Do Not Forget You are Sons & Daughters of the King

The Lord Disciplines those He LovesAnd have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. – Hebrews 11:5-8

In this passage the author of Hebrews quotes the Old Testament, reminding his audience of something they’d forgotten – that they are sons of God.

He admonished them earlier for being immature (Hebrews 5:12). This passage from Proverbs 3:11-12 is one that would have been well known by a Jewish audience. He’s saying, you’ve forgotten this basic teaching of scripture from this commonly used passage. You’ve forgotten a passage you should be familiar with, that you should be turning to for help and encouragement.

And what is in this passage that is so important?

(v. 5b1) “…My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord…

The word “discipline” in the first line of the verse is associated with the training of children. It has the sense of helping someone reach full development. The difficulties they are facing is the Lord training them and the author tells them not to take that lightly. The verb form implies continual action: do not “keep on taking it lightly” or, said another way, do not “keep on caring too little about it.”

How do we care too little about the discipline the Lord sends into our lives?

Most of the time if I’m facing difficulty, I care a whole lot about it. But, here’s the thing, it is all in how I view it. By treating it as a nuisance, or as something just to be endured until it’s over, or as disconnected from my Christian life, after which I can get on with my life or my ministry or whatever – like a train pulling off of the main track onto a siding, I am not in a position to learn from it, to grow from it. As I heard someone say, difficulty is not a distraction from your ministry, it is your ministry. It’s not a sidebar in the journey for a Christian, it is the journey.

Paul tells the Corinthian church:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – II Corinthians 1:8-9

 God had a purpose for the difficulty He placed Paul in. God has a purpose for the difficulty these Jewish believers are facing. He has a purpose for the difficulty He places in my life and in yours.

John Piper wrote a books called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” By that he meant, don’t lose the opportunity to grow as a Christian and glorify God that something like cancer provides you with.

The author of Hebrews says something similar, don’t keep on acting like these difficulties have no purpose, don’t see them as nuisances or as something just to get through, see them as discipline from the Lord. See them as something God has placed in your life to grow you in the faith. Don’t take them lightly, don’t waste them.

He goes on…

(v.5b2) “…nor be weary when reproved by him.”

He talks of another type of God’s work in their lives – reproof.

This word has a more negative connotation than “discipline.” This word is associated with rebuking someone, exposing their guilt or proving them wrong.

Not all difficulty that comes into our lives is a direct result of our personal sin –The man born blind John tells us was not that way because of his sin or his parents but, so that God’s works could be displayed  (John 9:1-3).

But some is.

When believers are involved in sin we should expect the Lord’s correction.

Often that comes in the form of a fellow believer coming along side us and gently pointing us back to the right path. At other times it may reveal itself as a consequence of our actions – a man who steals from his company is discovered and fired. At still other times it may be seemingly unrelated, such as an illness.

Again, not all difficulties are the result of my personal sin but when I find myself in a continuing difficult circumstance it pays to examine my life and see if there is any sin from which I need to repent.

Could it be some of the difficulty they were facing was because they were looking back like Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26) and considering a return to their former way of life?

They were considering abandoning the faith so the Lord was reproving or rebuking them for this.

Whatever form it was taking with the recipients of Hebrews, they had become weary of the Lord’s correction. They wanted it to stop before it had done its work or before they had done what they needed to do, such as repent, because they didn’t see in it the hand of God.

But the author reminds them that such things, discipline and chastisement, are marks of God’s love and of their status as His sons and daughters.

(v. 6) “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

 These difficulties are a mark of God’s care and concern for them as His children. Therefore, the author says, you must endure it.

(v. 7) “It is for discipline you must endure.”

 Endurance is necessary for the discipline to be effective. Part of the discipline is the waiting, the trusting God in the midst of difficulty. If you seek to short circuit what God is doing in your life or you don’t seek to learn from it or you run from it, the discipline the Lord is trying to bring to your life, the growth He seeks for you, as His child, won’t happen.

It is for discipline you must endure.

He closes out this section with a sobering thought and a dire warning: If you’re not being disciplined, you don’t belong to the Lord.

 When the Bible tells us that something is the mark of an unbeliever, we need to listen up because it’s important.

 (v. 8) “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

 Let that sink in a minute. If my Christian life makes no demands on me, does not stretch me and is always problem free I might not be truly converted. And while I don’t think we can say because we’ve had lots of difficulty we’re believers, based on what the author says here, if we are not experiencing the discipline of the Lord either positively as training or negatively as chastisement and rebuke when necessary, it’s a sign we’re not converted.

A friend of mine once told me “The most dangerous place you can be is involved in sin and experiencing no adverse consequences for it.”

In other words, if I’m not being chastised for my sin, if I’m not experiencing negative consequences of my sin, if I can just sin with impunity and be fat and happy about it, or even worse, proud of it, it’s because the Lord does not consider me His son or daughter and He’s therefore not taking the time to discipline me.

If someone tells you the Christian life is a life of health and wealth and ease and the only reason you don’t experience those things is your lack of faith or your lack of positive thinking or speaking good things into existence run from them, they’re a false teacher.

