Brick #80 – Hebrews 8

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How would you react if a well respected, highly thought of, godly man stood up in church as the guest preacher this Sunday and said, “You might as well throw your Bibles away – they are out of date and old fashioned and I have a better book for you to base your life on”?

That is essentially what the author of Hebrews says in chapter 8. Notice verse 13: “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” What we know as the Old Testament was for the Hebrews their Bible – the Scriptures. And they were being told that the part of their Scriptures that they revered more than any other – the books of the Law as written down by their hero Moses – was OBSOLETE.

I have no doubt that it took a while for the Hebrews to wrap their heads around this information. And the only reason they eventually concurred was because the author of Hebrews did a masterful job of showing his readers from THEIR Scriptures that this was all a part of God’s plan from the beginning. The question that the Hebrews were finally beginning to comprehend was this: If the covenant that God made with His people through Moses was insufficient to secure our forgiveness of sin and make us eternally righteous in the eyes of God then what was it’s purpose? Perhaps this illustration will help to answer the question. I will follow it up with a few comments…

 

  1. The Law was never intended to lead to salvation. It merely provided temporary relief from the guilt of sin.
  2. Doing good, or trying to please God by obeying His commands only led to a dead end because absolutely no one could perfectly obey the Law. And yet, this is the basis of most religions today. The religious faithful try as hard as they can to earn the favor of God by doing the best they can but their good works aren’t good enough.
  3. The Law was designed to show God’s covenant people that there had to be another way, a better way.
  4. Even in the Old Testament it was not the keeping of the Law that provided salvation, it was faith in the blood of the sacrificial lamb to cover their sin that brought about forgiveness.
  5. The author of Hebrews is making a compelling case that Jesus, the better High Priest, who did live a life that perfectly obeyed God’s Law, was the better Moses and the author of a New Covenant – not based on keeping the Law but based on faith that His sacrificial blood is sufficient to cover our sin and secure for us salvation.

Interestingly, within a few years of the writing of the Book of Hebrews, the whole sacrificial system  of the Jewish people was made obsolete. In 70 A.D. the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple. Thus there was no way for annual sacrifices to be made at Yom Kippur for the forgiveness of sin. 

Fortunately there was no longer a need for this to happen. Because God had provided a better way… Jesus!

May this brick help you to understand God’s great plan from the beginning. And to recognize that even in today’s world your good works aren’t good enough to win the favor of God. But Jesus’ good work on the cross is!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pop Pop Epistle #140 – Happy Birthday #1 Haddon

Dear Haddon,

A year ago, I posted an epistle that included a prayer for you that concluded this way: “And lastly I ask that You would use Haddon to courageously teach and proclaim the Scriptures even as the prince of  preachers did many years ago – Charles Haddon Spurgeon -that You will use him to influence many generations for the sake of the gospel.”

You have a great namesake – a man who treasured the Word of God. Here is just a little about him…

Charles Spurgeon was born in 1834 and died in 1892. On 6 January 1850, when he was 15, a snow storm made him seek shelter in a  chapel. While he was there, a worker there said to him, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Spurgeon knew this to indeed be true. The worker, seeing his need, replied, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ! Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” Shortly thereafter, God opened his heart to believe the gospel and he was baptized. It was not long after that that he preached his first sermon and at 19 he became the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London where he served for 38 years.

Here are a few choice quotes from your namesake:

  • There may be some sins of which a man cannot speak, but there is no sin which the blood of Christ cannot wash away.
  • Bible study is the metal that makes a Christian. This is the strong meat on which holy men are nourished.
  • You say, “If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.” You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.
  • I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness which remains in him.
  • Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin.

It has been a crazy first year of life for you. Right about the time you were born last year we entered Covid-19 and pandemic mode. And then later in the year you moved from our house to your new house in Raleigh. I miss seeing you every day and watching you grow and even though you won’t remember much about this first year of your life I hope that you will…

Never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

 

Brick #79 – Hebrews 7

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Some passages are easier to ponder than others and readily lend themselves to application. This is not one of those chapters. Hebrews 7 focuses on a fairly obscure character from the Older Testament named Melchizedek. He is only mentioned in a few verses in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. But he is hugely important in Hebrews as the author makes his point that Jesus is our great High Priest and so much more excellent than the priests of the Older Testament.

In today’s brick I want to focus on two points of application that emerged from the text as I pondered it this week. I will put them in the form of question and answer.

