Hebrews: “Strange Teachings”

Was Jesus some kind of space alien? Is there really power in sacred underwear? Check out my latest devotional in the series: "Hebrews: Strange Teachings" at Deeper Roots.

If ever there was a word for the church today, I believe this is it: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Heb 13:9). The writer was referring specifically to dietary regulations to which the Jews strictly held. “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col 2:21). Paul had adamantly preached that “Food does not bring us near to God” (1 Cor 8:8).  Nor did food make them unclean before God. Our writer went on to say, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them” v. 9). Jewish believers were torn between trusting in their ability to obey all the rules and trusting in the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s so foreign to us in the twenty-first century in the west.

But boy, do we have some weird stuff of our own in the world today – and sadly in the church too. Google “strange religious teachings” and you’ll see all sorts of things from snake handling to sacred underwear that protects believers from spiritual contamination, fire and speeding bullets. You’ll see the prosperity gospel, the humanitarian gospel, the social gospel, the gay gospel, and the feminist gospel – none of which resemble the true gospel at all. You’ll find Bibles that are gender-neutral and exclude certain portions of clear truth so as not to offend. There are so many different religions in the world, it’s impossible to keep up. And so many blatantly unbiblical teachings expressed on social media, published in “Christian” books and “Bible” study resources, and even preached from pulpits.

Is there any doubt that we are the generation of which Paul spoke when He warned Timothy, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).  The church today resembles what he called: “infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). That is why way back in chapter 6 he said, “Let us leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity” (v. 1) – which is a very nice way of saying “GROW UP!”

Strange teachings, whether about dietary regulations, Kabbalah, or sacred underwear, will always grab those who prefer to be spoon-fed. If all you know about the Scriptures is what you’re told, how can you know you’re being told the truth?  That’s why personal Bible study is like oxygen to a Christian. I love teaching you, Beloved, but I want you to dig into the Word for yourself. Then we can have some incredible conversations over a cup of coffee and the Words of Life we both love.

More Than Words

The more tired she is the more Joy fights sleep. I suppose she doesn’t want to miss a thing around her. When she was just a baby I would snuggle her close in the rocking chair and give her her bottle. She would drink just a little, pull away, then immediately complain because she didn’t have her bottle. I’d plug it back in and say, “You’re the one who turned away from it sweetie.” We would repeat this cycle several times until she finally gave up and drifted off.

This little ritual reminds me of people who complain, “I don’t feel God anymore. I don’t think God cares about me. Why does God not love me?” The first thing I ask them is, “What is God saying to you in His Word?” And they answer, “Oh, I haven’t read the Bible in a while – I know I should, I just haven’t felt like it.” DING-DING-DING! They just answered their own question. They don’t “feel” God or think he cares about nor loves them because they have turned away from the very place they find Him.

God gave the Israelites His commandments and His Law so that they would obey Him. But it was about more than just compliance, it was about knowing Him. The closer they lived to the commands of God, the more He revealed Himself to them. They came to know God by knowing and obeying His Words. Moses declared to them, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (Deut 30:14).

The Word of God has never been more readily available than it is today. The Scriptures are literally at our fingertips, in printed form, electronic media, by audio and video – and in almost every language on earth. You can have it any way you want it. But you have to want it. You have to pick up the book or open the app or pull up the podcast. You have to make God’s Word a priority in your life. The less you read, the less you want to read.  And the converse is true: the more you read, the more you want to read.

The Bible is not just a bunch of stories and rules and words on paper. It is the true and living Word of God (Heb 4:12), inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God (2 Pet 1:20-21) and embodied in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 1:14). Have you turned away from the very thing your spirit is craving? Come back to the Bible, Beloved. “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut 32:47).

Hebrews: Are You Listening?

Several years ago I turned down an invitation to an event. Afterward, I discovered that one of my favorite authors was a surprise guest speaker that day and I missed it. I was so disappointed. A few years later this speaker passed away and I realized that I had missed my one opportunity to hear her in person.

The writer of Hebrews offers a warning that you and I need to heed. “See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned those on earth, how much less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven.” (Heb 12:25a). The writer started this sermon by saying “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb 1:1-2).

