Daily Thoughts on Hebrews: Legacy

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4, ESV)

What will make your life story a legacy of blessing to your children and grandchildren?  How can you ensure that your voice will continue to be heard, not as a voice of discouragement but one that fortifies the ones you love?  Believe God’s promises!  Live for the kingdom and pray for its coming.  Don’t give up trusting that what Jesus did for us is only the beginning of restoring all things to the pristine glory of the garden of Eden.

Abel and Cain were of that generation whose parents lived in the garden and who saw the introduction of rebellion into God’s kingdom on earth.  But each of them took a different path in light of that reality.  Abel brought an offering to God in faith that God was in the process of restoring all things and was repentant for his own rebellious heart.  He was trusting in God’s promise that He would raise up a seed who would eventually crush the head of the serpent who tempted his parents to desert the Living God.

Cain, on the other hand, took the path of demanding that God make his life one of comfort and joy.  He couldn’t wait for the restoration.  And when his brother was commended by God and his offering was not, his jealousy took a lethal turn.  Abel’s faith spoke as his blood cried out from the ground.  Abel still speaks as one who lost his life in the service of God’s promise.  He did not believe life was to be found in the things of this world, but in God’s promise alone.

If you were the Hebrews and reading or hearing this account you couldn’t help but think of how one of the reasons you felt like leaving Christianity was the suffering you had experienced in life.  This in fact is the cause of many who profess faith in Christ to give up on Christianity.  They think it is their merit badge that should bring God’s unmitigated blessing on their lives and suffering should be a thing of the past.  It is not.

Your children and grandchildren won’t look back on your life and say, weren’t grandpa and grandma so cool the way they gave up on God, got bitter about life, and gave us an example of those who don’t believe.

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. —Shannon L. Alder


Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Light Shines in the Darkness

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.” But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must take of them to serve the LORD our God, and we do not know with what we must serve the LORD until we arrive there.” But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.”  (Exodus 10:21-29 ESV)

Can you imagine living in absolute darkness, darkness so thick that you cannot see the others around you, cannot find your way to the bathroom, can only stumble towards whatever food stores you have in your home to find a bite to eat?  Can you imagine everyone in your community staying in one place for three days, frozen by the darkness?  Ra, the sun god of Egypt, was at a loss as was Pharaoh and all his people, and undoubtedly many were cursing Pharaoh’s name for not sending the Israelites away.  Pharaoh still wanted to impose conditions on how Israel was to obey God but Moses would not, could not, bend.

More startling than the physical darkness was the spiritual darkness in Pharaoh’s heart.  This was something the restoration of light to his nation could not undo.  There is a spiritual blindness that afflicts those who do not know God.  Paul says we have all sought to repress the truth we know about Him rather than have to submit to Him (Romans 1:18ff).  It takes the power of God to open blind eyes, but He also chooses to use emissaries of light, you and me, to shine truth into the lives of those around us.  They may further harden their hearts, like Pharaoh did, or they may see the light and come to the knowledge of the truth.  Lord, help us to shine the light in this darkness.

Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th century. said that Jesus “did not hide his teaching in mist and darkness, as they did who threw obscurity of speech, like a kind of veil, around the mischiefs laid up within. But this man’s doctrines are clearer than the sunbeams, wherefore they have been unfolded to all men throughout the world. For he did not teach as Pythagoras did, commanding those who came to him to be silent for five years, or to sit like senseless stones; neither did he invent fables defining the universe to consist of numbers; but casting away all this devilish trash and mischief, he diffused such simplicity through his words, that all he said was plain, not only to wise men, but also to women and youths. For he was persuaded that the words were true and profitable to all that should hearken to them. And all time after him is his witness; since he has drawn to him all the world, and has freed our life when we have listened to these words from all monstrous display of wisdom; wherefore we who hear them would prefer rather to give up our lives, than the doctrines by him delivered to us.”