1) Why is the practice of tithing (or giving generously as the Newer Testament calls it) so important? 

There are two answers to this question. Hebrews 7:2 tells us that “…and to (Melchizedek) Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything.” (see also Genesis 14:20-24). The first answer is this: Tithing is a way to remind us that God is the owner of EVERYTHING and that we are merely stewards of what He has entrusted to us. It is exceptionally easy for us to take pride in all our possessions and equally as easy for our possessions to begin to possess us. Tithing is a way that we humble ourselves before God and acknowledge that it ALL belongs to Him. And it is way for us to express our gratitude for everything that He allows us to steward.

The second answer goes like this: Tithing is a way that the Lord tests us to see if we are GOOD stewards and a barometer as to whether we can faithfully steward MORE. It was immediately after Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe in Genesis 14 that the Lord made a promise to him about having a child in his old age (Genesis 15:1-6). A child that would become the father of many nations whose number would be like the stars in the sky. It was because Abraham was faithful in the little things that God entrusted with greater things. And so it is with us.

2) What kind of prayers do you suppose Jesus is praying for you?

We read in Hebrews 7:25 that Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” This verse got me thinking. What do Jesus’ prayers for me sound like? I imagine that they sound very different than the prayers that I pray for myself. I imagine that they have less to do with my comfort and safety and health and money and more to do with my holiness and obedience and joy and nearness to God and protection from the evil one. John 17, I have no doubt, gives us some good clues as to what His prayers sound like. And interestingly, do you know what that prayer of His is called? The High Priestly Prayer!

So if you want to know how Jesus is praying for you then read John 17. And if you want to know how to model your prayers for others after Jesus’ prayers then read John 17.

May this brick spur you to think about what your practice of tithing reveals about you and to encourage your soul as you hear how Jesus is interceding for you.

 

 

 

 

Stuff and Such 21.5

 

Linda and I traveled to Charlotte last week for a quick visit with Christy, Chad, Grayson, Bowen, and Miller. I had a great time playing baseball with the kids and some of their cul-de-sac friends. I was reminded of how much I miss playing the game. I was also reminded of how careful a 62 year old has to be to keep from hurting himself when trying to keep up with a bunch of youngsters.

We also had a chance to go visit my brother who has just moved to the Charlotte area. He works for American Airlines and was relocated from St Louis. A lot of people think we look alike. Personally, I don’t see the resemblance. What thinkest thou?

Every year for Valentine’s Day our staff at Ridgecrest Baptist Church hosts a Valentine’ Banquet. This year was very different – we usually have about 250 people in our Gym but this year we did it virtually. One of the traditions is for our staff to do something goofy and funny. This year The Staff Infection (that is what we call ourselves) did a Sync or Swim skit. If interested you can find it at the 18:15 mark on the video below.

 

 

 

 

 

Pop Pop Epistle #139 – About Valentine’s Day and The Pale Blue Dot

Dear Grandkids,

Yes, today is indeed Valentine’s Day. It is a day to declare or re-declare our love for one another – and specifically for couples to express their love for each other. Hence, there are a dozen roses sitting on our table and I am fixing a romantic steak supper for Nona and I tonight. Yes, even at 62 years old we can still be romantic.

But I am sure that you are curious what the “pale blue dot” is in the title of this epistle and what it has to do with Valentine’s Day. Well I came across this tidbit of history that I found very interesting. Perhaps you will too.

Way back in September of 1977 NASA launched a space probe that was named Voyager 1. Its intended purpose was to study our solar system. It took about 1.5 years (March, 1979) for it to get to Jupiter and to begin transmitting data and photos. It took another 1.5 years (November 1980) for it to get to Saturn. Now here is what I was astounded by: The gaps between the outer planets are so vast that it was another 10 years before it passed by Neptune and arrived at the spot where it was to take a series of images of the planets, known as the “Family Portrait” of our solar system. And on February 14, 1990 (22+ years after it was launched, Voyager 1 transmitted a picture back of earth – a picture that became known as the “Pale Blue Dot.”

Earth appears as a tiny dot against the vastness of space. The photo was taken from 3.7 billion miles away.

Now there are a couple of things that I find quite amazing. 1) The technology to do this was developed back in the 1970’s. 2) The camera that took the picture was 23 years old and still working like it was brand new. 3) The photo was somehow sent to earth from 3.7 BILLION miles away.

