I submit to Your authority over every part of my life.
Your authority tells me to rejoice in trials and to trust in You, to rest in the truth that You are working everything together for my good, even though it may be difficult to see how that can be at the present.
Your authority tells me to not worry about anything but in everything to give thanks. Thank-you!
Claiming that You are my Lord means that I live by what You say, not by my own authority or the authority of religion claiming to speak in Your place. While I am not to resist Your appointed authorities here on earth or to resist an evil person, at the same time I am not to reflect their evil spirit or become contaminated by it in my own spirit. Rather I am to pass along all mistreatment, shame and evil along to You, my Savior who has earned the right on the cross to absorb all of the shame, the humiliation, the pain that any mistreatment may produce. Because I am 'in Christ' I must remember to not try to shoulder any of the effects of sin on myself, but rather I am to give it all to You because You claim full responsibility for all the effects of sin. To hang onto guilt, condemnation, resentment, bitterness, wrath or any other aftereffects that sin produces in my heart, I am really stealing from You what You have already taken upon Yourself and purchased on the cross, and I am trying to compete with Your work of redemption that only You have the power and ability to accomplish.
Instead of remaining in guilt, fear, shame or any other debilitating emotion that my heart was never meant to carry, remind me that my place is to embrace Your forgiveness, believe in Your compassion, Your goodness, Your mercy, kindness and especially Your agape, unconditional, irrepressible love for not just me, but just as much for those who oppose and attack me. You took upon Yourself all of the sins of the world so that it should no longer be owned by any sinner but that all might embrace Your perfect love and be filled with Your fullness of faith.
As I was waking up this morning You spoke to me about my need to embrace a more mature faith and I need to better grasp what faith is really about. I realized that I need to clarify better in my own thinking what real faith is and how to have it strengthened. I know that You are intensifying my lessons in this arena and sharpening my focus on learning lessons of faith right now. So of course it only makes sense for me to now marinate in Your presence while listening to Your instructions about this most vital part of my connection to Your heart.
You told me to look in Hebrews 11 to listen to what You want to say to me about genuine faith, so here I am listening for Your Spirit in my heart. The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple. (Isaiah 50:4) Yes, You have awakened me morning after morning, reminding me that unless I take time to soak in Your presence, to absorb Your attitude, humble my own heart, listen with a teachable spirit and allow Your perspective to shape my disposition, that I cannot be very effective to carry out Your desires for me or reflect Your Spirit and Your wisdom to those You ask me to bless. If I am to cooperate with You to be used to attract others to want to know You better for themselves, I have to take intentional time daily to fortify my own mind in Your Word and soak in Your Spirit to receive the benefits of seeking Your face.
Father, I need to see Your face right now much more distinctly. My heart craves for this, for only in this way can it heal and thrive and begin to really live. I know that I must learn to trust in You at the heart level without being able to visibly see You, as hard as that is to accept. I remember Your words to Thomas that those of us who believe without seeing and touching You physically will be more blessed. I need all the blessing I can get right now in order to experience healing for my own soul and my damaged, hardened heart. You have been and continue to heal me and I thank You as much as my feeble heart is able for all that You are doing in my life.
You keep reminding me of the vital essence of maintaining an attitude of praise in all circumstances. Keep reminding me and dwell in me with Your Spirit so that my praise can be authentic and not shallow or fake. I want to do far more than simply enjoy praise music or give lame tokens of appreciation for Your rich blessings in my life. I want to have my heart super-charged with the kind of passionate love that I glimpse in You and that defines Your very essence. I want to better reflect Your passionate love, for I have miserably failed up to this point.
Fill my mind, my heart, my spirit and even this deteriorating body with Your presence right now. Awaken me to be a true disciple, a learner with an open, teachable, humble spirit willing to listen and obey and get pumped about what You share with me about reality, about truth and especially about Yourself. I must see Your face more clearly Father, to have Your image more distinctly imprinted deep inside of me so that others can begin to see more of You than of me. Our enemy is constantly working to deface the image of Yourself You are forming in me and too often his graffiti mars Your intended reflection. Forgive me for being so dull, so slow, so easily diverted by distractions – the pull of entertainment, news, gossip and so many other diversions that Satan successfully uses to draw me out of Your presence. Cleanse my penchant to allow these things to become gods ahead of You and Your priorities for my life. Infuse me with Your Holy Spirit again, much deeper, much more permanently.