The history of Israel had been a sad story of God’s people rejecting God’s word through His prophets. The Lord said, “They have not listened to my words, words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets” (Jer 29:19). Their stopped-up ears and stubborn hearts put them in exile in Babylon for seventy years. But now, the writer said, His people have rejected the very Son of God, whom John called “The Word [made] flesh” (Jn 1:14). God was speaking to His people face to face and they didn’t want to hear what He had to say. It’s not just that they couldn’t hear and comprehend – they refused to hear. It’s like the little kid with his fingers in his ears saying, “Lalala – I can’t hear you.” The writer said if the Lord didn’t excuse those who rejected the prophets, what makes you think He will excuse us for rejecting His own Son?

Here is something important I want you to notice. What were the prophets speaking? What was the Son speaking? Not “you can decide for yourself what is right and wrong.” Not “I just want you to be happy.” Not even “unconditional love.” Their messages were words of warning. It was always, “Repent.” Turn away from your sin and turn back to God.

Here’s another thought: If God did not excuse those who rejected the words of the prophets and the word of His Son, will He excuse you and me who have the luxury of His Word in written form? I have at least fifteen Bibles on the shelves in my office. I expect most of us have a Bible app on our phones – and every one of them says the same thing: “Repent.” It’s not that we don’t have His Word. It’s that we’re refusing to listen. Beloved, we have no excuse.

I [Don’t] Got This!

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“You hang in there, girl. God will never give you more than you can handle.” I never wanted to call someone a liar as much as I did the woman who made that statement to me.  But I’m southern and we don’t call our elders liars, so I thanked her and hugged her, and flushed her counsel from my brain. While that may sound full of warm fuzzy faith, there’s not a shred of support for it in Scripture. The Bible is clear that God often gives us more than we can handle.  Paul said, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Cor 1:8-9a). Not so warm and fuzzy, is it? Friend, if you’re hanging onto that opening statement as a rock for your life, you are going to be very disappointed.

If you’ve walked with Him for very long you know that God indeed allows situations and hardships that are more than we can handle. He does it so that we will turn to the only One who can. Paul continued, “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (v. 9b). I almost stopped that verse after the comma but I realized that those last four words are pivotal to the passage. What is harder to handle than death? And who is it that overcame death? If you’ve got a problem that’s bigger than raising a dead man to life, then you may have reason to worry.

Paul goes on to say, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us” (v. 10). He has. He is. He will continue. He has been faithful. He is still faithful. He will continue to be faithful.  Your circumstances do not define Him. He defines your circumstances. I can’t stress this enough – God WILL give you more than you can handle. But He will never give you more than HE can handle. Stop trying to carry it all yourself, Beloved. Hold tightly to God and He will carry it – and you through. That’s why it’s called FAITH.

Mirror Image

I’ve been a Bible student for at least thirty years, a Bible teacher for more than twenty, and a Bible writer for ten. I’ve taught, studied, or written about every book in the Bible. I have a bachelor’s degree in Theology and Biblical Studies and have almost completed my master’s. But I’ve barely scratched the surface of biblical truth. I have only a minuscule glimpse of God. There’s far more to discover than my finite middle-aged, deep-southern mind can grasp. Still, I will keep digging until I draw my last breath. And then I will know more.

Paul said that in this life, “we know in part . . .” (1 Cor 13:9). We know fragments of truth, and that makes it hard to believe because there is so much we don’t know. The world thinks of us as fools for trusting in what we cannot see and cannot fully comprehend. Yet. One of the most important things God has been teaching me is to keep an eternal mindset. That’s not a Pollyanna “it’ll all turn out okay in the end” attitude. An eternal mindset isn’t focused on the circumstances, it’s focused on the sovereign King of the universe. The Lord God Almighty. The Creator of all that is.

Here is what I believe is at the heart of an eternal mindset. You and I – and every human that was, is, or is to come – is made in the Imago Dei – the image of God. Before He scooped up the dust of the earth God said, “Let us make man in our own image” (Gen 1:26). And that is what He did. We are walking, talking, breathing expressions of our Creator. But sin separated us from our Creator and marred the perfect image we were meant to bear. It’s what Paul meant in verse 12: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror . . .” We look at our spiritual reflection, knowing we’re supposed to see God, but we see only ourselves – our sinful human selves.

But one day, because of Jesus, we will see that perfect image. No, we won’t be looking into a divine mirror, we will be looking at the Divine Himself. Paul says, “then we shall see face to face.” We will see God. Face to face. I can’t even imagine. But I long for it. It’s my heart’s highest desire. I hope it’s yours too, Beloved.

