A Prayer inspired by Hebrews 11:4-40

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Throughout our new series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I am writing prayers related to the text on which we are preaching each week. This prayer is drawn from Hebrews 11:4-40. The complete list of prayers inspired by Hebrews is included at the bottom of this post. You can also view the message Pastor Jim Caler preached drawn from this passage “Living Faith,” here.

Father, we see them—
the sisters and brothers who have gone before us—
and we celebrate what You have done in them
that shows us what true faith is all about.

Father, we see them—
and yet we feel so small compared to them—
Noah and Enoch,
Abraham and Sarah,
Moses, Rahab, Joshua, David…

Father, we see them—
fill us with faith like them,
and remind us they were human like us,
as we walk this earthly pilgrimage.

Father, You see us—
You give us faith,
You give us hope,
let us live for You each day.


Prayers from Hebrews:

A Prayer inspired by Hebrews 11:1-3

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Throughout our new series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I am writing prayers related to the text on which we are preaching each week. This prayer is drawn from Hebrews 11:1-3. The complete list of prayers inspired by Hebrews is included at the bottom of this post. You can also view the message Pastor Ruth Carver preached drawn from this passage “Faith,” here.

Dear Lord,
faith is a gift from You
and our response to You
as God.

Faith is
what gives us vision to see
the Holy amidst the ordinary.

Faith is not
ours but shared amongst believers
from days past until the end of all days.

Our God,
give us true faith to sustain us
as we live for You day by day,
O Loving Lord.


Prayers from Hebrews:

What Happens When People Do Not Have Hope?

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What happens when people do not have hope?

What happens when a young man or young woman looks to the future and the lack of hope has dimmed all brightness in those days to come?

What happens when people do not have hope?

What happens when an older woman or an older man looks to their final days and feels the emptiness of hopeless hours stretching on to the end of their life?

What happens when people do not have hope?

What happens when a person of one skin color looks at the life of a person with another skin color, notes the inseparable distance, and feels hope crash in the difficult journey to justice?

What happens when people do not have hope?

What happens when a person flees their homeland marked by violence or lack of opportunity for a new land in hope of finding something different but quickly discovers not only that there are no streets of gold but that they are viewed forever as an outsider who does not belong?

What happens when people do not have hope?

I cannot help but think of Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem,” on this very subject, which says:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

When hope dies, a life might dry up or fester. Life might seem to stink or grow hard and crust over. Life without hope might sag or it might explode.

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We’re in a crisis of hope right now in our world and nation. That crisis of hope was precipitated by a pandemic that brought us face to face with our mortality, our limits, our fears, and our inability to work together. It raised questions about our health and our finances, our present and our future, our living and our dying. In this pandemic, we may feel fear, anger, anxiety, or frustration rise up within us. And it puts to the test our ability to hope as we ask: “when or how will this situation change?”

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That crisis of hope in our world continues into the present moment of the surging pain related to racial justice. Seeing the death of George Floyd put in stark terms the series of deaths that we cannot ignore and bursting forth around our nation and around our world was another crisis of hope that brought us face to face with questions about identity, skin color, and the vast, painful difference between reality and the aspirations of “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” As people hit the streets around the world, it pushes us into a crisis of hope where we may wonder: “will anything change?”

Living without hope is nearly impossible.

But when hope exists, everything changes.

What happens when people have hope?

Young women and men step forward toward brighter days.

Older men and women feel that even the diminishment of life is not empty but can be abundant.

What happens when people have hope?

People of many backgrounds – many skin colors and many countries of origin – can stand together and work together toward a powerful just and righteous future.

Hope is powerful.

It is, as Emily Dickinson wrote,

..the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all

Hope is that characteristic of our lives with two parts:

  1. The longing for something that is not present
  2. The expectation that one will receive it

Now, the Christian life is, if anything, a life fixed upon hope. We hear in God’s word His promises and we believe that we will receive what God promises. This shapes our understanding of salvation; our belief that God has done something in Christ that we can receive from God now and hope for unto eternity. In the Christian life we are pilgrims on the way with God and this is fueled by hope. As we read in 2 Peter 1:4

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4)

At a practical level, prayer is guided by hope. We reach out to God, trusting He will hear us and will give us what we most need, if not what we always ask for. Without hope we could not pray.

Without hope, we are lost. But with hope, we have a future.

[This is an excerpt from my message, “Anchored in Hope,” from June 14, 2020, at Eastbrook Church.]

