Hebrews

Entertaining Angels

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Hebrews 13:2

“Y’all come on out and see me,” echo’ed the voice of Pastor Bill Simpson throughout the sanctuary of the Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church of Denison, Tex. “I have a credit card, and a bedroom. I’ll take you to dinner, and I’ll give you a place to sleep.”

It was the annual messenger meeting of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, and Pastor Simpson was called upon to give the response to the welcome by the host church. Simpson had served as the pastor of Tall City Baptist Church in Midland, Tex., for as long as anyone could remember. He was well-known for his hospitality, generosity and kindness.

As pastor of Tall City, he worked to keep West Texas Baptist Institute in operation, published the Tall City Messenger, and supported missionaries worldwide. Those who had traveled through West Texas would tell you that Pastor Simpson would take in anyone who showed up at his doorstep. He loved fellowship, and he loved God’s people. Therefore, if any showed up to his door, he entertained them.

Pastor Simpson exemplified Hebrews 13:1, which says, “Let brotherly love continue,” as well as Hebrews 13:2, which says, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

When the Bible says to entertain strangers, it is commanding us to be hospitable. This thought is a continuation of the command to “let brotherly love continue.” God wants us to have a genuine affection for one another, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for everyone around us.

Pastor Simpson’s hospitality stood out in a world where we’d rather put someone up in a hotel room with a McDonald’s gift card rather than invite them in and cook them dinner, but there was a time when most Americans were as hospitable as Pastor Simpson. Hospitality is a dying courtesy in a world where we fear crime and value our privacy.

Still, if we are affectionate toward each other as scripture teaches, then we will also be hospitable.

Now, Hebrews 13:2 takes an interesting turn when it says “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

In the church where I grew up Spiritually, I was taught that this verse meant that we should be kind to everyone, because we never know when we are dealing with an angel in disguise who is checking to make sure we are showing the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. Therefore, I was always nervous when presented with a choice to give to a homeless individual, or whether to withhold out of suspicion that I was being scammed.

I have since overcome this fear by learning these three things. (1) I have learned that I will never regret generosity, (2) I have learned that if the recipient of my benevolence misuses it (if the homeless man to whom I give money uses it to buy beer), then he will be held accountable to God, not me, and (3) angels (as in the Spiritual beings) do not go around posing as homeless people in an effort to make you be more benevolent.

The context of Hebrews 13:2 is that the scriptures are teaching us to be affectionate, loving and benevolent toward each other. We are being taught how to love and interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is on that note that we are told to “entertain strangers,” that is to be hospitable to other Christians. (In the context of time, there were no Motel 6s where traveling Christians could stay. Their options were to sleep outside, stay at an inn and contract bedbugs, or stay with acquaintances or fellow Christians.)

The scripture then notes that by “entertaining strangers,” or being hospitable to Christian brothers and sisters, that some “entertained angels unawares.”

The word “angel” comes from the Greek word ang-eh-loss which simply means “messenger.” The angels who were Spiritual beings were merely messengers of God, as demonstrated in the books of Genesis, Joshua, Daniel, and Luke.

In other passages, the word “angel” is used to describe the pastor of a church, such as in Revelation 2:1, where Jesus says, “Unto the angel of the church at Ephesus, write….” That angel wasn’t a Spiritual being appointed to oversee the church at Ephesus. It was the pastor called to lead Ephesus. The message Christ dictated for John to write was intended for the pastor at Ephesus to deliver to his church.

So, given the context of Hebrews 13:2, the phrase “entertaining angels unawares” could very well be paraphrased, “you never know who you’re helping.”

While it is an interesting idea that Spiritual angels are checking in on us, a more powerful truth is that, by letting brotherly love continue and being hospitable, you may actually make a difference in someone’s life, who will in turn make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. You never know if the person you are helping will one day become a great angel (messenger) like the great Billy Graham.

So be generous. Be hospitable. Be friendly. Help those around you as you have opportunity. You will never regret loving, and you will never regret the good you do, neither in this lifetime, nor when you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ on judgment day.

Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. He is currently leading the congregation through a study of the book of Hebrews, which will conclude Sunday, Dec. 17, with a study of Chapter 13.

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Philadelphia

Philadelphia_skyline_from_the_southwest_2015

Let brotherly love continue.

