Hebrews: Turn Around

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“Turn around. Don’t drown.” “Turn back. Bridge out.” Road signs tell the driver one thing: you need to reverse course. You need to change your direction. You are on a dangerous path. They are signs we would do well to heed. The Bible also puts up signs that call us to make a change in the way we are going. Scripture calls it “repentance” and we would also do well to heed these warnings.

The writer of Hebrews focuses on one aspect of repentance in his discussion of elementary teachings: “Repentance from acts that lead to death” (6:1) Remember that he has been talking to “lazy” believers who are unwilling to grow in the matters of the faith. They are content with surface knowledge – just enough to make sure they escape hell. You know, fire insurance.  Our author says that this is a foundational truth. I wonder if 21st-century Christians understand it at all.

What is repentance? Paul described it like this: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret . . .” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is a spiritual and moral change of attitude toward God which turns an individual from sin to God. It is recognizing the dangerous road we are on, how we got on it, and turning back to God. Repentance must have both sorrow and turning. We are often sorry for our behavior (well, let’s be honest, we’re sorry we got caught), but that doesn’t mean we turn back to God.  The Prodigal Son is the perfect expression of repentance.

So what does “acts that lead to death” mean? Other translations may say, “dead works.” This is referring to anything man does in an attempt to save himself. Remember that the readers were largely Jewish, and Judaism had 613 commandments – expounded from the original ten commandments that God had given Moses. These – including circumcision – were the Jew’s “gateway” to salvation. Do all the right things in all the right ways and you will be right before God. The problem was, no one could be right before God even if they followed every jot and tittle of those 613 rules. In the same way, non-Jews cannot be right with God by being “good enough.” Because we never will be.  

Salvation has never been about what we do or don’t do. It is always and only about the work that Jesus has done on the cross. Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus. Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Beloved, it’s not too late to turn around. God will always welcome repentant sinners home.

The Highest Fashion

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The saying, “Clothes make the man,” is attributed to Mark Twain. The Bible agrees.  How we dress as representatives of Christ is so important.  No, I’m not talking about suits and ties for men or dresses vs. pants for women, and I’m certainly not saying we should only wear our “Jesus” T-shirts.  And hear me loud and clear – I’m not saying that we should judge others by the clothes they wear.  Paul talks about a different kind of “clothing” that all Christians should wear –“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).  If the mission is to make Jesus known to the world, then dressing “in Jesus” is the best way to do it.  He expounded on the idea in his letter to the church in Colosse.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  This is the kind of “fashion” that never goes out of style.  Every piece is an expression of the character and nature of Jesus Christ.

Compassion is simply a feeling of concern for someone else.  Compassion sees others’ needs.

Kindness does something about that need. Kindness responds to what compassion feels.

Humility sees self as the least important person in the picture.  Hear this carefully, humility is not self-abasement or self-condemnation.  It is simply saying, “I am second – I will put you first.”

Gentleness doesn’t get its feathers ruffled.  Gentleness is meek – but it’s not wimpy.

Patience doesn’t give up on others. It is in it for the long haul. (This is my personal word from God today.)    

In the fashion world, one piece – a belt or scarf – can “pull the whole outfit together.”  Likewise, there is one more item we must not forget, one that Paul says “binds them all together in perfect unity”:  love.  He said, “Over all these, put on love” (v. 14).  The truth is, many people are doing all these good things.  The difference is love.  But it’s more than “love” in the Western understanding of the word.  It is a love that flows from God into our own hearts and spills out on those around us in the form of all these other “garments.”  It is the kind of love that seeks the very best for another, to the point of self-sacrifice.  And like every good fashion show, it throws the spotlight back onto the Designer.

So what will you wear today Beloved?  A striped shirt?  A pair of jeans?  Your favorite sweater?  Don’t forget to put on Christ – the world needs to see Jesus in you.

Why Doesn’t the World Want Jesus?

3 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen This Holiday · Giving  Compass

I’m mystified as to why people don’t want Jesus. I mean, who doesn’t want joy, peace, hope, and eternal life? Why do people reject the love and grace of God? Why do they refuse to receive the beautiful message of the Gospel? It makes no sense.

Then I read in Exodus, about the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt. When Moses and Aaron delivered the Lord’s message: “Let my people go” (Ex 5:1), Pharaoh instead made their work even harder. Moses tried to encourage the Israelites, telling them that God would set them free from their bondage, give them a land of their own, and most importantly, He would be their God. The Scripture says, “They did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage” (Ex 6:9).
Why does the world reject God? Because they are under bondage to Satan. They have no hope because they are over-burdened by a cruel taskmaster. They don’t understand the beauty of God’s offer because their minds are numbed by discouragement from the devil. Matthew said, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36).   Jesus saw the hopelessness of the people and He felt great pity. Not hate, not disgust, not judgment. He felt the weight of their bondage and it broke His heart.
Maybe – just a thought here – but maybe Jesus is showing us the better way to reach the lost world. Maybe compassion rather than pointing fingers is the way to lead people to Christ. I’m not talking about the world’s humanitarian efforts to ease suffering, although caring for physical needs must be part of our ministry in the world. I  am talking about the love of God that cares about the body and the eternal soul. I’m talking about the kind of compassion that gives a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Matthew 10:42). Because the lost world is under bondage and they cannot even envision freedom.  Satan continually tells them how helpless they are and how hopeless their situation is. Genuine Christian compassion can loosen their chains so God’s mercy can set them free.

