Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

You can always come back

Do you know a Christ-follower who has been hardened against God? Maybe you don’t think it’s possible to be a Christian and to have given up. Maybe it’s not. I can tell you that I haven’t been there, but I know people who have confessed Christ as their Savior who also decided at some point that following Him wasn’t worth it anymore. Does that make them not Christians anymore? No. If someone has trusted in Christ, they’re His; they can’t get away from Him, no matter how hard they try.

I know Christians who don’t want to be Christians anymore, or who at least don’t claim Christ anymore. But just because they have turned away from Him entirely doesn’t mean He’ll do the same. From what I’ve seen, He comes after those who have trusted in Him who decide to twist off on their own. And it takes a really hard heart to ignore God when He’s dead set on getting your attention.

Sin is so tricky. It doesn’t feel like sin at first. In the church, we always hear about “sin this” and “sin that” and you’d think sin would have a huge black sign on it that identifies it as something evil, something dangerous, something you need to stay away from. But the truth is that sin is easy. Most of the time, it’s easier than not sinning. And it’s fun, it satisfying (at least briefly), and it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Or it makes you feel like you’ve gotten away with something. And, let’s just be honest, getting away with something you know is wrong has it’s own kind of allure.

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s like a malfunctioning GPS. You take one wrong turn and think that you can find your way back to your original path afterward, but it keeps leading you in the wrong direction. And before you know it, you’re so lost you don’t even know where the original path was. But then the other side of sin sneaks up and bites you. It tells you that you’re so far gone, so far off the path that even if you tried to get back to where you started, no one would let you. No one would give you a chance. No one would love you. And God must hate you, right?

Sin doesn’t just mislead us. It deceives us. After it’s directed us to follow our own path, it convinces us that it’s no use going back.

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

Today’s verses are Hebrews 3:12-14.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.

Here’s the deal, my friends. Everybody sins. Each one of us is going to screw up somehow, probably in the next hour. I know I can guarantee I will because I’m going to be around people today. I’ve discovered that I can reduce my likelihood of sin by about 50% if I don’t have to talk to people.

We have all turned against God. We’re all broken. We want to do things our own way, and we have to rely on God’s help so that we don’t. We have to rely on each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to help us stay on the path. And for those who’ve wandered off the path, we need to be the beacons that help them find it again.

“Today” isn’t going to last forever. Sin is tricky and sneaky and everywhere, and if you’re using your own reasoning to get through life, you’re going to fall prey to it. Just accept it. It’s going to happen. If you use your own reasoning, you are going to sin. But if you live your life by the Bible, you won’t. And if you help each other using the Bible, you’ll save yourself and your friends a lot of heartache.

So if you’re a Christ-follower, know what the Bible says. Otherwise how are you going to know how to help another believer? Are you going to use your own reasoning? That won’t work. We’re here to help each other, support each other, point each other in the right direction, but if you’re just as lost as the person you’re trying to help, what good are you going to do? You’ll just have company while you’re wandering around.

And if you happen to be someone who used to follow Christ, remember that God never gives up on you. He never will. He’s still there, waiting for you to tell sin to shove it. And whether you believe it or not, there are probably still believers in your life or around it who haven’t given up on you either. So when you make the choice to come back, don’t hesitate. Come back. Some might not believe you, but I guarantee that the people who really love Christ will rejoice to see you coming, because it’s likely they’re in the road watching for you.

Hard hearts and ungrateful sheep

I don’t praise God enough. I get so caught up in the busy hustle and bustle of my life that many times I forget how good I’ve got it. And even in the dark times in my life, I’m still blessed. But I lose focus so quickly and I forget Who is responsible for blessing me.

And then I read a passage like today’s–Psalm 95:6-7.

 6 Come, let us worship and bow down.
      Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
    7 for he is our God.
   We are the people he watches over,
      the flock under his care.
   If only you would listen to his voice today!

The rest of this Psalm is pretty amazing too and I’d recommend reading it if you have time.

I’m not much of a kneeled, honestly. I don’t do a lot of bowing. At least, not on the outside. For me personally, I just feel like kneeling or bowing during worship draws too much attention. Now, have I done it? Yes. On a few occasions–more during prayer than worship. And do I mind when other folks do it? Absolutely not. That’s between them and God, and some people express their emotions more physically than others. Me? Not so much. But that’s between me and God. And I can tell you that while I may not be kneeling on the outside, during worship I’m usually on my face on the inside.

Worship has so much to do with humility. If you can step back and seriously look at what God has done for you, you can’t help but be humbled. Realize, the God of the Universe loves you–sacrificed His Son for you–wants to be your friend–wants to help you–wants to spend eternity with you. What? I mean, what good thing did I ever do to deserve that sort of regard? The answer is nothing. I did nothing worthy of God’s love; just as I can’t do anything to lose it.

This Psalm goes so far as to compare us to a flock of sheep. Actually, the Bible compares us to sheep a lot–but then many times God is referred to as a shepherd, especially in the Psalms because that was something David could wrap his head around.

Shepherds in the Eastern world were different from shepherds in the West.  I can tell you sheep story after sheep story. I never understood the concept of why the Bible compared us to sheep until I raised them. They have to be the dumbest animals on the face of the planet. They’re right up there with turkeys.

But one of the major differences between Middle Eastern shepherds and us over here, around here, we chase our sheep (I ruined a good pair of pants during one of those pursuits). But in the East, sheep follow their shepherds. And shepherds will go to extreme lengths to protect their sheep too.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to be compared to a sheep, I want to make sure I’m in God’s flock. Because not all shepherds are as careful as He is.

Understanding what God has done for us truly will make you look at your life differently. Whenever I’m feeling sad or depressed or alone or discouraged, all I have to do is start listing the blessings in my life. And in five minutes I can have a paper the length of my arm, filled with all the good things God has given me–filled with things that have become very good when at first I thought they would be bad. Because God has a habit of working things out, especially the things that don’t seem like they’ll have any sort of positive resolution. Has anyone else noticed that?

If only we’d listen to God’s voice today. If only I’d listen to God’s voice today. He’s talking, you know. He never stops. And what He has to say is important because it will help us survive these trying, dangerous times we’re living in.

The thing about Psalm 95 is that it starts out by talking about everything God has done. It talks about why He deserves praise. And then we get to today’s passage, that we need to worship Him. And the Psalm concludes with a haunting reminder–about how the Israelites hardened their hearts against Him. And about how He was angry with them for 40 years.

God made the universe. He made the world. He made me. He formed the continents. He carved out the oceans. He breathed the winds into existence. He has control of everything, and what He allows to happen happens for a reason.

I don’t want to be like the Israelites, who hardened their hearts after they had seen everything God had done for them. I want to listen to God’s voice today and tomorrow and the day after that and every day afterward until He calls me home. I want to give Him the praise He deserves because without Him I would be nothing. I can’t make it through life without Him.