Do You Love God?

I may have given you the impression that my granddaughter Joy is perfect. She almost is . . . but she has just enough of me in her to spoil perfection. She has trouble sometimes obeying. She knows she is not allowed to climb on the back of Poppy’s recliner, but she does it anyway. She knows she is not allowed to get out of her seat at the table without permission, but she does it anyway. She knows she is not allowed to touch Nana’s laptop, but – well you know. We know she knows the rules because she says, “don’t climb on Poppy’s chair,” “ask permission before you get down,” “don’t touch Nana’s laptop,” but she does what she wants.

I said that is her Nana coming out, but really that is just human nature. We want what we want. Even when we know what we want is against the rules. Satan convinced Eve that God was withholding some good stuff from her. Like tasty, pretty fruit and knowledge that would make her like God Himself. Yet, God had said explicitly, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . .” (Gen 2:17). His reason was for their preservation – if they ate the fruit they would die.  But there was a bigger reason for them to avoid the forbidden fruit. God had spoken and they were obligated to obey.

James said if we know what we ought (and ought not) do and we disobey, we sin (James 4:17). And we do know because we have God’s Word. Many of us can quote what we ought and ought not do. But we disobey anyway. Obedience matters to God and it should matter to us.  Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). He said our obedience proves we love Him. So what does it prove when we are disobedient? He made it very clear, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching (v. 24).

We know Joy loves us and this is her immaturity (and her Nana) coming out. Our job is to direct her to grow in obedience. As God’s children, we ought to be obedient. Beloved, what does your life say about your love for God?

Hebrews: Be Faithful

The Bible is the perfect, infallible Word of God. It is complete and lacks nothing. But we’re going to add something. Hear me out before you hang me as a heretic.

For several weeks now, we’ve been studying the Hall of Faith in Hebrews, the stories of men and women whom God found faithful. I hope it has been as rich and encouraging to you as it has been to me.  But here’s my question: did faith end with these ancient saints? Is there room for your name and mine on this list?

Maybe we haven’t built a massive boat or nearly sacrificed our children or led two million plus people out of slavery. I suspect none of us have witnessed the seas part or shouted down a stone wall or defeated your nation’s enemy with a sling and a stone. I don’t believe we’ve faced off against hungry lions or walked out of a fiery furnace. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been faithful.

If you’ve trusted God in hard circumstances, you’ve been faithful. If you endured insults for being a Christian, you have been faithful. If you have resisted temptation or been truthful when a lie would have been easier, you have been faithful. If you’ve wept on your knees and got up and pressed on, you, my friend, have been faithful. If you’ve been gentle in the face of anger or loved the one who hated you, or been patient with the grown kid who keeps failing over and over, you have been faithful. If you’ve kept at your calling, even if no one else notices, you are faithful. If you’ve walked into unknown territory because God said go, if you’ve gone the extra mile (or several miles) – you’ve been faithful. If you have looked into an empty pantry or an empty gas tank and said, “God I will trust you to provide” – there’s no doubt you are faithful. If you’ve gotten up early to spend time in the Word and prayer – you have been faithful.

I want you to do something this morning. Open up your Bible to the end of Hebrews 11 and write (yes, it’s okay to write in your Bible) “By faith (your name) . . . ” then ask Him how you have been faithful and how you can be even more so. Beloved, it’s time to add our names to the Hall of Faith and continue the legacy of God’s faithful people.

Get Ready!

I’m sure you’re familiar with Ephesians 6:10-18 and the Armor of God:

The Belt of Truth is a foundational garment that provides support and bears the weight of the Sword.

The Breastplate of Righteousness covers the heart – the seat of our emotions, thoughts, and affections.

The Shoes of the Readiness of the Gospel of Peace enables us to take the Gospel with us everywhere we go – spreading it like holy seeds.

The Shield of Faith protects us from the fiery darts of the enemy – darts of doubt, temptation, fear, self-defeat, anger, bitterness, hatred, and animosity.

The Helmet of Salvation covers our minds where the enemy battles us most fiercely.

The Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – is the only defensive piece of the Armor.

And prayer which is our source of power, strength, and discernment.

