Hebrews – The Deep Things of God

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I remember it like it was last week, even though it was some twenty years ago. I stood in the doorway of my pastor/boss’ office and said, “I’m content to know the basics about the Bible. I don’t need all that deep stuff. ‘Thus sayeth the Lord’ is good enough for me.”  I thought at the time that Pastor Mike was the one chuckling, but all these years later I realize it was the Lord. He – the Lord, that is – was laughing because He was going to unleash a fire in me to study and know His Word beyond anything I ever imagined. He was going to take me deep – so deep that I would need a spiritual oxygen tank to survive. The passion to dig and study and mine for “buried treasure” hits me every time I open my Bible. It has propelled me through eight years of seminary. It has compelled me to be a Bible teacher. I will never be satisfied with anything less.

The author of Hebrews understood that surface knowledge of the things of God will not sustain us for long. He said, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (5:11). I touched on this verse when I launched this study, but I think it bears repeating. The phrase “slow to learn” is not referring to a learning disability, but a learning disinterest. “Slow” means “lazy and undisciplined, no longer trying to understand.” The writer said there’s more they could know but they didn’t care to learn it. They were content to know just enough to get into heaven. I suppose that’s okay if your goal is eternal fire insurance.  But why would you deny yourself the deeper things of the faith? Why would you not want to know all you can about God? What could the world possibly teach you that is more important, more thrilling, more breath-taking than knowing the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)?

You don’t have to go to seminary to learn the deeper things of the faith. But you do have to invest time and attention in God’s Word.  I love being a Bible teacher. But honestly, my goal is to teach myself out of a job. I want you to have that hunger for yourself. Beloved, there is no greater quest than to know God. Won’t you let Him captivate your heart?

Deep People

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God is looking for deep people. No, not intellectual people but . . .

people with deep conviction—1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says  “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”  People who are convinced that Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be. They are people who . . .

take “hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:5).  The bulk of the New Testament is made up of Paul’s replies to people who were not content with a surface knowledge about Jesus but searched the Scriptures for Him and wrote to Paul seeking clarification. These are people the Lord can entrust with . . .

 “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).  That’s not knowledge outside of the Bible, but it is “spiritual truths . . . taught by the Spirit . . . in spiritual words” (2:13). In other words, people who are walking with and listening to God’s Spirit expressing the deep things of God’s Word. They are also people . . .

 with deep love.  Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would be “rooted and established in love, [and have] power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [they] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) Paul is not trying to put parameters around God’s love, but rather to express its greatness and better understand its limitlessness. Then, from the deep love of God comes . . .

deep love for one another. Peter added: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). This is how we obey Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We can’t deeply love people until we deeply love God.

Oh, Beloved, I pray you are stirred with a yearning to go deeper with God. What better time than the Easter season to set your roots in the depths of His love.

The Power of Deeper Roots

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“Look, mom, I watered your flowers!” My then seven-year-old son came bursting into the kitchen, tracking mud all across the freshly cleaned floor. He grabbed me by the hand and dragged me outside to take a look. “See! Didn’t I do a good job!?”  I smiled down at his eager face and gave him a big hug. “Yes, you did! Thank you, sweet boy!” I said noticing that the leaves glistened with moisture but the ground was barely damp. His idea of “watering my flowers” was to sprinkle water across the tops of the plants. When he proudly ran off to the back yard to play, I turned on the soaker hose that ran along the ground and gave the plants the good, long drink they needed to survive and flourish. I returned to the kitchen and sat down at the table with a fresh cup of coffee and my Bible. I had just started “getting serious” about reading God’s Word every day. I checked the reading plan and turned to Psalm 119:9-16. I started to close my Bible and get on with my day when I sensed a “Stop!” in my spirit. “Read it again. Slower.” So I sat back down and re-read the passage. I realized that the Psalmist wasn’t doing a quick reading of the Scriptures, He was soaking it in. Like my son’s idea of watering my plants, I was sprinkling God’s Word over the surface of my heart, but I wasn’t spending enough time in it to do my soul much good. Looking further into Psalm 119 I found verse after verse after verse about the power of the Bible for those who will give it more than a quick glance.

