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Theology

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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Statue of Moses with the Ten Commandments

The writer of Hebrews compares Jesus and Moses in today’s Bible reading in Hebrews 3. Most Jews of the day – and religious Jews of today – look to Moses as an authority on the Jewish religion. And rightfully so! The writer praises Moses for his faithfulness. But he points out that as good as Moses was, Jesus is better. (Hebrews 3:3)

If you’ve been in church very long, you may remember that Moses was the man who led the Hebrew people out of their Egyptian Captivity to return to the Land of Promise.

During their forty-year trek, Moses communed with God on a mountain where God Himself carved the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17) onto stone tablets. (Exodus 31:18) The Ten Commandments were the commands that God expected His people to keep. Later in the other books of the Torah, God gave Moses more commands regarding worship in the Tabernacle.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment (actually not one of the “Top Ten”) is to love God with all that you are and the second is to love other people as you love yourself. He added that the entire Law stood on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37–40)

Application

The writer says that believers should exhort (strongly encourage) each other in order to keep each other from being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. He reminds his readers of what he said in yesterday’s reading: People are prone to wander from the things of God. We need to do whatever we can to keep one another close and clean. (Hebrews 3:13)

What are you doing to help other believers to have a sensitive heart toward the things of God? What do you need for other believers to do to help you to have a sensitive heart toward the things of God?

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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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With today’s Bible reading, we conclude our reading through the book of Acts. The book ends rather abruptly, almost as if Chapter 29 has been lost. But of course, that didn’t happen. Some have suggested that Dr. Luke didn’t finish the book and that we are living today in Acts 29.

One very important thing I want to point out from today’s reading is easily missed by reading many of our Bible translations. Now, before I go any further on this, please hear me say this loud and clear: I believe that God’s Word is inspired by God, it is infallible, and it does not err in any way. Having said that, let me add that modern translations of the Bible accurately convey God’s Word very clearly. I encourage you to read from several recent Bible translations in your native language, comparing words and phrases used by the translators. Doing so can bring out nuances that don’t always translate as clearly as they should..* No, I don’t believe that you have to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar to hear God speak as you read your Bible. But knowing the languages can help to bring out a better clarity in your study.

Most of us in the US have at least one TV in our home. A few of the older TVs display shades of black and white, while the newer ones display in color. Some of the newer TVs are digital. And some of the newest (and most expensive) ones have 4K High Definition displays. It’s possible to watch your favorite football game on a 13″ black and white TV and not miss a single play. However, watching the same game on a 60″ high-definition 4K color TV allows you to see more detail as you watch. Reading and studying with most of our modern translations is like watching the game on most people’s TVs. Studying the Bible in its original languages is like watching the game on a high-definition TV.

Unfortunately, several modern English translations miss a very important point in Acts 28:8-9. This is one of those cases where comparing translations, and perhaps using some language tools can help to bring God’s Word into clearer focus.

Ok, I’ve spent a LOT more time prefacing this than I intended, but here’s the point. Let’s compare a few translations of Acts 28:8-9.

Christian Standard Bible
8Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.

English Standard Version
8It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.

Did you catch the difference? The CSB uses the word healed twice, but the ESV uses two different words: healed and cured. Dr. Luke was very precise in how he described what Paul did with Publius’ father and what he did with the other islanders.

When Paul visited Publius’ father, God gave a miraculous, instantaneous healing. However, the rest of the people were given therapy which led to their restored health over a period of time. The end result was the same. Publius’ father and the rest of the islanders were restored to a healthy state. And Dr. Luke points out that God just restored them differently.

Application

So what difference does it make? It makes a huge difference!

Someone may tell you that you don’t need to see a doctor; all you have to do is believe and pray. Another person may tell you that there are no miraculous healings; the way God heals today is with doctors and medicine. Each person prays differently. One prays that God will miraculously, instantaneously heal you. The other prays that God will use the medicine and guide the surgeon’s hands during surgery to restore you to health.

I pray both ways because both ways are Biblical! And you can’t (or you shouldn’t!) do either one without the other. Know that regardless of how He does it, God always heals!

God may choose to heal you miraculously. God may choose to cure you through medicine, surgery, or some other therapy. Either way, praise God for restoring you to health! But don’t neglect praying for healing, and don’t neglect going to your doctor and taking your meds.

What about people who aren’t restored to health miraculously or cured over time? Great question!

A couple of paragraphs back, I said that regardless of how He does it, God always heals! But God doesn’t always restore people’s health the way we want Him to and He doesn’t always restore people’s health when we want Him to. Sometimes God brings healing when the person crosses over to the other side of eternity, where there is no sickness, no pain, no suffering, and no tears.

The bottom line is: God is God. Let Him accomplish His work His way in His time. Yes, pray for healing! Yes, pray and seek medical help.

Do both … and trust God to be God.

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* I don’t want to get distracted too much by this, so please refer to my other posts on Bible translations for more information.

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