He Reads Truth (Hebrews): Warning Against Unbelief

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I have the privilege of contributing to He Reads Truth, a website of whose purpose is “To help men become who we were made to be, by doing what we were made to do, by the power and provision that God has given us to do it, for the glory of Jesus Christ.” They do this by providing scripture reading plans accompanied by reflections that can be accessed for free online or purchased as print books. For those of you looking to engage scripture in a fresh way, these studies/plans will refresh your soul and engage your mind.

What follows is one of the pieces I wrote for the Hebrews reading plan. You can find the full plan HERE.

Hebrews 3:7-19John 3:16-21Romans 11:1-6

It wasn’t a good mail day. I’d gotten a letter from the IRS saying that I owed money—a lot of money. And to make matters worse, the letter came with a warning: if I didn’t pay up within a couple of weeks, I’d get a stiff penalty. Honestly, the letter left me confused. I’d used a reputable accountant. I’d filed my return weeks before. What could have caused me to owe so much? I double-checked my records, and the mistake was obvious; I had filed the return, but I’d forgotten to mail the check.

I can laugh about it now, but that letter produced a lot of anxiety at the time. I don’t look forward to warning letters. If I’m honest, I don’t really like warnings. They’re not always positive and encouraging, but they’re necessary. I’d rather be warned than incur a steep penalty.

The author of Hebrews invites us to hear a needed warning today. He reminds us how the human heart is bent toward evil. Like the Israelites who longed to go back to Egypt (Exodus 16:3,17:3), our sinful hearts can delude us into thinking we’re more secure apart from God than we are walking with Him. We’ve got to watch out and guard ourselves against an “evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).

This passage in Hebrews 3 also tells us that we need our friends, wives, and church leaders to step in daily to tell us when we’re headed in the wrong direction. We are human, which means we’re also sinners. We forget to mail checks on time; we lose our keys; and we sometimes lose our cool. Maybe it’s easy to speak up when it’s something small. But when I see a brother who’s slandering his pastor or putting down his wife behind her back, am I tempted to think, Well, that’s his business, and just walk away?

Hebrews doesn’t let me off the hook so easily. It instructs us to encourage one another daily, so we’re not hardened by sin’s deception (v.13). And as we caution one another, we also inspire confidence, believing that all who keep holding on to the reality Christ gives us at the start will share in His eternal rest at the end (v.14).

The time for giving and receiving these warnings and encouragements is now. We must speak up and warn one another before it’s too late. If you see me headed in the wrong direction on a one-way street, please honk your horn! I need a course correction because I’m headed for destruction. The direction of our souls requires this same level of urgency. As Paul writes elsewhere, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

He Reads Truth (Judges): Deborah Judges Israel

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I have the privilege of contributing to He Reads Truth, a website of whose purpose is “To help men become who we were made to be, by doing what we were made to do, by the power and provision that God has given us to do it, for the glory of Jesus Christ.” They do this by providing scripture reading plans accompanied by reflections that can be accessed for free online or purchased as print books. For those of you looking to engage scripture in a fresh way, these studies/plans will refresh your soul and engage your mind.

What follows is one of the pieces I wrote for the Judges reading plan. You can find the full plan HERE.

 

Day 4: Deborah Judges Israel
Judges 4–5, Job 19:25–27, Psalm 68:7–10

There’s about a foot of distance between our head and our heart. And there’s only about four to six feet between our heads and our feet. But it takes so long for obedience to go that distance! Too often I understand God’s commands and priorities in my head, but I fail to feel their importance. I may know what God has spoken, but I’m slow to put it into practice.  

Sometimes this is a problem with the way I think about leadership too. I can wrongly think that the person who is the most articulate--the one who seems to hear God’s voice most clearly--is a great leader. But true leadership doesn’t just hear and speak. It puts words and faith into action (James 2:14-26). Barak didn’t have any issues with understanding God’s command to deploy Israel’s troops. He and Deborah both heard God speak (ch. 4, v. 6). But what held Barak back from true leadership was his lack of courage. He wasn’t brave enough to act.

I have sympathy for Barak. It’s hard to step out in faith when circumstances are stacked against us. From a merely human perspective, Barak’s mission was doomed to failure. God told Barak to deploy his troops on Mount Tabor, but the mount was exposed, bordered only by the Kishon river basin, which was dried up most of the year. If he’d deployed his army there, Sisera’s chariots could easily surround them and cut off their escape. This was a suicide mission. No wonder Barak found God’s command so hard to obey!

But in spite of the odds, Deborah and Jael boldly trusted God. Their courageous leadership succeeded where Barak’s petered out (ch. 4, v. 9).

Deborah boldly summoned Barak. She reminded him about God’s promise of victory. And, when he continued to cower, she bravely went into battle with him (ch. 4, vv. 6-10). God honored her faith and fought for the Israelites. From chapter five, we learn that the Lord poured down rain, causing flash floods that trapped the enemy chariots (ch. 5, v. 4). As a result, God threw Sisera and all his charioteers into a panic before Barak’s assault (ch. 4, v. 15-16).