The word of the Lord to my heart this morning sent me to meditate on the deeper meaning and implications of this verse:
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
What does it mean to please God? What would motivate me in the first place to even want to please God? For most of my life that might have made sense because of my fear-oriented picture of a God that needed appeasement. But I am starting to see that pleasing and appeasement are not the same things. The more I see God as very different from the angry deity needing to be appeased the more passages like this need to be revisited in the light of emerging truth of what God is really like. If God is not one I must appease, then what did the author of Hebrews have in mind when he wrote this?
To start with, this was not written to unbelievers but to people who had been Christians for some time. As such they had been drawn enough into an appreciation of God's goodness, faithfulness, kindness and the truth about what He is really like to desire to come closer to Him. When anyone begins to have a love relationship with another person, what we term 'falling in love', the desire to please the one they are coming to love is inevitable. If that desire to please is not yet evident, there has to be serious questions about the nature of the relationship.
Does this tell me anything about how much I have progressed in my relationship with God? How much natural desire has been awakened in me to want to please Him, not in order to divert any supposed wrath or displeasure against me on His part, but purely from a desire to make Him happy? How do my perceptions of how God feels about me awaken within my heart natural impulses to want to surprise Him with gifts, with little pleasures, with manifestations of affection both private and public? This is rather incriminatinh this. Indeed I find a lot that needs to be included to give me a clearer picture of what God wants me to understand so that my own faith can become more real, more alive and more effective for transforming my own life.
Interestingly I find that the context for these explanations about faith come right on the heels of a most disturbing verse that talks about an aspect of God that has almost been universally misunderstood and misinterpreted because of the pervasive misapprehensions about God perpetuated by His accuser. The section leading up to this chapter about faith begins soon after this passage:
For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:30-31)
What a way to start a study on faith, huh? This verse was brought to my attention recently by a retired man in my church who found this understandably as quite intimidating and seemingly conflicting with all the wonderful things we have been learning about God recently. Does this negate our belief in the unconditional nature of God's love for all sinners? Is this the threat of violence that so many insist is an integral part of God's nature and that He plans to 'get even' at last with all those who have offended Him and who reject His offers of pardon?
I don't have time to revisit all that we have explored up to this point about that topic here, for it would take up many pages of explanation, word definitions and paradigm challenges. That has been part of my lesson plans from God for a number of years now and anyone sincerely wanting to understand this better certainly should take time to learn the real truth about God's vengeance. But in response to this man's question we spent a whole morning's Sabbath School class discussing this and discovered beautiful truths in this passage that reveal a very different God than what most people see in this passage.
But I include this as context so I can be reminded that this verse is not disconnected from the concept of faith more thoroughly examined in the verses following this. Whatever this statement means here – and it is vital to understand what it really means and not simply accept surface assumptions from popular opinions about God in this verse – the author is using this as the taking off point for all the following teachings about real faith.
The transition between this verse about vengeance and subsequent verses about faith are descriptions of events that happened to the people addressed in this book that would obviously cause most people to desire revenge. If we put ourselves in the place of these people or if we have experienced similar things in our own lives, it is important to keep all of this in mind to properly understand why these things were written and why they are so vital to understand and apply to our own experience.
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. (Hebrews 10:32-36)
There is so much to ponder and meditate on in just these few verses that I am tempted to explore this itself. But I want to stay focused on what I began with, on how faith fits into this and what faith really is and what it means in my life. What I can begin to see here is the reason the previous passage was mentioned in direct connection to the natural desires of the human heart to want revenge, retaliation and human-style 'justice' for all the mistreatment experienced as described here. What these believers are being reminded of is that God's ways are very different than the cravings of our fallen nature, and that we must be extremely careful about the reactions we allow to dominate our spirit and the attitudes we have when we encounter injustice.
