When I blogged about the need for a male role model I wondered if the life of Jesus might stand as an example for men to follow. Is he the perfect blend of godly power and God-intended masculinity?

Indeed the character and actions of Jesus is compelling, more gripping than any other. Here are the lessons we can learn from Jesus:

A Man of Action: Incensed over sacrilegious commerce being conducted in the temple, degrading worship and exploiting people, Jesus makes a whip and drives the merchants away. He scatters their money and overturns their tables; animals flee. He makes a real mess. Jesus takes bold action to confront wrong behavior (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:15-17).

A Man of Strength: Jesus is physically strong, able to endure the barbaric tortures of crucifixion. Being flogged (Mark 15:15) was enough to kill some people; Jesus survives. He withstands the soldiers as they beat him (Luke 22:63-64) and carries his own cross (John 19:17). In this Jesus stands as our modern view of manly power.

A Man of Faith: Jesus prays (Luke 11:1) and fasts (Matthew 4:1-2). He places priority on his relationship with God.

A Man of Boldness: Not afraid to condemn misguided spiritual practices, Jesus speaks against hypocrisy (Matthew 12:34). His concern is righting spiritual wrongs, and he has no worries over offending religious leaders in error.

A Man of Spiritual Power: With supernatural insight Jesus knows what others are thinking (Luke 5:22), has command over nature (Mark 4:39), heals people (Matthew 4:23), and raises the dead (Luke 8:54-55).

A Man of Love and Compassion: Jesus blesses children (Matthew 19:13-14). He longs to love and protect them (Luke 13:34). He cares about the masses, offering compassion (Matthew 9:36) and loving them (Mark 10:21).

This is an impressive list, one truly worthy of emulation, yet Jesus is not our model for masculinity. Instead Jesus stands as a model for humanity, both men and women. Jesus is the ultimate paragon, our model of excellence and perfection, a peerless example.

Jesus is an example for all to follow, not just the guys.

Which of Jesus’s characteristics do you most identify with? Which ones seem aligned with one gender more than the other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

God Seldom Reveals the Big Picture to Us – Just the Next Step

God Seldom Reveals the Big Picture to Us – Just the Next StepGod first comes to Abraham when he is still known as Abram. God tells him to leave all he knows and to go – somewhere – to a place God will later show him. The final destination is apparently on a need-to-know basis and Abram doesn’t need to know.

If it were me, I’d want some details. Where are you sending me, God? Why? What is your end game? How long will I be gone? What should I pack? What preparations should I make? Am I coming back?

Then I’d do some research, check with others, and spend a lot of time thinking about it. And I’d pray, too. God would likely need to tell me a couple times before I obeyed. I like to see the big picture, but God doesn’t seem to work that way – at least with me.

Though God promises to make Abram into a great nation, this is not conditional on Abram’s obedience. In this case God’s promise is unconditional.

Again, if it were me, I’d be tempted to ask God to make me into a great nation right where I was, without the ambiguous travel command into the unknown.

Yet Abram goes. This is his first recorded act of faith. It isn’t until he reaches Canaan that God reveals more. He promises to give that land to Abram’s descendants. That is God’s big picture, or at least a wider view of it. Abram has to move out in faith and go to where God leads him. Only then does God give him more information.

I guess that’s why it’s called faith.

Does God show you his big picture or just the next step? When God tells you to do something, how do you respond? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Genesis 12-14, and today’s post is on Genesis 12:1-7.]