There’s no prize for reading the Bible through in a year.  But there is great reward in reading the Bible thoroughly. And you don’t have to read a lot each day; in fact, you will grow more with smaller, deeper bites. Knowledge takes time, but it pays off with deep roots. The kind that can stand strong in the fiercest storm. Beloved, it’s time to put away the watering can and pull out the soaker hose. Go deep in the Word of God and let God’s Words go deep in you.

Beloved

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I pray for two things every morning over my granddaughter. I pray that she will come to know Jesus as Her Savior at a young age and grow in love and knowledge every day. And I pray a verse over her from Ephesians 3:18-19:
“I pray that Joy, being rooted and established in love may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ [for her], [that she may] know this love that surpasses knowledge and may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
I didn’t grow up “rooted and established in love.” I grew up with judgment. I grew up with scary things happening to me. I grew up believing I was a disappointment to the people I wanted so badly to love me. I was so hungry to be loved that I married a man who, after four years of abuse, told me he didn’t love me. Friends who once told me they loved me, later walked away because my emotional neediness was too heavy a burden.
I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that many of you are shaking your head, probably with tears in your eyes, in understanding
But what I didn’t know, until much later in life, was that there was a God in heaven who loved me from before I was born. He loved me even as others used “love” as an excuse for abuse. He loved me despite all the scars on my heart and body. No – check that. He loved my scars. He loved my wounded, frightened heart. He loved me and the weight of my broken past.
If you only ever grab one thing I write, take hold of this and never let go: God loves you. He loves everything about you – “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Others may have hurt you, failed you, walked away from you, and hurled verbal darts at you. But God loves you with a pure and perfect love that will never end. Never. Receive it. Believe it. Plant yourself in it and grow. You are the Beloved of God.

A Foundation of Faith

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“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:43).

A sinful woman encountered Jesus one day and an entire village was changed.  The Samaritan woman found Jesus at a well.  He told her who she was, and then He told her who He was.  The Messiah.  She ran to her village and called her neighbors to meet the man who changed her life.  And they came.  And they believed.  Not because of what the woman said about Jesus, but because of what He said about Himself.  “Because of His words many more became believers” (v. 41).  They believed because they heard Him with their own ears and saw Him with their own eyes.  Second-hand faith is not a sustaining faith.  We must hear and know Jesus for ourselves.

I am so grateful for my time as a seminary student.  That experience stretched my mind and my faith in ways I never imagined.  In seminary I learned how to study the Bible for life, how to search out its treasures and discern God’s truth.  I learned how to think critically, how to compare and contrast the many messages I receive every day.  Most of all, I was challenged to consider what I believe.  I looked at everything I claimed to hold as true and examined it carefully, scripturally, practically – and truly made it my own profession of faith.  I took out everything I learned from childhood on and held it up to the light of the Word of God and the wisdom of the Church under the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I found some things needed to be challenged and changed, and some things needed to be nailed down as the foundation of my faith. I no longer stand on what others told me about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church and my faith, I stand on what I know is true and right.  I know what I believe and I believe what I know.

You don’t need to go to seminary to build a strong foundation of faith.  All you need is the Bible and the courage to examine your beliefs through the lens of God’s Word and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  We’re going to do that together over the next few weeks.  We’re going to ask some critical questions, and dig for the answers.  We’re going to become Bereans. Acts 17 tells about a church that took what Paul taught and lay it along side of Scripture, “to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  We’re going to find out if what we believe is really true.  That’s the kind of faith that stands firm against the winds of the culture, against the “wisdom” of the world, against the threat of suffering, persecution, and death.  Do you really think the martyrs of old would have died for something they weren’t convinced was true?  You and I need to be sure of our faith and our convictions too. We need to be certain that we have a faith that’s worth living – and dying for. 

 

The Pearls

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“Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21).

She loved the string of pearls that her Daddy had given her when she was twelve.  Oh sure, they were fake, but even four years later they were still beautiful to her and she felt so elegant when she wore them.  Grown up. Sophisticated. Why her Daddy wanted to take them away from her she could not understand.  For months now, he would come to her and say, “Sweetheart, will you give me your pearls?”  “But Daddy, I love my pearls.  I don’t want to give them to you.”  “Okay sweet girl,” was all he would say as he kissed her forehead.  But she loved her Daddy too.  On the eve of her sixteenth birthday she came into the kitchen where he stood, tears in her eyes, her hand outstretched, pearls draped over her fingers.  “I don’t know why you want my pearls Daddy, I love them so much, but I love you more.  If you want them, you can have them.”  And he kissed her on the forehead and said, “Thank you Sweetheart.”

