Encourage One Another

The longer I live the more I realize I need people encouraging me. Have you noticed that? Life is challenging and faithfulness to Christ in our culture has many obstacles. The book of Hebrews gives us guidance to help with the long road of obedience. Notice what it says in Heb. 3:12-13,

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

When difficulties in life come, it is a challenge to us to continue to believe God’s promises and walk a life of faithfulness. Suffering was the norm for a Christ follower in the first century. Our choice of unbelief is dangerous because it will lead us astray from walking with God.

The way God has designed the Church, is for us to be encouraging one another daily. The word translated “exhort” is a reference to “encouragement.” Logos defines it as “to earnestly support or encourage a response of action.” Other believers can be one of my greatest encouragements in the life of following Christ. This also means that I need to take responsibility for being an intentional encouragement to others on a daily basis.

Why do we need to be doing this for one another? The text tells us that on our own we may allow ourselves to be lead astray from a life of faithfulness due to the deceitfulness of sin. Without the encouragement of others we are more vulnerable. We need each other!

Father, help to not try to live life alone. Help me to be open to others speaking into my life. Finally, help me to daily take the initiative to encourage others.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

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Made Perfect through Suffering

Hebrews is on an amazing book! It is deep with theology and rich truth. One verse that caused me to stop and contemplate was Heb. 2: 10 which says,

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Jesus was made perfect through suffering. What does that mean? I thought he always was perfect because he is God the Son!

Notice the helpful words of the ESV Study Bible on this verse,

“In saying that Jesus was made perfect, the author is not suggesting that Jesus was sinful (cf. 4:15; 7:26) but that as he lived his life, his maturity and experience deepened, yet always with full obedience to the Father. As a human being, he needed to live his life and obey God (which he did perfectly) to become the perfect sacrifice for sins.”

So what this verse is telling us is that Jesus was always sinless, and yet as he matured and lived life in complete obedience to the Father, he became the perfect sacrifice for us when he suffered and died in our place. His final act of suffering fully qualified him for his role as Savior. Jesus was made the perfect founder of salvation through his suffering for us. He is the only one qualified to blaze the trail of our salvation!

As Barclay clarifies,

“The basic meaning of teleios (“perfect”) in the New Testament is always that the thing or person so described fully carries out the purpose for which designed. So, then, what the writer to the Hebrews is saying is that through suffering Jesus was made fully able for the task of being the pioneer of our salvation.”

Father, thank you for the profound truth contained in the book of Hebrews. The reality that Jesus became fully qualified to be our one and only sacrifice for sin. He was perfectly qualified to be my Savior because he suffered in place of me. Suffering for him was part of your plan to make him our substitute for sin. He was on a mission of life-long obedience. His final act of obedience was suffering. May I not lose sight of the cost of my salvation.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Kiss of a “Friend”?

Matthew adds a detail to the betrayal of Jesus that are not mentioned in any of the other Gospel accounts. Notice how he describes the scene,

“And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him” (Mt 26:49-50).

Judas had previously arranged with the authorities that he would give Jesus a kiss to identify the person they should arrest. This was necessary because it was dark. Constable quotes E.F.F. Bishop as saying that “Disciples of rabbis often greeted their teachers with a kiss on the hand.”

The tragic irony of this act is summarized by Lenski, who says,

“The kiss, the great and universal sign of friendship and love, is used here for the basest and most damnable act, the betrayal of no less a one than ‘the Son of man,’ he who is man and yet more than man.”

Barclay proposes an interesting possibility when he suggests, “It is much more likely that Judas kissed Jesus as a disciple kissed a master and meant it; and that then he stood back with expectant pride waiting on Jesus at last to act.”

Here then is the scene; Judas has ulterior motives to identify Jesus with a kiss and yet expecting an appropriate greeting from Jesus. The Master he had been following for years now responds with the words, “Friend, do what you came to do.”

For me it was helpful to see that the word Jesus chose which is translated as “friend” is not what we think when we use the word today. Lenski is helpful when he makes this clarifying comment, “It is anything but our mild, gentle ‘friend,’ the Greek φίλε. In all three places in which it occurs it is like our ‘fellow,’ and this word thrusts a man away. No other disciple of his did Jesus ever address as ἑταῖρε.”