Will you be His conduit of love and grace so that heavy hearts may be open to life without chains?  It was His compassion that saved you, Beloved, will you share that compassion so others might be saved too?

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.

Dry Ground

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“O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“Lord, I just feel so dry, like the cracked ground of a desert,” I wrote in my prayer one day.  It was the best description of my life. My soul felt dry and my body was weary.  My spirit longed for Living Water.  In my parched state, I pleaded with God to send relief.

As He so often does, the Holy Spirit sent me on a “Biblical scavenger-hunt” to see what the Word has to say.  He took me to Exodus 14 where Moses, through the power of the Lord, caused the sea to part and the people crossed over “on dry ground.”  He took me to Joshua 3 where again the Israelites crossed the Jordan (at flood stage, mind you) by way of a divinely dried-up riverbed. They didn’t slug through mud and muck but walked on firm, dry land.  Then He took me to Ezekiel 37, where the prophet spoke the Word of the Lord and dry bones came to life again, with tendons and flesh and the breath of Life.  Finally, He took me to Isaiah 53 and reminded me that Jesus was called “a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground,” (v. 2).

In all of these, He reminded me that dry seasons can be the gateway to the Promised Land.  They can precede a time of awakening and renewal, and they can actually become a place of growth.  I learned through these examples that surviving dry seasons requires perseverance, listening to the Word of God, and being humble and submissive before Him.  These are lifelines during these times when our hearts and our spirits are like a cracked desert.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, God will use even the dry seasons of your life to fulfill His plan and purpose.  You need not be afraid, but press in and press on.  There is Living Water in His Word and His Spirit.  He will send the refreshing you need.  Then “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for Joy” (Isaiah 35:1). God will bring beauty to the desert, the wilderness, and your dry heart.

Face to Face with the Father

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Many years and a lifetime ago, my ex-husband abandoned me six hours away from my family. I called my mom (collect) and cried. She said that she and my dad would be there at the end of the week to help me pack up and come back home. I called her every day that week, multiple times a day, and cried as she comforted me. I was so grateful for those phone conversations, but nothing could take the place of that moment when she stood with her arms around me and said, “We’re here. We’ll get you home.” I was glad for the assurance that she and my dad were there to help me but it was just her presence that gave me so much peace. That face-to-face moment is forever crystallized in my memory.  

There are two verses in Isaiah 41 that came together for me in a powerful way recently. Verse 10 says: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” That is awesome! God has taken hold of me with His right hand. But then I saw something in verse 13: “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.” Did you see it? God has taken hold of my right hand. With His right hand. The only way that works is if God and I are standing face-to-face.

I know life has been a struggle lately and you wonder if God cares or is even paying attention. Oh, Beloved, look up. See your Heavenly Father standing right in front of you. Feel the warmth of your right hand in His right hand. Hear Him as He looks into your eyes and speaks. “Don’t be afraid. I am here. I will help you.” He knows. He cares. He is with you. Face-to-face.

Looking in all the wrong places

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If I have a broken leg, I will go to the doctor.  If I have a problem with my car I go to a mechanic.  If something needs fixing around the house, I go to my husband. When I need encouragement and prayer, I call my best friend. And when I need sunshine on a dreary day, I go to my granddaughter.  The wisest people I know are not the ones who try to solve everything for themselves, but they are the ones who know where to go to find someone who can. No one in their right mind would go to the mechanic to fix their broken leg.

So why do we go to all the wrong sources for the answers to life? Why are we constantly “looking for love in all the wrong places?” Why do we seek wisdom from social media (!)? Why do we run to a bottle or a pill to soothe our weary, wounded hearts? Why do we expect our spouse or children to fill in all the empty places in us?

In John 6:25-69, Jesus has been teaching some hard things. Calling Himself “the Bread of Life” (v. 35), He talked of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, something that was forbidden by God. His words were shocking and even offensive to the Jewish people, and many who followed Him turned back. Even His disciples who were closest to Him grumbled.  His response was not a gentle, “I guess I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry.” No. The Scripture says, “Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67). And Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (v. 68-69).

Can you say the same? Who else could you go to for eternal life but to the Lord? Who else can redeem your wretched lost soul? Who else can take all your broken pieces and make you whole? Who else can restore what the enemy has stolen from you? Who else is would die to save you? Beloved, it’s time to stop looking everywhere else for what only He can do. It’s time to throw your lot in with Him – heart, mind, soul, and strength. Who else but Jesus?

Jesus

“. . .the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth”  John 1:14b

Who is this Jesus?

