Hebrews: This May Make You Mad

According to Scripture, my job as a Bible teacher is to make you mad. My brothers will tell you I’ve been practicing for this my whole life. The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). The word “spur” means “to incite, irritate, or provoke” and it comes from a root word that suggests a sharp disagreement. “But wait a minute,” you say, “I thought we were supposed to always get along and be at peace with one another.”  We are. But sometimes peace requires confrontation. The church suffers greatly because we are not willing to confront uncomfortable issues. Like what a Christian should look like. The writer pointed to two specific things: Love and good deeds. 

Jesus said that love would be the distinguishing mark of His followers (John 13:35) and you may recall that the only directive Jesus gave was when He commanded us to love one another (John 15:17). John went a step further (on someone’s toes) and said if you don’t love believers in Christ, that’s a good indication that you are not in Christ (1 John 2:9-11). Love is non-negotiable for the Christian.

We are also called to do good deeds. Paul said that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Who’s right here? Both. Salvation comes by faith in the grace of God and is evidenced by good works. No, you don’t have to go to Calcutta and join Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity to prove that you are a Christian. Simple acts of love, kindness, gentleness, and compassion are good fruit in the believer’s life. Hate, harshness, rudeness, and indifference are evidence that one is not a Christ-follower. If there’s no good fruit there is no root in Christ.

Love and good deeds are the identifying marks of the Christian. If neither is present, then Christ is not present. If that makes you mad then take it up with God – He’s the one who said it first, not me. Also you might need to re-examine your relationship with Him.

The writer of wisdom said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). Sharpening iron involves rubbing it with an abrasive stone to grind the edge. Sometimes we need kind words and other times we need a gritty whetstone. I’m called to give you both. I love you too much to not tell you the whole truth, even if it makes you mad.

Make Every Minute Count

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Facebook is a ministry tool for me, but it is also a huge time-waster. Every day I promise myself I will post my devotional and the Scripture for the day and get off. I swear I won’t jump back in every time I see a notification. But I have yet to pull that off. It’s too easy to get caught up in the pictures of your kiddos and your funny memes and the next thing you know I’ve blown thirty minutes I’ll never get back. That’s why I’ve adapted Moses’ words in Psalm 90:12 and posted them on my wall above my desk: “Teach [me] to number [my minutes], that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”

In his original statement, Moses was asking the Lord to show him how to weigh the time He had been allotted in this life, to recognize its value, and invest it wisely and carefully. I doubt he would have spent much time on social media or surfing the web, playing video games, or watching television.  Moses regarded time as a means to wisdom. And I don’t know about you, but I sure need some wisdom. Interestingly, some translations say “that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” Now that should make us sit up and pay attention. We will present to God the fruit of our time. Will I honor His gift of time by presenting to Him wise decisions, obedience and faithful service, and a deeper understanding of His Word? That all depends on how I invest in today.

My minutes are pretty stretched every day between work, graduate school, writing, studying, and teaching, and being a full-on Nana (the very best investment of my time).  Every once in a while I have to mop the floors too. I really don’t have time to waste on mindless drivel. But I still do. God has been impressing me with the thought of eternity. Everything in this life should be weighed in the balance of eternity. Every word, every action, every decision has eternal value. That is where the fruit of all the minutes goes. You and I need to learn to number our days and our minutes and invest them in the things that will last forever. Like people and truth and compassion and the gospel. When we stand before the Lord will we have good fruit or lots of memes to show for the time He’s given us? Beloved, how will you make your minutes count?

Hebrews: Where the Rain Falls

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For the past several weeks we’ve looked deeply at what many scholars consider some of the most challenging verses in the entire Bible: Hebrews 6:4-6. But the author of Hebrews is not letting go of the theme yet, and so, neither will we. In 6:7-8 he makes what is the crucial point to understanding what he has laid out. “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed.  In the end, it will be burned.”

