Remember to live the Gospel

I have been experiencing a supreme sense of the immediacy of Jesus and His coming as Christmas approaches. The King is coming, the King is coming indeed!

“I am the Souvereign of the universe and have all the power and creativity which has brought it into being and is now sustaining you. At the moment I am focusing it here in this room on you. Every bit of that is here and available through My Spirit to you. And, mark, just as it is available to you, it is available to every true child of mine who listens to Me. What you need is just to be aware of the height, length, breadth and depth of this power which is demonstrated in My love. Every moment on this earth is precious and it is precious because of your relationship with Me and My transforming power. That is THE GOSPEL, live it this week with all your thankfulness in full expectation of My appearing soon, my appearing again has always been imminent”.

As we come now to the last chapter of Hebrews, the melody line has drawn the message of the letter to a conclusion and now we are faced with various exhortations on the practical application of the whole of it. Most of the instructions in this section are pretty straightforward, but the teaching is very dense. This means that if we are to draw the greatest benefit from this passage we need to stop with each instruction, meditate on it and ask Jesus to show us, personally how it should play out in our lives.

Up to vs 15, I count 5 distinct instructions, although some are linked. Each one is a challenge. Take vs 5 for instance. Keep your lives free from the love of money. Learn to be content with what you have. Maybe at our age this is not such a great challenge, but the world out there and within the church as well, is driven by a sense of discontent. Whether major desires that are not being met or just with the behaviour of the person who lives next door.

Now here is the important message I have for all of us today. If this was just a list of instructions, which many people treat it as, then trying to obey and fulfil them would only lead to more frustration and discontent and often a sense of failure. But we live by the gospel of Jesus. Now look at how He is woven into all these instructions.

We should be content, because we are depending on Jesus, who will never leave you or forsake you and is your helper.(VV5,6.) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and to morrow (V 8.) Through Him we are to offer the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, (V 15). May the Lord Jesus work in us what is pleasing to Him (V 21).

So living according to the gospel involves developing and fostering our relationship with Jesus first, then doing the actions we feel He is leading us to do, through His word or the prompting of the Spirit or even by a suggestion from a brother or sister. As we focus on Jesus, He has promised over and over, no matter how difficult the instruction or situation is, His power will always be sufficient, His grace will always be sufficient to carry us through.

Now here is a word of warning or maybe encouragement. Each one of us is going to fail multiple times in this walk. The temptation is to feel ‘convicted’, ‘downhearted’, ‘discouraged’, asking ourselves sometimes, is it really worth i? There I have gone and done it again, and then we tend to make up our minds to just to keep trying harder and harder. That is where we must understand how this gospel life works. In 1 John he writes “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, but if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”

So here is the gospel way: Keep your relationship fresh with the Lord. Walk as much as you can determine by the Spirit, trusting in His empowering love and grace to follow Him. When you fail in any way, turn immediately to Jesus and confess your sin and He will give you another start, as often as you need it. Focus on Him, not on the works and your failures and His power will work through you and gospel joy and the feeling of freedom will follow.

On Friday I will throw out a few questions on Hebrews to help us gather our thoughts together on this fascinating letter

Ultimate Perfection at Mt Zion.

Singing “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”.

“Yes Ian the whole of creation will focus on My throne, ten thousand times 10 000 and many more, will bow down and sing and declare My worth. Now your worth does not depend on who you are and what you are doing or have done – it depends on and derives purely from My grace. Having chosen you before time you are where you are because of my grace and love which I have lavished on you. Your worth is dependent on that and not on your performance or willingness to obey – you are my workmanship my “poiema”, my lyric who carries my song out to the world. That defines your worth, made in My image to glorify Me in whatever way you feel I am leading you. I will make those paths straight for you till you eventually join the heavenly throng in worship”.

Looking today at the last part of Heb 12 from 14 – 29. The writer is busy wrapping up his ‘melody line’. Firstly with a reminder in vv 14 – 17 again of our responsibility towards each other in preventing some from drifting away. The ‘bitter root’ which people often interpret as a hidden sin in an individual is more focused here on that dissension which so easily happens in the church community and results in it no longer being effective in standing together against sin.

Then he produces this magnificent visual of the two mountains. Of course he is wanting to remind those Jewish believers that wanted to return to the Old Testament way of worship of the inadequacies of that covenant in comparison to the New Covenant represented by Mt Zion. Notice again how he emphasizes the theme and importance of salvation with the use of the concept of “men made perfect” being the ones who will be in the heavenly choir. That, in fact, is the message of the New Covenant.

While love should be the main motivator for us to follow and obey Jesus, notice how the writer again takes out the big stick in this closing section with several warnings and frightening pictures of what will result if one “falls into the hands of the living God” , the “God who is a consuming fire”. The clear message from all these exhortations is that we are invited to “be thankful and worship God acceptably with reverence and awe”.

So with this he brings his message to a close except for a few closing exhortations in the last chapter. The ultimate prize of being there with Jesus on the heavenly mt Zion, made perfect, in a perfect relationship with him and the Father through Him, compared to the inadequacies of the Old Covenant, faced with and separated from a fearsome, wrathful God and no mediator, shows clearly that it is not worth turning back to the Jewish rituals which this represents, because of the tremendous prize you would forfeit.

The word that I received from God before I read this passage was so similar to this message of scripture that I was again filled with the sense of the reality of His communication through His Word and His Spirit and the effect of that on me was undoubtedly a renewed desire to worship Him with reverence and awe..

Suffering – an Important Perspective.