Ephesians 4:20-24 — Conversations with God

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

I want to thank You, Lord, for those You sent my way to teach me about You.

It is strange but one of the first hints You ever gave me that there was something different about the way I and my family did church and the way others did was way back in 2nd or 3rd grade.  You had me overhearing someone in my school remarking about a girl named Carla in our class that she believed the Bible was true.  Something about this description, spoken as it was with some criticism, moved me.  I supposed that I was being encouraged to make light of her faith and I felt perplexed by that and a little sorry for Carla.  Why would someone make fun of her for believing what she did?

You let me make it to high school without being challenged about what I believed.  You sent me Bob, and Bob was not about to let me slide by.  While discussing religion with another guy in study hall he inexplicably turned to me and asked me what I believed.  “I’m an agnostic,” I boldly stated.  “Why would you want to be that?,” he replied, and, as You know, I had no good answer.  So we began to talk about Christianity.  You might have been laughing about that one, Lord.

I guess you encouraged Bob to go with me to Central Church when my dad forced me to attend a Sunday night youth meeting and together we heard Your servant Mark play a 12-string guitar (cool, God) and give his explanation of why he became Your follower.  I felt very nervous when he challenged us with our need to follow Jesus (You were working on me), but later that evening I asked You to forgive my rebelliousness and take over my life and You did.

Since then many have contributed to helping me see that I must lay aside my old self that follows darkened ways, and be renewed after Your likeness, putting on the new self You created me to be.  I want to be righteous and holy with Your character, Lord.  I want to love the way You love, think the way You think, and live out of Your power.

What Jesus Means to Me — Teacher

Jesus himself offered, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Though I was only 16, I was weary and burdened in a way I hadn’t even realized with trying to figure out life and maintain my own security.  Though a weight had been placed upon my shoulders when I embraced this new life, it felt like it weighed nothing compared to what had been there.

As I began to listen to my pastor and others with a new interest and seemingly a new ability to understand, it was as if life-giving nutrients were being intravenously fed into a seriously undernourished and anemic body.  I could not get enough.  I began to experience a new joy and excitement about life, a new meaning to life, that I didn’t recall ever having before.

I remember not long after my conversion that my family took a trip out west and made a stop in an old neighborhood where I spent the majority of my first years in life.  As I stood outside our old house on the corner and let my mind wander over the memories of my time there, a wave of despair rolled over me.  Though my life had been good, I thought, I realized that it had been meaningless up until now.

Jesus gave my life its intended meaning.  He was teaching me what I needed to know about the rest my soul needed.  He was indeed a humble teacher, not pushing, not demanding, but gently leading me in the direction I had needed to go.  What a precious yoke it is!

What Jesus Means to Me — The Life Preserver

I’m treading water out in the middle of the ocean, my arms getting leaden, my breaths becoming shallower and more desperate.  No one is out there I can see who is able to rescue me.  It is only a matter of time.  The prospect of drowning terrifies me and yet some part of me is almost ready to give in to it.

From out of the darkness comes a life preserver, a lifesaver, one of those white shipboard floating rings with a rope attached to it.  I do not reason as I used to as to whether Christ is really the answer, or if the Bible is really not just the product of men who are prone to error, or if people who talk about such things aren’t just fanatics.  I no longer want to give in and slip beneath the surface and end it all.  My heart fills with hope beyond all hope and I cling desperately to the donut of my salvation when I hear His voice call out over the waves saying, “I have come that you might have life.”

As he reels me in I have no idea what is in store for me, only that something profoundly new and real has just occured.  He has come into my life in the most amazing of circumstances and my life will never be the same. 

In a sense, I’m still being reeled in.  I don’t have any fear of drowning, I’m not living with some constant tension about the life presever or whether it can hold me or whether I can hold it.  I am relaxed in His grip but I know I haven’t reached yet the place of total withdrawal from the sea.  But in due time I will feel His hands pull me on board and my struggle will be completely over, my doubts completely erased, my life completely saved.

