Hebrews: Jesus Understands

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Joy helping Nana make “pankins”

Every Saturday Joy and I make “pankins” (pancakes) for breakfast. She loves to dump all the ingredients into the bowl and “crush” the eggs” then stir the batter. It is our tradition and I love it probably more than she does. I handle the skillet, which is positioned out of her reach, always telling her, “Don’t touch the skillet, it’s very hot. It will hurt you.” This past Saturday, she discovered that for herself. Before I could stop her, she stretched across the counter and barely touched the edge of the skillet. She didn’t have a mark on her fingers but it sure scared her. Later, watching me clean up, she said, “Careful Nana, dat skillet is hot.” I’m pretty sure I won’t have to tell her again not to touch it.

The writer of Hebrews, in discussing Jesus’ final hours, said “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him . . .” (5:8). Just as we saw back in 2:10, Jesus was, is, and will forever be the perfect Son of God. So why would the Scriptures say He had to “learn obedience” – wasn’t He already obedient? Absolutely. He didn’t learn obedience for His sake. He learned it for ours.

Remember, the author has been building a case that Jesus is a worthy, compassionate high priest who can sympathize with us in all of our human struggles. He had previously said that “He had to be made like His brothers (us) in every way” (2:17). Including obedience. He didn’t need to learn obedience to keep him from the harsh consequences of disobedience like my granddaughter learned. No, it was to give us a high priest we could identify with. Perfect people are not much help to imperfect folks like you and me. His struggle to submit to the Father’s plan gives us the confidence to call out for His help when we are in the same battle. The best high priest is the one who can help us out of His own experience.

Beloved, what is that thing you’re clinging to that is so hard to submit to God? What has God called you to that you’re not sure you’re willing to do? Jesus understands. He can help you be obedient. He’s not so far above you that you can’t reach Him. He’s right there in the garden, on His knees.

Hope in Days of Evil

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Another day, another multi-victim shooting, another child abused, another murder, another robbery, beating, and theft. I remember the day when such things were shocking; now they are commonplace. I read just yesterday of a mother who killed her child and I want to ask, “Why?” But I know the answer. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. And their actions ushered in sin that has infected the human race at a far greater pace than COVID 19. It is part of our human make-up. It’s even part of our culture. And the Bible makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse.

Jesus said as the time for His return draws near, wickedness will increase, and “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Love – love for what is good – will die and evil and wickedness will grow at alarming rates.

Paul added, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Can anyone doubt that we are in the last days?

Does that frighten you? It should if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. But if you are His, if you have surrendered yourself – heart, mind, soul, and strength – to Him, the state of the world should concern you, but not scare you. It should compel you to share the gospel. It should urge you to live in holiness. It should move you to intervene for the innocent. But it shouldn’t frighten you. Because the increase of wickedness means a decrease in our wait for Christ’s return.

Jesus said when the world turns more and more to evil, and the heavens and the earth react to it (because they are also subject to the curse of sin), we need to look up. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky . . . the nations of the earth . . . will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). And every evil, wicked, sinful thing will be cast out. Yes, these are evil days, and there is likely more to come. But lift up your head, Beloved, that means the Lord is nearer now than ever before.

How to Battle Negative Thoughts

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

I’ve had several conversations recently with ladies who are struggling with oppressive, negative, angry emotions. They are surprised when I tell them that the key is to learn to take control of their thoughts. We tend to focus on our feelings, but forget that those feelings are fed by our thoughts.  And our thoughts can be controlled. Negative thoughts, depressive thoughts, sinful thoughts, angry thoughts can and must be brought into submission. It’s a matter of paying attention to what’s running around in your head.

Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, one of the Temple priests during the Babylonian captivity. The situation seemed hopeless, and this is reflected in his Psalm. In verses 1-9, Asaph lamented God’s apparent rejection of His people. In verse 2 he says “my soul refused to be comforted.” Ever been there? I know I have. But look at verse 10, Asaph turns his mind and heart on a pivot, like a door on its hinges. “Then I thought, to this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord…I will meditate on all Your words” (vs. 10, 11, 12). Did you catch the keyword? Thought. In that moment of despair, Asaph took control of his thoughts and changed the focus of his heart and mind.  He deliberately remembered and meditated instead on the character and deeds of God. And when he opened that door, hope and peace flooded in.

