Thursday, May 13, 2010
I hope you are well and enjoying the Spring! Here’s an update from the Palmers…
Some reflections from Hebrews 11 and 12
This past weekend I was invited to teach a manuscript Bible study on Hebrews 11 – 12 for a church that is connected to our Servant Partners ministry here in Los Angeles. About 85 people participated in the study, which was an interactive discussion. The group consisted of both Spanish and English speakers, so in addition to leading the Bible study, I was also translating English comments into Spanish and vice versa. It was challenging, fulfilling, and inspiring all at once. I really enjoyed the study. We talked about the way the author of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11.1). As we proceeded through chapters 11 and 12 we saw that that these “things not seen” specifically include God himself (11:27), and the heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal city of God that is the true homeland of people of faith (11:10, 13-16, 12:22). Faith gives us assurance and conviction that these things are real. But we also discussed how faith does not stop with merely being confident and sure of the reality of God and his eternal kingdom. People of faith also look forward to (11:10), seek after (11:14), and desire (11:16) these better, unseen things above all that this earth offers, making choices and living their lives in a way that reflects their ultimate desire and preference for God. The group was particularly challenged by the description, in 11.35-38, of people who endured great suffering by faith. We talked about how faith in God does not always issue in the conquering of obstacles and the kinds of triumphs and victories described in verses 33-35…
…who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
In sharp contrast to these, the author of Hebrews immediately proceeds to describe a whole other set of people – no less people of faith than the former – who, among other unpleasant things, rather than escaping the edge of the sword, were killed by it. For these people, their faith brought not deliverance from suffering in this life, but the capacity to endure suffering with unbreakable hope in God and his unseen, eternal reward, though in this life deliverance never came. This is a whole other, more profound level of “victory” and “triumph” by faith – the triumph of our ultimate hope in God over the discouraging nature of our life’s circumstances. The text says that the world is not worthy of such people of faith (11.38), and that God is not ashamed to be called their God (11.16). May such testimony be true of us all, no matter what suffering life may bring! We talked about how natural it is to want to be among the former group of “victorious” people of faith, rather than the latter, suffering group. It is human nature for our hearts to desire and even expect that because we have faith in God, God should prosper us, deliver us from pain and trouble, and answer our prayers just the way we want him to. But clearly, God does not always work that way. The author of Hebrews writes that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (12.6), and then goes on to describe all the good results that God’s discipline produces in us when we endure it by faith. We talked about how God is often more concerned with using suffering and hardship in our lives to train us in faith, obedience, and holiness, than he is with delivering us from the suffering that, when faithfully endured, benefits us in those ways. I got a lot of comments after the study that it was encouraging and helpful. One person shared with me that his life was full of problems, but that he was inspired not to let any of them derail him from faith and hope in God. I hope this brief summary of our study encourages and inspires you as well in your journey of faith!
A quote to ponder:
“Man, who is born of woman, is few of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). It may be of great service to us, before we fall asleep, to remember this mournful fact, for it may lead us to hold lightly to earthly things. There is nothing very pleasant in the recollection that we are not above the arrows of adversity, but it may humble us and prevent us from boasting like the psalmist that our mountain stands firm, that we shall never be moved. It may prevent us from making our roots too deep in this soil from which we are so soon to be transplanted into the heavenly garden. Let us keep in mind the frail tenure upon which we hold our temporal mercies. If we remember that all the trees of earth are marked for the woodman's axe, we will not be so ready to build our nests in them. We should love, but we should love with the love that expects death, and that reckons upon separations. Our dear relations are simply loaned to us, and the hour when we must return them to the lender's hand may be sooner than we think. This is also true of our worldly goods. Do not riches take to themselves wings and fly away? Our health is equally precarious. Frail flowers of the field, we must not reckon upon blooming forever. There is a time appointed for weakness and sickness, when we will have to glorify God by suffering and not by earnest activity. There is no single point in which we can hope to escape from the sharp arrows of affliction; out of our few days there is not one secure from sorrow. Beloved reader, do not set your affections upon things of earth, but seek those things that are above, for here the moth devours, and the thief steals, but there all joys are perpetual and eternal. The path of trouble is the way home. Lord, make this thought a pillow for many a weary head! (Charles Spurgeon, from Morning and Evening, devotional reflections on Job 14.1)