Theology

Running the Race

1554446_10202778076678833_64181163_nThe New Testament book of Hebrews was written to remind us that salvation comes by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ, and that no works on our part are involved in securing our salvation. Hebrews makes the case that our salvation was secured completely by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In making this point, Hebrews points to the lives of the Old Testament heroes, like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Moses. Hebrews 11 chronicles how their lives were all driven by faith. By faith, Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice. By faith, Noah moved with fear and prepared an ark to the saving of his house. By faith, Abraham offered up Isaac, accounting that God was able to raise him up again. By faith.

Whenever you see that phrase, “by faith,” it means that the one who performed the action did so because they trusted God completely. Their trust in God, their faith, motivated their action.

Faith is what gives you access to God’s salvation. It is what moves you from God’s wrath into His Kingdom. Faith is what saves. Actions, or “works” are merely an expression of that faith.

It is on that note that Hebrews 12 begins:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1 says we are compassed about (surrounded) by a cloud of witnesses. We are surrounded by the legacies of the Old Testament heroes listed in Hebrews 11. These were men and women who lived their entire lives by their faith in God… from Abel all the way down to Rahab, and then on to King David and the prophet Isaiah.

Because of their faith in God, they believed the impossible, stood against insurmountable odds and foes, and did great things, whereby we remember them today. Some of these heroes won earthly victories, some had to wait to enter eternity to receive their reward, but the end of Hebrews 11 is clear, one day those of us who know the Lord as our savior will be resurrected and glorified with those Old Testament heroes. We will all reap the reward of our faith.

So, with that in mind, Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to live up to our Christian heritage by living by faith. This involves laying aside every weight (things that come between us and God) and the sin that so easily besets us, and running with patience (endurance) the faith that is set before us.

Throughout the course of this week, we will explore what it means to run the race before us, and to live by faith. May God bless you this week.

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Who wrote the book of Hebrews?

1554446_10202778076678833_64181163_nThe book of Hebrews offers a thorough explanation of faith, redemption and salvation by demonstrating how Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and the Old Testament religion, and how salvation has always been by grace through faith from the beginning of time.

It was written to encourage 1st Century Jewish Christians to avoid slipping into the legalism of the Pharisees religion, and to hold on to their faith. The book accomplished this goal by showing how Christ fills the role of High Priest, and how the Old Testament Patriarchs acted on faith, not out of religious duty.

For all of the great Theological truth in Hebrews, one thing remains a mystery. Who wrote it? No one put their name on it, and the author didn’t introduce himself at the beginning.

For centuries, Theologians and scholars believed that the Apostle Paul wrote Hebrews. That theory makes sense as Paul skillfully used logic in his writings to combat Judaism and to teach salvation by grace through faith. However, Hebrews doesn’t exactly match the style Paul had used in his other writings. In fact, the writing style doesn’t match any other book of the New Testament.

Some believe Apollos wrote the book. Indeed, Apollos was a skilled orator, had a way with words, was well educated and was capable of such. However, questions remain as to whether Apollos would have been the one to write a letter to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Sure, he spent a lot of time in Asia minor debating Judaizers, but that fact in and of itself does not prove authorship.

Timothy is also seen as a possible author, but the letter references Timothy in verse 13:23. It’s uncertain whether Timothy would have referred to himself in the third person like this.

Other names have been postulated… Clement, Priscilla, Luke the Evangelist. We could study the writings of each of these early church leaders and formulate theories, or, we could make life much simpler.

If you have ventured to read any of the New Testament, you’ve probably noticed that the authors tend to identify themselves at the beginning. So, following that pattern, let’s look at the beginning of the book of Hebrews:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

-Hebrews 1:1-2

Boom! Mystery solved.

The Author of Hebrews was identified in verse 1. “God.”

Now the likelihood of God coming down and handwriting this letter on a scroll of paper is minute, but it is important to remember that, even though we may not know whom God called to write Hebrews, the words are inspired by God none the less. So never mind who put the ink to the paper. Hebrews is God’s word, and thus we should learn it and obey it as we would any other book.

Smiling through the pain

1554446_10202778076678833_64181163_nLet’s be real. Sometimes life just stinks. Pain is real. Problems continue to pile up, and you get to the point where you are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

When life stinks, it can be hard to find comfort. No one understands your pain, and the trite little phrases like “too blessed to be stressed” only compound the agony. How are you supposed to just “speak victory” into your child’s cancer diagnosis, your wife’s passing, or the foreclosure of your home.