The next morning dawned bright and happy and the sun lit up her room as she stretched awake.  It was Sunday and it was her birthday – the best combination ever!  She showered and dressed and reached into her jewelry box as usual before she remembered the scene from the night before.  A twinge of regret crossed her mind, but she pushed it back and walked to the kitchen where she knew Mama was preparing her birthday breakfast.  Daddy was leaning against the counter and she ran to him as he sang “Happy birthday to you . . .” to the top of his lungs.  Her mother and brother joined the song.  She loved her family so much.  Daddy hugged her tight then reached behind his back and brought out a long, slender black velvet box with a bow on top.  “For my beautiful girl on her sixteenth birthday!”  He said.  She opened the box to see a beautiful strand of cultured pearls nestled in the pink satin lining.  She drew in a sharp breath and exclaimed, “Oh Daddy! This is why you wanted my pearls!”  She turned around as he fastened them around her neck.  “Yes Sweetheart, this is why I wanted your pearls.  As much as you loved that childish necklace, I knew you would love these real pearls even more.  I wanted you to have the very best.”

Jesus encountered a rich young man who wanted to know “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). After affirming that he knew all the right answers, Jesus then told him to “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come follow Me” (Mark 10:21).  But the man was unwilling to give up his possessions; he walked away wealthy, but spiritually and eternally impoverished.

You and I are so prone to hang on to what we think are the most wonderful and the most important things, clutching them to our chest.  We can’t imagine life without them. But the Father says, “I want you to give this to Me.” And you say “I can’t give it up.  Please don’t take this away from me.”  The cost of surrender is higher than you are willing to pay.  Oh, but He has so much more in mind for you – “more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).  If He asks you to place something in His hands it is because He wants to give you something even better.  You can trust the heart of your Father.  Beloved, will you give up your pearls?

How’s Your Vision?

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“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  Hebrews 12:2

I’ve worn glasses since I was in the fifth grade.  I remember vividly the difference in my vision from the day before to the day after I got them.  The teacher’s handwriting on the board improved overnight! The power of vision – the ability to see clearly – was driven home to me recently when I got new glasses after 8 years.  The difference in my old prescription and the new one was so great I had a headache for a week trying to adjust.  It’s hard to see clearly when you’re looking through a weak lens.

Likewise our spiritual vision – how we see God – affects the way we see ourselves, our challenges, and our successes or failures.  Consider the Israelite spies in Numbers 13.  Upon returning from their mission, ten of the twelve spies advised against attempting to take the land the Lord had promised them.  They compared themselves to the Canaanites and saw themselves as “grasshoppers in our own eyes” (vv. 32-33).  They talked themselves out of the Promised Land because they were convinced that they were outmatched and too small.  Only Caleb and Joshua had a different vision, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. Do not be afraid of the people of the land . . . the Lord is with us” (Numbers 14:7-9).  They saw the same giants and the same challenges, but they saw them with faith.  They focused on the power and the promise of the Lord and knew that the giants were no match for their mighty God.

In contrast to the ten Israelite spies, consider how little David defeated the giant Goliath.  You know this story well – David heard Goliath’s disgraceful taunting of the Israelite army, and armed with a sling and a few stones he confronted the giant.  But his confidence wasn’t in his sling or the stones or his own ability—his confidence was in God.  He stood before Goliath and declared, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty . . . it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves:  for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give all of you into our hands” (1Samuel 17:45, 47).  He knew God was mighty and He knew God was for Israel.  How could he lose?

We see the same confident thinking in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31, 38-39, emphasis added).  Where did Paul’s confidence come from?  The great vision he had of God through Jesus Christ.  He was so certain of God’s love because he had seen that love displayed on the cross.  Though his physical eyes were weak and failing, he had perfect 20-20 spiritual vision.

You and I need good vision to navigate life.  We need to view everything through the spiritual lens of truth.  Instead of focusing on the size of our challenges we need to “fix our eyes on Jesus.”  Rather than seeing ourselves as grasshoppers among giants, we need to see the bigness of our God, towering over everything that threatens us.  Beloved, how long have you struggled with weak spiritual eyes?  Is it time for some new lenses?  Maybe it’s time to have your eyes examined by the Holy Spirit so He can prescribe some divine glasses.  Oh Father, give us holy vision to see you like we’ve never seen you before!

