Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hebrews 12:14-17

Summary retelling of Hebrews 12:14-17

We are to strive for peace and holiness, for without it we cannot know the Lord.  We are to make sure that we are not the reason that anyone fails to find the grace of God.  We are to prevent bitterness from coming among us and either defiling us or causing us trouble.  We are to help people refrain from sexual immorality.  We are to help people keep from becoming unholy – selling their religious inheritance for worldly acquisitions.  For when we sell our religious inheritance for the things of the world (as Esau did) we often miss the call to repentance and lose our opportunity to be in a right relationship with God.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
We are to be about peace and holiness.  If we think about why Jesus came to the earth, these two qualities should make sense.  Jesus came first of all because humanity was not at peace with God.  Because of our sinfulness, we were at war with God.  Through Jesus, our sinfulness has been dealt with and we are now at peace with God.  If Jesus came so that we can be at peace with God, it makes sense that we should strive for peace with one another.  As for holiness, remember that theologically speaking the word holy means “separate.”  Jesus came to teach us a way of living that is separate from the world.  Again, it makes sense that we should strive for this same holiness that Jesus modeled.

Are you a person of peace?  How do you see this?  Where could you be more of a person who demonstrates peace?  Are you a person of holiness?  How are you separated from the ways of the world?  In what ways could you become more holy?

Second Thought:
We are to make sure that from our example people understand God rather than stumble away from Him.  There are many reasons to stumble.  Some people stumble because of personal bitterness {envy, jealousy, hate, etc}.  Other people fall away for desire {sex, addictions, etc}.  Other people stumble because of stuff in their life that really is not of God {possessions, money, power, prestige, etc}.  There are many things that cause people to stumble.  We should try to not be one of them while encouraging others to avoid what they can.

Do people ever stumble because of you?  Have you ever led someone into a habit that really wasn’t good for them?  How does that feel?  What is the proper response when we realize that we’ve done such a thing?

Third Thought:
Finally, we are challenged to keep our sight on our heavenly inheritance.  In the end, nothing matters as much as our spirituality.  To quote DC Talk, “The things of this world are passing away.  Here tomorrow, but they’re sure not here to stay.”  There is nothing in this world that is worth selling out our relationship with God.

With what have you been tempted in the past?  What has occasionally come between you and God?  How can you learn to not allow that in the future?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 12:18-21

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hebrews 12:12-13

Summary retelling of Hebrews 12:12-13

Because of God’s discipline we are told to be strong and persevere rather than act dejectedly.  We are to learn to walk straight so that anything that is out of line can be fixed rather than permanently displaced.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The first point that the author of Hebrews makes is with respect to how we receive God’s discipline.  It is easy to be disciplined and then droop.  We can act miserable when things don’t go our way.  We can act as though our life is wretched.  We can mope around and feel sorry for ourselves.

Have you ever had a pity-party for yourself when things don’t go your way?  Have you ever gotten depressed about how crummy your life seems?  Why can these be natural reactions?  How are these completely unbeneficial reactions in the long run?

Second Thought:
Another response that we can have when we are disciplined is to rebel against the discipline.  In this case, we intentionally go against what is good for us.  Instead of fixing what needs fixed, we continue to let something that is broken remain broken.  In fact, we reinforce its brokenness.  Think of it like a broken bone.  We can either set the bone and put a cast around it (bringing discipline) or we can let the bone remain broken (let the bone heal however it happens to be).  The bone that is allowed to heal without being set will not be strong and it is likely that when it tries to repair itself the effectiveness of the bone/appendage will be permanently greatly diminished.  The same is true about us as human beings.  The longer we rebel and let bad habits stay reinforced the less useful we will be in those areas.

What habits have you allowed to continue in spite of the discipline that God was trying to bring into your life?  How did they become more entrenched within you?  In what ways did they become harder and harder to correct as time went on?

Third Thought:
Our third option when we are disciplined is to walk the straight and narrow.  We repent and change.  We allow that which is broken to be set properly.  Again, think back to that broken bone.  When properly set and allowed to heal correctly, a broken bone is often stronger at the point where the break occurred.  When we are disciplined and embrace correction, we learn from our mistakes and are less likely to do them again.

