Do You Want to Know God?

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*Steel-toe boot warning*

I have the utmost respect for school teachers. I wanted to be a teacher years ago, but I don’t believe I could do it today – not in the current educational climate. Besides disrespectful students, a lack of support from parents, and shamefully low pay, teachers are being forced to teach political rhetoric that is not helpful for a child’s intellectual growth and success. Schools are turning out students who don’t know what they need to survive and thrive in the real world.

Hosea prophesied the word of the Lord to the northern kingdom of Israel prior to and during their fall to the Assyrians. They had always been ruled by wicked kings and it showed. The Lord charged them with faithlessness, lovelessness, disregard for God, cursing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery, and bloodshed. He said they “stumble day and night” (4:5).  The reason for their sin and instability? “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6). What is it they didn’t know? God. The Creator of the Universe. The one who called out their forefather Abraham, who declared that they were His people and He would be their God. The one who led them out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land. It’s not that He didn’t provide evidence of Himself. They didn’t know Him because they didn’t want to know Him.

The Lord said they had “rejected knowledge” and “ignored the law of your God.” (v.6). It was a conscious and deliberate decision on their part. A friend joking accused me of ignoring her when she pulled beside me in traffic one day. But I wasn’t ignoring her because I didn’t see her. We only reject and ignore what we are aware exists.  

If we don’t know God it’s nobody’s fault but our own. We are responsible for our lack of knowledge. Paul said “men are without excuse” when they ignore and reject God. He has made Himself known in His creation (Romans 1:19-20), in His Word (2 Peter 1:20-21), and in His Son (John 17:6). So my steel-toe question is – How much effort are you making to know God? Are you rejecting and ignoring all the means by which He has revealed Himself?  Let me put it another way – How important is knowing God to you?  Beloved, don’t get tripped up by a lack of knowledge.

Hebrews: Jesus the High Priest

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If I were God, I would choose people who were not so messy. I would pick the ones who were grateful for my help and didn’t keep jumping right back into the same pit I had just pulled them out of. People who were easily moldable and not so resistant and hard-hearted (and headed). In other words, I would have picked anyone other than me.

The writer of Hebrews said, “For surely it is not angels he helps but Abraham’s descendants” (2:16). God helps fallen human beings. Why in heaven’s name does He help ungrateful, selfish, messy people like you and me? Are we somehow more worthy than angels? Hardly. God helps us because we are the ones who need Him.

“For this reason,” the writer adds, “He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God . . .” (v. 17a). He became like us so that he could help us. We’re going to talk more about the humanity of Jesus in a later chapter, but for today we’re looking at another reason that God sent His Son to earth. To take up the role of the high priest. In God’s original design the high priest was the mediator between heaven and earth. The high priest represented God before man and represented man before God. Under the old covenant, high priests offered sacrifices that satisfied God’s justice and demonstrated His mercy. He showed the people the love of God in His merciful kindness every time he offered sacrifices to atone for their sins.

But somewhere along the way, the priesthood became more about status and power than about kindness and mercy. Instead of becoming the bridge between God and man through atonement, the priests became a wall keeping men they deemed unworthy of God from Him. Jesus brought back the lost mercy and faithfulness to the office of the high priest.

It’s probably a good thing I’m not God. It’s even a better thing that God made provision for messy people like me to be made right with Him. Jesus stands in the gap between us and God – not to block the way, but to be the bridge that allows us to cross the chasm and stand in His presence. And that’s a very good thing.

You’re Not too Heavy for Jesus

Joy and Nana at her 2nd birthday party

When we go somewhere that requires a lot of walking, Joy’s little legs tire very quickly.  She starts to slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when Nana picks her up and carries her.  The burden of her weight rests on me.  I love to hold her, but at almost thirty pounds, she can become a heavy load pretty quickly. I know every parent and grandparent is nodding. Those babies get heavy, and as they age, the burdens they bring shift the weight from our arms to our knees. The idea of carrying others’ burdens has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders. 

At Calvary, Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it was far more than thirty pounds.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

I bear the weight of Joy because I love her.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  I’m nearing the time, though, when my granddaughter will be too big of a physical burden for me to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never outweigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved – Jesus will carry you – all the way home.

To Be a Mighty Man (or Woman) of God

King David was a mighty warrior. His feats are recorded all through 1st and 2nd Samuel. Every child knows the story of David and Goliath. David defeated many kings and conquered many enemy nations – but he didn’t do it alone. 2 Samuel 23 is a record of David’s “mighty men” who fought by his side. There was Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed 800 men in one encounter, and Abishai who killed 300. Benaiah killed a lion and a “huge Egyptian” with the man’s own spear. But there are two in particular that captured my attention.

Eleazar was with David when he faced off against the Philistines. The Scripture said that the rest of the army of Israel retreated, “but [Eleazar] stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.” (v. 10). Shammah also faced an army of Philistines on his own after Israel’s troops fled. “Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory” (v. 12).

