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Category Archives: Hebrews

Finish the Race

In running, they talk about the phenomenon of “hitting the wall.” It is the sudden fatigue and loss of energy that comes from using up all the nutritional reserves stored in your body. Maybe you hit the wall because of a mountain of debt or the unexpectedly poor results of a medical test. Perhaps the constant conflict in your family leaves you feeling drained and hopeless. Maybe your spiritual life feels desert like and you find yourself running on empty.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are in a race. His message in 12:12-17 is that in order to finish the race, we need to run hard in the company of others and remove the obstacles that threaten to trip us up.

He begins verse 12 with the simple word, “therefore.” He is connecting his instructions with what he said previously. In verses 1-3, he explained that we are to run the race of the Christian life with our eyes on Jesus. Now, he says that we are to finish the race. In between (4-11), he explains that we are to accept God’s discipline in order to grow. By using the athletic metaphor of being in a race, it helps us understand how and why God uses discipline in our lives—to help us run and finish well.

Run hard in the company of others (12-14). His first instruction in verse 12 speaks of personal responsibility. When we feel worn out, run down, discouraged, and ready to give up, we need to renew our strength. Keeping our focus on Jesus and understanding God’s purpose in discipline will help invigorate us. We also need to abandon fear and despair and keep running.

However, we are not to run alone. We need to remember and practice the “one another” commands found in the book. In so doing, we will be able to help those who are weaker than we are.

We are to run hard after peace and holiness. The natural tendency when we are in the midst of trials is to look out for number one. Instead, we are to strive for peace with everyone. That does not mean we will achieve peace with everyone, but it should be our goal. We are also to pursue holiness. We are to cast off sin and press hard after holiness.

By doing these things, we can rest assured that we will arrive at the finish line. We will see the Lord when we step into his presence.

Remove the obstacles that threaten to trip us up (13, 15-17). Like a road grader smoothing out uneven ground, so we are to remove the obstacles that cause us to sin. The author gives four specific obstacles to get rid off—gracelessness, bitterness, immorality, and worldliness. A person might miss out on grace because of unconfessed sin, a lack of God’s word in their life, or being absent from church. One can develop a bitter spirit through continued anger, unforgiveness, nursing grudges, or always complaining, “It’s not fair!” Bitterness will poison not only your heart, but those around you. Pursuing sexual satisfaction outside the bonds of a husband-wife marriage will trip one up as well. In addition, a worldly attitude of instant gratification can lead to deep heartache and regret. That was the experience of Esau who traded away his inheritance for a single meal.

What obstacles are holding you back from spiritual growth? Have you given up and stopped trying? Are you trying to do it on your own? Are their broken relationships or unconfessed sin in your life? Are you experiencing a spiritual famine because you stopped reading God’s word or attending church? Are you struggling with pornography or having an affair? Is your heart filled with worldly desires? If your answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, then confess your sin and repent.

If you want to finish well, then renew your strength, run hard, run with others, and pursue peace and holiness. Remove any and every obstacle that is tripping you up and hindering you from moving forward.

Remove the obstacles. Run hard with others. Finish well!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 24, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Change Your Mind About Trials

When we are suffering, it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves. We can begin to think that God does not care about us. We can harbor doubts about whether or not God really loves us.

The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to a group of people who are beginning to face persecution. Some are questioning whether or not to leave the faith and return to Judaism. He writes his letter to encourage them to remain faithful. In Hebrews 12:4-11, he tries to put their suffering into perspective. He explains that trials come from the hand of a loving God who uses them to produce greater spiritual growth in our lives. He wants his readers to remember four things when they face trials.

When you find yourself in the middle of a trial, remember that …

It’s not as bad as it could be (4). The Christian life can be a struggle. We try to avoid persecution from sinful people. But we also have to avoid sinful situations where we might be tempted to compromise our faith. Regardless of how challenging our opposition, it hasn’t yet cost us our lives. While the readers of Hebrews might be aware of those who were martyred, that type of persecution hasn’t yet come to them.

Scripture gives us a different perspective about trials (5). Apparently, the readers of Hebrews had forgotten the encouragement found in Proverbs 3:11-12. On the one hand, we should not treat God’s discipline lightly. We might do this by developing calloused hearts, by complaining, by questioning God, or by becoming indifferent. On the other hand, we should not give up and throw in the towel. We need to remember that God uses trials to cause us to grow.