What have you allowed God to discipline you in your life?  How has this process allowed you to become stronger?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 12:14-17

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hebrews 12:9-11

Summary retelling of Hebrews 12:9-11

We know from this life that when raised properly we come to respect those who cared enough to discipline us.  Should that not make us more willing to be subject to God, His ways, and His life?  Parents discipline us for only a short time in our life – as they see fit.  God disciplines us our whole life in ways that He knows are good.  Through His discipline we share His righteousness.  We shouldn’t forget that in the moment of discipline it seems painful; but once the lesson is learned there is great fruit that is brought about in our lives.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
I love the point that the author makes about God disciplining us our whole lives, yet parents only discipline us for a short time.  The reason I love this point is because it really drives home one of the problems of humanity.  Most teens – myself included – can’t wait to get out of their parents’ house, out from under their rule, and out on our own.  We want to escape discipline.  We want to make our own decisions.  That is the self-monger at its ugliest!  The reality is that we live best when we are subject to the discipline of another – especially God!  We should not try to get out from the discipline of another but instead recognize that being under the discipline of God, spiritual mentors, and even parents is where we belong.

Why is escaping the discipline of parents inherent to being young?  What lessons can we learn about humanity in that we all try to escape the discipline of those who truly love us?

Second Thought:
Through God’s discipline we share in God’s righteousness.  Please be careful with this, though.  We are not righteous because we obey God’s discipline.  We are righteous because Christ covered our sins on the cross.  However, when God disciplines us, He is showing us the way of the righteous.  Since we are covered by Christ’s death, we have access to walk the path of God’s righteousness.

Why must we be careful here that we do not fall into works righteousness with respect to this idea?  Where does God’s righteousness come from?  What role might the Holy Spirit play in this process?

Third Thought:
Discipline always seems painful in the moment.  None of us like hearing that we are wrong.  None of us like seeing our faults.  None of us like having to make apologies or even reparations.  Yet, it is in those moments that we learn, change, and become better people.  Human beings usually learn far more from their failures than they do from their successes.  Good discipline bears good fruit.

Does the quality of the relationship affect how we experience discipline from a person or from God?  What fruit can you honestly see yourself having experienced in the last year or so due to God’s discipline?  What is the inherent connection between God’s discipline and your spiritual growth?  What can we then conclude about a person who is not growing spiritually?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 12:12-13

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hebrews 12:7-8

Summary retelling of Hebrews 12:7-8

We endure life – and the things God asks us to go through – for the sake of discipline.  It is a demonstration that God considers us His children.  A father who truly loves his children also truly disciplines them for their own benefit.  If we do not receive the discipline of God then we are not really His children and we are illegitimate heirs because in that case He is not be demonstrating His true love.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The word endure is an interesting word.  Literally, to endure something implies some sort of struggle, difficulty, or suffering.  This is an honest confession of what it means to be a spiritual person in a secular world.  We must endure.  We will have to endure.  There will be plenty of obstacles and places to suffer in life.  To follow God implies taking an attitude of not letting the obstacles get in the way.

Why is it important to understand from the very beginning that to follow God implies that we will have to endure the world?  What does it look like when a person stops having an attitude of enduring the hard parts of following God?

Second Thought:
Discipline is another interesting word in this passage.  The author is trying to get us to believe that discipline is natural in a relationship of love.  To see his point, look to any parent/child relationship.  If a parent lets their child do absolutely anything they want, we know what happens to the child as they grow up and become adults (assuming they make it that far).  The child becomes spoiled, without concern for other people, and untrustworthy.  The way to prevent a child from becoming spoiled is to teach them limits and to establish reasonable boundaries.

Did your own parents put reasonable boundaries on your life?  Did you like those boundaries at the time?  Can you see now how the discipline of those boundaries helped shape you properly into the person you are today?

Third Thought:
The conclusion the author of Hebrews makes is also excellent.  If a parent disciplines a child out of love for them, then a child who doesn’t experience discipline is not loved.  Again, this is also true and visible.  Parents set boundaries out of care.  Thus, a child with no boundaries has a parent who doesn’t care what kind of an adult that they are becoming.  Therefore, if we live in life but never find ourselves having to endure life and deal with God’s discipline, then we must not have a meaningful relationship with the Father.