What Does It Mean to Abide in Christ?: two essentials for bearing fruit

vine and branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

The theme of this passage is God’s people bearing fruit as living “branches” within Jesus the “vine” as tended by the “gardener,” who is Father God.  At various places in the Hebrew Bible, Israel is referred to as a vine: a vine transplanted from Egypt (Psalm 80:8), God’s vineyard intended to develop a harvest of justice and righteousness (Isaiah 5:1-7), and a once living vine now shriveled in exile (Ezekiel 19:10-14). Here in John 15, amidst the upper room discourse, Jesus describes the new community formed around Him as branches sustained by a vine, which is still called to bear fruit.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing….This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)

Again the theme returns: a calling upon God’s people to bear much fruit for the Father’s glory. The key to such fruit-bearing is remaining, or abiding, in the vine, who is Jesus. There can be no fruit-bearing apart from Jesus. To not remain in Him is equivalent to becoming lifeless, and this lifelessness leads to a fiery end. Remaining in Jesus is the key to fruit-bearing, as well as to having effective prayer-communication with God. The question, of course, is what does it mean to remain or abide or continue in Jesus? the first clue comes in verse 7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” To remain i Jesus is linked to His words remaining—or abiding or continuing—in us. There is a parallel here: remaining in Jesus means letting His words remain in us. Perhaps it is easier to understand this if we use the word “continue.” If we want to continue in Jesus, we will need for His words to continue in us; not just informationally but transformationally in our lives. This parallel between remaining in Jesus and His words remaining in us is followed by another parallel in the next verse: bearing much fruit is linked with showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command….This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:9-17)

In verse 9, the metaphor switches from gardening to relationships. Along with that the concept of “remaining” switches contexts from branches remaining in a vine to friends remaining in the love of the ultimate friend. Jesus is the ultimate friend because He loves to the ultimate extent: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). Jesus does this because He keeps the Father’s commands and remains in the Father’s love (15:10). The connection between remaining through keeping commands and remaining in love is tied so tightly that it is difficult to see how one could exist without the other. Like the individual strands of a braided rope, it is hard to know whether to call it “rope” if they are not all there braided together as one.

So, Jesus says, if we want to remain in Him and bear fruit to the Father’s glory, it will involve obedience to His commands/word while also abiding in His love. His command ultimately is “Love each other as I have loved you” (15:12, 17). While there is certainly a sort of experiential mysticism of remaining in Christ’s love here, it is vacuous of true remaining if it does not simultaneously translate into remaining in Jesus’ commands through practical obedience. Or, as the Apostle James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Teach me, Lord, to truly remain in You,
like a branch in the vine that bears fruit,
like a friend sustained in love to a Friend
through overflowing love.

What Happens When Christians Aren’t Afraid of Death?

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Some of the most striking stories of the early church after the New Testament come from times of persecution by the Roman Empire. In North Africa, the church was strong, but suffered greatly.

In the early 3rd century in present day Tunisia, a noblewoman, Perpetua, who was a Christian, refused to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor. That oath implied not only allegiance to the emperor over any other loyalty, but also acknowledged him as a kind of god. Perpetua’s commitment to Jesus as Lord and God flew in the face of that oath, leading her to a radical decision, which came at the price of her life. She and her household servant, Felicitas, both of whom were committed followers of Jesus refused to take the oath. They ended up being thrown into prison and then cast in the gladiatorial ring with wild animals who quickly overcame them, tearing them to pieces. They chose that horrific fate rather than forsake their faith in Jesus Christ.

How could these women be so unafraid of death? When we largely seem motivated by avoidance of death and suffering, what was it that could set them free from the fear of death?

I don’t believe it was because death was less scary to them, or that they were so much more courageous than the average person. Instead, there was a greater reality, something that seemed even stronger in their eyes, which overpowered the all-consuming fear of death. That overpowering reality is Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So many of us live our lives afraid of pain and the finality that is death. Others of us scurry through life knowing we won’t get another chance, feeling the urgency of our days. We all live under a universal death-sentence where the question is not “if” we’re going to die, but “when” will we die. Death tries to keep us in its grip, apart from God’s best for us as human beings.

But it is not the end of the story.

The resurrection of Jesus tells us that the power of evil and the prison of sin have been overcome. Even more we are told that the sting of death has been destroyed by Jesus Christ at the Cross. Paul the Apostle, wrote about that in this way in a letter to an early church in the city of Corinth:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

The empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection tell us there is hope in the midst of death. We do not have to live in fear of death because Jesus could not be held back by death. It is not His Master, but rather He is the Master of all things.

Death is not the end of Jesus’ story. And, by faith in Jesus, death does not have to be the end of our story.