-Hebrews 13:1

Philadelphia. It’s probably the best known Greek word among Americans. Most know it as a city in Pennsylvania, where our founding fathers met and signed The Declaration of Independence. Others know the meaning of the name, brotherly love. Hence, Philadelphia is “The City of Brotherly Love.”

Known as the home of the Eagles, 76ers and Phillies, Philadelphia was named after a Greek word which means brotherly kindness. That word, Philadelphia, is the opening word in Hebrews 13.

Much has been made in theological circles about the different Greek words translated into “love” in the modern English language. Eros means romantic love, Phileo means brotherly love, or affection. Agape is the highest form of love. It’s the self-sacrificial love that has that redemptive quality.

Agape love is a fundamental doctrine of true Christianity. It was agape love that propelled Jesus Christ to the cross. It is agape love that a man is commanded to have toward his wife. It is agape love that Christ commanded his disciples to have toward each other. It’s agape love that we are to have toward our enemies.

This doctrine has been preached throughout the ages, from the Apostle John’s epistles to the 1st Century Christians, to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, efforts during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Agape is also a Spiritual gift, and should be a hallmark of the life of the believer in Christ. However, agape is not exclusionary. We are also to have phileo love toward one another.

Hebrews 13:1 begins with the word, philadelphia. This word is a variation of phileo. It carries the notion that brotherly love and affection is not merely a feeling, but an action. If phileo  is the feeling, then philadelphia is the action motivated by the feeling.

Scripture here commands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only in an agape manner, but also in a phileo manner. We are to truly love and appreciate each other, and if we have the opportunity, to do good for each other. That means either helping in a time of need, or simply doing something nice for one another.

One spring day, a church member of Life Point called and asked to meet with me and my wife. Often, when these calls come, bad news will follow. The church member is leaving the church, has been offended, or there is a personal crisis happening. Not this time.

Upon meeting with this church member, she asked us if we would like to attend an upcoming “Weekend to Remember” retreat in The Woodlands, Tex. This would be a three-day weekend retreat, just the two us us, with Bible sessions, marriage improvement classes, and date nights. No kids. In fact, she volunteered to keep our kids for that weekend, which is a really big deal if you consider how many children my wife and I have.

The church member offered to pay the tuition, but hotels and meals were on us. We jumped at the chance!

She did not see us as having marital problems, nor was she trying to rescue us from a major calamity. Instead, she saw an opportunity to bless us, so she did. Her action was motivated by the fact that she not only had agape love toward us, but phileo love as well.

God smiles when we express our affection toward each other in these ways. And you don’t have to drop several hundred dollars either. Simply stopping by for a visit, taking someone out to lunch, or sending a card count as philadelphia.

Hebrews 13:1 in its entirety reads, “Let brotherly love continue.” The word “continue” comes from a Greek word which means to abide. It is a permanent presence. Brotherly love and affection should be a permanent hallmark of our lives together in Christ, and should be expressed through fellowship, benevolence and good will toward each other.

The old phrase “I love him, but I don’t like him” should never apply to our brothers in Christ.

It is with this context that we will learn new insight on Hebrews 13:2, where the Bible discusses the concept of “entertaining angels.” We’ll look at that tomorrow.

May God bless you today. Call up a brother or sister in Christ, and go spend some time together.

Endure

 

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

Tommy and Gina were married 52 years before being separated by Tommy’s death. When I managed a small, West Texas radio station, Gina worked as my news director. She was wise, passionate, and proactive in her community. She often visited my office, and we discussed everything from community development, to life in general. Many times, we discussed Heaven and eternity, a place she looked forward to going after her 92 years on Earth.

“Oh, I can’t wait to go to Heaven,” she’d tell me, to which I often replied, “Well, you don’t have to be in too big of a hurry to get there.”

“I can’t wait to go to Heaven to see my Tommy,” she would reply, then I’d feel guilty for my cavalier comment. That exchange always led into her reminiscing about her marriage that started rough, but grew into a stronger love than most can imagine.

“We hated each other for the first 20 years,” she would say, “but the last 30 were such a blessing.”

It always impressed me that, despite how tough it could be at times, she and Tommy stayed married, stayed committed to each other through 20 years of conflict, only to realize a more perfect love for the last 30 years of their time together.