One thing we must keep in mind when considering this topic is this: God has taken full responsibility for all the sins of the world when Jesus died on the cross. Because of this we no longer have anyterfeit system of justice introduced by sin and deeply embedded in the human psyche. But we cannot rely on our assumptions, our cravings, our intuition or logic when it comes to exposing the real truth about God and His ways. God's justice is strikingly different that our ideas about justice, and until we accept that fact by faith we will not be able to enter into a deeper appreciation for the vastness and power of God's plan for our salvation.
For too long we have insisted that God cannot exceed the bounds of our small views of salvation. We have carefully circumscribed boundaries which we insist God cannot pass in forgiving sins and redeeming sin-sick souls. But in doing so we limit our own ability to move deeper into the very love that is needed to heal our own sickness and twisted thinking. We refuse to embrace the real truth about God's amazing, extravagant compassion as demonstrated in the story of the Prodigal Father, often mistakenly titled the Prodigal Son. You see, the real scandal of that story that Jesus told to reveal what the Father in heaven is like, was not just in how evil the son had become but how ridiculously unreasonable and extravagant the Father was in accepting Him back so readily without even punishing him. This is the scandal of the cross, the scandal that actually blocks many people from accepting the real truth about God. Instead they insist on a picture of God more suited to their own image and liking.
Just yesterday I read a comment on Facebook in response to a comment I had left about God's character in regards to His treatment of sinners. The reaction was very strong, accusing me of not believing the plain Word of God if I didn't buy into the popular belief that God will burn sinners in hell as punishment for rejecting His love. It made me very sad, for I realize that for most of my life I might have had the same reaction. But God has graciously been revealing the real truth about Himself to me over a number of years now. This has come from various sources but mostly directly from His Word as He has been showing me that He is far different and much better than almost anyone has dared to imagine.
We tend to demand that God operate on our terms, that He must satisfy our version of justice, one that demands revenge and painful infliction of punishment to 'even the scales of justice'. If we find that He refuses to play the system our way, many will turn away from Him in disgust and embrace their own version of a god more eager to punish those who have offended, humiliated and persecuted others.
I find it very instructive that this is the context of this passage. And this is why the subject of faith comes immediately after this, for genuine, saving faith is not just working up an intellectual belief that God will do what we ask of Him. No, real saving faith is far deeper than this shallow kind of faith. Saving faith, faith that radically transforms hard, sick hearts that sin has created in every one of us, is a spontaneous response to revelations about God that are shocking, scandalous and yet awaken hope and amazement in the hearts of anyone who begins to appreciate and take hold of the real implications of what they are discovering.
The reason these believers who had suffered so much needed to hear about faith so much was not because they just needed to hang on tighter to God but because they were in danger of not letting go of their natural desires to avenge all the wrongs done to them. And the hope that they needed to cling to was not a hope that God could get revenge more effectively than they could. Far from that popular interpretation of this passage, true faith will look beyond the pain, the suffering, the shame and our fallen nature's desire for revenge to a God who will treat our enemies in a way based totally on who He is in character. God is not to be defined in our image, and He will not execute justice in ways that satisfy our distorted retributive versions of justice. These believers along with us, needed to look much higher, advance even farther than they had yet gone in perceiving a God who forgives His enemies just as His Son taught when He was here on earth. This God does not operate His kingdom based on our worldly system of rewards and punishments as introduced by Satan; rather He uses a far superior system based on His own agape love that will ultimately overcome evil with good.
This concept is one of the most difficult for Christians to swallow today. We will do almost anything to tame the radical teachings of Jesus along these lines and subvert them to fit into our own version of religion. But to water down the teachings of Jesus about how to relate to enemies and as lived out in His own life all the way to His willing death on the cross, is to destroy the very power and essence of the gospel. And that, I believe, is why the gospel is so tame and tepid today, because we have stripped it of the very heart of what made it so potent in the early days of the apostles.