Yet, society expects us to just put on a smile and fake it through the day. “Fake it till you make it.” However, when the day ends, you’re right back at home, face to face with your problems.

Pain and suffering, grief and bereavement are not foreign to the Christian experience. In fact they are a real part of the Christian’s life. Christians face problems, feel pain, and experience periods of hopelessness. You’re human.

When the Apostle Peter authored his first epistle, he was looking at thousands of Christians who had been displaced by severe persecution. Roman Emperor Nero had allegedly set Rome on fire, then blamed Christians for the devastation before burning many of them alive.

He made sport of Christians by drafting them to be gladiators. He fed them to the lions. He executed them in ways he found entertaining. Imagine having your wife kidnapped from your home, and brutally murdered by being tied to the horns of a bull for the entertainment of Roman nobility. This is what 1st Century Christians faced.

Can you imagine the pain and grief that one would naturally experience under those circumstances.

Peter, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could not sit idly by and just watch this persecution happen. And he wasn’t in a position to mount a successful civil rights movement. The best Peter could offer would be a word from the Lord to the persecuted saints. Thus, we have 1 Peter.

In reading 1 Peter, you will notice that he directs your attention away from the things happening in the world, and toward the coming Kingdom of God. His words of hope center around the fact that Christians have been redeemed by God, and He is coming to put an end to the suffering and usher in an eternity of peace and prosperity. If you know Jesus as your savior, you will see that day, regardless of what happens here. If you die, Christ will resurrect you from the dead so that you will see that day.

In chapter 1, Peter reminds us of how God chose us for this redemption, and how He purchased this salvation through Christ dying on the cross. He then encourages us to stay faithful and to trust the Lord even through those hard times. In Chapter 2, he points out how Christ suffered for us, pointing out that God isn’t allowing us to go through anything He Himself hasn’t endured.

There are no magic words to make the pain go away. What scripture does accomplish is reminding us of what God has done for us, giving us a purpose for our experience, and encouraging us to make a difference in the world around us.

If you would like to know more, join us for Bible study Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at our office at the Early Chamber of Commerce, 104 E Industrial Dr., Early, TX 76802. If you’re unable to make it, consider reading 1 Peter on your own. It would make a good devotional for those experiencing hard times.

Who? Me? Dealing with doubt on “The Point.”

 

When we pray to God to work out situations in life, often we wish that He would just wave a magic wand and fix things for us. Sometimes He does. Other times, He calls us to be part of the solution. That’s when things get daunting, just as they were for Moses when God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

SERMON NOTES: That Day is Coming

WP_20141002_003What’s the point of rebuilding when you’ve already lost everything?

That’s a question the prophet Zechariah likely faced on a daily basis as he continually encouraged the people of Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and, more importantly, the Temple. As one of the first Israelites to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity, Zechariah saw first hand the devastation that was left after the Babylonian conquest.

The rubble, the wreckage, and the devastation must have been an extremely disheartening sight for those returning home for the first time in 70 years. Zechariah’s prophecy taught the Israelites that reconstruction was more than a matter of national pride. The Israelites needed to rebuild to set the stage for the coming of the LORD.

In Zechariah 13, Zechariah told the Israelites about the coming of the LORD.

  1. In the day of the Lord, the false prophets would be shamed.
  2. In the day of the Lord, we will see Jesus.
  3. The day of the Lord is coming because of what Christ accomplished on the cross.

False prophets, false teachers and unGodly activists will one day be ashamed of their words and works. Zechariah 13:2 says:

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.

Imagine a life without crime, social unrest, drug abuse, illness and temptation. That’s what the world will look like after Christ returns and cleanses the land of idols, false prophets and unclean spirits.

When Christ returns, He will cleans the world of evil. When that happens, we will no longer be troubled.

Those who taught false doctrine, who spoke against Christ, and who promoted unGodliness will be ashamed of their words and their works, for they shall be their condemnation. Zechariah 13:4 says:

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive:

Knowing the false prophets will be judged, do not allow yourself to be deceived.

The day is coming when we shall see the Lord. Zechariah 13:6 says:

And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.

The One with the wounded hands in this verse is Christ. He appears in Zechariah 12:10, where the people “look upon Me whom they pierced,” and mourn. That mourning sets of a series of events in the latter part of Zechariah 12 and in early Zechariah 13 where the people regret their sin, mourn the lost fellowship with God, and then prosecute the false prophets who taught them to betray God.