We see the same change of mind in Lamentations 3, which starts out: “I am the man who has seen affliction,” (v.1) and continues for 20 verses saying “my soul is downcast within me” (v. 20).  And then verse 21 begins with that hinge word: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” There’s the clue again “I call to mind.”  Jeremiah’s whole focus and attitude is transformed. A change in his focus changed everything.

Paul said, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Then we take the Philippians 4:8 prescription – I’ll let you look that up. It’s how we battle mental negativity. Beloved, the only sure way to find peace in seasons of struggle is to intentionally turn your thoughts to God, to wrap His Words around you like a comforter, and trust in His love, faithfulness, and peace to carry you through.

Giants

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David and Goliath. One of the best-known stories of the Bible.  A story of good versus evil in the face of impossible odds.  We learn so much from David here. Faith. Determination. Confidence. Preparation. Fearlessness. All very good lessons. But I saw something in this story that I’d never noticed before and I think it’s a very powerful lesson we need to learn.

When David visited the battle site he discovered that the Israelite army was at a standstill. They were paralyzed with fear and he soon saw why. “Goliath, the Philistine champion stepped out from the lines and shouted his usual defiance” (1 Samuel 17:23). His usual defiance was to belittle them, challenge them, threaten them, and thoroughly intimidate them. He said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!” (8-10). They were “dismayed and terrified” (v. 11). I imagine so! Goliath was over nine feet tall, wore 125 pounds of armor, and carried a spear with an iron point that weighed 15 pounds (4-7). “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (v. 24). And this went had gone on for forty days – twice a day (16). The Israelites had given up hope.

David saw the same enemy and heard the same schpiel. But he saw it much differently. David demanded, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26). He realized that the Israelites 1) forgot whose they were, and 2) they were afraid – of words.

You and I have an enemy who looks like a giant in our eyes and all day long he berates us and accuses us and tells us we are worthless. He tells us we’re going down. And we listen – day-after-day-after-day – until we start to believe it.  Because we forget whose we are – that we are the sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ. Because we are afraid – of words.

Here’s what the Lord impressed on my heart: Giants must be defeated – not feared.

If you are in Christ, satan’s only weapon against you is words. That’s it. But you have the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Stand your ground, Beloved. You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:38).

I Saw God

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“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.

Bootstrap Faith

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Do you have bootstrap faith? You know, when you are down and out and others say, “You’ve just got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps!” It was the psychology of my younger years – when life is tough you get tougher. (Modern psychology says your problems are someone else’s fault and you are entitled to compensation while you roll around in self-pity. But I digress.) You have to reach deep down inside yourself and grab on to your fortitude and strength and get on up out of that pit. After all, don’t we admire those who make something out of themselves from nothing but sheer grit and determination?  If you will it hard enough, you can do it!

So what happens when you realize you don’t have any bootstraps and you are all out of strength and fortitude and grit and determination? What do you do when you can’t carry the burdens another step? When your will just won’t anymore?

The Lord declared to His people, “I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). In all my years of reading the Bible from cover to cover, I never once found Him scolding His people for depending on Him too much. But He sure chastised them for pushing Him away and trying to handle life on their own. He doesn’t expect you and me to carry our burdens alone. Those weights become very heavy. Health burdens. Financial burdens. Relational burdens. Burdens of loneliness, depression, fear, failure, responsibility, and we could go on and on. I have mine and you have yours. And God promises to carry us through them all.

The reason you can’t find your bootstraps is because it is God who will lift you up. It is God who will reach down to pull you up out of the pit. It is God’s strength and fortitude that will carry you – and your burdens. It’s time to stop trying to do it all on your own, and let God be your Rescuer and your Strength. He is not only able to carry you, Beloved, it is His delight and Joy.

Shameless

It never really bothered me if my Mom got angry with me, if she spanked me (she did not spare the rod, and I am better for it), grounded me (she once grounded me for the rest of my life), took away privileges, added chores, or even yelled at me. I was sort of immune to her anger. But oh, let her say she was ashamed of me, and my heart would break. Just writing about it, I can still feel the weight of it.

