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It’s a Covenant

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” -Hebrews 8:10b (NIV)

For more than 200 years many Christians have begun a new year with a worship time called a “Watch Night Service.” Influenced by a Moravian practice, in 1740 John Wesley held the first Watch Night Service. It was a time of reflection, testimonies, singing, and prayer. Later Wesley would call them “Covenant Renewal Services.”

In the book of Hebrews, the writer places this statement in the context of God’s dealing with His people in the Old Testament: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Hebrews 8:10)

Few concepts or terms are more basic to the Bible story than that of covenant.  It is not a concept unfamiliar to us either, though the term may not be as common as some others—contract, agreement, deal.  God’s relation to His people (from the Biblical perspective) is a covenant relationship.  It is about a relationship governed by promises, obligations.  God is the initiator and prime determiner but His people have a part to play.

The blessings of the covenant are more than part of a ceremony. They become reality in the life of His people.

The Bible makes clear that at the heart of the covenant is God’s love. You are important to God, more important than the whole world.  And that applies not just to the saints.  Whoever you are, whatever your past or present state, even your future, God loves you.

The Old Testament story shows a people who are hard-headed, unfaithful, ungrateful, unloving, and untrustworthy who repeatedly break their promises to God and break His heart.  The book of Hosea compared them to an unfaithful wife, an adulteress.  His book is 14 chapters of sins and shameful behavior.  In dramatic fashion, God compares his love to that of a husband to an unfaithful wife:

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1 NIV)

What does God say about all that?  I love you.  I have chosen you. God’s love (graciousness) is prior to everything else—our sins, our faith, our righteousness and it lasts beyond all else, in spite of all else. Even if we have been a total disaster as a person, a church; no matter how long the list of charges against us might be; how far we have left God, He is pursuing us like the “hound of heaven.”  Should we ultimately make our bed in hell, it will be over the broken pieces of God’s heart for He will still love us.

In 2017, can we assume our part of the covenant and love God back with all our heart, soul, and mind? It is my prayer for you and for myself.

 

All In

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. -Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

Recently in my daily reading these two verses caught my attention. Specifically the phrase “it is with your heart that you believe” set me on one of those “I wonder…” paths which has lasted for a couple of weeks.  I keep coming back to these questions: “Why did the apostle not just say “believe”? Why “believe in your heart” and “with your heart…you believe”? Don’t we generally connect believing with the mind, with the head? I think I do.

However, there is a problem with that. Have you ever done something and said “my heart was just not in it”? Have you ever made a statement which you accepted as true but which didn’t make a lot of difference to you? I think there are many people who accept the story of Jesus as being factual, true but which has little effect on them. As Pastor Steve put it, they’re not “invested” in it. It’s a little like someone throwing you a rope and saying “catch this or it will hit the ground” vs “catch this so I can pull you out of the river to prevent your drowning.” Both statements are true but there’s a world of difference between what they mean to me.

When the Bible uses the word heart, it is usually referring to the whole person, with all that may infer. Yes, it involves my mind but also everything else about me. To believe with my heart is to say, “I’m all in.”

As a follower of Jesus, am I all in? Are you all in?

 

 

 

It’s Not Enough

Although he had performed so many signs (miracles) in their presence, they did not believe in him. -John 12:37

“Seeing is believing” is a statement so universally accepted that it seems to be self- authenticating. Yet in this remarkable statement, we find a situation directly contradictory to that idea. And it is not unique in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ministry. In John’s gospel it is a very common reaction.

If we were not so used to it, it would astound us.  They saw the lame healed, the deaf given speech, the blind sight and the dead given life AND THEY DID NOT BELIEVE! Many signs equaled few disciples.

On closer study it becomes clear that John and the New Testament distinguish between simply believing facts about Jesus and as it is put here, “believing in him.”  It is the difference in believing something to be true and acting on that belief. It is not just agreeing with him, but trusting him enough to follow him.

And make no mistake about it; that is the difference between salvation and lostness, life and death, heaven and hell. Jesus really wants followers, not just admirers. click here to begin.

 

Strangers In Town

To God’s chosen strangers in the world. -I Peter 1:1 (CEB)

There is an episode in the old Andy Griffith show where a stranger shows up in town. He calls everybody by name, knows all about them. And it makes people nervous, even afraid. So they try to run him out of town, not knowing he had learned about them by reading the paper and decided he wanted to live there. His mistake? He tried to be one of them. He didn’t want to be a stranger but ended up being “strange.”

Your community has “strangers in town.” They speak a different language, have strange values, owe allegiance to another ruler. Who are they? They’re followers of Jesus, Christians.

Strangers and aliens

Strangers and aliens

Peter writes a letter to “strangers in the world.” The Greek term, paroikia, (translated “sojourner”, “stranger”, “alien”) became a regular term for congregation. It is the word from which we get “parish.” (Cranfield)

The Christian understanding of life has always been shaped by the notion of strangers in the world, of alienation, not belonging. They are “looking for a city.” Not because they are transients to life or because they can’t find total satisfaction for their souls but because they are different.

When that attitude is diminished, we loose power, effectiveness, and any right to call ourselves Christian (those who belong to Christ). In a conformist, politically correct culture it is important to keep the lines drawn, to resist the temptation to settle down, conform, become like them. The Bible urges “keep yourselves unpolluted by the world” (James 1:17).

Like the citizens of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, the world will pressure you. They will think it strange that you do not plunge in with them. Jesus even warned, “they will hate you.”

For those who call ourselves followers of Jesus, the question is “do we live up to the name Christian? Are we really “strangers in town”? Or have we settled in and become like them?

It Makes a Difference

It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders
that the Most High God has performed for me.
How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation.

“For he is the living God
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
his dominion will never end.
He rescues and he saves;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heavens and on the earth.

Here are two wonderful testimonies to the wonder and greatness of the God of the Bible. Surely, they come from two of the great believers. However, nothing could be further from the truth. They were made by two pagan kings, Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. Why? How did this come to be? In both cases these affirmations of God’s greatness were triggered by the faith of his followers. Nebuchadnezzar had thrown Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the roaring furnace and Darius had thrown Daniel into the Lion’s Den because they would not deny God. After God delivered them, both kings were moved to praise. (Read the stories in Daniel 3 and 6)

What a great reminder that, when we trust God, even non-believers recognize God and can come to praise Him.

 

Trust God, No Matter What

Even if he does not.-Daniel 3:18

Maybe you know the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Three young Hebrews were threatened with being thrown into a blazing furnace because they had not bowed to the king’s idol. Their answer was that God could save them. But they added, “even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Job put it this way “though He slay me yet will I trust Him.”

Yes, God can protect us when we stand for right, but even if he does not, are we willing to make the hard choices? Their story has a happy ending, but not all do. The king puts it in perspective. “Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the King’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve of worship any God except their own God.”

Hang in there.

Stand firm, and you will win life.-Luke 21:19

One day Jesus is talking with some people who are admiring the beauty and permanence of the temple. Jesus shocks them by declaring that even the temple won’t last. Then he uses this opening to warn about threats to life: fear, being led astray, self-indulgence. He urges his followers to “stand firm,” “Hold on” (Phillips). The Bible is clear. Endurance is crucial to reaching God’s destination for us. The text in The Message puts it this way “Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”