Do you see the similarities in these accounts? Both men stood firm when everyone else had fled and The Lord brought about a great victory. I want to be like them. I want to stand firm in the Lord, no matter the size of the enemy, even if I stand alone. I want to hold the Sword of the Spirit with such a tight grip that my hand freezes around it. I want a faith that keeps me in the good fight till the end.

Like Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Still today, Christians around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. I want a faith like that – one that stands the ultimate test.

I want to be a “mighty woman of God.” I want that for my granddaughter. I want that for you too, Beloved. When the world demands that we deny Christ and bow to the culture, I want us to stand our ground, hands frozen to the Sword of the Spirit till the Lord brings the victory.

I Did It My Way

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Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Michael Bublé sang it and is one of the most often requested songs for funerals. Paul Anka wrote lyrics in English to a French tune and pitched “My Way” to Old Blue Eyes. We applaud people who do it their way. But should we? While the rugged individualist charts his own course, he seldom does it God’s way. 

God, through Samuel, directed King Saul to attack the Amalekites, the enemy of God’s people. God specifically said, “totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them . . .” Not the people and not even their livestock (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul and his men were somewhat obedient. “Saul and the army spared Agag [the king] and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs, everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy” (v. 9). They were unwilling to be obedient. God’s heart was grieved by Saul’s disobedience (v. 11). He sent Samuel to chastise the king.

When the prophet arrived at the camp, Saul greeted him saying, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions” (v. 13). And Samuel said, in today’s language, “Oh, really? Then why do I hear sheep bleating and cattle lowing?” (v. 14). And Saul answered that they saved the best of the animals “to sacrifice to the Lord” (v. 15).  He essentially sang Sinatra’s song – “I obeyed the Lord – my way.” Samuel replied, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (v. 22). And from that point on, God rejected Saul as Israel’s king.

No, this is not one of those warm and fuzzy devotionals. I feel an urgent need in my spirit to tell you to stop trying to do life your way. Do it God’s way. Be fully obedient to the Lord. Partial obedience is disobedience. James gave us two keys to doing life God’s way: “Submit yourself to God” (4:7) and “Humble yourself before the Lord” (4:10).

I’m not pointing fingers at you without pointing them at myself first. This morning I prayed, “Lord please give me a word for your people – and for me.” I know I need to learn the discipline of obedience, submission, and humility before God. This honors and pleases the Lord who – despite what Sinatra and all the rest believe – created man. Self-made men and women are on the road to self-destruction. Beloved, will you do it God’s way?

Hebrews: Adam, David, and Jesus

In our ongoing study of Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is the Son of God, superior to the angels, worthy of worship and service, and is the eternal King of heaven and earth. Now the author of Hebrews is going to show us a different and unexpected side of Jesus – His human side.

Hebrews 2:5 says, “It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.” Angels have an important place in God’s hierarchy, they have power and authority in the present world, even over men. But in the world to come, that will change. He goes on to quote David from Psalm 8. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.”

I suggest that you read the entire Psalm to understand that David is speaking in tones of awe. Even though God would not permit him to build the Lord a temple, He promised to “build a house” for David, meaning his son would follow him to the throne and build God’s house and his descendants would always rule in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:11-16). In Psalm 8 David is amazed at the goodness of God to him personally and to mankind generally. After God had created the heavens and the earth, He fashioned a man – Adam and set him “a little lower than the angels” with glory and honor. But sin brought him crashing down. Still, God loves His fallen creatures and works in and through them to accomplish His will. Throughout this Psalm, David marvels at the majesty of God.

Coming back to Hebrews, the author noted that “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” (v 8 ). This has a dual understanding. First, God had given man dominion over everything He had made. Man was to rule over the created world. Earth was intended to serve man, but since the fall the physical world is under a curse and nature is often man’s enemy (see Romans 8: 19-22). Then, God’s plan of the ages will bring everything under the authority of His Son. Oh, what a day that will be when everything is set right again! But we’re not there yet. We’re still in the grip of a fallen world. It’s easy to lose hope and think that evil will always have the upper hand.

“But we see Jesus . . .” (v 9)

When You Don’t Know What to Do

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This is going to be short and sweet this morning because every time I’ve started to write, God would say, “That’s you talking, not Me.” I finally stopped and asked, “What do you want to say, Lord?” And this is His message today.

When Jerusalem was surrounded by a vast and powerful enemy, the king of Judah prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chron 20:12).  Can you relate?  I’ve been there too. Recently. I had a situation that was breaking my heart but was also out of my hands.  I didn’t know what to do. The truth is, there was nothing I could do. So I cried out to God. I petitioned others – many of you – to pray with and for us. In the Scriptures, God defeated the enemy of Judah – they didn’t even have to lift a sword. God moved – and continues to move – powerfully for us as well.

Maybe you are at a place in your life where you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried and tried to fix the problem and nothing has worked. Or maybe the problem is so big you’re too overwhelmed to do anything. Go to God in your confusion and uncertainty. Go to Him in the middle of the chaos. Tell Him, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.” Then keep them there. Based on the authority of His Word and my own experience, I can promise you He will move. You may not know what to do Beloved, but God does. And He will. Powerfully.