God’s discipline demonstrates we are one of his children (6-8). Rather than being proof that God doesn’t love us, his discipline actually demonstrates how much he cares for us. It proves we have a relationship with him. God can and will use both positive and negative methods, both discipline and punishment. Punishment focuses on past misdeeds while discipline focuses on future correct deeds. Punishment aims to punish wrongdoing and produce remorse and repentance. Discipline aims to train us for maturity and will result in a sense of security and belonging. Because we belong to God, he is actively involved in our spiritual growth.

God’s discipline has positive results (9-11). While no one enjoys discipline, we can take comfort that it results in a deeper, more abundant life and we can share in God’s holiness and righteousness. Though painful and challenging, it is worth it in the end.

Dr. Tom Constable tells the story about some birds that built a nest in his garage. “During some spring seasons, I used to notice that birds were building a nest in my garage. When I saw that, I moved the nest outside. It would not be safe for the birds to live in the garage, since their access to the outdoors would be greatly limited by the closed door. I am sure that they did not appreciate my moving their nest from it secure place indoors. But I had to do it for their welfare. Likewise, God sometimes moves our nests from comfortable places to locations that are better for us in the long run.”

A loving Father uses trials to stimulate our spiritual growth.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 17, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Mission: Possible

While we might grudgingly admit that Scripture calls us to live by faith (Hebrews 10:37-39), we secretly believe that it is an impossible task. We feel that it is only something that supersaints can achieve. But normal people have no chance at reaching to that lofty standard.

To challenge that assumption, the author of Hebrews 11 gives numerous examples of ordinary people who took God at his word. Abel went out of his way to please God and worship him extravagantly. Enoch walked with God in the midst of a corrupt society. Noah trusted God for the unknown. Abraham and Sarah left their comfort zone and followed God’s call. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph left a legacy of faith to their descendants. Moses left the comfort and pleasures of Egypt to endure hardship with God’s people.

In Hebrews 11:30-31, the author encourages his readers to learn from the example of Joshua and Rahab. Their faith demonstrates that when we face an impossible situation, we must believe that God will make us successful by trusting his plan and obeying his instructions.

God may give us an impossible task. From a human standpoint, Jericho was an impossible city to conquer. The city of Jericho covered about eight acres. It was strategically located in the center of Canaan and controlled the path into the hill country. It had a double set of walls and the gates were locked up tight. The first obstacle to overcome was not the Jordan River or the city of Jericho. The first obstacle to overcome was unbelief.

Believe that God will make you successful (Joshua 6:1-5). God had already prepared the way for Israel to be successful. The people of Jericho were scared (1). God promised the victory (2). God gave clear, direct instructions how to proceed (3-5). If God has called us to do something, then success is guaranteed. We need to understand that we fight from victory, not just for victory. While the battle plan was not physically taxing, it did require no small amount of courage and faith.

Recognize that success comes by trusting God’s plan (Joshua 6:6-16, 20). Scripture is very clear that faith precedes victory and belief precedes blessing. We must take God at his word and believe his promises if we want to achieve victory and enjoy his blessings. Because Israel stepped out in faith and trusted God’s plan, the walls of Jericho fell by faith (Hebrews 11:30).

Success comes by obeying God’s instructions (Joshua 6:17-19, 21-27). God gave four specific instructions. (1) Devote the entire city to God (17-18). (2) Rescue Rahab and her family (22-25). Joshua 2 explains that Rahab was an unlikely person to put faith in the true God, yet she did, and was saved by faith. She demonstrated her faith by her works of welcoming the spies (Hebrews 11:31). (3) Destroy every living thing (21). (4) Burn the city (24).

It is these last two commands that give us the most heartburn. The best explanation is to compare it to a surgeon removing a cancerous tumor from a person’s abdomen. God was removing evil from the land. Please understand that God had been patient from the time of Abraham (Genesis 15:16). He waited some 600 years before bringing judgment on the land.

Maybe God has not tasked you with conquering a city. Maybe your impossible task is living as a single parent. Perhaps your challenge is being a witness in the public schools. Maybe you are trying to live with integrity in a world that prizes deception. Perhaps your task is to conquer an addiction.

If God gives you a seemingly impossible task, trust his plan and obey his instructions. He will make your successful.