Are you disciplined by God?  What form does that discipline take?  How has your discipline from God changed you as a person in the last year or so?  In what ways have you tried to run from God’s discipline?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 12:9-11

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hebrews 12:3-6

Summary retelling of Hebrews 12:3-6

Consider Jesus, who underwent torture and hardship on behalf of all kinds of sinners.  Given the example of what Christ endured, we should not grow weary, either.  In our struggles in the world, by definition none of us who are still alive have been asked to do what Christ did: to sacrifice our whole lives.  Even with all of this, we should not look upon the Lord’s asking of our lives as a bad thing.  God doesn’t ask us to sacrifice because He wants us to be miserable.  God asks us to sacrifice because He loves us and wants to show us what is truly important.  Because God loves us, there is sacrifice.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Think about the hardship that Jesus endured in life.  People listened – then turned away.  People insulted Him.  People came to test Him.  People arrested Him, beat Him, and killed Him.  He was raised from the dead and has changed life after life for centuries; yet millions of people still reject Him.  He has endured all kinds of hardship from humanity.  Yet He did it for us.  He did it for God.  We should strive for the same perspective.

What hardships have you endured?  What hardships have you caused Christ to endure?  What hardships should you have endured but you backed away?

Second Thought:
The point that the author of Hebrews makes in verse 4 is very deep.  By definition, most of us are never asked of the level of sacrifice for which God asked of His own son.  Most of us are asked to simply live according to God’s ways.  But we have the opportunity to live out a good and natural existence.  God could ask so much more from us, but He doesn’t.

When you think about following God in these terms, how easy do we really have it?  If God asked more of you than He already does, would you do it?  Is there a point that God could ask where you would turn away from God?

Third Thought:
Sacrifice is actually a way of cleansing.  If you think about it, it really does make sense.  If we love something more than God, it is unhealthy.  So God asks us to give it up. Yes, it is hard.  But the point is to give up something that cannot bring true happiness so that we can learn how to love God who can bring true happiness.  Sacrifice – when asked of us from God – is a thing that brings about joy and peace.

What sacrifice in your life has truly brought joy into your life as you’ve drawn closer to God?  What things, thoughts, or patterns of life have you given up for the better?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 12:7-8

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hebrews 12:1-2

Summary retelling of Hebrews 12:1-2

We are indeed a part of a massive community of people who demonstrate faithfulness towards God.  Therefore, let us put sin aside.  Let us embrace the goals that God sets for us and run towards them with all of our effort.  As we follow God, we should not lose sight of Jesus, who is the one through whom the perfection of our faith comes.  He was crucified for us, despised the shame of death, and ascended to be seated at God’s right hand.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
We are a part of an incredible community of believers.  God has been working among humanity for thousands of years.  That’s hundreds of generations of people in hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of locations throughout the world.  It is an incredible and astounding number when you think about it.  {At the same time, though, remember just how many people have lived on the whole earth over that time.  As large as the number of believers may be, there is still work to do!}

Have you ever felt alone in your faith?  How do you feel now after reading this section and this thought?  Why is it easy to feel alone?

Second Thought:
Because we have so many witnesses to the faith, we really should put our sin aside.  Other people have struggled against sin to live righteously according to God’s ways.  We have incredible examples in the faith about people who put aside the ways of this world and embraced godly living.  We have wonderful examples of people who devoted their life following God’s pursuits.  They gave their all for God.  If they can do it, so can we!

What do you give to God?  Do you still have any sin that needs to be put aside?

Third Thought:
Our focus should clearly be on Jesus.  Jesus is the model for the godly life.  Jesus is the one who died so that we have the hope of perfection in the life to come.  Jesus is the reason that we can be in a relationship with God and have the Holy Spirit within us.  When it comes to salvation, we should not lose sight of Jesus ever!

