Monthly Archives: January 2013

The context of Hebrews 11

Whoa. I missed the last eight verses in Hebrews 10! Because these set the context for what follows in chapter 11, I hope you will bear with me by my going back to these passages. He wrote there

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. Heb 10:32-35, NIV.

Here is yet another strong argument not to throw away their confidence. These believers had suffered, side by side, endured persecution, wept and cared for others who were suffering. They were insulted publicly, even been imprisoned and lost possessions for their faith—and joyfully! Plus pressure from angry, anti-Jesus legalistic Jews who insisted they renounce faith in Messiah Jesus and thus to fall away.

What will we do when persecution comes our way? Will we give up on Jesus? Countless brothers and sisters in many nations face similar trials daily. Right now, e.g., in Syria, rebel militants are targeting Christians who they see as having preferred the existing regime. Women in these places are especially vulnerable. Pakistan is a dangerous place to call yourself a Christian. Millions of Christians around the world are persecuted, some being killed and their property confiscated or burned. This is happening today.

Like our letter’s readers, we Christians must not throw away our confidence, our trust, our active, living hope in the grace and love of God in Jesus for the future, because we know that we ourselves have better and lasting possessions which will endure.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” (Isaiah 26:20)   And, “But my righteous one will live by faith (Hab. 2:3). And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Heb 10:36-39, NIV.

Perseverance is required and determination to continue to do the will of God and not our own—to live by faith and receive that righteousness that can only come by faith in this new and living Way. There is nothing that can take the place of perseverance. Genius? Talent? Education? No. Perseverance reigns supreme.

Where do we belong in this discussion? Will we be among those who shrink back when things get tough, threatening? Surely testing times lie ahead for us.

We are reassured that our glorious hope is in Jesus’ coming, everywhere spelled out in the New Testament writings. Our hope is not in earthly prosperity or gratification or false security.  Our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples that following him would lead to suffering, even death. Again, this is confirmed by the entire New Testament corpus.  It’s what the Book of Revelation is all about with its strong emphasis on HOPE.

Now we can go on to the next section of the letter: faith and hope that pleases God our Father. Next time.

Faith in Action

We are making our way through the Letter to the Hebrews and we now look at chapter 11. This section is full of references to wonderful stories of real people exercising faith in physical and historical situations recorded in the Old Testament.

Though we have seen that in this new deal, the “New Covenant”, everything seems to have changed, God’s character and purposes have not changed. Faith, hope and love remain supreme as our means of hearing His voice, knowing His promises and understanding His plans. So our author digs deep into the past to encourage his readers to stick in there with active faith despite the difficulties they face.

The chapter begins,

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand (CEV ‘know’) that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Heb 11:1-3, NIV)

Faith is a way of knowing something, of being certain. The Contemporary English Version has faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.

That’s because it is based on evidence of the integrity, the absolutely perfect character of the One who promises, who makes covenant with His people, the One who cannot lie.

The study of how we know is called epistemology. We have here biblical epistemology which is based on knowing a person—the living, speaking, listening God. We can know because the One who has spoken in geographical space and earthly time has given us revelation and is absolutely trustworthy. So here in chapter 11 of the Letter, we have a lengthy list of actual historical persons who had this kind of knowing in real situations.

The scientist has a different approach to knowing, based on evidence in the observed physical world, and she sets out to demonstrate by ‘proofs’. But even scientists have to start with faith that something unseen must be there to be discovered. In fact to do any science, they need to believe that something unseen is there, such as the ‘laws of nature’, in which they may place confidence even though there is no guarantee that these same invisible laws will be in force tomorrow.

But we know that God is unchanging and his promises are sure and without any danger of being revoked!  ‘Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away’, Jesus said.

Our great high priest and perfect sacrifice for us

We have now reached the end of the great teaching about the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus and his high-priesthood for us presented by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. From chapter 11 to the end of the letter, he will deal with how his readers should then live in the light of what has happened. indeed everything has changed for these Jewish people who are encouraged to follow their Messiah. For next time.

So it is fitting that I end this section (chapters 1 to 10) with this illuminating message which my dear life-long friend Ruth wrote to me some time ago.

A message from Ruth

I wanted to share with you the wonder as I have been praying and listening to Joe Focht, from his commentary on Daniel, and as he spoke about the sacrifices made in Israel prior to Jesus Christ coming to earth.

He talked about how the person bringing the sacrifice was never examined, but the sacrifice was always examined!

It hit me. How often have I heard about the need for us to examine ourselves, and indeed Paul says that, and also King David in his ‘search me, oh God and see if there be some wicked way in me”.

But here I saw too, that in bringing an offering, the focus was on the sacrifice – would it be acceptable?

I thought of how, when I bring my sins to God, I need to stop and ponder if what I bring, is truly acceptable to God, and if so, as indeed it is, why would I, or anyone else who comes in the same way, ever be doubting that our sins are completely forgiven?

It highlights for me again the assurance with which we can tell others. They too can come to God through that perfect sacrifice, and know their sins are completely and perfectly forgiven.

More than that, it renewed to me that, that sacrifice, our Lord Jesus, was examined and was found perfect!

He was absolutely the only One who ever lived who could have been the sacrifice, for He alone was and is perfect.

