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Diagram of Herod's Temple
Herod’s Temple, patterned after the Tabernacle

In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 9, the writer says that the ministry under the new covenant ministry is better than the ministry under the old covenant.

Under the old covenant in the Tabernacle — and later in the Temple — the ordinary priests could enter the Holy Place to do their ministry, but ordinary men couldn’t go there. The High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place (the “Holy of Holies”), but ordinary priests couldn’t go there. And the High Priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of atonement. He had to do this every year. The writer says that Jesus’ blood was so much more effective than the blood of goats and bulls in cleansing the conscience of God’s people. (Hebrews 9:13–14). (More on this tomorrow)

Application

Imagine feeling the guilt of committing a sin, knowing that it couldn’t be covered by a sacrifice for 364 days. Imagine carrying the conviction for that sin and every other sin you commit multiple times each day for an entire year. That’s a lot of guilt.

Next, imagine the feeling on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest emerges from the Most Holy Place. All that guilt from all those sins you committed for the past 365 days was covered… in an instant!

Ministry under the new covenant is so much better! No longer do God’s people have to look forward to a day when their sins could be dealt with. Now, we can look back, knowing that our sins have been covered — all of our sins, once for all time — by Jesus’ blood. What a relief!

If you are a believer, you don’t even have to worry if a sin you committed a moment ago is covered. It was already covered almost 2000 years ago, long before the Holy Spirit even convicted you of that sin and you asked for forgiveness!

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In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 8, the writer refers back to a prophecy delivered by Jeremiah.

“Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 4No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin. Jeremiah 31:31–34 (CSB)

In this, the writer of Hebrews says the new covenant is better than the old covenant. The old covenant was an external law, written on stone while the new covenant is written in the hearts of God’s people. Motivation for obedience changes from being influenced from an outside source to being influenced from an inside source.

Under the old covenant, God’s people obeyed in order to get God’s favor (which was really unachievable). Under the new covenant, God’s people obey because they have already obtained God’s favor.

Application

How do you relate to God? Seriously, do you relate to God under an old covenant model — hoping to obtain God’s favor because of your behavior? Or do you relate to God under a new covenant model — behaving because you already have God’s favor?

Perhaps the best way to see if you understand this is to answer this question: Do you think you can make God any happier with you because of something you do (or don’t do)? If you think God will be happier with you if you ____ (fill in the blank with some behavioral change), then you probably relate to God under an old covenant model.

Prayerfully consider your answer.

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We come across some hard words in today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 4. It’s a good reminder that not everyone who followed Moses out of Egypt made it to the Promised Land. As a matter of fact, only two did: Joshua and Caleb. Even Moses was denied entrance.

The writer of Hebrews warns believers to be careful to not grow hardhearted and therefore to fall short. He wraps up the chapter with

Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 CSB)

On one hand, the writer tells us that we can boldly approach God’s throne of grace, yet he says earlier in this chapter (and in the previous chapters) that we need to strive to enter His rest so no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11)

So how does that work? On one hand he’s talking about falling short by disobedience and on the other hand he says that we can approach His throne to find grace and mercy. Isn’t grace “undeserved favor” that God gives believers? Then how does obedience figure in?

Think about it. You probably love your children more than anything in the world. You’d do anything for them and give them anything they need. But where does obedience figure into that? Will you withhold something from a disobedient child? Of course you would — if you really love him!

Later, the writer will tell us that the discipline we receive from our Heavenly Father demonstrates that we are His kids. Disciplining our own children demonstrates our love for them. And even when they’re disobedient, we still love them and will do whatever we can for them. Our love is grace or undeserved favor we give them by virtue that they are our children.

Application

All believers have received grace and mercy from our Father. We didn’t do anything to get the favor He has shown to us. And because we didn’t do anything to get it, His continued favor is not dependent on our behavior. However, the more we know our loving Father, the more we will want to return His love and the more we will want to please Him with our obedience to His commands.

If you’re not interested in changing your behavior to obey God’s commands, you might want to check your spiritual state: Are you really one of His kids or not?

All of His children will enter His rest. Those who don’t enter His rest are not His children.

Some of the scariest words in the Bible are,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’ (Matthew 7:21–23 CSB)

Jesus points out that behavior doesn’t promise eternal life. Knowledge of Him and knowledge by Him does. (John 17:3) Knowing and being known are the key; they signify a relationship with Him.

And that’s what it’s all about.

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Many of my family members are United Methodists. Many of my friends are United Methodists. Some of my “Facebook Friends” (whom I have never really met) are United Methodists. I was saved during revival services at a small country United Methodist Church. My number one reason for leaving the Denomination and not pursuing vocational ministry in the UMC – aside for obvious theological differences – was I knew that I could not with a good conscience hold to my theological differences with the UMC while drawing a paycheck from the Denomination. Those theological differences are unrelated to this post.

Last week, the United Methodists from around the world met in St. Louis, Missouri to try to make sense of its differences and chart a way forward. At the forefront was the issue of ordination of openly gay clergy and gay marriage. There were several paths they could have chosen, including a “One Church” Plan that would have allowed churches and their clergy, regardless of their position on these issues, to affirm or forbid gay clergy and/or gay marriage.