Is it easy to get focused on things other than Jesus and His calling?  Can we even get sidetracked by things that seem good?  How does this help us remember to make sure that everything we do is rooted in Christ’s calling for us?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 12:3-6

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hebrews 11:39-40

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:39-40

All of the people that we have studied in this chapter were commended on account of their ability to act in line with their faith.  However, they did not receive their promise in this life, because God has promised something better.  God has promised an eternal reward – but not just an eternal reward for Jews.  God has promised an eternal reward for all those who are found in Him, Jew or Gentile.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Note that these people were commended.  None of them were perfect.  None of them deserved a thing.  But they were commended in the faith.  It is not our perfection that God desires.  It is our faithful relationship with Him.  It is our willingness to incline our ear to Him and follow His lead and confess when we are wrong.

How does it make you feel to know that you can be imperfect and can still receive commendation?

Second Thought:
None of these people received the fulfillment of God’s promise in this life.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that God wasn’t with them.  Certainly God protected them and walked with them and shaped their life.  But ultimately, the fulfillment of their promise is the resurrection of the dead and eternal life with their God.  We are faithful now not because we want to receive now.  We are faithful because God will ultimately fulfill His promise into eternity.

How glorious will it be to live in God’s presence?  How glorious will it be to simply be able to focus on Him and relate with Him?

Third Thought:
The author of Hebrews ends this chapter with a note that the promise of eternal life was delayed for a purpose.  It was delayed so that both Jews and Gentiles could know God.  It was delayed so more and more people could come to know Him and live with Him.  Think about it.  If God had ultimately fulfilled His promise with Abraham or Noah or David, or any of the faithful before us, we wouldn’t even exist!  The fact that we are alive today speaks volumes to our thankfulness that God was patient and allowed the fulfillment of His promise to be delayed into the afterlife.

Have you ever heard people talking about how much they wish the Lord would come now?  How is that ultimately a selfish thought?  Where would you be if God would have listened to any number of people who prayed that Christ would return at a time before your relationship with God was right?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 12:1-2

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hebrews 11:35-38

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:35-38

The author of Hebrews talks about a few women who received back their loved ones (the widow in her encounter with Elisha being the most obvious example).  Other people have been tortured in their faith knowing that no one can take away their hope in the resurrection.  Still others have public mocking, beatings, imprisonment.  Others have been stoned to death, literally cut in two, and many have died at the hand of the sword.  People of faith have gone about in animal skins, lived in poverty, and afflicted.  They’ve wandered around in the wilderness, lived in caves and dens, and in the mountains.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
This chapter talks about people in generic terms, since there are far too many examples of faith in the Old Testament to state them all.  But we can say that there are positive examples.  The Old Testament is full of victories, miraculous healings, and even a few resurrection stories.  God is a great God.  People of faith have a great reason to put their hope in God.

What do you hope for in God?  Do you have some hopes that probably aren’t really on God’s agenda?

Second Thought:
The author makes a point to say that regardless of what happened, the people of faith knew that nothing could take away their hope.  So long as God is obeyed and we seek repentance and forgiveness when we do not obey, we have nothing to fear.  Torture, death, imprisonment, public mockery, rejection, or even shunning cannot take away the hope that one day we will live in God’s perfection with God and His faithful people.

How cool is that thought?  Seriously.  I’m not trying to be funny or casual about it.  How cool is that?

Third Thought:
As long as we’re talking about bad things – think about imprisonment for a while.  Or death.  Of being shunned.  Or having to wander without having a place to call home.  Or being rejected.  Or being run through with a sword.  Or being cut in half.  Or being crucified.  Or living in poverty.  Or … well, you get the idea.

Would you do that for God?  Would you accept that fate if God brought about circumstances in which any one of these conditions were the natural conclusion to the circumstances?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:39-40

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hebrews 11:32-34

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:32-34

The author of Hebrews confesses that there are many more examples of faith in God’s Word: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, all the prophets.  Through faith, these people did amazing things like conquering nations, enforcing justice, obtaining promises, stopping the mouths of lions, surviving the destructive nature of fire, surviving the physical assaults of other human beings.  Through faith they became strong in their weakness.  Through faith they became mighty in battle. Through faith, godless nations ran from them.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The author lists many names on this list.  There are far more that aren’t even on this list.  Of the ones that are on the list, they have some pretty deep and serious character flaws.  But the author’s point in making the list is that there are literally hundreds of examples of faithful people in the Bible.  When we need an example in our life, there is a story in God’s Word waiting to teach us what we need to hear.