This is the synopsis of a message preached on October 13, 2019, at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA. It is part of a series of expository sermons from the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Mission: Possible – Introduction

Sometimes, God calls us to seemingly impossible situations and tasks. We need to learn that we will be successful if we trust his promises and follow his instructions. Here is the introduction to the sermon I will be preaching this Sunday at First Central Bible Church. The message examines the faith of Joshua and Rahab in Hebrews 11:30-31.

 

Choices & Challenges

Life is filled with many choices. Some are very easy. Coffee or tea? Soup or salad? AM or FM? Some are more challenging. Do you act now or wait? Do you make a commitment or keep your options open? Some choices are life altering. College? Career? Marriage? Family? Some choices are faith stretching. Do you stand for Christ or go with the world? Do you put God first or put your work and family first?

For every choice and challenge, we have to decide if we will walk by sight or walk by faith. We have to decide if we will follow Christ or trust ourselves.

If we read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we quickly learn that Moses was a tremendous leader. However, as significant of a leader as Moses was, there are no tombs in Egypt where he is buried. There are no monuments erected to honor him. This is in large part because of the choices Moses made during his lifetime.

Hebrews 11:23-29 explains that Moses and his parents faced four significant crossroads of faith. They faced four major choices that altered the direction of their lives. Would his parents follow the world? Would he accept the sinful? Would he choose a comfortable life? Would he settle for status quo? Because of their choices, Moses had a tremendous impact and left a significant legacy.

By faith, Moses’ parents resisted the pressure of the world (23). Every parent thinks their child is the most beautiful, gifted child in the world. Moses’ parents were no exception. They thought God had great plans in store for their son. Because of that, they stood against the edict of Pharaoh and refused to put Moses to death. In doing so, they provided Moses with an example to follow.

By faith, Moses refused the sinful (24-26). We are told that when Moses was 40 years old, he refused … choosing … considered. If you take those statements in reverse order, you notice that Moses considered the alternatives—Egyptian family or Israelite family; pleasure or mistreatment; treasure or reward; short-term gain or long-lasting benefits; pursue sin or follow Christ. Moses made a deliberate choice to identify with God and his plans and then walked away from the sinful pleasures of Egypt.

By faith, Moses left the familiar (27). After his encounter with God in the burning bush, Moses was tasked with leading Israel out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land. His faith helped him see reality. Pharaoh may be the most powerful man on earth, but Yahweh was the most powerful being in the universe. Pharaoh might make his life miserable now, but God offered rewards in eternity. Pharaoh might think he is in charge, but God is ultimately in control. Recognizing the truth helped Moses leave behind a comfortable lifestyle and instead endure a difficult challenge which God called him to.

By faith, Moses did the unusual (28). If your neighbors painted their house bright pink, you might chalk it up to being eccentric. But what if they painted their home with blood? That’s what Israel was asked to do in the Passover, put the blood of the lamb on the doorpost and lintel of the house. Moses and Israel took a step of faith and trusted God’s plan, and that action spared them from death on that fateful night.

By faith, Moses inspired a nation (29). Moses’ choices to follow God set the example for the nation of Israel. They followed him through the Red Sea and on to the border of the Promised Land.

What choices are you facing today? Will you walk by sight or by faith? Whom will you choose to follow? What impact might you have on those around you? Make the choice to follow Christ.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 6, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Take Charge of your Death

What do you want written on your epitaph? How do you want to be remembered?

Hebrews 10:37-39 tells us that we need to live by faith. In chapter 11, the author of the book gives numerous examples of ordinary men and women who took God at his word and acted accordingly. In Hebrews 11:17-22, we discover that not only do we need to live by faith, we also need to die by faith. We need to understand that the legacy we leave is more important than the heritage we received. Through the example of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—we discover how to finish well and leave a legacy of faith.

Model faith to your children (17-19). Abraham obeyed God’s command to give his son, Isaac, back to God. God had promised to bless the world through Abraham and give him as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. While Abraham might not have fully comprehended God’s instruction to sacrifice Isaac, he trusted God to keep his promise even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead. Abraham trusted the promises and the power of God. Imagine the impact that had on Isaac on the return journey.

Look to the future with confidence (20). Isaac rode a roller coaster of faith throughout his lifetime—one minute trusting God and the next minute trying to do things his own way. God answered his prayers for children (Genesis 25:21). God promised that “the older will serve the younger (25:23). In the midst of a famine, God confirmed his promise about his descendants (26:3-4). Isaac then lied about his wife (26:7) and followed it up by building an altar (26:25). Isaac then ignored God’s instructions and set about to bless the son he favored, Esau (27:1-4). He was first deceived into blessing Jacob (27:5-9) but then later chose to bless Jacob (28:1-4). Isaac pictured a hopeful future for his son, Jacob, in his blessing.