However, the “Traditional” Plan prevailed. The “Traditional” Plan, backed by a large number of delegates from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, affirms The Book of the Discipline, UMC’s statement of doctrine and practice. The Book of the Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore, by default, gay ordination and gay marriage would also be incompatible.

In several Facebook posts, several of my United Methodist Pastor friends have expressed their deep concerns for the future of the second largest denomination in the United States. They are concerned about those on both sides of the issue being hurt by the vote. This morning, one posted a link to an article posted yesterday by another Methodist pastor. In the article, Jason Micheli’s parishioner (the article’s actual content writer) says, “The United Methodist Church’s unfixable rot has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with polity.” The writer lays out his argument that the root of the problem in the UMC is its polity, and as such, the denomination was destined to reach the impasse they currently find themselves in.

While all of these things may be true, I think the article writer – and perhaps most United Methodists – miss is an even deeper issue, which I encountered a few days ago with a “Facebook Friend”. This person shared someone else’s post. Here’s the thread:

Original Post:
“Please don’t say the struggle for LGBTQ rights is dividing the church. No one is being divisive by simply claiming their rights as a human being. What is tearing the church apart is the hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.”

My response:
“No one’s being divisive by pointing out a denomination’s written statement of doctrine and practice and calling those paid by that denomination to adhere to it. No one’s being divisive to say the Bible is still authoritative. John Wesley held a high view of the Bible and based his own ethics and behavior on all of it.”

My Facebook friend’s response:
“Scripture does not condemn Homosexuality.
Policies are not scripture or the Church.”

My responses:
“Which Bible are you reading? I know which one you aren’t reading.
It shouldn’t be too much to expect organizational employees to faithfully represent the organization, regardless of the organization – McDonald’s, Starbucks, UMC, IBM, etc. – if they wish to keep a paycheck. The Book of the Discipline is what the UMC has codified. Those drawing a paycheck should faithfully represent the UMC, or find another organization they can faithfully represent.
This is reason #1 I did not pursue ministry in the UMC.”

– End of Thread –

The problem with the UMC which has brought division is not the “hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.” The problem with the UMC is that they can’t agree on the place of the Bible in the Denomination’s theology and practice. Therefore, they can’t define sin in an objective way, because they don’t have an objective source. From the reaction I have seen in the press and on social media, it would appear that “sin” would be to act in an “unchristlike” way: judgmental, intolerant, and unaffirming of others.

And therein lies the problem.

Those on both sides of the gay ordination/gay marriage issue claim the other side is being “unchristlike“. But how can someone actually define “unchristlike” apart from a Biblical standpoint? After all, everything we know about Jesus Christ and what He was like is in the Bible. Jesus had some very divisive things to say to a lot of people as He called out their sin. And those He reached out to in mercy and grace, He told to repent of their behaviorand sin no longer.

There can be no objective definition of “Christlike“/”unchristlike“, “sin“, “repentance“, and “reaching the world with the gospel” apart from the Bible.

And until the United Methodist Church decides the place and authority of the Bible, there can be no definition of “unity” or any of these crucial and highly relevant words.

Until good people are more concerned with fidelity to the Bible and historic, Christian teachings on homosexuality – consistent for nearly two centuries – than with their concern for “friends on both sides of the issue who are hurt by the vote”, the future of the United Methodist Church is bleak.

Methodist friends, you have passed a historic vote to stand firm on your position stated clearly in The Book of the Discipline. The only two choices you have is to remain true to Biblical truth (as you voted last week) or bend to the modern morays of the Sexual Revolution. I’m not saying that homosexuals and those ordaining them and/or performing homosexual marriages are evil. But the Bible unequivocally denounces homosexual behavior.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews brings out an important point in Hebrews 2:1 in our daily Bible reading.

For this reason, we must pay attention all the more to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. Hebrews 2:1 (CSB)

wandering

Some translations begin verse 1 with “Therefore”. Anytime you come across “therefore”, you need to ask, “What’s it there for?” The writer is referring back to Chapter 1. The angels (literally, “messengers”) are spirits who minister to those who will inherit salvation (i.e., believers).

In other words (summing up verses 1-4), because the angels have faithfully ministered to us, we need to pay attention even more to what we’ve heard so that we won’t drift away from it. Jesus spoke, the Apostles bore witness of what Jesus said, and God Himself confirmed the message with signs and wonders. Because of all of this, we need to be very careful to pay attention to the Gospel message, otherwise, we will drift away.

Application

The writer implies that we are predisposed to drifting away. Left to our own devices, we will drift away. Because the Fall so radically affected (and effected) us, even on our best day, our own righteousness is utterly worthless. (Isaiah 64:6)

Robert Robinson summed up his heartcry in Come Thou Fount:

Oh, to grace how great a debtor,
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.

The message the angels proclaimed proved reliable and we have the Bible as an authoritative basis for our faith and practice. God’s Word is our map. How much more should we deep-dive into the depths of God’s Word so that we won’t drift away from the Gospel Message!

Yes, we are so prone to wander when we should be prone to wonder at the grace of God. Until That Day when we do, we should all the more, guard our hearts above all else, because our new, redeemed hearts are the wellspring of our Lifesong. (Proverbs 4:23)

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