In this life you will have trials Jesus told His followers. If it was true for Him it will be true for us. Thankfully for believers those trials are not random purposeless things but tools a loving Father uses to mold us into the likeness of Christ.

 

Photo credit: Grotuk via VisualHunt / CC BY

The Importance of Meeting with God in His Word

The Importance of Meeting with God in His WordIn Exodus 19 an amazing thing happens to Moses. He’s called to the top of Mt. Sinai where he meets with the Lord and the Lord speaks with him and gives him instructions.

What if I told you, you could meet with the God of the Universe, the most powerful Being in existence and hear from Him any time you desired? That this same God who called Moses to speak with him desires to speak with you today?

The truth is we can meet with this God and we can get close to Him and we can know Him because we have a great high priest who is our mediator. Jesus Christ is the mediator for us, through His blood shed on the cross. He is the perfect sacrifice, paid once for all time. And so Hebrews 4:16 says:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

And one of the ways, I’d say the primary way, God has graciously provided for us to “draw near” to Him is through His Word, the Bible. I would argue that hearing and especially reading the word of God is the most important thing we can do in our process of sanctification.

In John 17:17, in what we call Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, he says:

…Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Jesus prays for our sanctification, the daily process of being made righteous and being conformed to His image. Jesus wants us to be like Him. And in this prayer He reveals how that happens – through interaction with the truth. But He doesn’t stop there; He also makes it clear what the source of truth is that sanctifies. It is the Word of God. The Bible is composed of sanctifying truth.

Back to the book of Hebrews:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

Sanctification is about heart change and nothing impacts the believer’s heart like the word of God. Neglecting the word of God is neglecting to expose our hearts to the thing that is most needed to change them.

Why would I say it is the most important thing? Why not attending church or praying or loving our neighbor or obeying Christ? Because regular reading and study of the word of God shows us the importance of all of those other things and leads us to them. We know we should pray and how to pray because the Bible tells us those things. We know we should not neglect attending church because the Bible tells us that. We know we should love our neighbor as our self because the Bible tells us so.

When, for example, my prayer life has become dry or infrequent it is almost always because I’ve stopped spending regular time in God’s word. When I become cold to the things of God and to His church, it’s because I’ve stopped spending time reading the word. When I’m impatient with my wife and children, it’s the same reason – I’m not reading and studying God’s Word like I should.

Psalm 119 is an extended a psalm of praise and a prayer to God from a man who places high value on God’s Word.

Psalm 119: 62 says:

At midnight I rise to praise you,
because of your righteous rules.

The psalmist praises God because of God’s law. Or, said another way, because of God’s word. One thing we find is that our praise of God and our desire to obey him are functions of the time we spend in the word and it’s a circular process:

We spend time in the word —> This leads us to praise God —> This leads us back to His word to learn more about him —> which leads us to praise God, etc.

So regular, I would say daily, intake of God’s word is essential for the Christian. It is the oxygen of our Christian life. Without it we suffocate and die.

What is the Mark of the Beast?

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. – Revelation 13:16-18

What is the Mark of the Beast?
“The Number of the Beast is 666” by William Blake

This passage has caused much speculation among Christians through the years. People are keen to know who the beast is and what it means to take his mark. The two questions have to be answered simultaneously because what you believe about the beast determines what you believe about his mark and vice versa.

Two things must be remembered about Revelation to properly understand it:

  • Revelation was written to people in the first century as a warning and an encouragement. Therefore, what is written had meaning for them in that day and not just for people in some far distant future time (Rev. 1:1).
  • Revelation is written in apocalyptic style meaning it is highly symbolic. We must be careful when reading it not to do so as if it is the newspaper or an historical narrative.

If Revelation was written as a warning and an encouragement to the first century church and to the church throughout history, then the beast and his mark must be something relevant to both groups. I believe the beast is a specific person in ancient history, a persecutor of the church, perhaps a Roman emperor. However, in warning the church about this person, John also warns future Christians about those who govern the same way. There may also be a final manifestation of this type of ruler before the return of Christ who is worse than all those before him. So he could be a specific person in the future as well.

However, our concern needs to be identifying the characteristics of the ruler described rather than identifying an individual by name. Kim Riddlebarger in his book “The Man of Sin” says:

It is more important to understand what the number means than to identify the individual to whom it is referring.”

Several characteristics of the beast are mentioned in the extended passage but I want to concentrate on those associated with his mark.

The mark is required to engage in commerce. In other words, this ruler requires people to have the mark in order to make a living, buy food, etc. The mark is equivalent to the ruler’s name. So the ability to buy and sell is related to the person’s support for and acknowledgment of the ruler. The mark is to be placed on either the hand or the forehead. This last point is especially interesting.

Why the hand or the forehead?

Think back to God’s instructions concerning His law after freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt:

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. – Deuteronomy 6:8

The Lord’s commands were to be with the people of God always. They were the guide for their actions (hands) and thoughts (foreheads). Their ultimate allegiance in all things was to God. So in describing the locations of the mark, John reveals it is usurpation of God that the beast seeks – the desire to be worshiped and to be the source of ultimate authority.

