Is It Still True That All Publicity Is Good Publicity?

They used to say that all publicity is good publicity, but is that still true?

Phineas T. Barnum is famous for the phrase, “All publicity is good publicity.” In this line of thinking, the only thing worse than being talked about badly is not being talked about at all. But is this true?

The 11th chapter of Hebrews is jam packed with believers who are “famous” for their faith. They are held up as examples of faith, but also as reminders of the faithfulness of God throughout the generations. But not all the examples that are listed are positive.

In a closely related passage in Hebrews 12:14-17, we read about the negative example of Esau. This is the guy who sold his birthright for bowl of stew (Genesis 25:27-34). He was more interested in his next meal than honoring his family as the firstborn son. Rather than being famous, He is infamous in the book of Hebrews for all the wrong reasons.

How can we avoid Esau’s negative example? The verses that introduce him contain two clues.

  1. We must pursue peace. Instead of peace, Esau and Jacob were bitter rivals. They let their personal conflict interrupt God’s overarching plan for their family and His people. Verse 15 intensifies this instruction from a negative angle – by avoid a growing spirit of bitterness.
  2. We must pursue holiness. The record of Esau in Genesis doesn’t mention immorality, but Hebrews sure does. His moral impurity led him toward godlessness and away from holiness.

Even though Esau begged for forgiveness his birthright was lost and his blessing was lost. Believers today have similar opportunity to live as children of the Heavenly Father by faith. To fail is to follow the wrong example in Hebrews and to generate the wrong kind of publicity.

Distancing Yourself From Deliberate Sin

Sin is a common struggle, but God gives us the power to overcome. How can we distance ourselves from deliberate sin?

“Social distancing” is new term now in our common vocabulary. We are encouraged to keep our distance from others so that we don’t share germs. A few weeks ago, I shared a sermon from Hebrews 10:26-39 which included the idea of distancing ourselves from sin. Believers will never outrun sin completely this side of heaven, but with God’s help they should create as much distance as they can here on earth. Here are four ways to do that.

  1. Call it what it is and repent. We like to use pet names for our sin like a “white lie” or a “lapse in judgement.” These euphemisms shift blame around and help us to feel better about ourselves. Instead, we need to own our offensive attitudes and actions and ask God to forgives us.
  2. Receive God’s power to overcome. One of the most powerful pictures of salvation is to be free from the slavery of sin. When we embrace “willful sin” we put ourselves back into bondage. God wants to share His power with us to live free, if we’ll only receive it.
  3. Change the habits that encourage sin. One of the best predictors of the future is to study the past. Our previous patterns of behavior can show us where our weak spots are. Figure out a way to change your habit if that habit leads you into rebellion against God.
  4. Invite others to hold you accountable. The book of Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes the importance of Christian community. One of the ways that believers can build this kind of community is by supporting one another in their struggles and their joys.

Sinful attitudes and actions bring guilt, shame, and fear into our lives. In turn, this creates distance between us and God. But God wants to have a close personal relationship with each one of us.

What over steps have you taken to distance yourself from sin? Please leave your answers in the comment section below.

Three Ways That Christ’s Sacrifice Changed the Way We Relate to God

A representation of the Israelite tabernacle

Some moments in time are so significant they shape the course of human history. These turning points are events, eras, and/or developments that bring about significant social, cultural, ecological, political, or economic change. One of the most important turning points, from an eternal perspective, is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

The writer of Hebrews uses the phrase “once for all” three times to describe the decisive nature of Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10). This stands in sharp contrast to the repetitive and ongoing work of the Levitical priest in the Old Testament. Christ’s sacrifice changed the way we relate to God in at least three ways.

1. It changed the focus from who we are to who Jesus is. The Bible is clear about who we are as human beings – we are hopelessly flawed sinners. Despite our best intentions, the stories of our lives always end up in pain, brokenness, tragedy when we try to make ourselves the main character. But Jesus Christ has the power to rewrite the story of our lives if we let Him become the main character.

2. It changed the focus from what we are doing to what He did. The book of Hebrews highlights the dangerous temptation of self-made righteous, even for those who know about faith. We may want the new life Christ has to offer, but we want to pay for it somehow through our good deeds and good works. But this the whole purpose behind Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice for us.

3. It changed the focus from the strength of our words to the strength of God’s Word. The Old Testament Law is chock-full of instructions, commands, and promises. These messages all point to the one final statement that God would make in and through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). His words and actions trump everything else. We must lean on and lean into God’s faithfulness when our faithfulness comes up short.

Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection was a turning point in human history. In one moment, He changed the way we relate to God forever. That deserves to be celebrated in the history books and in our hearts.

An Anchor for the Soul

Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. One of the three, Horseshoe Falls, is the largest and most powerful waterfall in North America. Just before the falls the water is turbulent and violent, but father upstream the river’s current is gentle and easy to navigate. At one point a small bridge spans the river holding the following warning:”Do you have an anchor?” followed by, “Do you know how to use it?”

An anchor was a familiar site for the seafaring people in and around the Mediterranean basin. Because of its usefulness, it became a symbol of strength, stability, and hope.

In Hebrew 6:19-20, the writer describes the nature and promises of God as “an anchor for the soul.” God’s nature came into view when He promised to bless “all the families of the earth” through Abraham. That promised was confirmed and developed throughout the Old Testament as God interacted with His people, the Israelites, through the priesthood and the sacrificial system. That promise came into shaper focus when Jesus Christ fulfilled the priesthood and the entire sacrificial system single-handedly.

As Jesus Christ emerged from behind “the veil” of the heavenly temple, he inaugurated a new era of hope. This hope serves as an anchor for those who are tossed about by the waves of doubt, suffering, or even persecution. The chains that fasten us to this anchor are forced by God’s unchangeable nature and His unbreakable promises. We can trust Him and plan even when we are flooded by the storms of life.

Photo by Kevin Woblick on Unsplash

Your Confession and Convictions Are the Most Important Thing About You

Photo by Kate Kalvach on Unsplash

Conversations and concerns about diversity dominate our cultural conversation right now. It seems like everywhere you go there is a caring neighbor, a socially-minded company, or a concerned politician trying to fix our short-comings. Even school board meetings are making the news as parents and school board members debate the use of certain theories and tactics in our public schools.

For the most part, these concerns are good. We are a long way from overcoming prejudice and discrimination in our country. But the current cultural conversation does have a couple downsides. One downside is that we are pushed to think in unbiblical categories. God is the one who created us, diversity and all. We must not color outside of the boundaries He has given us in Scripture.

Another downside is that we will loosing site of the one inward reality that matters more than any other. In Romans 10, Apostle Paul shares his deep burden for his fellow Jews who have not accepted Jesus Christ yet. In verses 9, 10 and 11, Paul explains that a person’s outward verbal confession combines with their inward personal conviction to activate their salvation. A renewed relationship with God springs from this singular expression of faith. In verse 12), we learn that this new connection to Christ is more important than the religious or ethnic identity of a Jew or a Gentile. In other words, the label of being “in Christ” through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection is more important than any other label someone may claim.

In Hebrews 3:6, readers are urged to maintain their verbal confession and personal convictions about Jesus Christ. This one thing matters more than the color of one’s skin, their ethnic background, or their gender. As we work to overcome prejudice and discrimination, believers must not be shy out the one identity that defines all other identities.

How Should We Relate to Angels?

This past Sunday we started a sermon series in the book of Hebrews titled, Jesus is Greater. In the very first sermon we learned that Jesus Christ is God’s supreme revelation to mankind. As such, Jesus Christ is superior to the angels.

Angels are mentioned frequently in the teaching portions as well as the narrative portions of Scripture. They are mentioned 12 times in the book of Hebrews alone alone with one reference to the devil. This brings up the question of how believers are supposed to relate to these mighty spiritual beings? What does the book of Hebrews add to our understanding of angels?

1. We should not obsess over them (Hebrews 1:5-13, 2:1-9). Angels are created beings just like humans. They may have supernatural powers, but they are not to be worshipped. When John encountered an angel in the book of Revelation, the angel refused to be worshipped (Revelation 19:10). Instead, we should view them as agents working to advance God’s will.

2. We should be aware of them (Hebrews 12:18-24). Angels inhabit the heavenly realm. As God’s redemption story unfolds in real time, we are all moving towards a place where angels are common place. They are part of the created world and part of God’s plan. We should not treat them like myths or relics of the past.

3. We should “entertain” them (Hebrew 13:2). There were a number of people in the Old Testament who interacted with angels in human form without realizing it (Genesis 18 and 19). This possibility is used in Hebrews as motivation for hospitality. We should welcome and care for others as if they were a representative of God.

A biblical view of the world includes a biblical view of angels and demons. They are supernatural beings made for our benefit and God’s glory. We would do well to treat them accordingly.