I am not suggesting that these believers had not already advanced considerably in their knowledge of God. Obviously they had seen enough of God's character to be willing to joyfully suffer for His reputation. The things described here about their past experiences gives evidence that they had caught a glimpse of the glory of God's character and had given their lives and their devotion and affections to Him. But in their current condition they were also in danger of losing their perspective, of slipping into the deceptive trap of wanting revenge whether it be at their own hands or at the hands of God.
Their painful experiences and the humiliations they had suffered may have been used to create a powerful temptation for them to slip into the trap of self-pity or even the twin of that problem – pride. They were in immediate need of deeper faith, a faith that would take hold of an even more exalted awareness of God's true goodness, kindness and graciousness for His enemies that would take them far beyond anything they had yet imagined. They had initially done well in responding to what they had already learned about God; but they were now in need of moving onto yet a higher level of faith, a faith that had been evidenced throughout history in the lives of others who had also suffered but still clung to God to sustain them as listed in the next chapter.
These persecuted believers who had previously accepted joyfully the seizure of (their) property were being urged not to throw away the confidence (faith) that had sustained them through all that had already happened to them. This confidence had been inspired in them initially by hearing about this amazing God who loved His enemies; and at that time they were still God's enemies themselves. As this truth about a God who does not hold a grudge against anyone seeped into their hearts, faith had been awakened, love began to spring up and they had been willing to suffer intense loss and pain to maintain their loyalty to such an amazing God because of the confidence He inspired in them.
But the confidence that had brought them this far would not be enough to take them through the next stage. Like a rocket blasting off intending to reach outer space, free from the pull of gravity close to earth, these believers now found themselves needing a second stage booster to kick in to lift them even higher than their early faith had lifted them before. They were off the ground and high in the air, but they were also were in danger of falling back to worse than where they had started if they did not become aware of their need to move much deeper into the ever emerging truth about God. Their natural desires for vengeance needed to be addressed, exposed and expelled if they were to move closer to the freedom found in God's presence towards which they had been launched originally.
But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:39)
When God tells us that we need to leave vengeance in His hands, He is not telling us that He is going to carry it out in the way we usually want to see it happen. To execute vengeance the way we naturally want it would be to contradict the core teachings of Jesus who instructed us to love our enemies and not resist an evil person. Does God tell us one thing but act the opposite? Agape love operates very differently than the natural human impulses that spring out of our fallen nature. Our ideas received from religion are so saturated with assumptions born of sinful desires rather than the truth about God's character that we need much divine wisdom and discernment and guidance by the Spirit of God to disentangle our thinking in this arena. If there is one subject that has been distorted and misunderstood more than any other, I believe it is this one, this issue of God's vengeance.
Yet this last verse alerts us that if we dwell on our desires for vengeance the way we want it, that we will be in extreme danger of shrinking back to the whole realm of destruction rather than moving into the freedom of real life. This is like the rocket failing to take advantage of the second-stage booster and subsequently falling back to the ground to be destroyed as a result. Faith that preserves the soul is not a faith based on believing that God will take revenge on those who have offended us with force more effectively than we ever could. That is the mentality inherited from the counterfeit system, our sinful nature that we need to crucify and flush out of our system. We must turn away completely from the methods and mentality of destructiveness that belong only to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that insists on a God who will enforce our desires to see our enemies punished and destroyed. We must move on to a much greater awareness of the amazing purity of the agape love of our God, the God who is only life-giving and not death-producing, the God whose system is represented by the THis character begins to glow in our own lives giving more effective testimony for Him.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Do you suppose that the author of Hebrews had in mind that the 'hoped for' things these believers might have been relying on was some sort of vengeance against their enemies for the persecution they had suffered? I don't think it is completely disconnected from that. In fact, I believe that in this verse is not only an assurance of true hope here but a warning as well – that we don't fall back into the darkness of seeing God as our powerful avenger that will someday inflict vindictive pain and suffering on our enemies in retaliation for what they have done to us. If God were this kind of God then we too would be on the receiving end of such treatment and no one would ever be saved. And worse yet, because of the principle of transformation through beholding, when we cling to such pictures of God we inevitably become like that God and our desires for revenge and vengeance poison our own hearts and destroy the very love that drew us to God in the first place.