And here are a couple of other things that I find even more amazing:

1) “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

2) “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)

3) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

This Pale Blue Dot that we call home is unique among all the other dots out there in space. And you are unique among all the other inhabitants of this Pale Blue Dot. As you celebrate Valentine’s Day, never forget that you have been created for the purposes of a God that delights greatly in you and…

Never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

P.S. – Voyager 1 is still traveling out in interstellar space and will continue to transmit data until around 2025 when it will not have enough electrical power to continue to do so.

Brick #78 – Hebrews 6

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The author of Hebrews has pushed the pause button in his discussion of the high priesthood in order to give a stern warning to his readers. In effect, he is saying “Stop acting like babies! Grow up.” In verse 1 he admonishes them to “go on to maturity.” So in this brick I want to try to answer this question: What does maturity for a believer look like? In other words, how would we know if we were indeed on the road to maturing in Christ. What I will NOT do is try to solve the theological conundrum that verses 4-8 presents. I will simply say this about those verses… The author is not saying that you can lose your salvation. But smarter people than me disagree on what they are saying to this audience of Hebrew Christians. Suffice to say that the author strongly encourages his readers to pursue spiritual growth and maturity or else they will deal with the consequences of this not happening. So…

What does spiritual maturity look like in the life of a believer? Here are 6 marks of a maturing believer that I think are a good place  to start in helping us evaluate if we are on the road to maturity.

1) A maturing believer ABIDES DILIGENTLY – The word abide is one of the great words in the Bible and John 15 is a great place learn more about abiding. Abiding diligently simply means that believers are looking continuously to the Lord for the nourishment they need to fuel their soul. The are readers and ponderers of the Word. They find their identity rooted in the love of God for them. They receive their strength and power from the Holy Spirit dwelling inside them.

2) A maturing believer WORSHIPS WHOLEHEARTEDLY –  They do this personally and they do this in community. Personally, they worship the Father on a daily basis as they praise Him and thank. They are aware that the god of this world is trying to divide their heart by offering things of this world as places where they can find their satisfaction. In community, they gather with other believers to exalt the Father and exult in His Son by the power of the Spirit. They don’t just go through the motions of a worship service but join corporately in the adoration of God.

3) A maturing believer SERVES JOYFULLY – They recognize that they are a part of the body of Christ and that for the body to be healthy every part of the body must do what it was created to do. They are looking for ways to serve in their local church as well as looking for ways to serve the capital C Church. And they do this not out of duty or obligation but with gladness because their desire is to see the church fulfill it’s mandate to make disciples of all nations.

4) A maturing believer LOVES GENEROUSLY – Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and then to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love God. Love people. A maturing believer is constantly fighting the innate selfishness that we all deal with and is looking for ways to demonstrate generous love by offering their time, talent, and money in service to God.

5) A maturing believer PRAYS BOLDLY – We know that we have an all access pass to the throne room of God and that we can ask God anything. But most believers never get past voicing childish prayers. They never get to the point where they are asking God to do “more than we can ask or imagine.” They never express prayers that are rooted in faith and ask God to do what only He can do. Maturing believers are learning to pray audacious prayers – prayers that are characterized by a deep rooted confidence in a Father’s generous love for His children.

6) A maturing believer GOES INTENTIONALLY – Our story has been radically changed by the gospel and it has brought about life transformation. Our story is now forever connected to God’s story and it is a story that the world needs to hear. Maturing believers take the Great Commission personally: “Go into all the world and make disciples….” They make the Great Commission their mission. They are on the lookout for opportunities to tell others about the goodness and greatness of God and to invite them to discover how their story can also connect to God’s story.

May this brick help you to discern whether you are on the road to maturity or whether you are still acting like a baby. Read again verses 4-8 for some stern encouragement to earnestly pursue spiritual growth.

 

 

 

Brick #77 – Hebrews 5

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The first 10 verses of this great chapter focus on the role of the high priest and Melchizedek. I am going to skip over these since this will be dealt with in more detail when we come to chapters 7-8. My pondering focus will be 2 application questions that emerged as I pondered verses 11-14.

About this (the high priesthood) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

1) How do we become “dull of hearing”? – The author insinuates that his readers were at one time NOT dull of hearing but over time they have become that way. This can be true for us as well. We don’t want this kind of accusation leveled against us so what are a few things that contribute to spiritual hearing loss?