Judas executes his plan and appears to expect Jesus to welcome him as a friend! Instead Jesus uses a much less affectionate term that would push him away. Judas could not hide his motive from Jesus. Jesus saw through him and this confrontation made it clear to all.

What must have that confrontation been like for Judas? What an amazing tragedy! Did he finally realize what he just did? We do not hear from him again until he is determined to commit suicide. Some have proposed he ran from the Garden because he finally understood the significance of his betrayal. The text does not make it clear, but certainly makes us wonder.

Father, I cannot imagine what Jesus must have felt when he was betrayed by one of his disciples. What disappointment and yet, Jesus knew all along that was part of your plan. Thank you for allowing your son to be betrayed and suffer for me.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Promise In Peril

As I have been reading through Genesis, I paused at chapter 34. If you recall, this is the Story of the defilement (rape) of Dinah. It also records the extreme response of her brothers who came to her defense. Why in the world is that in the Bible? Moses is recounting the history of God’s people and includes a very dark story for a purpose.

The previous chapter in Genesis records the reconciliation of Esau and Jacob. As a result, God’s people now seem to be on a safe path. The chapter following the story of Dinah tells of God’s favor upon Jacob and his name change to Israel. What is the story of Dinah doing in the middle of those two chapters?

K.A. Matthews makes some helpful observations on this chapter which I will summarize:

  1. The story in Genesis turns to the story of Jacob’s sons who become the 12 tribes of Israel.
  2. The shady character of Jacob’s sons becomes visible.
  3. Their moral weakness exposes that the promise of God through Abraham is once again in peril.
  4. God again shows that our salvation is based upon his gracious effort on our behalf. As Matthews says, “redemptive purposes survive the moral failures of the nation’s fathers.”
  5. Another good observation by the ESV Study Bible is

“While the rape of Dinah by Shechem is inexcusable, the punishment meted out by Simeon and Levi far exceeds the crime. While they are reluctant to acknowledge any fault on their part, Jacob is very conscious of how their actions have endangered his entire household.”

Father, this story of Dinah and her brothers starkly remind me of how corrupt Jacob and his sons were. This very dark story and her brothers misuse of circumcision for destruction rather than a blessing confirm that truth. Once again, you show us through inspiring Moses that our salvation and the promised Seed was dependent upon you and not our ability to make this happen. Our salvation is once again clearly dependent upon you and not us. Thank you for this reality. As a result, I can also have confidence in the surety of my salvation because you are the one who provided it!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

The Brevity of Life

As Solomon continues his reflections and observations about life, he makes a stunning observation in Ecc 7:2 when he says,

“It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.”
What does Solomon mean by such a statement?

He reminds us that life is short. The wise person is the one who thinks deeply about that truth because it will impact the way he lives.

Iain Proven summarizes this thought in this way, “Recognizing the brevity and preciousness of life, we should live life seriously.” We must take life seriously and make the best of it for God’s glory because our days are limited.

Why does Solomon mention the “house of mourning”? He is referring here to the place of death of a friend or loved one. When we are mourning, why are we more open to considering the brevity of life?

Robert Davidson notes, “There are things we learn when face to face with sorrow, ‘in the house of mourning’, which we do not and cannot learn in the midst of happiness, ‘in the house of feasting’”. This reality seems to imply that although times or mourning are difficult and painful, it is at such times that we are more open to God’s prodding for our spiritual growth.

Have you noticed this truth in your life? I can say that has been true for me. I will always remember a good friend on my high school baseball team who died in a car accident in my first year of college. I had recently become a Christian in college and he still had another year of high school left. The news of his untimely death made me think seriously about life and its brevity.

Solomon is wisely reminding us of the importance of making the most of the few days we have upon this earth. It is easy to think we will never die, but the wise person thinks about the certainty of his death because it will encourage him to make the most of life.

