Welcome to the Hebrews 11 and the verse I think is one of the most abused verses in the entire Bible.
Heb 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
What exactly is faith? Our skeptical friends will often times cite this verse and the fact that all of our evidence comes from our faith. After all, the Bible says it right there. The evidence you have for things unseen (like God) is only your faith. I don’t think that your faith is a reliable way of understanding the world, so you must be believing in a delusion.
First, this kind of argument is a problem in definition. Faith is the trust that we put in something. We certainly can use blind faith, and we can put our faith in something for no real reason. However, faith does not need to be blind. Notice this verse does not use any other descriptor for faith. Therefore, if faith is the trust that we put in something, it can also be a reasonable belief. After all, I put my faith in the roof above my head and trust that it will not fall. I put my faith in my wheelchair that it will not fall apart. It is certainly not a blind faith, but my experience gives me reason to trust both of these things.
In other words, there are many Christians who have looked at the various pieces of evidence in the world around us, and they have come to the conclusion that it is reasonable to believe not only that God exists but that Christianity is the most comprehensive worldview for understanding the way the world is. The obvious includes the affirmation of the historical fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead after being crucified during the time of Pontius Pilate. This is a worldview that many have found to be the most reasonable picture of reality.
This verse has been used for so long to criticize Christians. It has been used to make Christians look like dreamers who have some kind of belief equivalent to Santa Claus. However, that is reading more into the verse than is actually there. Christianity is certainly a worldview that invites the scrutiny of reason. After all, we believe that our reasoning abilities and logic come directly from God, so does that make sense that using those abilities can also be used to lead us to God?
Trust is difficult for so many people. They are so many instances of betrayal all around us. Look at the recent news about Ashley Madison. Clearly, this type of violation brings about a lack of trust in everyone and everything. There are very few oaths greater than the marriage vows, so when a man or woman violates that agreement, trust undoubtedly becomes more difficult.
Hebrews 6 talks about trust, but it talks about our trust in God, and it demonstrates how different that type of relationship is.
Heb 6:18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
Heb 6:19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
Heb 6:20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
God cannot lie, and because He is our hope, we can have unmeasured confidence. People very well might let us down from time to time. That is natural with imperfect people. However, when you think about God giving us this promise that He will not break, that is truly something amazing.
This promise is not insignificant either. It promises a hope of life after death. It promises an eternity in the presence of our perfect Lord and Savior. It promises eternal joy and peace. This is not something to disregard. It is much more important than any other promise that you or I could make here on earth.
Clearly, as Christians, we ought to follow through on our promises. It is wrong not to. However, even with the best of intentions, sometimes we are not able to do what we said, and there are plenty of times where our intentions are not perfect. However, think about God and His promises. They will not fail, and they sound pretty amazing.
Timothy must have been a pastor of a rather wealthy church because in 1 Timothy 6, Paul gives some of the most famous advice concerning money ever given.
1Ti 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Money is not the root of all evil as we have heard a million times; the love of money is the root of all evil. The differentiation is rather clear. It is the attitude we take towards the money that is the problem. It is possible to be rich and follow Christ, but later in the chapter, Paul goes on to outline some things that the rich need to remain particularly careful about.
1Ti 6:17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
Those who were wealthy needed to be careful that they did not put their trust in their money. God has given us all things to enjoy, and that includes money naturally. I don’t think that God minds when we use the money that He has allowed us to have, but we need to make sure that it does not become what we put our trust in. The wealthy are particularly susceptible to this type of temptation because we do live in a world where money is a big deal. In a world dominated by talks about financial security, it is easy to become wrapped up in our bank accounts.
That’s where we need to be countercultural. I’m not saying that we need to take a vow of poverty. I am saying that we need to live lives that are about a lot more than money. There are many things that we can trust, and if we are not trusting God, then we are simply wrong. Money is no substitute.
How do we reach other people with the gospel? How are we able to find that connection? In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul makes a really good point about how he gained credibility among the people of Thessalonica.
1Th 2:9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
1Th 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
1Th 2:11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
1Th 2:12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
They specifically did not want to be a burden to the people, so they made sure to work and essentially earn their keep. They didn’t want to look like conmen trying to benefit off of other people’s generosity. Rather, they wanted the focus to be on the message. They wanted the people to hear the Gospel.