How awesome is God’s Word that it contains such a variety of stories of characters?  Have you ever thought of the Bible as a written testimony of other people’s faith?  What emphasis does this put on us sharing our faith?

Second Thought:
Through faith, these people did amazing things.  David conquered nations that were stronger than the Hebrew people through God.  Elijah made an incredible burnt offering sacrifice to God under incredible opposition.  Elisha saw many people healed of their conditions through faith in God.  Under King Josiah, a nearly impossible religious reform occurred.  Under King Hezekiah Jerusalem was spared the wrath of God at the hands of the Assyrians.  Faith causes amazing things to happen.

Are all amazing things events on a national scale?  Do amazing things ever happen between one or two people?  What amazing things have you seen in your life?

Third Thought:
The author is also making the point that God is behind all of this.  People become strong through God.  Through God, people become mighty and conquer the people or things that oppose them.  Through God, our enemies flee.  The world knows it cannot battle truth and it cannot win against God.  It can try, but it cannot succeed.  This is often why the world fights hardest before people have a chance to become strong in God.

How has God made you strong when you could have been week?  How has God made you victorious when by your own efforts and preparation you could have failed?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:35-38

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hebrews 11:29-31

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:29-31

Through faith in God, the Hebrew people walked across dry land when crossing the Red Sea.  However, since the Egyptians lacked the faith, they were drowned when they attempted to do what the Hebrew people could only do in faith.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell when there was no physical reason for them to do so.  Because of faith Rahab was saved when all the other people of Jericho were killed by the Hebrew people.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
This passage tells us that faith can do the impossible.  The walls of Jericho fall down.  Water evacuates a portion of the Red Sea.  We should note, however, that this is not implying at all that the power to do these things came from the people themselves.  The power to do these things came from God.  It was God responsible for acting in a way to benefit His people.  In fact, it is really from God that we receive our faith, anyway.  The point, however, is that since God can do the impossible, those people with faith can expect to experience the impossible as well.

What impossible things have happened to you?  Does the impossible have to always be an event?  What impossible thoughts have you had or impossible choices have you made?

Second Thought:
We also see that the opposite is true.  Without faith, one cannot expect or rely upon the impossible.  The Egyptians try and cross over the Red Sea and they drowned.  It isn’t that God couldn’t have held the ground open for them; God chose not to do so.  Without faith, there is no reason to expect the impossible.

From this perspective, why does it seem so hopeless to not have faith?  What kind of impossible things would a person without faith miss out on?

Third Thought:
The third example we see with respect to faith is the example of Rahab.  She and her family were saved when all of the other people of Jericho were lost.  The lesson?  Faith saves.  Faith can indeed do the impossible.

Do you think you can be saved without faith?  In what way is salvation considered impossible?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:32-34

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hebrews 11:26-28

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:26-28

Moses decided that he would rather be spoken of disparagingly and be on God’s side than to have access to all the wealth of Egypt.  Moses was looking for the real reward.  Moses stepped out in faith in leaving Egypt – knowing full well that Pharaoh’s anger would burn against him – because Moses had his eye on the invisible.  Moses had faith in God’s promise that the sprinkling of blood on the doorposts would keep them safe from the “Destroyer” sent from God.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Moses shows an incredible perspective.  He could have had all he wanted.  He could have lived a life of luxury.  He could have been prominent in the land of Egypt if he wanted.  But instead, Moses chose to be scorned by mankind so that he could lead God’s people through the wilderness and to the Promised Land.  For Moses, the invisible promises of God were always more important than the visible treasure of this world.

What are the invisible promises of God?  How does a person maintain focus on these promises instead of the things of this world?

Second Thought:
Moses was also not afraid of the anger of mankind.  When Moses brought God’s words in Pharaoh’s court, he angered him every time.  When Moses led the people out of Egypt, Pharaoh’s anger burned against him.  However, Moses was not afraid of Pharaoh’s anger; instead he had faith in God’s plan.  Moses knew that God could protect him from Pharaoh’s wrath when it came.