The Ten Commandments — You Shall Not Commit Adultery

It is stark in its bold simplicity.  It gives no room for special circumstances or exceptions.  It doesn’t explain why, but then it doesn’t really need to.  The seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14), is self-explanatory.  Or so it would seem.  Though such disloyalty to one’s partner in marriage would seem to be held in contempt by any society, the fact that God included it in the list indicates that it is a problem of large proportion for the human race.  And it indicates that God sees it as a behavior that brings great destruction to any individual and society.  If our understanding of Malachi 2:10-16 is right, violation of one’s marriage covenant leads to failure to raise children in the right way.

Our culture is looking for ways to represent adultery as an acceptable alternative to a dead-end marriage or even a healthy thing for a so-so marriage.  But God, in his wisdom and concern for the welfare of his children, has clearly spelled out the dangers of adultery.  Most of Solomon’s advice to his son in Proverbs 5-9 centers around the dangers of sexual sin.  He acknowledges that adultery is seductive and enticing (“the lips of an adulteress drip honey,” 5:3) but that the result is deadly (“her steps lead straight to the grave,” 5:5).

But in Solomon’s exposition of the seventh commandment he also gives the positive aspect of the command:  “Rejoice in the wife of your youth!” (v.18) and “Be captivated by her love!” (v.19).  You have not kept this commandment when you merely abstain from illicit sexual relations outside your marriage, but the husband or wife is further obligated to faithfully pursue a love relationship with his or her spouse.  Too many marriages have failed for lack of this pursuit.

Jesus, of course, also emphasized the depth of this commandment.  In Matthew 5:27,28 he rebukes the teachers of the day for assuming that obedience to this command was achieved without consideration of the heart’s attitude.  He affirmed that God’s original intent for this law was to include a lustful heart as an aspect of adultery, as a secret adultery of the mind.  Not only is there adultery, there is adultery in one’s heart.  And though the latter is not as bad as actual adultery, it is what leads to adultery if unchecked.  It is a failure to pursue a love relationship with one’s spouse.

Though adultery is forgivable, the seriousness of this sin cannot be played down.  It is serious enough to be a legitimate ground for divorce (Matthew 19:9).  It is one sin that God explicitly says He will avenge (1 Thessalonians 4:6).  Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality!” because such a sin is a sin against one’s own body and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:18,19).

What Jesus Means to Me — The Robot on “Lost in Space”

Like the often oblivious little boy on the tv series, “Lost in Space,” I needed someone to yell at me, “Danger, Will Robinson,” because I was blindly going through life thinking I was either doing fine or worrying whether I would be fine, but clueless that I was treading water in a limitless ocean of certain death.  I had no realization of the utter meaninglessness of my life until I tasted meaning.  I didn’t realize that without a submissive relationship to the One who made me my life did not make sense.  And I did not understand, though somehow I felt it, that there was a price to pay for trying to run my life without Him.  I was ungrateful and unwilling to yield my life to Him until one day when through another’s story of rescue, I realized my need.

I was only sixteen years old, but when I asked Jesus to forgive me, something deep, and beyond my sixteen years of maturation to come up with on my own, was birthed in me.  A sense of something real and yet unexplainable had happened inside me and I was changed forever.  A sudden craving for knowledge of God led me to explore, or try to explore, I should say, the Bible.  Much more filling was the teaching of the Bible by others more experienced in the faith.  I couldn’t get enough.  And as I began to build some categories for putting together the diverse stories, letters and histories of the Bible, I began to make some headway in knowing how to interpret it for myself.

So thanks, Jesus, for being like that robot who was always telling Will Robinson when danger was near.  I was definitely lost in space.  Thanks for opening my mind to receive the warning.  Thanks for caring enough not to give up when I didn’t respond at first.  And thanks for forgiving me and coming into my life in such dramatic fashion.