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 1:5; 4:17-18)
Is this the same confidence that is mentioned in Hebrews 10 that we are not to throw away? I believe so. But this is not a confidence based on retributive justice where our enemies 'get what they deserve'. Rather it is a confidence born from an emerging awareness of a God who loves so completely and consistently that it totally annihilates all fear. The only place left for fear, hatred or desires for revenge will be in the hearts of those who have rejected God's way of relying on love alone but insist that any justice worth its name must involve punitive infliction of retribution for all unforgiven offenses.
We are only drawn to a god who deals in destruction because we are so addicted to the gods of this world who operate on this basis. What we are being told here is that the kind of hope we need to focus on is not a hope for revenge but something far more life-giving; the hope of redemption for all those who oppose God, that they will come to see the real truth about Him and be won by that revelation of love. This is the hope that is the very essence of the plan of salvation.
But part of the frustrating part of God for us is that we cannot see Him physically. All of the other gods we are used to in this world make themselves tangible. This was the constant problem that the Children of Israel faced all throughout the Old Testament times, for they were constantly embarrassed that the God they were supposed to follow seemed so invisible and intangible compared to the gods of everyone else around them. Our cravings to experience a god, a source of life, of pleasure, of one who supplies what we need and desire is intense. Thus to try to worship a God who seems at times to be so nebulous that our natural mind easily questions whether or not He is just a creation of our own active imagination – this kind of God can produce a lot of doubt if we think about it logically. This is why we are instructed not to through away our confidence and why we need faith so much. What this verse tells me is that it is the very nature of faith to believe in something that cannot be seen and still believe.
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)
This is a step even higher into the life of faith. It is one thing to begin by believing in an invisible God who cannot be touched. Now we must move on to embrace the claims of this God that the whole context of our physical surroundings at every level and in every respect are designed and were spoken into existence by a power not dependent on any preexisting material. This eliminates the option of believing in a god of hybrid creation, creation as an amalgamation of evolution and divine fiat. This text says that a true believer who desires to advance toward God past just a simple acknowledgement of His existence must choose to embrace by faith the description of creation as recorded in Genesis.
This God that we are beginning to learn about and are coming to respect and admire has incredibling of this world? Do I insist on a God who is mostly good but will resort to violence when pushed too far? Or am I willing to let Him reveal to me a loving Father who is only life-giving as represented by the Tree of Life in the original Garden of Eden?
There are so many things that surface from what I have looked at this morning that I can hardly begin to list them all. Usually I take several weeks to cover this much material, but it is good sometimes to see how the pieces fit together and help amplify each other.
I need to ponder these things and allow the Spirit to impress them much deeper into my own soul over the coming days and weeks. I want my own perceptions of God to go far beyond the dark fears about Him that have marked my past relationship. I want to be freed of all the fears about Him that have sprung from the myriads of lies, many of which still infect my perceptions of Him. I long to see His true glory as His perfect character becomes more and more evident and appealing to my heart.
I want to become completely free of the deeply embedded desires for revenge that can spring into life in an instant when someone offends me. I am painfully aware of my deep reservoir of rage hidden inside that is based on this sinful desire for revenge. Its residual presence lingers from many unresolved offenses in my past and I need deep, deep healing for all of them. This is the very opposite though, of what I am finding God to be like. Yet it seems to take so long for my heart to respond to what I am finding in Him. I love what I am learning about Him but at the same time my natural addictions to force, coercion and everything else inherited from the fallen nature still affects my reactions. I do feel a constant tension inside of me between these two opposing concepts of God that compete for the ascendancy. And I find that only as I keep filling my mind and heart with fresh revelations about this amazing God, the one just like Jesus who refuses to stoop to our ways of settling scores, can my heart begin to grasp the beautiful advantages of His way of life.
Father, please keep transforming me through the continuous renewing of my mind as You make me an experiment of Your healing love in my heart – for Your name's sake.