Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Encouragement Matters

Note from Jesus

Dear Precious One,

Encouragement matters! You were not created to do life alone.

We — Father, Son, and Spirit — made Adam to need Eve and Eve to need Adam. We called Abraham to be the father of a nation, not a solo person of faith. That nation was Israel, and we formed Israel to be the redeeming influence on the world. Our intent was never that Israel would be a race that retreated from the world, but We called Israel to lead the world to faith in Us. Israel didn’t fulfill that mission, but then I came as God in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth. I did not live My life alone or conduct My ministry alone; I had many disciples. I called twelve apostles to be close to Me. I even had three disciples who were very close to me. Their names were Peter, James, and John. I shared some very important moments with them and them alone. I had a group of women who were close to Me, who helped support My ministry, and who accompanied My apostles as they followed Me. The point is, My precious one, I did not do life alone. Even with My close relationship with the Father as the Son of God, I entered into fellowship and companionship with people.

After My death and resurrection, I poured out the Holy Spirit on My disciples at Pentecost. Peter preached a message that called on people to turn to Me in repentance, to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to be added to My new people of faith (Acts 2:38-47). Immediately this group of followers began to meet publicly in big groups and in homes as small groups. The point is that they knew they needed to do life together as My spiritual family. In your New Testament, you will see My church referred to as a family (Galatians 6:10; Hebrews 2:11) and as My bodily presence on earth (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30). These two images are more than symbolic as they speak to the truth of your need for each other and for your connectedness with each other.

After the writer of Hebrews had finished his detailed explanation of the new covenant, he returned to his main purpose in writing his “word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22): he encouraged My disciples not to forsake meeting together. They needed each other, and they needed to encourage each other. Then he gave a series of examples of ordinary people with great faith. These were My people, and they are your spiritual ancestors. He used these great stories of faith to be the motivation for his target audience to be faithful. In fact, he emphasized that the faith of these great heroes of faith didn’t accomplish its clear objective if My disciples didn’t live out their faith in their day:

These, though commended by God for their great faith, did not receive what was promised. That promise has awaited us, who receive the better thing that God has provided in these last days, so that with us, our forebears might finally see the promise completed.

(Hebrews 11:39-40)

Yesterday’s explanation of the better covenant emphasized My new covenant with you. This covenant is built on My better and once-forever sacrifice making Me a better High Priest. This teaching spoke to the disciples’ intellect, to their heads. Today’s examples and exhortations, however, appealed to their hearts, their emotions, and passions. After these examples and exhortations, the writer included these words:

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

Now stay focused on Jesus, Who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Consider the life of the One Who endured such personal attacks and hostility from sinners so that you will not grow weary or lose heart.

(Hebrews 12:1-3)

Encouragement matters. You need it. Even in those few times in your life when you may not need encouragement to persevere, others around you will. So encourage each other. Be encouraged by your heroes of the faith — both living and those who have long been with Jesus. Don’t lose heart and don’t let your brothers and sisters in faith lose heart. Your encouragement of each other matters!

Verses to Live

As you read today’s verses, hear first the importance of getting together with other believers. Encourage each other to live My life before your watching world. Then, I want you to be blessed and encouraged by the great examples of faith in Hebrews chapter 11. Remember, these are not “Bible characters” who are somehow different from you. These are simply everyday folks, ordinary characters, who lived by faith to honor the Father. They are in the Bible because of that faith, not because they were somehow better than anyone else. You, too, can be in the Father’s faith hall of fame if you will stay connected with My other followers and encourage each other to live faithfully for Me!

Since we have a great High Priest Who presides over the house of God, let us draw near with true hearts full of faith, with hearts rinsed clean of any evil conscience, and with bodies cleansed with pure water. Let us hold strong to the confession of our hope, never wavering, since the One Who promised it to us is faithful. Let us consider how to inspire each other to greater love and to righteous deeds, not forgetting to gather as a community, as some have forgotten, but encouraging each other, especially as the day of His return approaches.

(Hebrews 10:21-25)

My friends, we are not those who give up hope and so are lost; but we are of the company who live by faith and so are saved.

Faith is the assurance of things you have hoped for, the absolute conviction that there are realities you’ve never seen. It was by faith that our forebears were approved. Through faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God; everything we now see was fashioned from that which is invisible.

By faith Abel presented to God a sacrifice more acceptable than his brother Cain’s. By faith Abel learned he was righteous, as God Himself testified by approving his offering. And by faith he still speaks, although his voice was silenced by death.