Then, as the enemy Sisera fled on foot, Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, offered him a place to rest. Inviting the general into her tent was a risk. Sisera had hoped to carry off Israelite women after the battle--“a girl or two for each warrior”  (ch. 5, v. 30). He could easily have taken advantage of Jael sexually before he fell asleep. But God honored Jael’s courage (and quick thinking!) by delivering Sisera’s life into her hands (ch. 4, vv. 17-22; ch. 5, vv. 24-27).

Where can we find courage like Deborah’s and Jael’s? Where do we find the kind of obedient faith that is willing to go to risky, vulnerable places in obedience to God’s call?  This kind of leadership only comes from looking to the invulnerable God who made himself vulnerable for us. God’s own courageous mission teaches us courageous leadership. The Father loved the world and sent the Son. The Father and Son send the Spirit. The Spirit forms us as his church and calls us to courageously participate in his mission to the world. Even when we languish in courage, God promises to sends his Holy Spirit like abundant rain. He revives us, so that we can leave behind what hinders, step out, and boldly obey his Word (Psalm 68:9).

Kids and Church, part 4: Obedience over Knowledge

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Before jumping in here, read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

“… Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15b ESV)

When it comes to discipleship, it’s important to stress obedience over the accumulation of knowledge. This is especially true when it comes to your own kids. The temptation for parents is to simply give them the facts of faith, forgetting that the facts don’t lead to faith. Being able to apply those facts to real life is what obedience is.

But how do we teach them to obey? What concepts do parents need to keep in mind when it come to disciplining their kids? Here are three:

1. Teaching

Teaching will always play a role in discipleship. It has to. Those being discipled need to be taught correct doctrine. Without proper teaching, they are likely to be “tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14) by anything that sounds close to truth. And, when it comes to teaching, parents need to remember it’s about more than mere information. We don’t just need our kids to remember a bunch of facts, but rather to help them see why the truth we are teaching is important.

To do that we have to break down the information into its three components: the precept, the principle, and the command. By precept, I mean the action or conduct that is being proposed through this teaching. By principle, I mean the rule by which that action or conduct is connected to the teaching. By command, I mean the authority behind the teaching. All three are necessary for teaching to be truly effective. Without all three components what is happening is not discipleship; it ends up being moralistic behavior modification.

2. Advising

To this kind of teaching, advisement or counsel must be added. In order for advice to be most effective, it must be personal to the person, their situation, and their stage of life. This is where we help those we are discipling to apply the teaching to their lives. While there are always general ways Scripture is applied to our lives, there are also specific ways it applies in the here and now. Helping those we disciple find those applications puts them on the path towards obedience.

3. Modeling

The final kind of teaching is modeling. Discipleship is most effective when the disciple-maker lives out what he is teaching. As we model what we are learning and teaching, those we disciple see how what they are learning is applied everyday. Obedience on our part can inspire obedience on their part. 

It’s not just what we teach them that’s important, it’s how we teach them that will bring about real heart change and the sort of obedience that is the mark of true faith. This is food they need as well as the kind of feeding Jesus expects.

The Jesus Way or The American Way

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 3:20
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Growing up I was enamored with Superman! (Let's be honest. I still am). And Superman was for truth, justice, and the American way! Superman shaped how I saw America. Superman was the greatest superhero ever. So, if Superman endorsed "The American Way," count me in.

But recently, my fond memories of the phrase, "The American Way," have been challenged. As I've watched the news and scrolled through Twitter, I've begun to ask the question, "What does the phrase 'The American Way' even mean? I am not necessarily trying to make a value judgment about whether or not America was great, is great, or will be great again. Certainly there have been things in our history... like slavery and 'abortion on demand' to grieve over. There are other historical movements like the Great Awakenings and the modern missions movement we can celebrate. But this is beside the point. The first question I'm asking is, "What is 'The American Way'"?

When asked this question, here are some of the answers people share. The characteristics and values that make up the "American Way" are: innovation, individualism, power, capitalism, freedom, "me first." So, now I ask, "If this is the "American Way," is this the "Jesus Way"?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
— John 14:6 (ESV)

In the Bible, Jesus calls himself the way, the truth, and the life. "The Jesus Way" is exclusive. He is the only way to the Father. Jesus's exclusive claims as our Lord remind us that, as Christians, we are not of this world. We are citizens of another realm.

And as we follow a "Jesus First" policy, we are changed into his likeness. C.S. Lewis put it like this:

Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life, we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. 

As we are formed into little Christs, God will use us to shape and form others to walk in his way. This certainly requires taking responsibility. We can—we must!—take responsibility for the way we live and work in our homes, neighborhoods, places of work, and the public square. We must not permit the culture to dictate the way we go about our lives. 

Being formed into the image of our Savior is also a powerful way. But the power is not ours. It's the way of the cross, where God demonstrates his power--not through our ingenuity or our political or financial strength--but through our weakness. 

One of tools God has used to challenge my thinking about "The American Way" the book, The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson. Peterson highlights Jesus' way of humility. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:1-7:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

"The Jesus Way" is preeminently a way of humility, compassion, empathy, and serving others. As we celebrate the birth of our nation later this week, many of us will have more time with our close family and friends. Each day, we'll have choices before us. Will we choose a "me first" policy or one that is characterized by humility and servanthood?  It is great to be proud of the country we live in. But, this week, let's take pride pride in our new kingdom, the one that surpasses all we experience here.