I Can Do It Myself

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I felt the soapy dishwater drip from my fingers as his words cut into my heart.

“I don’t need you anymore.”

The cool November breeze floated through the open door as he turned and walked away.

Not need me anymore? How could he say that?  

I looked out the window watching those brown boots carry him across the yard.  My shoulders rose – then fell as a sigh escaped my lips.  I knew the day would come, but I didn’t know how much it would hurt.  It was just an innocent comment from my then four-year old son, but it stabbed my heart like a dagger.

“Mama! Mama!  I can swing by myself!  I don’t need you anymore!”  For this mother, it was one more sign that my job was changing every day; and this was a good change—he was showing independence, something we all work towards for our children.  Almost as soon as he could talk I heard, “Me do it! Me do it!”  He wanted to be his own (little) man.

Independence is a good thing; it’s a healthy goal as we raise our children.  But it’s not the goal of God for His children.  In fact, the opposite is true – God desires greater dependence, and less independence.  Unlike human parents, He measures our growth by how much we rely on Him.

Throughout Scripture we find man trying to run ahead of God, trying to establish his own autonomy, trying to distance himself from his creator.  Isn’t that the idea behind Satan’s lies in the Garden?  By promising Eve “wisdom and knowledge” he was telling her she could be independent from God; she could make up her own mind about what was good and evil and determine her own destiny.  She could get out from under God’s thumb.

The Bible shows the nation of Israel’s constant attempts to go their own way, make their own rules, and live by their own authority, and over and over we see them fail because God did not call them to independent greatness.  He called them to be His people, in a covenant relationship with Him where He provided and guided and they relied and followed.  When God led them out of Egypt and started for the Promised Land, He meant for them to trust and rely on Him.  But when they came to the edge and saw the size of the enemy they balked and determined to strike out on their own back to Egypt.  The result was hardship and death.  God called them into a covenant relationship that required their complete dependence, but they would not humble themselves before Him. They exemplified the heart of disobedience – prideful independence.  The last verse in Judges gives a chilling report:  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

The Christian faith is built on this same dependent relationship.  We depend on Christ for our salvation. We depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom.  We depend on our Heavenly Father for our “daily bread,” for our future, for strength, and for eternal life.  We don’t “stand on our own two feet,” as believers we stand on the work and worth of Christ.  We stand on God’s faithfulness.  No, scratch that—we rest on the work and worth of Christ and the faithfulness of God, and that is what the people of Israel – and you and I – miss when we struggle to be independent of God—we miss His rest.  For those who give up their “right” to autonomy and depend on God there is rest.  Physical rest.  Emotional rest. Spiritual rest.  And isn’t that what we really want?

Perhaps you’ve heard the “verse,” “God helps those who help themselves.”   Friend, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over—trust me when I tell you, it ain’t in there.  From Genesis to Revelation I find no place where God chastised people for depending on Him too much, but I do find over and over that He rebuked them for trying to live independent of Him.  God wants—demands our reliance.  There’s no other way to live in relationship with Him.

It’s true that Scripture tells us to “grow up in the faith” (Ephesians 4:15), but the mark of maturity in Christ is greater dependence on Him.  Just as the branch relies on the vine for its nourishment and fruit, believers in Christ are to remain attached to our Life-source for our every need.

Let’s declare this our DEPENDENCE day in Christ.

Holy, gracious and wonderful God, it’s not that you want to rule over me: You want to love me, care for me, provide for me and guide me.  Lord help me to rely on You for every need in my life.  I’m so grateful that I can always depend on You.  Amen.

Olive Tree

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Lord make me to be

like an olive tree

flourishing in the house of God,[1]

a thriving olive tree

with fruit beautiful in form.[2]

which yields its fruit in season,

and whose leaf does not wither.[3]

An olive tree whose leaf

brought hope to Noah,[4]

and whose oil became

sacrifice and offering.[5]

Lord, use the oil of my fruit to

keep the light of your presence

burning continually bright.[6]

Use the wood of my very body

to adorn Your Holy Temple,

the place where Your Presence dwells.[7]

Use my oil to bring healing

to broken bodies

and broken hearts

and broken nations.