How difficult is it to depend on God’s protection when we knew we are going to incur the wrath of human beings?  Why do we tend to incur the wrath of human beings around us if we follow God?

Third Thought:
Moses also believed in the power of blood to save.  This is an incredible moment of faith for Moses.  Moses knew that God was going to send an angel of death among the Egyptians.  The firstborn would die.  The only thing separating the Hebrew people from the angel of death was blood.  Yet Moses believed God’s words.

In what way is Moses faith in blood symbolic of the Christian’s belief in the blood of Jesus Christ?  What is it that separates us from judgment and condemnation in death?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:29-31

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hebrews 11:23-25

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:23-25

Moses’ parents had faith in God to know that they could disobey the Pharaoh’s edict and hide Moses; they knew God would do something special with him.  When Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s house, it was by faith that he chose to be counted among the Hebrew people rather than to take the splendor of the Pharaoh.  This even meant that he was mistreated as all the Hebrew people were mistreated by the Egyptians.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Moses’ parents had faith in God to know that He would protect them if they disobeyed Pharaoh.  Pharaoh had commanded that all the Hebrew boys were to be put to death to keep the Hebrew nation from becoming strong.  Thus, when Moses was born and his parents kept him alive and hidden they were breaking the edict of Pharaoh and subject to be punished.  However, they knew that it was more important to be obedient to God and God’s ways than the ways of human authorities – especially when human authority differs from God’s ways.

Can you imagine living under a rule where human rights are deprived like they would have been under the Pharaoh?  How easy do you think it would have been to resist?  How hard do you think it would have been to convince other people to resist?

Second Thought:
Moses chose his divine calling over the ease of human life.  He could have had access to the wealth, power, and prestige of the house of Pharaoh – one of the wealthiest and powerful places to be at this time in history.  But instead, Moses was obedient to God and desired to do God’s will among the Hebrew people rather than depend on the opulence that could have been his.

Do you think it was difficult for Moses to put aside the wealth and ease of life he had in Pharaoh’s house?  Why do you think Moses was able to make the choice to leave the desires of the human heart behind and follow God?

Third Thought:
Keep in mind that once Moses made the choice to be counted among the Hebrew people that he was subject to everything they were subject to.  Also keep in mind that at first the Hebrew people rejected him.  Therefore, when Moses gave up his Egyptian lifestyle he was also not welcome among the Hebrew people to begin with.  He was mistreated by both Egyptian and Hebrew alike.  Yet, he still followed God.

What would you have done in Moses’ shoes?  Do you think you could have followed God even after the people God told you to save rejected you?  Do you think you are willing to put up with abuse in God’s name and for the sake of doing His will?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:26-28

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hebrews 11:20-22

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:20-22

Through His faith in God, Isaac invoked future blessing into both of his sons: Jacob and Esau.  By faith, Jacob continued the tradition of his father in blessing each of his twelve sons.  By faith Joseph – when he was almost dead and living in Egypt – made a mention about the exodus and the people’s need to take his remains with them when they leave.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
In this passage we can get a sense of generational faith.  Abraham was faithful, which inspired faith in Isaac, which inspired faith in Jacob, which inspired faith in Joseph.  It doesn’t always work this way, but we know for certain that if faith isn’t taught in the home then it is far more difficult for the faith to pass from one generation to the next.  God’s natural plan – one of the main purposes for giving us family – is so that faith could be passed from parent to child wherever it is received.

What experience do you have with faith being passed through your own family?  What experiences do you have in seeing this process at work in other families?

Second Thought:
We also know that these people were not perfect.  The name Jacob means “deceiver,” and for much of his life Jacob lived up to that name.  Joseph had a tendency to be arrogant before his brothers and they were convinced his father liked him better.  Esau struggled to value the things of God and he made rash decisions based on the passion of the moment.  If we look at their lives moment-by-moment we don’t always have a perfect picture of faith.  But if we look at the whole of their life and their struggles, we can see God at work through their strengths and weaknesses. {That’s what I love about the Bible.  You get the good and the bad rather than some perfect hero in a story.}

Is it significant to you to hear these people lifted up as being faithful when they have some glaring character flaws?  Why is it often more meaningful to see people who are flawed than to see people who are perfect?  As God’s people, do you think the church in general is good at presenting ourselves to the world as “flawed imperfection” or do we present “perfect saints?”