“Loyalty – that is what I am seeking – that is the same as faithfulness. The O T Israelites – said one thing – they promised love and obedience – yet their lives – the way they lived showed their hearts were not in what they had said. That is why I made a New Covenant, where your heart is changed by My Spirit when you start your new life in Jesus. Now I woo you with all My love – yet I can’t make you love me more in return – but My desire is that you continuously place your heart on the line because you want to and so love Me to the exclusion of everything else. All your heart, all your body, all your mind and all your soul – but yes when you do that there is plenty of My love spilling out for those around you – so let My love flow freely to everyone you have to do with”.

Now then we come to Heb 12:4 ff and we see the writer is not denying the suffering that the readers had experienced (see 10:32-34), what he is doing is to suggest that the readers get a new perspective on this suffering.

Firstly he says that they should “consider Jesus” and how much He suffered. What he says about resisting to the point of shedding blood is simply that the readers should draw a comparison of their suffering to Jesus’s, who went the whole way to His death. They should measure their suffering against that, to put it in perspective.

Then secondly he introduces a new thought, that there is actually a purpose in the suffering God is using suffering to change them beneficially. (Similar to what Lilly has said about Romans 8:28 ff). He speaks of suffering as discipline, which God is using precisely because they are His sons (family) and therefore, out of love wants them to “live”, and “share in His holiness” (vs 9) and ultimately the real value they will experience will be that they will “reap a harvest of righteousness and peace” (vs 11). He is therefore suggesting that rather than turn back because of the suffering and accede to those who wanted them to drop Christianity and go back to Judaism, they should see what was happening as a sort of spiritual boot-camp, which God is using to equip them for the race to eternity they are engaged in.

Now of course the word “suffering” immediately conjures up all sorts of scenarios and debates, so one must be careful not to sweep all those into the league of a spiritual boot-camp. However the vv in Romans 8:28 ff really imply the same. A book, I read recently by Joni Earicksen-Tada, where she shared how she was facing suffering, not only from her quadriplegia, but also intolerable back pain for which there seemed to be no relief. I don’t want to oversimplify what she said, but she had a whole chapter on how she has been able to get a new perspective on the pain and one of the chief ways was her continual belief that what was happening to her was all part of God’s loving intervention in preparing her for glory.

I think that what God was saying to me from this passage and the whole of Hebrews, so far is: “be careful not to be stuck in a rut about how you see and react to various events in your life.” Maybe I really needed to be reminded again about the need for myself to get the perspective the writer was trying to get his readers to understand. The perspective to see things from God’s point of view not from my very earthly viewpoint. And of course covering over everything we experience here in this race is a layer of colour – the colour of God’s love through which we must learn to see all things.

Let us Fix our Eyes on Jesus.

I am filled with excitement today – a sense of expectation – as the clouds of Covid roll in again. I have asked the question “Lord what do you have in mind for us now?” This whole pandemic has turned the world upside down – you didn’t use a globally visible, display of cosmic power, but the smallest possible bug to demonstrate your universal power. If you use something so small, what would happen if you released the full power of your love and judgement?

“But Ian I have already released the full power of My love – it happened on that day in Israel when the clock stopped and darkness set in and the earth was shaken. My invisible power was released in a new and fresh way that day. Now you and many Christians long for revival – have you considered that the pandemic is just that. It is a huge and potent message to the world showing it how powerless it actually is. Governments, science, people movements are shaking, because they can’t control it. So have you considered how many people are reaching the conclusion that they have no control over their destiny and casting themselves on Me and My love. The fields are white unto harvest. Stop looking at the pandemic and start looking at the opportunities that I am opening up everywhere for My gospel – spread the message and be encouraged for your outreach on Christmas day”.

Now what is the Lord continuing to say to us in Hebrews? Heb 12:1 – “Therefore” takes what the writer has been saying and shows he wants to apply it practically to the readers in a way that they can actually apply it to themselves and alter their behaviour. He starts by referring to the immediate preceding section about faith and perseverance. But in vs 2 he actually goes back to Ch 3:1 where he instructed the readers to “consider” Jesus. Focus your attention fully on Him in the light of this problem of drifting away (2:1). Now he wraps the whole teaching from there with the bracket in vs 2 where he says “let us fix our eyes on Jesus”, and in v 3 “consider Him”. Same thing. The basic instruction on how to persevere lies in keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith.

So in these few vv we see Him firstly as the final and perfect witness, among the great cloud of witnesses. The one who was able to throw off any sin so that he wasn’t dragged back in the race of life. The one who demonstrated His perseverance by being prepared, not only to suffer the pain of the cross but the scorn and shame, which ultimately led to Him taking the sin of the world on to Himself.

Now look at vs 3b and stop and think. Yes I believe we all have times when we become weary in this difficult world and feel like losing heart. That is why it is such an encouragement to know that when we fix our eyes on Jesus, He is not aloof to these difficulties, because He has personally experienced them cf Heb 2:18.

Yet understanding them and being an example is only the first step to our being able to finish the race, which is the picture which the writer is using to encourage the readers. He is also the Enabler, through His high priestly role which resulted in the giving of the Holy Spirit to help us compete in this race. cf 8:10, 10:16.

Lets stop there and digest it so that we can effectively link up to what follows.

We are all unique yet we have much in common. We are all engaged in this race in our own unique roll. Yet we will all have times when we get tired and feel like giving up , but just as with athletes that will manifest in different ways for each of us.

So these verses act as a sort of springboard for the last part of the letter. And the message to me personally? Exactly what it says there in that passage.