I think about that for you and me since we probably are not traveling missionaries. How does this passage apply to us? We need to care about people. I don’t know that anyone wants to listen to anyone who doesn’t care about them. If Paul had not been willing to prove that he cared about the people and was only there to take advantage of the people of Thessalonica, then I don’t think that anyone would’ve listened.
If somebody has statistics, I would be very interested to see them, but I believe that most people are brought to Jesus by someone they have a close relationship with. I am sure that revival meetings and things like that have their place, and I know that they are effective for many people, but I still think that the true power comes from God working through a personal relationship.
Welcome to yet another book of the Bible! In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul is writing to his fellow believers, and he speaks about a time that he and Timothy were in mortal danger. He doesn’t elaborate on this situation, but he does make specific note of the result that that experience had on him.
2Co 1:8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
2Co 1:9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
2Co 1:10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
Paul understood that this was the type of situation where he and Timothy were in danger. There was nothing that they could do, but they somehow made it through. Let’s think about the parties that were involved. Paul admits that he had no power to change the situation. Clearly, the people who wanted to kill Paul and Timothy did not help them survive this situation; that would be contradictory to their stated purpose.
Someone else must have been involved, but it was no one on earth. Paul knew who had His hand in those events. Paul understood that God has power over all situations on earth, and He has the freedom to act even when it seems like all hope is lost. God is in charge, and nothing is beyond His control.
Like Paul admits though, we can rely on ourselves. We can fall into a situation where we think that we have to rely on our own power. That is tragically false. If God is with us, then who can be against us?
I don’t know about you, but I like to have a certain amount of control over what happens in my life. I like to have some idea of what I am going to have, and I find it much easier than having to trust other people all the time.
The Christian faith is built on trust in God. In Romans 10, we find what could be seen as a rather frightening passage if we were not able to trust God.
Rom 10:3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
Rom 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
Paul goes on in this passage to continue talking about salvation, but as you read about people are creating their own sense of righteousness, I think we can do that even while we are doing things that are good things to do.
“If only I volunteer at church a few times per week, I might earn my way into favor with God.”
“If I patch up that relationship with my neighbor, God might love me more.”
“If I donate all my money to charity, maybe God will be happier with me.”
We try to create righteousness in our lives. We try to work harder in an effort to make God love us more, but the truth is that trying to establish our own sense of righteousness through good actions simply does not cut it.
Verse four lays it out for us. Jesus is the end or conclusion of the law of righteousness. Righteousness does not come from us, but it comes from Jesus Christ Himself. God loves us because we are His children; it is not predicated on our good works. God does not love Mother Teresa more than you. He loves both of you infinitely in the way that only God can. That does not diminish either one of you whatsoever; it points to the incredible love of God and His amazing capability.
This is frightening however because I have to trust that God loves me. I like to have a little checklist of things that I can do to ensure that God loves me more than the next guy. I want to make sure I am getting that righteousness. Regardless, God tells us that that is not how it works. Jesus Christ is our righteousness. God sees us as righteous because we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are not righteous because of our own works.
What implications does that have in our lives?
Having a life that is based upon the love of God and not based on earn our own righteousness ought to change our perspective on some level. When we do volunteer at church for example which is still a good thing to do, we are doing it because we want to. We are not doing it because we are trying to earn righteousness. However, something paradoxical will happen. Because we are developing our relationship with Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit will continue to mature within us, and as that happens, we will actually do more good work even though we are not doing it for the reward of earnings any more love from God.
This is frightening to me. I have to let go of my own control on some level. However, it seems to be what we are called to do as a response to the love of God. Maybe you and I can work on this together.
Acts 26 points out the plans of God and how they often times work together in ways that we would have no way of planning. After Paul presented his case to Agrippa, he did such a good job that they were ready to drop the charges against him.
Act 26:30 And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
Act 26:31 And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
Act 26:32 Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
Interestingly, other than the Jewish people who were trying to get Paul in trouble, nobody really found him guilty, but he kept going from trial to trial. As we see here, he might have been able to go free, but because he had filed an appeal, he was going to another trial. However, Paul continued to persevere. He did not rant and rave against the system. He did not complain about injustice. He continued to go to Rome. He continued to do what he knew was going to happen anyway. He had been told by God that he was going to Rome. He knew that that was the plan.
We often times wonder what God might be doing. Certainly, I know I have plans, and there are some talents I think God has given me to use in certain ways. However, I might be wrong. God might have a different plan for my talents. Like Paul, I know that I need to be, and by extension, I know that all of us need to be, willing to follow that plan. That certainly involves flexibility, and it involves trust. We need to trust that God knows what is ultimately best for us. That is hard. However, Paul can be a good example for us.