Zechariah 13:6 turns the attention from what’s happening with the false prophets to the Lord. The scars in the hands of the Lord remind us of the betrayal of Christ, and how He turned that betrayal into our redemption.

In verse 6, He says he received those wounds in the house of his friends. Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem just as Zechariah had predicted in chapter 9, verse 9. That was Jerusalem’s moment, but they betrayed the Lord and turned Him over to the Romans to be crucified. However, it was on that cross that Jesus endured God’s wrath on our behalf, and purchased our salvation.

Those wounds remind us of the cost of our salvation, and the love of the Lord for us in that He paid that price on our behalf.

We will see those scars again, because Christ will return. When He returns, it will be a physical, visible return. We will see Jesus again, and when we do, our faith will be validated.

The day of the Lord is coming. Are you prepared?

Meet God

 

When Moses approached the burning bush, God called out to him from the midst of the bush, telling him to take off his shoes for he was standing on holy ground.

At that point, Moses met the God he had trusted since childhood. All throughout Exodus 3, Moses sees the attributes of God on full display.

First, Moses saw the awesomeness of God, as He appeared in a burning bush that was not being consumed by the fire.

Secondly, he saw the life of God, as God described Himself as the eternal “I AM” who was still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as they had entered eternity with him after passing on this Earth.

Thirdly, he saw God’s deliverance, as God told Moses that He had come down to deliver His people from the bondage of Egypt.

Lastly, he received God’s call, as God directed Moses to be the one to lead the people out of Egypt.

From this, we learn that God is to be revered, that He is the source of our life (both eternal, and Earthly), that God delivers His people and responds to their prayers, and that God works through His people to accomplish His mission.

Want more? Check out the above-posted podcast.

The man who destroyed Egypt

In ancient times, Egypt was the world’s lone super power. The Egyptians were architectural geniuses, having built the pyramids, the sphinx, and massive cities. Their architecture still captures our imaginations today, as many adventure movies and novels center around the pyramids and their ancient wonders.

Egypt was also good at agriculture, perfecting the cultivation and harvesting of grain while being fed by the Nile river.

The Egyptians also boasted the world’s most powerful military at the time.

This superpower enjoyed peace and prosperity for centuries, but that all came to an end under the rule of one evil, foolish Pharaoh.

In Exodus 1, we’re told that a new king arose which new not Joseph, the Israelite who warned a previous Pharaoh about a terrible famine, and thus not only saved Egypt, but solidified its place as the world’s lone superpower.

When this Pharaoh saw the Israelites in Egypt, he didn’t see a people who had played a part in his nation’s rise to power, he saw a national security threat. The Bible tells us in Exodus 5:2 that this same Pharaoh didn’t know God, and didn’t care to know God.

As a result, Pharaoh began persecuting the Israelites, God’s chosen people, and that drew God’s attention. The fallout from this would involve God pouring out plagues on Egypt, and destroying that nation as the Israelites left in mass exodus.

From this, we learn that sin, evil, and destructive tendencies are born out of a rejection against God.

The life of Joseph teaches that God has a plan and is present with us in all things

Born the son of his old age, Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his brethren. He gave Joseph leadership roles within the family, made him a fine, multi-colored coat, and had the young man check in on his brothers who worked in the field.

Joseph dreamed dreams that indicated that God would one day set him in a prominent role, not only in the family, but also the world.

His brothers tired of his dreams, and his reporting their bad behavior, so one day, the threw him in a hole before selling him to slave traders. They covered their crime by tearing his coat and dipping it in animal blood to make it look like Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

As a slave, Joseph was taken to Egypt and sold to a high-ranking nobleman by the name of Potiphar.

At this point, the Bible tells us one key detail about Joseph, that the Lord was with him. In fact, the Lord was with him to the point that he prospered every thing that he did, and Potiphar saw that. Therefore, Potiphar made him the manager of his entire estate.

Things went well until Potiphar’s wife, angry that Joseph had rejected her advances, falsely accused him of trying to assault her. Joseph was then thrown into prison.

Yet, despite his circumstances, God was still with Joseph, to the point that even the Egyptian jailer could see it. Therefore, Joseph was placed in charge of all the other inmates.

While serving as jail trustee, Joseph interpreted dreams by two inmates, one the former butler of Pharaoh, the other, Pharaoh’s former baker. The dreams foretold that the butler would be restored to Pharaoh’s house, but the baker would be executed.