I believe the beast is any government or ruler who sets themselves up as God and demands ultimate allegiance. Nazi Germany was a manifestation of the beast as are the communist governments in places like China and North Korea. The beast has risen and fallen many times throughout the history of the world and will continue to do so until Christ returns.

His mark is not necessarily physical, not a tattoo or a computer chip or a bar code. It is something more sinister. We take the mark when we acquiesce to the state’s demand to be worshiped, when we remove Christ from His throne and replace Him with a golden statue of the state. This is why first century Christians refused to worship Caesar even under penalty of death – because to do so was to dishonor the Lord and abandon the faith.

Those claiming to be followers of Christ in the United States have by and large not had to make this choice. But, recent events remind us that the beast is crouching at our door. The day will soon come when he will demand that we choose whom we will serve. My prayer for the American church is that we be given grace and strength from the Holy Spirit to choose as Moses did, “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Why Read the Bible All the Way Through? – Part II

Context is King

“Old Woman Reading the Bible” by Gerrit Dou

If, as we established in the last post, the Bible is one seamless story it follows that no section stands apart from the others. There are certainly some sections of scripture that can be helpful on their own but even then to properly understand them we must have an idea of their context. There’s a saying in real estate that the three most important things are location, location and location. For scripture, it’s not far off to say the three most important things are context, context and context.

What do we mean by context? Context is knowing where the verse or passage fits in relation to the chapter, where the chapter fits in relation to the book and where the book fits in relation to scripture as a whole.

Christian apologist Greg Koukl goes so far as to say “never read a Bible verse.” Of course he doesn’t mean never read a verse at all but never to read it in isolation. I quoted this statement from Koukl while preaching one time in South America and the translator didn’t want to translate it until I explained that I was not discouraging people from reading their Bibles but from reading just a verse apart from the context in which it’s found.

We sometimes forget that every single verse, no, every single word, in the Bible is there because God chose to put it there. Every sentence is set in relation to the sentences around it in just the way God intended. So when we read our favorite passages or verses apart from the text appearing before and after them, we are missing some of what God intends to tell us with that passage.

In their excellent book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart, they say this about context:

“This (Literary context) is what most people mean when they talk about reading something in its context. Indeed this is the crucial task in exegesis, and fortunately it is something you can learn to do well without necessarily having to consult the “experts.” Essentially, literary context means first that words only have meaning in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part only have clear meaning in relation to the preceding and succeeding sentences.” (How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, p.27)

And nothing helps us with what Fee and Stuart characterize as the crucial task in exegesis more than reading the entirety of God’s word.

Why Read the Bible All the Way Through? – Part I

“Old Woman Reading the Bible” by Gerrit Dou

God’s Word is One Seamless Story

The Bible is an amazing book. However, it’s not really a book but sixty-six books written by 40 different authors across hundreds of years. Yet despite the different authors and extended time spans, it tells one story from beginning to end.

Of course, as Christians, we realize this is so because ultimately the Bible has one author – the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us in II Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Despite this we often read the Bible piecemeal, a passage here, a verse there, and while there’s value in that, we can miss some important biblical truths that way.

For example, Malachi 3:6 tells us that the Lord never changes and Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” One of the best ways to learn that or at least have it reinforced for us is by experiencing that truth through the pages of the scriptures. When you read in the Old Testament about God choosing Abraham to be His and Abraham being justified by faith and then see that same pattern revealed throughout scripture as God deals with His people, God’s immutability is reinforced.

And what about things like God’s holiness or His justice? These attributes are illustrated over and over in the pages of the Bible. When you’re familiar with all parts of scripture they come into sharper focus. I believe the lack of a healthy fear of God we see in the church today is a direct result of a church that has no familiarity with large portions of God’s Word.

Unfortunately, a lot of us learned Bible stories, especially the ones in the Old Testament, as disjointed morality tales with the hero being Moses or Daniel or David. But these accounts are not morality tales they are links in the chain of the story of redemption, a story that began, not in Bethlehem, but in the Garden of Eden:

Sometimes called the proto evangelGenesis 3:15 says:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

    and you shall bruise his heel.

This is the first reference in scripture to God sending a savior. From that point forward, all the way to the cross, all of scripture is about God doing that – preparing people and circumstances so that “at the right time” (Romans 5:6) Jesus Christ would come into the world and bruise the serpent’s head.

All of scripture before the cross leads to the cross; all of scripture after the cross points either back to the cross or forward to Christ’s second coming.

If you doubt that, look at how Jesus viewed the scriptures. In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel, the risen Christ appears to some travelers on the road to the village of Emmaus. As they walk along they talk about recent events in Jerusalem, and express their disappointment. Jesus then helps them understand why these things happened by referencing the Old Testament. In Luke 24:27 we read:

“And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself.”

The Bible is one seamless story and it’s all about Jesus Christ – not just the red letters. Therefore if we want to know all the Lord has to tell us about Christ we must read the entirety of scripture.