Many married couples struggle to stay together for seven years, and that includes the good times. Fewer make it to 20 years, and even fewer stay married for 20 years in the presence of constant conflict. Yet Tommy and Gina stayed true for 20 years even though they “hated each other.” Their reward? The 30 years of wedded bliss that followed.

All of this, because they endured.

Hebrews 12:1 says that we are to “run with patience the race set before us.” That word “patience” means endurance. Hence, when we run our race, we are to do so with endurance. Our race is the life God set before us. Running the race means actively living the life God has set before you. Running with endurance means you stay committed even when you don’t think you can go any farther.

Just like the marathon runner endures when he continues to run, despite all of his energy being spent, we are to endure as we live the lives God has given us.

There are times when we just don’t think we can go any farther. We can’t live in this situation one more day. When everything within us, and everyone around us tells us to give up, we are called to endure.

Married couples understand this when they stay committed to each other even though conflict abounds. Parents understand this when their kids have pushed them to the brink of insanity. Employees understand this when they continue in a job despite seven-day workweeks and 12-hour shifts. Endurance means never giving up.

Scripture promises that these times won’t last forever, and once they are over, they’ll be a distant, faint memory. In the meantime, we are called to endure.

Or to quote Winston Churchill, “Never, never give up.”

Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. He is currently leading the congregation through a study of the book of Hebrews, which will conclude Sunday, Dec. 17, with a study of Chapter 13.

Shedding Spiritual Pounds

 

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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

Dr. Morris not only preached healthy living to his patients, he practiced it himself. A middle-aged doctor living in the piney woods of East Texas, he constantly trained to run ultra-marathons (foot-races of 99 miles, or more) in Death Valley, Ca., and Leadville, Colo.

He never won those races, but anyone who has attempted such a feat will tell you, just finishing the race is the victory. During an interview I did with him in 2007, Dr. Morris said the feeling one gets upon crossing the finish line is pure euphoria.

Most of the time, Dr. Morris finished his race. A few times, he did not. The year I interviewed him, he failed to finish a race because he had gained weight prior to running at Leadville, a course consisting of steep climbs and descents in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Now, in gaining the weight, Dr. Morris did not get fat. Au contrare! He gained muscle as part of a nutrition and workout regiment designed to build strength. He was still in shape, better than many professional athletes. However, the gained muscle mass added strain on his cardiovascular system, rendering him unable to deal with the combined pressures of the altitude, slopes and added weight.

The weight wasn’t bad for him, but it did affect his ability to run the race. (He returned home, lost the weight and went on to finish another ultra-marathon later that year.)

Hebrews 12:1 says that we are to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, and that we are to run with patience the race set before us.

In understanding this concept, we must realize that the Bible is telling us to lay aside two completely different things. Weight, and sin. What’s the difference?

The weight is something that, in and of itself, is not a sin. However, it is something that comes between us and God, making it sinful. Possible examples of weight could include career ambition, entertainment, or social lives.

All of these are not necessarily bad. Career ambition is a good thing. It motivates us to better ourselves so we can better provide for family. Entertainment is not necessarily bad, it relaxes the mind and can promote good mental health. Social lives are not bad, they result in lifelong friendships, which scripture says that we need.

However, when these things interfere with our Spiritual walk, they become weight. Anything that hinders you from living your life the way God wants you to live would fall into this classification. If entertainment keeps you out of worship, it becomes weight. If career ambition prevents you from honoring your commitment to your family, or to your church, it becomes weight. If social activities leave you too tired to have personal time with God, or to worship God, it becomes weight.

These are just a few general examples of what can happen. Only you know what’s truly happening in your Spiritual life.

When these things happen, Hebrews 12:1 tells us that we are to lay aside that weight. That means to re-examine our priorities when it comes to career aspirations and time management, to put our entertainment desires into perspective, and to stop letting social engagements control our lives.

Basically, whatever comes between us and God, we have to lay that aside.

Sin, on the other hand, is a direct disobedience to God, or a violation of His law. Sin is open rebellion against God, and will not only hinder our walk with Him, but will draw his chastisement upon us as He corrects us.

Is there anything that is coming between you and God? Is there recurring sin in your life? If so, it’s time to lay that aside so you can run your race for the Lord.

Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. He is currently leading the congregation through a study of the book of Hebrews, which will conclude Sunday, Dec. 17, with a study of Chapter 13.

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.

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.