Third Thought:
Joseph is commended for being able to look into the future because of his faith.  That doesn’t mean Joseph knew the future.  But his faithfulness to God knew where the natural conclusion of things would be.  God had taken 1 person (Abraham) and turned them into a family of 72 people by the time Joseph and his family came to Egypt.  If God had done that in 4 simple generations, Joseph knew what God would do in only a few more generations.  Joseph believed that God could make his family a force with which to be reckoned.  Joseph’s ability to be faithful to God and put God’s agenda first allowed him to see with a true perspective.

How does being faithful and putting God’s ways ahead of our own shape how we see the world?  How has your perspective changed as you’ve grown closer to God?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:23-25

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hebrews 11:17-19

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:17-19

God also saw Abraham’s faith when God asked Abraham to take Isaac up the mountain and offer a sacrifice.  Abraham knew Isaac was God’s promise and he knew God had promised him heirs.  Abraham trusted that God would provide – even if God had to raise Isaac up from the dead.  Because Abraham was willing to part with even Isaac, it can be said that Abraham did receive Isaac back.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
God asks Abraham to make a sacrifice – his only Son.  This story seems so uncalled for by God.  After all, God loathes human sacrifice – especially child sacrifice.  But this story does not indicate that God desires child sacrifice.  Rather, this story is an indicator that God wants to see how far we are willing to follow Him.  Sometimes God’s ways don’t seem like God’s ways until we actually step out in faith and see what God is doing.

Have you ever experienced this kind of moment?  Have you ever seen God work through something that at first didn’t seem right?  How does this tell us that we have to be careful when we are discerning Gods ways?

Second Thought:
God had promised Abraham an heir.  God had promised that heir would have an inheritance.  Now it would seem that both of those promises are in jeopardy.  Yet, Abraham’s desire is obedience over receiving the promise.  It is more important for Abraham to be obedient and let God work out truth than it is for Abraham to be the judge over whether God is keeping His word.  In the end, we know from this story that God does keep His word through the obedience of Abraham.

Why does obedience seem to come first so often?  Why is obedience to God so often the crux upon which faith rests – and the point that we so often mess up?

Third Thought:
The last point about Abraham receiving Isaac back is a very subtle one.  Technically, Abraham gave Isaac over to God.  He had to – that was the point of the test.  Abraham proved to God that he was willing to not only give up his past and his homeland, but also his future.  It was all given into God’s hands.  When it was given, God then gave it back to Abraham.  It’s like that saying, “If you love something, let it go.  If it comes back to you, then it was truly yours and you have it forever.”

Have you truly relinquished control on everything in your life?  Have you told God that He can take everything from you and watched what He returned to you?  Why is this important in the life of a Christian?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:20-22

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hebrews 11:15-16

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:15-16

Had the patriarchs – especially Abraham – considered the land where they were born as their homeland, they could have easily returned.  But they didn’t.  Instead, they desired to live in a better place where God directed them.  Because they followed God so willingly, God is not ashamed to be called their God as He prepared a place for them.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
I’ve never really thought about the fact that Abraham could have returned.  He didn’t return home, but I’ve not often thought that he could have.  But certainly he could have returned home.  I’m sure he would have been welcomed like the Prodigal Son had he wanted to come back home.  But he didn’t.  Staying connected with God’s plan for his life was more important than staying connected to his family’s desires for his life.

Why is it meaningful to realize that Abraham could have returned home but didn’t?  How impressive is it that Abraham went to a foreign country and stayed there because he was following God?

Second Thought:
The source of strength for Abraham was his relationship with God.  Abraham valued nothing more than what God was doing in his life.  Abraham valued nothing more than paying attention to God and following Him.  Abraham was a man of faith before anything else.

Do you value the things of God more than anything else?  What things in your life occasionally seem more important than obedience to God?