My sister-in-love is always reminding me to “Pull those straps tight every morning!” And she’s right. But here’s something I had not noticed before now: “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground . . .” (v. 13). Every day is a spiritual battle. Every day we face off against the devil. Every day he lobs his darts and tries to take us out. But there is a “day of evil” coming when the battle will be like nothing you or I have ever experienced. We have no way of knowing when that will be, so we must be prepared for it every day.

Do you remember the story of “David and Goliath?” When David told King Saul that he would take on Goliath, Saul dressed David in his own tunic, armor, and helmet. “David . . . tried walking around” and said, “I cannot go in these because I am not used to them” (1 Sam 17:38-39). Fellow soldier, you and I have to get used to wearing the armor now, so that when that day comes, it is as natural to us as our favorite pair of jeans. We have to strengthen our arms to hold up that Shield and know how to use that Sword to its fullest advantage. We can’t be clunking into war in uncomfortable battle gear.

Beloved, the day is very near. Put your armor on. You need to get ready.

Treasure Hunt

There’s such a wonderful benefit to getting out of our favorite passages in the Bible and exploring the rest of Scripture – it is all God’s Word after all. Wherever you read it will bless you, encourage you, challenge you, move you, teach you, guide you, and yes, chastise you. The Holy Writ of the Lord is His message of love, wisdom, discipline, and truth. It is His story with mankind as the supporting cast.

Almost everyone who has some knowledge of the Bible knows the 23rd Psalm, but not much more than that. I want to encourage you to branch out and see what else you can find. For example, Psalm 145 is one of those passages that should fill us with awe and wonder. It’s a psalm of praise as David first extols the greatness of God: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom” (v. 3). He vows to declare the glory, majesty, and power of the Lord to the next generation, to tell of His “mighty acts,” “wonderful works,” and “great deeds” (vs. 4,5,6). He remembers that God is the eternal King, that He is righteous and holy and worthy of praise. But through all of that, David weaves in God’s grace, compassion, patience, love, faithfulness, protection, provision, and presence toward us. He says that God is good, compassionate, and loving toward all mankind and that He is kind to those who have fallen.

Here is the Gospel my friends. God is high and holy, mighty and awesome. In love He created us and for that reason alone He is worthy of our praise. But we fail to praise Him because we are fallen and sinful, and in that state, we deserve destruction (v. 20). But God (my favorite phrase in all of the Bible) poured out His wrath on the cross of His Son. He pours out His love and kindness on humanity and lavishes those who believe with His mercy and grace. He has claimed us as His own. How is it that we are not on our faces in awe and worship and gratitude? Do we not realize that the great, awesome, righteous God who owes us nothing gave us everything?

The Bible tells this same story over and over from Genesis to Revelation. Go dig for treasure, Beloved. You’ll find it on every page.

So Help Me God

*Steel-toed boot warning.

Court scenes in movies, television, and books generally show witnesses and defendants swearing to tell the truth with their right hand on a Bible. The practice of swearing an oath goes back to antiquity. In twelfth-century England the practice of swearing on the Word and name of God to declare one’s truthfulness became law. The custom came over with the pilgrims but was never made law as it was one of the many reasons they left the oppressive religious rule of England.
In the day when the Bible was considered sacred text and God was revered, the practice of swearing an oath “on the Bible” was the norm. That is no longer the case and the courts have determined that a witness could simply “affirm” to be honest. But putting one’s hand on the Bible has never been a guarantee of truthfulness, has it? People swore on the Bible and still lied. Even claiming to be a Christian these days doesn’t mean a person will be godly. So what good is the Bible anyway? And who needs it if it can’t make you a better person?
Here’s the ugly truth: we often use the Bible to comment on the ungodliness in our culture and to point out sin in the world. But remember, the Bible was written to the people of God, not to the world. The Old Testament was written to the Israelites and the New Testament is written to the church. Who needs the Bible? I do. You do. The Pastor and the deacons and every member of the Church. Every person who claims the name of Jesus Christ. Because God is speaking to His people. God is calling the church back to Himself. He is telling His people to stop living in sin and repent. He is drawing those who claim the name of Christ into holy living. We can’t hold the unsaved world to biblical standards not following. We can’t rant about homosexual marriage when the divorce rate in the church is the same as outside the church. We can’t judge unwed mothers when pornography addiction is rampant in the church. We can’t demand righteousness we don’t have ourselves. Don’t read the Bible to convict the culture, read it to convict your own heart. “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household . . .” (I Peter 4:17).