Hebrews – Back to Elementary School

My Elementary School class photo

I hate math. I always have and I always will. I know it’s important to a functional society, but it has always been a huge struggle for me. I have a word-brain, not a numbers-brain – and whose bright idea was it to put letters in numerical equations?  I cried my way through math homework, from first grade through college. My math pre-test was so poor I had to take two “remedial” math courses before I got to the one that actually counted toward my grade. I had to go back to the basics – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – before I could move on to College Algebra.

When the author of Hebrews wrote about the lack of spiritual development among his readers, he said, “Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (6:1). Just as I had to relearn elementary math, they had to relearn some basic stuff about the Christian faith. So what were these elementary, foundational teachings? “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:1-2). I dare say that believers in the modern era don’t even grasp these “elementary” concepts of the faith. For contemporary Western Christians, the basics are things like, “Jesus loves me,” having devotional time a few days a week, learning about disconnected Bible stories, and showing up at church at least two Sundays of the month (at least we’re not Chreasters, right?). We only want to know about how God desires to bless us and how just much we can flirt with sin and still take the Lord’s Supper. If verses 1-2 are describing “elementary truths,” then our churches are filled with toddlers today.  If those subjects are spiritual “milk” then it’s no wonder the 21st Century church is dangerously malnourished.

The writer has said, “Let us leave the elementary teachings . . . and go on to maturity. And God permitting, we will do so.” (v. 1,3). Oh, Beloved, God permits. It is His desire for us to be mature and complete – which the Greek renders as “perfect” – in our faith. But before we can get there, we have to start here, in elementary school. Over the next few devotionals, we will fill our cups with milk and try to grow up in Christ.

Hebrews: Are You Ready to Eat?

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My mom said when I was a baby and she fed me baby food at the supper table I would get mad that I couldn’t have the stuff everyone else was eating. I wanted chicken and corn and beans and potatoes too! When I got my first taste of real mashed potatoes, I refused to go back to gray mushy cereal. I was a big girl with a big appetite. You can look at me now and see that I haven’t changed.

The writer of Hebrews said, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truth of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness” (Hebrews 5:12-13) After confronting his readers with their spiritual laziness, he chastises them because they have refused to move past the “elementary truths” of God’s Word and sink their teeth into something solid. What would he say to the church today?

I have long felt that we are missing something important in the way we do Sunday School, and it shows clearly in the lack of biblical literacy in the church (specifically the church of the west). I “taught” preschool Sunday School when my son was small and we stuck with the very simple lessons of “Jesus loves me,” “God made the world,” “God made the animals and stuck them on a boat with Noah.” I moved up to elementary students and we progressed to selected Bible stories. Then I taught Sunday School to college-aged students for a season and I was saddened that many of them still saw the Bible as a string of disconnected narratives.  I recently started teaching a ladies’ Sunday School class at my church as was given the requisite quarterly, but I never use it. I prefer to teach the Bible from – get this – the Bible. We’re starting in Genesis and working our way through. It will take us several years to reach the end, but I want to show the ladies that the Bible is not just 66 unconnected books, but one seamless, beautiful account of God’s sovereignty, power, righteousness, and love. It’s the story of the ages for the ages.

Friend, you can’t survive spiritually on pablum. You need meat to sustain you. You need food that will stick to your ribs – deep truths that take a while to digest. Beloved, are you ready to come to the table?

Finding Joy

I come from a long line of negative women. I love my mom, but she tended to be very pessimistic. She came by it honestly because my grandmother was also. It’s not that any of us had a really bad lot in life, but that was just ingrained in us. Who knows how far back it went in our family. Fast forward several years ago, when a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and as I prayed for her I said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 years with a bitter, miserable heart.”

That was like a glass of cold water in my face. I had to make a change, but I wasn’t sure I could do this. To be honest, being miserable became a comfortable, known place. But God started gently through my best friend who began to rain down “Joy” on me. She gave me coffee cups, kitchen towels, figurines, photos, whatever she could find with those three letters emblazoned on them. She said, “I’m going to make you Joyful whether you like it or not.”  Then the Spirit began to direct me to Joyful verses in His Word:

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of Joy” (Psalm 65:8).

“This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Then He pulled out the big guns and send a beautiful little girl into my life named Joy.  She calls me Nana and she lives up to her name. Not that my Joy is in her, but she is a constant reminder that “The Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I don’t know your life or what traits were passed on to you, but I know that in Christ, you can be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Lord can set new patterns in your mind and heart and give you Joy, hope, and peace. If you’re tired of negativity and misery, today can be the start of a new attitude. Come, Beloved, find your Joy in the Lord.

I Saw God

Photo by Ashley Andrews

“I have seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

Have you ever seen God? I’ve had people berate me for believing in a God I cannot physically see. But I saw Him this week.