Therefore the Word of God is perfect!

The living Word and the written Word, as God spoke it to be!

In my life I have had occasions when I have had to lay aside my doubts and questions and make a choice:

 1. To accept God and His salvation as offered, and sufficient for my sins.

 2. To know He has sent us His Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and His gifts are for today.

 3. To experience that His Word is perfect and I will choose to believe it – as we used to say as young people:  ‘His Word is true no matter what challenges it’.

What joy and liberty all three have brought to me!

And what cost, as others have been offended by this, especially Christians.

What untold confirmation He brings to these facts.

Tonight I rejoice again when I think, yes! it matters not what state I come to Him. What matters is this: Is the sacrifice perfect?

What a Saviour!


Sacred Place? What Sacred Place?

Some more comments I want to add-on my posting The Sacred Cow of Going to Church which arose since that article especially about ‘sacred’ buildings.

I think any place or practice may become a sacred cow when we hold that thing somehow different to other things and kind of sacred, whether it be a building or an enclosed space or high mountains or deserts or ceremonies or rituals or whatever and we then treat them as important, even essential.

When we begin to think for a church to be authentic that it must be in a dedicated special place, that idea also becomes a sacred cow. But as Hebrews 10 shows, what authenticates real assembly in Jesus is encouragement and upbuilding of one another in love. But the practice of ‘going to church’ becomes a sacred cow. It’s untouchable.

In John 4 we read Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Samaria –he told her that the only true place of worship was not in Samaria or even in Jerusalem but in spirit and in truth. He went on to show that he was THE true place of worship. Remember also the Transfiguration episode when Peter wanted to venerate that place with 3 booths/ memorials but the solemn word from God was This is my Son—listen to him!

People talk about “the institutional church”. But what is this fictitious creature? However I think we can speak of institutionalism. Institutionalism has largely replaced the Holy Spirit. Shame.

Jesus did not intend his followers to copy the models of the world, of Judaism, of the Roman empire, or of any of the mystery or pagan religions. I believe he meant us to model faith communities on his example, like a family, a household, where everyone in his house were regarded as brothers and sisters. He taught them to love one another, forgive etc. He modelled and taught them the ways of the Holy Spirit. New wine demanded new wineskins. And a new outlook on the whole world.

I understand Jesus is present always with his people wherever they meet. However,

are we always truly present to him?

We can be present just to a group or meeting dynamic or to ‘worship’ or a ‘service’ or the often superb music or corporate singing, or great oratory or even an inspiring building –all of which can become an end in themselves. When the entertaining on-stage performances or dreary up-front ritualistic, repetitive program ends, everyone can then happily go home and get on with all the other (important?) aspects of their lives— compartmentalising which is encouraged by buildings and services, special places. God in a box. Worship of worship.

And we call it worship! Lord, help us.

I am not hung up on buildings. I think buildings can be very useful. After all as an architect I have designed many buildings and most of these were intended to provide hospitality, refuge, encouragement and kindness.

However, I am in agreement with Jesus, the apostles and the original followers who met wherever they could to teach and discuss the implications of the gospel. They avoided having special buildings for “worship”. That was not necessary when unselfish, Spirit-led believers opened their homes and Jesus’ family life was embraced in a new brotherhood with eating, drinking, thankfulness and encouragement.

Sure. I too know about some little home groups which can be as toxic and off-track as institutional set-ups with awful manipulation and leader domination of the people. Sadly. However these groups are invariably small in size and the damage is small and limited compared to the corporate, multi-national organisations with their huge budgets, marketing techniques and paid support staff. If the man at the top, the CEO, is in error or misbehaves, thousands are led astray. Wolves are common, but they do far more damage where there are bigger flocks.

There are huge drawbacks with having special religious buildings for ‘worship’, a concept unknown in followers of Jesus until the 3rd century when the rot of Christendom really set in.

They are costly, they use valuable land, they are used wastefully and spasmodically, they shout ‘look at us’, they perpetuate a spirit of grandeur and triumphalism. They preach the wrong message –dominance instead of servanthood, the remoteness of God instead of his present love.  Their architectural form does not fit the function of one-anotherness everywhere emphasized in the New Testament. Their programs often encourage laziness, an attitude of being served, self-righteousness, exclusiveness, conservatism and mystery. Preaching? Well, that is another sacred cow.

Ekklesia (translated ‘church’ in most English bibles) in the New Testament means people gathered around Jesus to encourage one another. Buildings were irrelevant. Time and place were incidental. ‘Programs’ were unknown, except for those breathed upon them by the Holy Spirit.

How the Letter to the Hebrews reflects these concepts! Remarkable, because it is such a Jewish approach without Gentile influence.

Is it not from habitual adherence to dead tradition that we continue to desire holy places instead of holy people? Maybe it is even disobedience, not hearing what God truly wants for his gathered ones.

Father, your will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven.


This is the first day

This is the first day of the rest of your life!

It can be a new beginning.

He makes all things new


May this day you have been entrusted with and the day after and the day after that, and so on into eternity,

be fruitful in terms of the Kingdom of God,
Jesus’s movement of liberty, love, light and life.

Jesus said:

“whatever my Dad has not planted will be rooted up”