Bless your descendants with intentionality (21). It took Jacob a lifetime of divine discipline to learn obedience. Jacob went from praising God (Genesis 28:16-17) to bargaining with God (28:20-21) to acknowledging God’s blessing (31:5) to wrestling with God (32:24-26). At the end of his life, he resisted the temptation to be “fair” and passed on a unique blessing to Joseph’s sons.

Anchor your life on the promises of God (22). As Joseph’s death drew near, he used the event as a teachable moment. He reminded his family of the promises given to Abraham that Israel would be strangers and slaves in Egypt for 400 years but afterward, God would bring them back to the Promised Land. Joseph made them promise not to leave his bones behind in Egypt when they left and returned to the land of their ancestors. Joseph was confident that nothing could annul God’s promises.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave your children? How can you model your faith to them? Do they know what you believe and why you believe it? Do you have a confident hope about the future? How can you be intentional in the way you treat and bless your children and grandchildren? Is your life and faith anchored on God’s promises?

What changes do you need to make today to make sure you leave a godly legacy? Remember that the legacy you leave is more important than the heritage you received.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 29, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Faithing the Unknown

For every Annie who believes the sun will come up tomorrow, there are countless others who want to run and hide from the unknown. Whether it is going downstairs to the dark basement, picking up the phone to ask someone out on a date, being the new kid at a new school, going to a job interview, or heading into an unknown future, we need encouragement to face the unknown.

In Hebrews 10:38-39, the author of the book explains that we are to live by faith. In 11:2, he states that a lifestyle of faith is the only way to receive God’s approval. In the rest of chapter 11, he gives numerous examples of ordinary people who chose to believe God’s promises and to live by faith. The life of Noah (11:7) demonstrates that when we are faced with the unknown, we need to act on what we know. His examples gives us four characteristics of faith.

Faith takes God at his word. Noah was a righteous man who lived in an ungodly world (Genesis 6:9, 13, 17). God gave him a heads up about the judgment that was coming. While Noah had not seen rain, a flood, or judgment during his lifetime, he took God at his word and believed that God was able to do what he said he would do.

As you face the challenges of your day, do you focus more on your problems or on God’s promises? Are you consumed with worry over job security, health, your children’s future, caring for aging parents, or whether you’ll have enough to retire on? Or you do meditate on God’s promises about his presence, his care, his provision, his protection, or his faithfulness?

C. S. Lewis stated, “We trust not because ‘a God’ exists, but because this God exists!” Take time to get to know God better. Keep a record of how you’ve seen him answer prayer and meet your needs.

Faith must be followed by action. It is not enough to say we believe. We must act on that belief. Noah believed God’s warning and started building the ark. He “did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22; 7:5). Obedience is the litmus test of faith. It demonstrates whether or not we truly believe. James 1:22 says that we are to do the word and not merely listen to it.

Faith requires persistence. Noah listened to God’s warning and instructions and went to work. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, Noah built the ark for 120 years. The ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet tall, and would displace 43,000 tons of water. This was not a project you could hide in your backyard and call “a shed.” Not only was the task overwhelming, but he also had to deal with critics, cranks, and complainers who made fun of him.

William Carey is considered the father of modern missions. Over a period of 40 years, he translated all or portions of the Bible into 34 of the languages and dialects of India. When praised for his work, he replied, “I am not a genius, just a plodder.”

Faith always makes a difference. Noah’s faith and actions had three practical results (11:7). His family was spared from judgment. His words and actions condemned those who chose not to believe. He was the first person in Scripture declared, “righteous” (Genesis 7:1).

What impact has your faith had on your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, church …?

Author Penelope J. Stokes wrote, “God calls us to many unknowns—new places, new relationships, new jobs, different homes, different friends, unfamiliar frustrations, uncommon joys. Our vision for the future is myopic at best—at worst, totally dark. We cannot see what lies ahead. But we can see the countenance, the character, the direction, of the One who calls us to walk with him and holds the lantern to light each faltering step.”

When faced with the unknown, act on what you know. Keep your focus on God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 15, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.