Many of you know that my granddaughter had a major dental procedure done at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Because of the distance and the early check-in, we had to stay at a local hotel the night before. We had to have gas to make the trip. Joy needed things we didn’t have on hand. And I was broke. So I prayed. I didn’t tell anyone except God about our needs. A few days later, after teaching a Bible study class, I was handed an envelope by someone who didn’t know me. I saw God. The next day, I received a check in the mail from a dear friend. I saw God. I put it all in the bank and my husband and I headed to Waffle House to get a quick bite before we picked up the things Joy needed and hit the road to Birmingham. As we got ready to leave the server informed us that our ticket had been paid. I saw God.

We filled up the truck, bought Joy’s stuff, and headed up 231. When we checked into the hotel I discovered that only part of my deposit was available. I didn’t have enough to pay for our room. The hotel associate covered the $20 difference and I couldn’t find her the next day to pay her back. I saw God.

Joy had had a previous dental procedure by another dentist a few months prior that was handled badly and it had left her traumatized for several weeks. We were concerned about further anxiety, but Children’s is amazing. They gave her an oral sedative and she fell asleep in her Mommy’s arms, they took her to do the work, brought her back to the room and she woke up in Mommy’s arms. It couldn’t have gone smoother. I saw God. You all prayed for her. I saw God.

I know this is not my typical devotional, but I want you to know what God has done for me and my family. I want you to be encouraged that He cares for you also. He cares about your physical needs as much as your soul. Beloved, I want you to see God.

Hebrews: The King’s Kid

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I  have often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, dressed, not in royal robes, but the filth of my sinfulness and my inadequate attempts to cover up with torn, tattered rags of homemade “righteousness.” I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When do I most need help? What is your greatest time of need? When we have failed God in our sin. How do we dare approach the throne of the Holy One at all, much less with confidence in our sinful state? Because of our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Remember that the work of the high priest is to intercede for sinful people before a holy God. The high priest approaches God with the blood of the sacrifice to cleanse the people. Jesus both presents the blood and provides it. The priest and the sacrificial lamb. Paul said, “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). That confidence is not an arrogant swagger; it is trust in the faithfulness of Christ to accomplish what He promised – to make us acceptable to God. In Jesus – in His blood, and through Jesus – through His atoning work, you and I are able to come to God, not as sinners, but as His beloved children. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today, Beloved? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended?  Lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

Do As I Say – and As I Do

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When my son was about 3, he had a child-sized toy car in which he logged a thousand miles. My brother would say, “Troy, get out of your car like Mommy does!” And Troy would shove the car door open, jump out and SLAM the door as he walked away. My brother would be in hysterics at my embarrassment.

Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s a risky statement for most of us, but he said it with confidence because he was committed to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Paul poured himself into Timothy and Titus and John Mark and many others, leading by his words and his everyday example. But who influenced Paul?

Stephen was chosen as a disciple of the new Church. He was “a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8). But a group of jealous Jewish leaders stoned him to death. He died with his eyes fixed on his Savior and his testimony on his lips (Acts 7).

A young man in the crowd was watching. “The witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:58). Saul walked away with a murderous hatred toward Jesus’ followers – and a seed that had been planted deep within his spirit. Saul chased believers across the region, arresting as many as possible. Until God caused that seed to sprout on the road to Damascus. The Christ-hater became a Christ-proclaimer and the Christian faith had one of its boldest and most faithful witnesses. Did the death of Stephen have any influence on Paul’s conversion? I believe so. Saul – AKA Paul would later paraphrase Stephen’s message when he said “The Lord . . . does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24; 7:48).

In our everyday moments, when we are not even aware, we are affecting those around us. That is a sobering thought. Little ones are watching us as we cook supper, brush our teeth, fold laundry and yes, drive the car. The store clerk, my coworkers, your neighbors, fellow shoppers, your child’s friends are all within our sphere of influence. Everything we say and do – especially in those unguarded moments – makes a deep imprint on others.

So I ask you, Beloved, are you planting Jesus-seeds in the world?

At the Feet of Jesus

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“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3).

I often think about the feet of Jesus. Those ten tiny toes kicked against the swaddling clothes as He lay in a manger. Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, broken, sinful women, and demon-possessed men. People fell before the feet of Jesus to plead for healing for themselves or someone they loved. And every time Jesus responded with compassion, He never walked away from those who needed him. His feet took Him to teach on the side of a mountain and the lakeshore. They carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

All His glory was bound up in that human body with human feet that carried Him to souls in need of mercy, freedom, grace, and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace, and salvation to this weary sinful woman.

There is one more place in Scripture where we see the feet of Jesus. Zechariah 14:4 says “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west.” When Jesus Christ returns to earth in all His glory, His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives – the place where He surrendered His will to the will of the Father (Luke 22:39-42) – and His glory will be so great that the mountain will split in two. Those beautiful feet will stand atop the mountain, and those scars that spoke of the humble servant of God will now shout of the mighty King of kings. “The Lord will be king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9).