Third Thought:
God is not ashamed to be the God of the patriarchs.  That is an interesting thought in itself.  God is not ashamed to be their God because He knows they are following Him.  Even when they make mistakes and are not perfect, He is not ashamed to be their God because of their faith.

Do you ever wonder if God is ashamed to be your God?  What about western Christianity?  Are there dynamics in Western Christianity of which God might be ashamed?  What does this line of thinking have to do with our need and desire to be faithful?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:17-19

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hebrews 11:13-14

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:13-14

The patriarchs who came before Abraham all died in faith, not having seen the fulfillment of God’s ultimate promise.  These people of faith lived as though they were exiles of this world, living for the things of God which at the time seemed far off.  People who live as they lived make the point that they are seeking a homeland rather than dwelling in their homeland.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
As we talk about all of these people who lived and died prior to Christ – much less prior to Abraham! – I can’t help but marvel at their faith.  How hard is it for us to be faithful … and we know the end of the story!  How hard it must have been for Abel, Noah, Enoch, and the rest to live in faith with God.

Why is it easier to live after Jesus came to this world?  Why do we still struggle to live according to the faith even if we do know the whole story of God’s plan of salvation?

Second Thought:
These same people are referred to as exiles of this world.  They were strangers.  {If you are interested, try to look up an old Christian Rock song.  By old, I mean early 80s.  It’s from a group called Petra.  It’s called “Not of this World.”  Awesome lyrics that go along with this passage.}  However, because they valued the things of God they did consider themselves to be strangers and exiles in this world.  They lived here.  They proclaimed God’s truth as much as they could.  They accepted the hatred and scorn of this world.  They had their focus on God – because of their faith.

Do you consider yourself an exile in this world?  What does that mean to you?  How do you think one develops the ability to think of themselves as an exile or a stranger in this world?

Third Thought:
Part of the testimony about the earlier followers of God is that they were looking for a homeland. Many of them had worldly wealth and status.  But that wasn’t their focus.  They were willing to give that up because they weren’t interested in the things of this world.  They were looking for a homeland because they knew the things of this world aren’t worth holding onto.  But rest assured, they were absolutely looking for a homeland, not looking to hold onto the homeland into which they were born.

Are you actively seeking God’s homeland?  Do you place more value on the homeland into which you were born the first time or the homeland into which you will be born when Jesus returns?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:15-16

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hebrews 11:8-12

Summary retelling of Hebrews 11:8-12

It is by faith that God told Abraham to leave his home and go to a place of God’s choosing: Abraham’s inheritance.  Abraham went, not knowing where he was headed.  By faith Abraham was willing to live in tents in a land of promise with his son Isaac and his grandson, Jacob.  Abraham was able to look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise in the city of God.  Even though she was barren, it was by faith in God that Sarah was able to conceive a child.  Thus, we can say for certain that although Abraham and Sarah had no realistic expectation of having heirs and an inheritance God made both possible through faith.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
God told Abraham to leave his hometown.  God didn’t tell Abraham where he was going to end up.  God merely said to follow Him and to trust Him.  Abraham went.  He left family, friends, and no doubt his worldly inheritance.  But he went.  He followed God because God asked him to go.

Would you have been able to leave?  What can this point teach us about what holds us back from doing God’s will?

Second Thought:
Abraham was willing to live in tents.  Now, this isn’t a commentary on poverty.  This is a commentary on Abraham being a sojourner.  Abraham was willing to feel like a foreigner.  He was willing to feel like he was out of his comfort zone.  He was willing to try new things.  He was able to do all of these things because his focus was on God and the things of God.  He was focused on God’s promise, not his worldly condition.

What conditions are willing to put up with just to follow God?  Are there things that you could not part with or places you would refuse to go?

Third Thought:
Sarah and Abraham were far too old to become parents when they had Isaac.  It shouldn’t have happened.  Yet, they believed God could do it (even if they did struggle to understand how God would do it).  God had already proven that he could provide an inheritance for Abraham and Sarah, why could he not also provide heirs to inherit it?  The faith of Sarah is a faith that believes in the impossible.

Has God done anything in your life that you have thought to be impossible?  How does seeing God’s hand at work help you believe in what God can still do in the future?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 11:13-16