Matthew said He is “God with us” – “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23).  For thirty-three years He was “God-in-the-flesh with us,” walking among His people, touching them with hands they could feel, speaking words their ears could hear.  Yet He was very much God, performing miracles and speaking with divine authority.  Twice Matthew reports a voice from heaven saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him, I am well pleased” (3:17; 17:5).

Mark expands the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, showing His uncommon power to heal, raise the dead,  give sight to the blind,  multiply a few loaves and fishes, calm the raging sea, and drive out demons who recognized Him as “the Holy One of God” (1:24).  He also shows Him to be a King who endured uncommon suffering to rescue His people from the sentence of death.

Luke revealed Jesus as the salvation of all people (2:32).  He wrote to give an ordered account of Jesus from reliable eye-witness testimonies.  Luke offers the most detailed version of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and tradition holds that these were Mary’s own memories.   How incredible that we have the testimony of Jesus’ Father, and the recollections of His mother to confirm that this Jesus was fully God and fully man.

From his opening testimony – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1) – John most powerfully proved Jesus as the Son of God, the One and Only, divine in nature and one with His Father.  John records Jesus’ “I AM” statements, a direct connection to God’s own self-revelation (Exodus 3:14). He recorded Jesus’ statement:  “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9).  John also devotes half of his gospel to Jesus’ final week, His death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. (John 12-21).

Paul said that He is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and the writer of Hebrews said “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being’ (Hebrews 1:3).  Jesus. “God with us.” “The Son of God.” “The Salvation of God.” “The Word of God” “One with the Father.” “The image of God.” “The radiance of God.” “The exact representation of God.” And that barely scratches the surface. Jesus is . . . everything. Beloved, what more do you need to believe?

Step-By-Step

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“Okay God, what’s the plan?”  It’s human nature, isn’t it? We want to have the full strategy laid out before us before we start.  And that’s a good thing in certain situations. No builder would begin a house without a complete set of blueprints – down to the location of every wall socket and light switch.  A smart business proposal outlines a long-term plan and prospectus for the success of a project.  We set out a plan for the day, the week, the month, and the year – and even for years ahead, even though we don’t know how things will turn out in the end.  Still, we want the whole picture.

But God doesn’t give us the whole picture.  He gives us one step at a time, just as He did for the prophet Samuel.  “The Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.”  Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do.’ ”  (1 Samuel 16:2,3)

He told the prophet to go to Bethlehem and prepare to make a sacrifice with Jesse and his sons.  That’s it.   “Do step one and I will show you step two.” 

God delights in obedience – the kind that doesn’t wait for the full plan but willingly acts on each step as it’s given.  I don’t know of anyone in the Bible – except Jesus – who knew details of God’s plan from beginning to end.  God doesn’t expect you to complete the whole task in one grand push; He wants you to do the one thing He told you and wait for the next instruction.  And He will not give you the next step until you are obedient to the first one. Besides, if you knew the whole plan you would a) be completely overwhelmed and/or b) set off doing things your own way which results in c) a mess.

Beloved, God has a plan – a very good plan, but it requires your daily, step-by-step obedience.  You can trust Him – He will not forget you or leave you stranded.  He will see you all the way through.  Just determine to obey what you know to do – the rest will come – right on time and with the strength you need.  Step by step by step.

Pointing Fingers

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out” Romans 7:18
One of the biggest challenges of being a Bible teacher is the tension between expressing what the Bible says about sin and recognizing my own sinful nature. How can I stand before a class or post something I’ve written that tells others “how to live” when I fail so often in my own walk? Who do I think I am?
That’s why I find great comfort in Paul’s letters. Paul addresses every kind of sin we can imagine – sexual sin, lying, stealing, hate, laziness, idolatry, marital unfaithfulness, abuse, self-centeredness, drunkenness, and yes even gluttony (Ouch!). He is very outspoken about sin and points a finger wherever he sees it. But he also points a finger back at himself. Paul frequently admits his own human failure to walk the walk of which he talks. In Romans 7, he laments this all too common push-and-pull of righteousness vs. sin. “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (v. 19). From Paul’s words, we realize that the sinful nature we inherited from Adam constantly “wages war” against our new nature in Christ (v. 23).
So what do we – as those called to share the gospel and the truth of righteousness – do with that conflict? First, we stop focusing on ourselves. That’s a guarantee to keep failing. Instead, we follow Paul’s example and shift our focus upward. He wrapped up his lament, by recognizing his failure: “What a wretched man I am!” He admitted his need for a savior: “Who will rescue me from the body of death?” Then he rejoiced in the goodness and faithfulness of God: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).
You and I are part of the fallen human race, and even though we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we still fall to our sinful nature. Satan would have us languish there in self-hatred. But we are no longer under the sentence of condemnation (Romans 8:1). We have been rescued and redeemed. When we focus on Jesus we live more in the freedom of our new nature and less in the bondage of our sin. Yes, Beloved, you will still fail – but thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord – you don’t have to stay there!