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom, and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth-shaking, mountain-breaking power. And at His feet, all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord.

Beloved, have you invited Him to walk into your life?

Hebrews: Why Did Jesus Come?

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Over the past several weeks in Hebrews, we’ve focused on eight theological reasons why God sent His Son from glory to this sinful earth. Let’s put them all together for a recap.

  1. God sent Jesus to “bring many sons to glory” (v. 10). To bring lost human beings – now redeemed – into His eternal family.
  2. He sent Jesus to earth to “Make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (v. 10b). Remember that “perfect” means complete and doesn’t imply that Jesus was every imperfect. His role as “the author of [our] salvation” was completed by his suffering on the cross.
  3. Jesus came so that He could present us to God as “the children God has given me” (v. 13). Children who were set apart for Him and transformed into His own image.
  4. God sent Jesus to “destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” v. 14). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).
  5. In destroying the devil, Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). As children of God, we do not fear the end of this life because we know that we have eternal life with Him in heaven forever.
  6. God sent Jesus to be for us “a merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17). He is the only high priest who does not need to make atonement for His own sins before He can atone for ours.
  7. As our high priest, Jesus came to “make atonement for the sins of the people” (v. 17b). By His death, He made us “at one” with God as we were “me[a]nt” to be.
  8. God sent Jesus “to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).  He suffered from the same demonic temptation you and I face. He understands and He is able and more than willing to help us.

All of this comes back to one core reason God sent Jesus to earth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves His creation. He wants to redeem sinful humans and restore the relationship for which we were created. He did that through His Son. He did that for you and me. Beloved, God gave the most precious thing in heaven to save you forever. Because He loves you.

I’m Sorry

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We’re trying to teach Joy to apologize when she does something wrong, especially when she hurts someone. She’s picking up that lesson pretty well. Tonight during her bath she was playing with finger paints again (it’s a bribe to get her in the tub) and she started to stick her paint-covered finger in her mouth. I said, “No Joy! Don’t put the paint in your mouth!” She looked up at me and said “Sorry, Nana.” “It’s okay,” I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just don’t put the paint in your mouth – it’s yucky.” That was different from the other night when she got mad at me for taking something away from her that she was misusing. She lashed out – literally – and scratched me with her fingernails (that need trimming). Let me tell you – it hurt! Her mommy took her to time out in the other room and told her she had to tell Nana she was sorry. After a few minutes, I came into the room, and she lifted her tear-streaked face and said, “I sorry Nana.” I scooped her up in my arms and this time I said, “Thank you for saying ‘Sorry’ Joy. Nana loves you.” I didn’t tell her it was okay because what she had done was definitely not okay. It was wrong, and she needed to know it was wrong. But she also needed to know that saying “Sorry” was the right thing to do – and that Nana would always love her no matter what.

You and I have done wrong – we have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We have broken His laws and offended His holiness. What we have done is not okay. Our actions deserve punishment – much more than a time-out. According to the Bible, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  But God is gracious to us sinners (Romans 3:24) and that grace cost Him everything – “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Beloved, of Jesus, when you and I sin, we can look to God and say “I’m sorry,” and know that, while our actions are not okay, our relationship with God is. Because Jesus paid the highest price to make us okay. Because God loves you – no matter what.

Can’t I Just Get Some Rest?

I’m not very spiritual or eloquent this morning. What I am is tired. Joy had oral surgery this week and we have been taking care of her for the past couple of days. I say taking care of her, but really we’ve been keeping up with her. She has been going wide open since the second day. Plus, I have a Bible study lesson to prepare and teach today. Laundry needs to get done. Floors need mopping. And there is always that 2-year-old ball of sweetness and fire that wants Nana’s attention.

What I want to do is follow Jesus’ advice to His disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Rest is important. It was modeled for us by God Himself in the creation week when He rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). Yes, rest would be so nice. Let me just sit with Jesus in a quiet place as the disciples did. Or did they?

Let’s look a little farther into this story. “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (v. 33). What happened to their solitary, quiet place alone with Jesus? What happened to their day of rest? It got swallowed up by needy people. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 34).

I want to talk to those of you who are tired. I’d love for this story to say that Jesus sent the crowd away so His disciples could rest. But it doesn’t. He taught them and then He fed them. More than five thousand of them. And the disciples were right there helping Him. Then Jesus sent them off in a boat and into a storm. When they got to the other side of the lake, more people were waiting. Oh, how I relate! But He showed up for all of them. The needy people and the disciples. And He will show up for you and me. Weary, beloved servant, Jesus knows. He cares. And He is with you.

Before I could finish this post, Joy woke up and came running into my study. Laundry and floors can wait. My girl needs morning snuggles. Jesus knows.