It seems all my life I’ve carried a heavy load of guilt and shame. I know well the words King David cried out to God, “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4). From being abused and rejected, making countless foolish mistakes, hurting others, jumping into the pit of sin, and feeling responsible for the actions of my child – every failure left me with eyes cast down so as not to see on the face of God the sorrow my sin has caused Him. Rather than “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” I slink back into the cave of despair because I can’t bear to know that God is ashamed of me. Something tells me that you can relate.

Jesus came into this sinful world to set us free from guilt and shame and the evil that caused it. Listen to His words to Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus came, not to point to you and me with all our bags and say “I AM ASHAMED OF YOU!” He came to say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest from the weight. Rest from the shame. Rest from the guilt.

Do you come to God this morning with a load of guilt and shame? Are you expecting chastisement and rejection? Look up, Beloved. Jesus has stretched out His nail-scarred hand to take your heavy bags of misery. He bids you rise and face the day, forgiven, freed, and radiant in His love.

Where Was God?

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“Where was God?” the atheist demanded. “Where was God?” the frightened widow cried. “Where was God?” the shocked nation asked. Even Christians looked to heaven and said,  “God, where are You?” It was the most tragic and horrific day in American history and twenty years later it still makes us weep. I imagine the same question was going through the minds of the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. The event even sounds very similar:  “[The Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.” (2 Chronicles 36:19).

A memorial sits at the very spot in New York City where the buildings fell. People come every year to remember and pay their respects to the thousands who lost their lives that day.  Every year religious Jews come to Jerusalem to pray and fast in remembrance of the destruction of their Temple, first by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE, and again in 70 CE at the hands of the Roman legions led by Titus.

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? The same place He was when Jerusalem fell. In His heaven, ruling over human history. How can that be? I wish I could give you a simple answer, but this is the age-old “problem of evil” that men have pondered for thousands of years. It has been used to deny the existence of God and His goodness and sovereignty and quite honestly, I cannot answer it. But I can tell you that evil may have claimed a few battles throughout human history, but it has already lost the war.

Oh, satan thought he was victorious when Jesus drew His last breath and cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). But he was trembling when the ground rumbled as the stone rolled away. He was dumbfounded when the angel told the women, “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). He was horrified as Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples with the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

So today I will remember the lives lost twenty years ago and pray for the still grieving. But I will not fear evil. I will keep my eyes on heaven and celebrate the risen Lord who dealt evil a fatal blow. No, the war is not yet over, but Satan has already lost. God has already won. God always wins.

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.

Hebrews: Jesus is Enough

I have great respect and appreciation for my pastor. He preaches the Word of God without compromise. He serves his church wholeheartedly. He has been a blessing to my family in times of need. He encourages me and cares about me. But he can’t save me. He can’t take on my sin and declare me righteous. He can’t bear my burdens and weaknesses. He can be my pastor, but he can’t be my high priest. But Jesus can. 

The author of Hebrews said, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God . . .” (4:14). That probably doesn’t mean much to us as twenty-first century Protestants, but context is important. The Jewish people, like all people, were a sinful bunch. God made provision for them through the high priest, who, once a year, entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, the place where God dwelled and presented a sacrifice for the atonement for them. This was repeated every year because, as we’ll see later, the blood of animals was a temporary solution to an eternal problem.

Jesus is our “great high priest” who didn’t just enter the earthly dwelling place of God, but He went right into heaven, into God’s very presence to present Himself as our sacrifice of atonement. Once. But once was enough. He alone could do that for us because He is the Son of God. Remember that the original readers were Jews who depended on the yearly sacrifice and atonement. They needed to hold firmly to their confidence that what Jesus did for them once was enough to make them righteous – and keep them righteous before God.

What does that mean for you and me? The same thing. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, which He presented personally to His Father, we are righteous. We have to hold firmly to that as our defining truth. Not just in an ethereal way, but in practical ways every day. When we face choices we remember that we have been declared righteous, and we choose accordingly. When the flesh craves something ungodly, we remember that we have been declared righteous and we deny our flesh. When we would react out of anger or fear or discouragement we remember that we have been declared righteous and we respond as a child of God – with peace and trust and hope. Jesus did it all for you, Beloved. Now hold firmly to Him. He is enough.