I think that Hosea must have wondered what was going on in chapter 1. God told him to marry a woman who was a prostitute. As a result, he ended up marrying Gomer, and the couple had a son. She then had two more children, a daughter and a son. However, the language is different from the verses. When the Bible mentions the first child, Hosea is directly referenced, but for the second two, he was not.
Hos 1:3 So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son.
Hos 1:6 And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.
Hos 1:8 Now when she had weaned Loruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son.
As you read the next chapter, you realize that she did have these children with other men. Therefore, you have to think that Hosea was wondering what on earth was going on. God told him to go marry a particular woman, but now he had to handle all of these issues that came along with that. Couldn’t God have set him up with an easier marriage?
I think that it is interesting how this seems to happen quite a bit. We think that we know what would be better. If I were Hosea, I know that I would have questioned the wisdom of God. However, when I start to think in that way, I try to keep perspective by asking myself why specifically I think that I know better than God. I try to eliminate the barrier of not understanding right now because simply a lack of understanding does not necessarily mean that someone is wrong. Just because I don’t understand quantum physics doesn’t mean that quantum physics need to disappear.
I can never really find a satisfactory reason for saying that my idea is absolutely better than God’s I might think mine is better, but I really have no good reason to believe that.
As we will see, God did indeed have a purpose for this relationship. Even though it might have been painful at the time, it was not all for nothing.
Daniel 12 talks about what is going to happen at a certain time. We don’t have perfect dates for everything, but Daniel was quite a bit like us today. Certainly, we all, as Christians, have beliefs about what will happen at the end of time, but we also have a lot of questions. No one has a perfect picture of everything that will take place, and, again like us, Daniel wanted to know when all of this would come to pass.
Dan 12:8 And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?
Dan 12:9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.
I know that this might not be an answer that everyone wants to hear, but it was the answer that Daniel is given. It is similar to the answer that Jesus gave to the disciples in Matthew 24. No one knows exactly what is going to happen at the end of time outside of God Himself.
Now, that does not mean that we don’t try to come to the best response given the Biblical text. Obviously, just like any other passage in the Bible, we want to do all that we can to make sure that we come to a responsible and appropriate understanding. I am certainly not saying that all answers are right answers because there are plenty of thoughts about the end times that are not consistent with the Bible. I think about people like Harold Camping; his interpretation of the end times was obviously incorrect. Therefore, it is certainly not the case that all answers are right answers.
However, rather than try to convince you that my personal view is right or debunk your view, let me just urge that we make sure we consider the Bible. That needs to be our bedrock for making these kinds of judgments. Make sure the way that you interpret the end times is consistent with all of the Biblical data. I think that is the best approach to take in this (and any) situation.
PS: I know that this is not my normal devotional style, but I know that this is one of those issues that is incredibly divisive for many Christians. I think that we need to, as Christians, recognize that some of our brothers and sisters will interpret the honest Biblical data differently than we do, but we’re still part of the body of Christ.
It is problematic when we began to trust in what we have rather than the God we worship. That is what was happening to the people of Edom in Jeremiah 49. They thought that they had all of the protection in the world because the city was way up on a hill which is definitely a strong defensive position.
Jer 49:16 Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, and the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the LORD.
From reading the verses around this one, it is clear that these people were making many bad decisions and doing many bad things. That is why God is going to bring them down from exactly where they thought nobody could touch them.
I don’t know about you all, but this has quite a bit of practical application in my life. It sounds to me like these people were assuming that nobody on earth would be able to make it up the mountain and overrun their city. That very well may have been true. I don’t know the topography, but the main problem is that they forgot that physical barriers really don’t mean much to God.
I know that for me, it is very easy to simply accept things as they are because change seems so difficult or improbable. It didn’t necessarily need to be something really bad, but sometimes we can kind of get bogged down in going through the motions of Christianity and not recognizing that there is another dimension that needs to be taken into account. Just like the intervention of God made the unconquerable city vulnerable, God can still interact with humanity today. As a result, when we get tied up in a situation where it seems that there is no way out, we need to remember that what seems like an obstacle to us is not a problem for God. He is above all of our problems. It is much easier sometimes to perceive our problems as bigger than God, but that is sorely mistaken.