Father, thank you for the reminder of the certainty of death. I would be wise to give that truth serious thought because it will impact the way I live my life. The thought of death should instruct me to live for eternal values and boldly give my life away in service for you. As Jim Elliott, the missionary who died on the mission field said, “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” May you continue to remind me of the wisdom of living for you in spite of my feelings, or what the culture and my circumstances might say.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Aspiration

I have started rereading a classic book on leadership called “Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for every believer” by J. Oswald Sanders. It is a great book, and as I was considering his initial thoughts on this topic, he got me thinking. He begins with quoting 1 Tim. 3:1 which says,

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”

As I studied this verse, a couple of things impressed me. The first is the word “aspire.” This word is describing something for which a person eagerly longs. It also describes someone stretching out to grasp something. The concept of aspiring can be a good thing if the motives are right. Aspiring for selfish ambition obviously would be a bad thing. As Sander states,

“All Christians are called to develop God-given talents, to make the most of their lives, and to develop to the fullest their god-given gifts and capabilities. But Jesus taught that ambition that centers on self is wrong.

Leaders who aspire to be “boss” may not be aspiring appropriately. They may have confused Godly aspiration with selfish. In the time in which Paul wrote this letter, leadership was not glamorous. Being a leader meant you were a servant-leader and the first to suffer.

I also found it interesting that what is being commanded in this verse is not an aspiration to be an overseer but the aspiration to the office of overseer. Although Paul explains what type of character is expected of a person in the office, Paul commends those who desire to attain to the office of overseer. Overseer is a reference to those who wish to serve as servant-leaders in the church. They want to give their lives away serving others.  Unfortunately, some can aspire to an overseer in the church for the wrong reasons.

As Sanders says, “True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”

If you aspire to lead, what does that mean to you? If you desire to give your life away in serving others, that is fantastic. If it is more a desire to be in charge and have others, serve you, that probably reveals a self-centered motive and is not a good thing.

Father, thank you for this great reminder that I should evaluate why I want to lead. What is my motivation to serve as an overseer of the church? I also need to make sure I have the same definition of leadership as you do. Leadership is not bossing others around, but serving others and leading them to your will for them. Help me to keep pure motives in my service of you and others.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Who Do You Say That I Am?

In Matt. 16:16 Peter responds to the question we all have to answer. Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” After this amazing revelation, Jesus promises that he will build his church through those who embrace him as the Messiah and Son of God.

Something hit me though as I read it. If you were one of the apostles and came to understand this crucial truth would you let it go? I would have been asking Jesus what it was like to be God the Son, and what was heaven like, etc.!

The conversation seemed to have taken a different turn when you read the following verses,

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’”

Jesus didn’t take the disciples aside and tell them how glorious eternity is, instead, the cost of their salvation was on his mind. He predicted his suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus wanted them to understand what was required for our salvation since they would be his men to take the Good News to the world. Peter, though, couldn’t bear the thought of a Messiah/God that endured such suffering and tries to correct Jesus! Jesus rebukes such thoughts and continues his teaching on the cost of following him.

This whole story is fantastic, but it also has a serious feel to it. Jesus understood the task at hand. He was focused on the Father’s will and being the provision for our salvation. To engage and interact with Jesus was such a privilege and yet we can still learn from him because of his provision of the Bible.

Father, thank you for sending your Son to be our Messiah! Thank you for recording this interaction between Jesus and the disciples as they come to grips with the identity of Jesus and see the single focus Jesus had as he was about the task of accomplishing your will for our salvation. May I not take his life and sacrifice for me for granted.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Going Through The Motions

How is your relationship with God today? Do you find yourself going through the motions at times? To be honest, I do. Since we all can drift from a heart commitment to God, and lean toward duty and obligation, I appreciated the words of Jesus today in Matt. 15:8-9 where he said,

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

This rebuke by Jesus is for the Pharisees. This group took great pride in their observance of rules and the traditions of men. These men did not know Jesus as their Savior and God. They missed the point of the Law. The Law was not to be a book of rules focused on duty, but a book that impacted the heart. It was designed to guide a person in their relationship with God.

I think this tendency that we see in the Pharisees can invade the life of a disciple of Jesus as well. It is a great reminder for me to evaluate why I am living a life of faithfulness? If I can’t say it is out of love from my heart, I may be drifting and getting lost in the “to do’s” of what a good disciple should do. This approach has surfaced at times in my life. I forget that Jesus doesn’t want me doing things “for” him but “with” him. He wants me to enjoy my life of service in relationship to him. My growing and vibrant relationship with him should stir me to action.

Leon Morris commented,

“The people in question honor God in that they say all the proper things. But this is all a matter of outward profession. Their heart is not in it… Despite their good words they were lacking in good works. They were far away from God where it counts, in the heart.”