  • Competing voices – I am a firm believer in this statement: The voices we listen to effect the choices we make! What other voices, besides the voice of God commands your attention?
  • Distractions – Admittedly we live in a world full of distractions.  One of the things we can do is to eliminate these when we are trying to listen to God. For me, when I am reading and pondering, this means the TV is not on. Music is not playing. I am not reading while trying to have other conversations. I find as quiet a place as possible and focus my attention on what the Lord is saying.
  • Neglect – The easiest way to become dull of hearing is to not listen to what God says at all. This happens easier than you might think. You miss church. Life gets busy. Our routine is interrupted. And before you know it it has been several weeks and you have not heard the voice of God.
  • Disobedience – When we neglect God we don’t give God a chance to speak. When we disobey, we pull away so that even if He does speak our hearts are far enough away that we can’t hear what He is trying to stay. The old adage is indeed true: If you feel far away from God, guess who moved!

2) What does it mean to be a baby Christian and how do you NOT stay that way? Being a baby Christian has nothing to do with how long you have been a Christian. It essentially comes down to this: Have you learned how to feed yourself? Babies don’t feed themselves. They are dependent on others to feed them. The author of Hebrews is calling out his readers and saying STOP being babies. Start feeding yourselves. So here’s the deal…. If your only connection to God’s Word is when you hear a sermon or listen to someone else teach a Bible lesson then you are being spoon fed and you are still a baby. It’s time to grow up and learn how to feed yourself. This is where pondering comes in. Pondering has to do with chewing on the Word of God. You don’t have to chew on milk. But you do have to chew on solid food. 

I love the illustration of a cow chewing the cud. It chews on it’s food and then swallows it, digests what it can and then regurgitates what it didn’t digest so that it can chew on it some more. This process is repeated until the cow has gotten as much nutrition out of the food as it possibly can. This is pondering. Read the Word of God. Think on the Word of God. Apply the Word of God. Repeat. Then repeat again.

May the Lord use this brick to keep you from becoming dull of hearing and to challenge you to grow up in your salvation by learning to feed yourself on the solid food of God’s satisfying Word.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff and Such 21.4

A Book: The Dynasty  by Jeff Benedict – This book was recently recommended to me and I must say I have not been disappointed. It details the backstory of how the New England Patriots dynasty came about. One reviewer said this: “The Dynasty is Jeff Benedict’s latest masterpiece. . . . It’s a relationship book, it’s a football book, it’s a business book. . . . I was surprised at the level of detail in Robert Kraft’s quotes and his willingness to allow [the book] to go to some pretty painful places. . . . If you love football the way I do, you’ll just eat up these stories.”  It is a good time to be reading it with the Super Bowl coming up and Tom Brady making yet another appearance.

An Encouragement and A Story: My friend Wayne Alford sent me an email last week that encouraged my soul. Our pastor is currently preaching through the book of Colossians. When Wayne turned to Colossians in his Bible he came across some notes from a sermon that I preached at Ridgecrest in July of 1993. It was the very first sermon I preached at Ridgecrest and did so in view of a call to be the student pastor. He reminded me of the outline of the message and of a story I told called “Remember the Duck.” I went back and read it and it was good enough to re-share here:

Remember the Duck

A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead. The boy panicked.

Desperately he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing. After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.”

But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.

Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing.

After several days of doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck.

“I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”

 

A Memory and a Quote: I wrote a blog post on Saturday about Zermatt Switzerland – one of my most favorite places in the world. In the post I talked about our “Rocks of Remembrance” story and a day worth re-living. It was fun to hike down that mountain again in my mind and it reminded me of a favorite quote…

Don’t collect possessions. Collect experiences!

Here are two questions that I will just leave sitting here: 1) What is a day that you would like to re-live? 2) What are some of your favorite experiences that you have collected over the years?

 

A Song: Behold Our God by Sovereign Grace Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pop Pop Epistle #138 – About Zermatt

Dear Grandkids,

I have had the blessing of being able to travel this earth probably more than most people. My Mom instilled the travel bug in me when I was young and it never went away. One of my most favorite places is Zermatt Switzerland. I first became acquainted with Zermatt when I was in high school. My Mom sent my brother and I to a month long ski camp in Zermatt. I have had the opportunity to return twice since then. After I graduated from college, a buddy of mine and I traveled by train all over Europe – and Zermatt was one of the spots we hit. And then in 2014 Nona and I went there when I was on my Sabbatical.