Hebrews – Jesus, the Firstborn Son

The author of Hebrews, in this first portion of his message, highlighted the superiority of Jesus over the angels of heaven. And again, he was speaking to an audience steeped in Jewish tradition. Angels were important to the recipient of his message because angels – “myriads of holy ones” (Deuteronomy 33:2) – assisted in the giving of the Law that dominated, not just the Jewish religion, but also the Jew’s daily life. Unlike in the modern western world, observance of religion is not just limited to a day or two out of the week and a devotional in the first five minutes of the morning. The Law was practiced from the first rays of the sun until the last candle was extinguished at night. It permeated every aspect of their lives. Therefore, the Jewish people regarded angels on par with the Law of Moses. 

But, the author contended, the angels whom the Jews so revered, worship Jesus, God’s “firstborn” Son. I hear you asking – what does that even mean?  Is it referring to His earthly birth?  Was He “born” like other children are born? I thought you said He was God.  Yes, I did and yes, He is. He was born on earth like any other baby (though He was not conceived like any other baby). But He was not born in heaven. Our study of Jesus the Son confirmed that He always existed as part of the triune Godhead. “Firstborn,” as it is used here is a title of rank and honor. Jesus is the firstborn Son because all that God has is His. Including worship from the angels of heaven. You probably recall the angels who worshipped at His birth (Luke 2:13-14). I have no doubt they worshipped Him when He came out of that tomb and when He ascended to His throne in heaven. They surely worshipped with every miracle He performed.

They not only worship Him, but they are His servants. They served Him after He fasted for forty days in the wilderness and fought off the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:11). They served him as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:43). They also serve Him as they minister to His people on earth.

Jesus is worthy of their worship and their service. He is worthy of ours as well. Beloved, how will you worship and serve God today?

What’s Your Favorite Verse?

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Quick! What’s your favorite Bible verse?  John 3:16? Philippians 4:13? The 23rd Psalm? Jeremiah 29:11? Psalm 37:4? Romans 8:28? I love all of those. Why is it your favorite? What does it mean? Do you understand what is God saying? Have you studied it deeply? Have you considered the surrounding context? What is the verse’s setting? Why did God/Jesus speak as He did? My favorite verse is . . . well, I just can’t narrow it down to one.

Many people claim Jeremiah 29:11 as their favorite – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That is a great verse.  It is a staple at graduations, and rightly so. It shows that God has good plans for His people that they will prosper and always have hope for the future.  But do you know the context? Jeremiah was a prophet to the exiles in Babylon. After many, many years of idolatry and rebellion, God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to invade Jerusalem and take many people to Babylon to serve him and the nation. The Lord sent word through Jeremiah to the exiles and Jeremiah put it all down in a letter. This verse is one part of the whole letter which contained instruction, caution, and hope. In this letter, God took responsibility for their exile but reminded them that He was acting against their disobedience. In fact, half of the letter is rebuke and warning. But in chastisement, God offers this wonderful word of hope. To the weary, heartbroken exiles, God said, “I will bring you back . . .” (v. 14).

One of my favorite verses is part of this letter – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” (vv 14-15a) You and I are going to have seasons of pain and suffering and yes, discipline for our actions. Jeremiah 29:11 is God’s promise not to abandon us in our disobedience. It is His assurance of hope for a good future when we turn away from sin and seek Him with our whole hearts. And not just at graduation.

Hebrews – Jesus is God

In our Hebrews study thus far we have discovered that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of God, and the exact representation of God. In fact, He is God. And He does what only God can do. In Hebrews 1:3b, the author said, “After He [Jesus] had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

One day, Jesus was teaching to a packed house in Capernaum when four men, determined to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, tore through the roof to get him to the Healer. When we tell this story, we always accentuate the faith of the friends, and rightly so. Most people come to faith in Christ because of the faith of a friend. But there’s an even greater point to this story. Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). And the teachers of the law reasoned in their hearts, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). And that’s the point. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking. He healed the paralyzed man as proof that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10). Jesus has the authority, the power, and the means to forgive us of our sins. Because He is God. That’s the argument the author is driving home throughout this letter. Jesus is God.

Remember that he is writing to the Hebrews – people of Jewish heritage who start their day with the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In a polytheistic world, they had one God. So the idea that Jesus also claimed to be God seems to contradict the core of their faith. The author is pressing this point because it is the foundation of his entire message. Jesus is God.

You and I may not have the same background, but we need to set our hearts on the same firm underpinning: Jesus is God. That matters because, as the religious leaders pointed out, only God can forgive sins. You need to know that when you cast all your sins on Jesus, He has the authority to make you right, holy, pure, and acceptable. Beloved, you are a sinner. But Jesus has done everything for you to be forgiven. He’s the only one who can save you. Because He is God.

P.S. I promise we’ll pick up the pace in this study and cover more verses in each lesson. But we need this foundation before we do, so hang with me Beloveds – there’s a lot of good stuff ahead!