That prophecy came true, which led to Joseph being invited to Pharaoh’s palace to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which foretold of a coming famine. Having interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph was placed in charge of the entire Egyptian nation, and led the Egyptians through the worst famine in their history, and was able to save his own brothers (who had sold him into slavery) as well as his father from starvation.

Joseph’s story, chronicled in Genesis 37-50, tells us how God uses even the worst of situations to our benefit, and how He plans our lives in the process.

Looking at Joseph’s story early on, his dreams involving his brothers’ sheaves of grain bowing to his sheaf not only indicates that he would become the family’s leader, but also that he would provide his family with sustenance. The sheaves of grain very likely pointed to the fact that it would be a lack of grain that would not only propel Joseph to his position of leadership, but also create the situation where he saves his brothers by providing grain for them.

The dream about the sun, moon and stars bowing to him showed that his prominence would even rise above that of his parents, possibly to the point of global prominence. That eventually happened when he became ruler of Egypt.

In order for all that to happen, Joseph would have to go to Egypt. When his brothers sold him into slavery, God used that to place Joseph where he would need to be in order to save his family and become their patriarch.

One final note from the life of Joseph, when his brothers came to Egypt, after a quick test to check their character, Joseph forgave and reconciled with them. There’s a lesson we can all learn from that example. Check out the above-posted “Point” podcast, and feel free to come visit with us Sunday.

God’s Laundry Mat

The only thing harder than building is rebuilding. To go back, restore something that was ruined, rebuild a structure that collapsed, or to cleanse something that was stained. These projects are often harder than starting from scratch.

Such was the case in Jerusalem ca 520 BC. Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonian army at the start of the 70-year captivity where God allowed His people to be carried away so that He could teach them not to commit idolatry. In 520 BC, the captivity was ending, and King Darius decreed that the Jews should go home. So, home they went.

Upon arriving in the Holy Land, they found Jerusalem in total ruin. The Temple was destroyed, the walls were a pile of rubble, bandits raided the area, and discouragement set in.

The Prophet Zechariah was called by God to encourage the people to rebuild Jerusalem.

In Zechariah 3, the prophet sees a vision of Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord while wearing filthy garments. His filthy attire was not from incidental contact with dust, but rather was the complete soiling consistent with rolling around in mud.

Old Testament Law required the high priest to wear clean clothing, so the fact the high priest was standing before God wearing filthy clothing was a major violation. Being the representative of the people before God, Joshua was essentially representing the sinfulness and the guilt of the nation before God.

To make things worse, Satan stood beside Joshua “to resist him” before God. Basically, Satan stood beside Joshua, criticizing his filthy clothes, and the sinfulness of the nation.

This had to be a mixed bag for Zechariah. One on hand, there’s the high priest. The priesthood and worship were being restored. On the other hand, he wore filthy clothes before God, and there was still no temple where worship could truly take place.

It was at that moment that God rebuked Satan, called Joshua (and by extension, the nation of Israel) a brand plucked from the fire, and restored Joshua to the glory of the priesthood by changing his clothes from filthy clothes, to new, clean, priestly clothes.

In this one moment, God showed the Prophet Zechariah that He not only accepted the return of the Jews to Israel, and the reconstruction of the Temple, but that He was behind it, and He would restore it, and He would cleanse the nation and reconcile them to Himself as His chosen people.

Therefore, the nation should move forward with reconstruction in faith and return to the Lord.

Often times, we wind up feeling like Joshua the high priest, standing before the Lord in filthy clothes with Satan (and the rest of the world) criticizing our weaknesses and failures. It often feels as if we stand alone, damaged goods rejected by the world.

Just as God cleansed Joshua and restored him to the glory of his position, God will restore us as well, if we (a) know Christ as our savior, and (b) turn to Him.

You don’t have to go through life defined by the scars of your past. You don’t have to go through life as a second-class citizen, or a second-hand friend. You are not some old CD single languishing in the bargain bin of a soon-to-close music store.

You have the opportunity for a new life, one where you’ve been made free in Christ, where you can grab that new lease on life, love God, and do as you please.

And we want to be a part of that with you. Come see us. Sunday School at 10 am, Morning Worship at 11 am. We meet at the Early Chamber of Commerce, 104 E. Industrial Drive, Early, TX, 76802.