Father, I thank you that I cannot earn your love by obedience to rules. Your Word is to be my guide for life. May you give me the grace to pursue my relationship with you out of love from my heart and not routine and obligation. Revive my heart to pursue my relationship with you and allow me to live as you have shown me in your Word.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Guardian Angels?

Have you ever wondered about the role of angels in our lives? I was hit this morning when I read Matt. 18:10 where Jesus is teaching his disciples. Notice what he says,

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

The word that stands out to me is “their.” This observation has caused some to teach that children and maybe adults have “guardian” angels. Is this what the text means?

Although there are scholars on both sides of this issue, I think Leon Morris summarizes the issue well when he says,

“Angels (see on 1:20) are heavenly beings, but “their” poses a problem. Jacob referred to an angel who had had concern for him (Gen. 48:16), while in the book of Daniel it seems that each nation has its angel (Dan. 10:13) and in Revelation we are introduced to the angels of churches (Rev. 1:20). Perhaps we should notice further that angels are said to have carried Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22) and to rejoice over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10). Angels are apparently active in and about the affairs of people. It is possible that here guardian angels are meant (NEB translates ‘guardian angels’), with a particular angel watching over each little one. But if this were meant, it would point to something so significant that we would expect references to guardian angels elsewhere, and we do not find them. Calvin regards the suggestion that guardian angels are in mind as ‘weak’ and prefers the idea that ‘to the angels is committed the care of the whole Church and that they succor individual members so far as their necessity and situation demands’ (II, p. 218). We can say no more than that the passage looks like a reference to guardian angels but comes short of proof, and in any case we have no further information on who such angels are or what they do.”

Whatever the truth might be regarding individual guardian angels, we do know that angels are very active in serving God and helping to accomplish his purposes. This reminder has made me pause to consider all that God is doing on my behalf and without my knowledge. This realization makes me very thankful for God’s loving and constant care. I hope that as a result of your consideration of all that is taking place in the spiritual realm your confidence in God’s care for you increases.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

She is My Sister!

One of the surprising discoveries in the Bible is that people are not always painted in a positive light. One such example is Abraham. He is the person with whom God made a covenant and the person he protected and prospered. It was from the lineage of Abraham that the promised Messiah would come (Gen. 12:1-3).

In the immediate context of Gen 20 we see that God had just rescued Lot and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. After this great miracle, Abraham fails to trust God. God had also just promised that Sarah would have a son and now we see what happens in Gen 20:2 which says, “And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.”

What? How could this happen? What was he thinking? His defense of his actions is found in verse 12 which says, “She is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” This means that Abraham told a partial truth to protect himself.

Here we see the clear failure of Abraham’s faith in God to protect him and to fulfill the promises made to him. But, why is this story even in the text? What is the significance of this event that God made sure it was recorded for our instruction? I think Helyer has some insightful words when he says,

“Apparently, shortly after the announcement of a birth one year hence, Sarah is again taken into another man’s harem. The reader is to infer that if there is an heir, he is in danger of being reckoned as Abimelech’s not Abraham’s. But Yahweh intervenes once again and preserves Sarah (20.6b) and restores her to Abraham.”

God had just told Sarah that she would have a child. From this child the promised seed, would be provided. Abraham in his foolishness and fear had given his wife to a pagan king and if she now were to give birth, how could we know who the father was?  What would happen to the promise of a Savior?

This story is very significant in the history of our salvation. Again, God had to intervene to ensure that Sarah remained pure and had her brought back to Abraham so that the promised seed would come as foretold by God.

Once again, our salvation story is not dependent on us! God had to work everything out and at times, in spite of us! As Kidner notes,

“… the episode is chiefly one of suspense: on the brink of Isaac’s birth-story here is the very Promise put in jeopardy, traded away for personal safety. If it is ever to be fulfilled, it will owe very little to man. Morally as well as physically, it will clearly have to be achieved by the grace of God.”

Father, thank you for another example of your grace and protection in making the way for our salvation. Through Abraham, we almost messed up your plan! Wow! You did not let his foolish decision thwart your plan for our salvation. Thank you for your sovereign control of all things to work out the details necessary to provide our Messiah, Jesus!

Following Jesu with you,

Jeff