By faith Enoch was carried up into heaven so that he did not see death; no one could find him because God had taken him. Before he was taken up, it was said of him that he had pleased God. Without faith no one can please God because the one coming to God must believe He exists, and He rewards those who come seeking.

By faith Noah respected God’s warning regarding the flood — the likes of which no one had ever seen — and built an ark that saved his family. In this he condemned the world and inherited the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham heard God’s call to travel to a place he would one day receive as an inheritance; and he obeyed, not knowing where God’s call would take him. By faith he journeyed to the land of the promise as a foreigner; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, his fellow heirs to the promise because Abraham looked ahead to a city with foundations, a city laid out and built by God.

By faith Abraham’s wife Sarah became fertile long after menopause because she believed God would be faithful to His promise. So from this man, who was almost at death’s door, God brought forth descendants, as many as the stars in the sky and as impossible to count as the sands of the shore.

All these I have mentioned died in faith without receiving the full promises, although they saw the fulfillment as though from a distance. These people accepted and confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on this earth because people who speak like this make it plain that they are still seeking a homeland. If this was only a bit of nostalgia for a time and place they left behind, then certainly they might have turned around and returned. But such saints as these look forward to a far better place, a heavenly country. So God is not ashamed to be called their God because He has prepared a heavenly city for them.

By faith Abraham, when he endured God’s testing, offered his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice. The one who had received God’s promise was willing to offer his only son; God had told him, “It is through Isaac that your descendants will bear your name,” and he concluded that God was capable of raising him from the dead, which, figuratively, is indeed what happened.

By faith Isaac spoke blessings upon his sons, Jacob and Esau, concerning things yet to come.

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed the sons of his son Joseph, bowing in worship as he leaned upon his staff.

By faith Joseph, at his life’s end, predicted that the children of Israel would make an exodus from Egypt; and he gave instructions that his bones be buried in the land they would someday reach.

By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born because they saw that he was handsome; and they did not fear Pharaoh’s directive that all male Hebrew children were to be slain.

By faith Moses, when he was grown, refused to be identified solely as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose instead to share the sufferings of the people of God, not just living in sin and ease for a time. He considered the abuse that he and the people of God had suffered in anticipation of the Anointed One more valuable than all the riches of Egypt because he looked ahead to the coming reward.

By faith Moses left Egypt, unafraid of Pharaoh’s wrath and moving forward as though he could see the invisible God. Through faith, he instituted the Passover and the sprinkling of blood on the doorposts among the Hebrews so that the destroyer of the firstborn would pass over their homes without harming them. By faith the people crossed through the Red Sea as if they were walking on dry land, although the pursuing Egyptian soldiers were drowned when they tried to follow.

By faith the walls of Jericho toppled after the people had circled them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab welcomed the Hebrew spies into her home so that she did not perish with the unbelievers.

I could speak more of faith; I could talk until time itself ran out. If I continued, I could speak of the examples of Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, of David and Samuel and all the prophets. I could give accounts of people alive with faith who conquered kingdoms, brought justice, obtained promises, and closed the mouths of hungry lions. I could tell you how people of faith doused raging fires, escaped the edge of the sword, made the weak strong, and — stoking great valor among the champions of God — sent opposing armies into panicked flight.

I could speak of faith bringing women their loved ones back from death and how the faithful accepted torture instead of earthly deliverance because they believed they would obtain a better life in the resurrection. Others suffered mockery and whippings; they were placed in chains and in prisons. The faithful were stoned, sawn in two, killed by the sword, clothed only in sheepskins and goatskins; they were penniless, afflicted, and tormented. The world was not worthy of these saints. They wandered across deserts, crossed mountains, and lived in the caves, cracks, and crevasses of the earth.

(Hebrews 10:39; Hebrews 11:1-38)

Response in Prayer

Almighty Father, thank You for not leaving me alone! I thank You for the Holy Spirit, Who lives inside me to comfort, strengthen, and lead me. Thank You for Jesus, Who lives to make intercession for me before Your throne of grace. Thank You for giving me a spiritual family that I can call my own family. Thank You for giving me all these great examples of faith. My prayer, dear Father, is that I can live a life of faithfulness to Your honor and glory. I don’t do this to earn my way into Your family. I do it to thank You for already accepting me and adopting me into your family. I do this to demonstrate to You how blessed I am to be Your adopted child. I do this because I want to demonstrate Your righteous character and gracious compassion before the world. May I be found faithful, O LORD. May I encourage others to do the same. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

‘A Year with Jesus’ is written by Phil Ware.

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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Voice™. © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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