On this last trip, one of our favorite memories is a hike that we took on our last day there. We took a cable car from Zermatt up the mountain toward the Matterhorn and then spent most of the day hiking back to town. Recently I was asked if there was a day in my life that I would like to re-live if given the chance. This was the first day that popped into my mind. Here are a few pictures and a few thoughts about each one that might explain why. The picture on the right above was 34 years in the making. Nona and I were dating when I had last been to Zermatt and I came back from that trip with a promise that one day I would take her there. And then when we finally got there we weren’t even sure that we would get to see the Matterhorn because it was shrouded in clouds and rain the first 2 days we were there. When the sky finally cleared, we skedaddled up the mountain as fast as we could to take advantage of the short break in the weather.

1 & 2 – The Rocks of Remembrance are akin to what Joshua had the Israelites do in Joshua 4. They are a testimony to God’s goodness and faithfulness in our lives, specifically in regard to our kids and grandkids. You will notice that there are 8 rocks in the stack. The first 6 represent your parents: Christy and Chad, Scott and Mary, and Tucker and Danielle. The biggest rock on top represents Grayson because he was the only one of you born at the time. The smaller rock is for Bowen – though at the time all we knew was that Christy was pregnant. But the monument serves also as a reminder to us not only of what the Lord has done but also of what He is going to do – and is in fact already doing through each of you. Before we continued our hike we prayed for you and asked that the Lord’s blessing would be upon you. And even though we did not know all of you yet we had full confidence that the Lord would honor our prayer for all our grandkids.

3 & 4 – As we trekked down the mountain we came upon these two things that made us smile. The first was the cow with a cow bell. We heard him long before we saw him. The scene just seemed so vintage Swiss to us. The 2nd was a small little mountain village with a restaurant where we stopped, rested, and enjoyed a refreshing beverage.

5 & 6 – The Gorner Gorge is a beautiful crevice in the mountain that we hiked down into. It was like this spectacular surprise that we came upon on what was already a spectacular day. And as we came up out of the gorge we came across this plaque which when translated very appropriately says, “All the land adores You and sings praises to You.” (Psalm 66:4)

I hope that one day you get a chance to travel to Switzerland. It is indeed a gorgeous country. And if you go to Switzerland I hope you get to go to Zermatt. And if you go to Zermatt perhaps you can take a hike down the mountain like we did. And perhaps you will even come across our Rocks of Remembrance – and perhaps you can pick up in prayer where we left off – praying God’s blessing over your own kids and grandkids.

Never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Brick #76 – Hebrews 4

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When I ponder Scripture I generally notice words and phrases that are oft repeated. For me, they are a clue as to something the author is trying to say and an idea he is trying to get across. It’s the same way when I preach or when I teach. If I repeat something several times it is because I want to make sure people hear it. In this chapter there is one word that is much repeated that will be my pondering focus – though there is much more in this chapter that could be focused on.

Rest – The word “rest” occurs 10x in the first 11 verses of this chapter. There are two aspects of this rest that the author of this letter wanted his Hebrew readers to consider. And they apply to us as well. He has in mind the wandering of the Israelites in the desert as they journeyed from Egypt to the land of promise. This parallels our journey through this life, having left a life of slavery to sin as we make our way toward heaven and the life promised to us when our journey is complete.

1) There is a rest that we can enjoy in this life even when life is hard and demanding; even when there is much to despair about; even when we don’t see the hand of God at work around us. We can still experience His peace, the shalom of God, because we have confidence in His promise that He will ALWAYS be with us and that He is ALWAYS working for our good and His glory – even when we can’t see it. Jesus made this powerful promise in Matthew 11:28-30…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Those three phrases in bold are worth spending time thinking about as they will be the key to finding “rest for your souls” and getting rid of the burdens that are currently weighing you down and keeping you from a purposeful and productive life that honors and glorifies the Lord.

2) There is a rest we will enjoy in the life to come when we enter into the presence of God upon death. Revelation 21:4 describes it this way: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” We will not have to deal with all the difficulties that this life brings. We can experience the fulness of joy as we “rest” eternally in God’s forever shalom.

May this brick help you to experience the rest that God provides in this life as well as anticipating the rest He offers in the life to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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