And there, on the mountain

where my Lord prayed,[8]

press me, break me

that I may bring forth

the holy anointing oil,

precious oil poured on the head

of our Great High Priest,

running down on His beard,

down the collar of His robes;[9]

and anointing the King of kings.[10]

 

[1] Psalm 52:8

[2] Jeremiah 11:16

[3] Psalm 1:3

[4] Genesis 8:11

[5] Exodus 29:40

[6] Leviticus 24:2

[7] 1 Kings 6

[8] Luke 22:39-46

[9] Psalm 133:2

[10] 1 Samuel 1:10

Deeper Roots

“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time, when trouble or persecution come because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Matthew 13:20-21
My mom always had the most beautiful flower beds in the neighborhood. Early mornings and evenings would find her tending her buds and blossoms and pulling up weeds. I don’t remember her ever purchasing flowers to plant in her beds, she always grew hers from seeds and bulbs. She knew just where to plant and how to water and tend the seeds until those tiny green shoots began to push their way through the soil. Mom had gladiolas, four-o-clocks, daylilies, zinnias, cosmos, daisies, marigolds, and more. I admired her talent so much, so when I moved into my own home, I decided to plant a flower garden. Let’s just say, I did not inherit my mom’s green thumb. My seeds barely sprouted, and what came up was thin and scraggly and quickly withered and died. When she came to my house, she took one look at my garden and said “You didn’t give them room to put down roots.” I had tried to make a flower garden in gravely, sandy soil. The plants sprouted where they could in the coarse soil, but didn’t have a strong root system to anchor them and draw nourishment from the ground. What came up wasn’t healthy and didn’t last long because there were no roots.
The same principle applies to our Christian faith, which is what Jesus is describing in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13:1-23. A farmer in those days would walk through his garden spot and broadcast seed by hand. Jesus describes seed that falls on the path that has been packed hard by many feet as those who do not receive the message of the gospel because their hearts are hard and Satan takes that seed away. Other seed find the soil, but are choked out by weeds, meaning the message of Christ is lost amid the cares and materialism of this world.
The seed that falls on the rocky soil are those who receive the message, but like my flower seeds cannot put down good roots. These are people who give up on their faith and the church at the first sign of any discomfort or struggle. They do not sink their roots in the rich soil of God’s Word, they don’t establish the habit of prayer and are often too distracted by the world to regularly attend church. They do not have strong roots. The seed that is planted into the good, healthy soil is the one who receives the gospel with an open and humble heart, who believes the message of Christ and sinks his roots down deeply into God’s Word, who seeks Him every day in prayer and who spreads his roots outward in fellowship with other believers.
Trees are a perfect example. I live in Florida, a state very prone to tropical weather systems. Walking the neighborhood after a hurricane is a real-life illustration of the importance of one’s roots. Trees with deep roots, such as oaks and nut trees are usually able to withstand the storm’s high winds, but shallow rooted trees such as maples, poplars, cottonwoods and willows will frequently be toppled by the strong winds, thrown aside with their shallow roots exposed. Trees with shallow roots draw from surface moisture, but trees that seek out water deep underground have deep, strong roots that anchor them firmly into the ground.
In case you haven’t noticed, storms happen in life. You and I will face strong, howling winds and pounding rain in the form of health problems, financial struggles, job loss, difficult relationships, depression, and on and on. If I have a shallow relationship with God, if I am being nurtured by the world, I will not be able to endure these storms. But if you have invested time in Bible study, prayer and fellowship, searching for the deeper things of God, your roots have grown deep and strong, and though you may sway and bend in the wind, when the storm passes- and the storm always passes – you will still be standing.
When God called me to write this devotional blog, He gave me the title: “Deeper Roots,” and that is the heart is my ministry, to help others develop roots that are secured deep in the rich soil of God’s Word and nourished by His truth and His character. What threatens your life? What storm rages around you? Are you anchored deep in the Word? Are you securely rooted in prayer? Are you being nurtured in the Christian fellowship of the church? Will your roots hold? If you are grounded firmly in God, in His Word and in His love, you are standing strong.
Holy Father, this life sends storms that threaten to knock us down. Help us, Lord, to put our trust in You and let out roots grow strong in Your Word and Your love. Give us deeper roots God. Amen.