Again, this passage should be laid beside Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds. Just as the sower tosses the seeds out to let them fall where they may, the rain falls over the whole field and all the land soaks it up – good, productive soil and poor, rocky, thorny soil. All receive the rain – that is the gospel of Christ and the grace and mercy of God – but the fruit – bountiful crops or thorns and thistles – is the evidence of the condition of the soil.   Jesus said, “By their fruit, you will recognize them. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matt 7:16, 17-18). People who do not produce good fruit despite receiving God’s blessings demonstrate the poor condition of their hearts. Those who do produce good fruit give clear evidence that they are receiving God’s blessings with a good and sincere heart.

Those who persevere with Christ to the end prove two things: their hearts are good and the Lord is faithful to keep His own (John 10:28-29). Those who abandon Christ also prove two things: their hearts were always wicked and Jesus has no place for them (Matt 25:12). And I remind you that the Lord also said that both would sit together in the same pews until the end when the angels will sort them all out (Matt 13:24-30). While Jesus told us never to judge the condition of another person’s heart, He did strongly advise us to become fruit inspectors.

I suspect the writer of Hebrews included this information so that the true believers would not become discouraged by the falling away of the false believers. He also wanted them to know that he had seen good fruit in them – fruit that would endure and would be productive for the kingdom. “Even though we speak like this, dear friend, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (v.9).

I’ll leave you with one simple question Beloved: What does the fruit of your life say about the condition of your heart?

The God Who Knows You

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My sweet mother-in-law always cooked a birthday dinner for me with all my favorite foods: white peas, creamed corn, sliced tomatoes, and chicken and dumplings. She also made me a coconut cake for my birthday. It was a labor of love. There was just one problem. I didn’t like coconut. What was I to do? Well, I ate it and thanked her, and told her how good it was. So she made it every year. And I ate it every year.

My late brother ordered a gift box of fruit for me every Christmas. Lots of apples, oranges, mangoes, peaches, and grapes. There was just one problem. I am allergic to fruit. But I never told him because he loved doing it and my husband enjoyed the bounty.

While my mother-in-law and brother were family, they didn’t know everything about me. And I didn’t want to spoil their happiness in doing something nice for me just to get what I preferred.  They loved me and that was enough. Besides, after a few years, it’s awkward to say, “Oh, by the way, I don’t like coconut.”

But there is One who knows me well. He knows what I like and what I can’t tolerate. David said, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me” (Psalm 139:1). He knows every move and every thought (yikes!). He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. He is “familiar with all my ways” (v. 3). He even knows when I am feeling confident or am in the dark pit of despair (v. 8). He knows me because He created me and put all those likes and dislikes in me. He fashioned me to be allergic to fruit (but thankfully not chocolate!), to love to write and teach, and to give my heart to a little blond girl with a Joyful smile.

And not only does He know all this about me, He thinks about me with deep affection. David said, “How precious towards me are Your thoughts, O God! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (v. 17, 18). He thinks I am precious! And He thinks the same of you, Beloved. He knows you by name (Isaiah 43:1), and He knows you by heart. He will never forget a single detail about you. Not even what kind of cake you don’t like.

What Is a Christian?

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How do others know you’re a follower of Christ? Is it your “Daughter of the King” T-shirt? Maybe it’s the fish on your car or posting Jesus memes on social media. Perhaps it’s how you rail against sins you would never commit. Do these things say you are a Christian? No more than sitting in a garage says you are a car. There are three things that Jesus identified as marking His followers.

Love – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Twice: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” ((John 15:12). And again: “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Three times Jesus said, “Love one another.” And this is the only time in all four gospels that Jesus called His words a “command.”

Fruit – “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Fruit is the evidence of what something or someone is. A peach tree bears peaches. A banana tree bears bananas. A Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit: love (there it is again), Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Persecution – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). If you belong to Christ, you have a target painted on your back.

The church wants to say it is all about doing and saying the right things. The world says it is approving all kinds of sin for the sake of “love.” But Jesus said the mark of a Christian is love for the Body of Christ, producing fruit, and being hated by the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little uneasy right now. Beloved, what is it about you that tells the world you belong to Jesus?

The Joy of the Lord

Photo: my precious Joy – photo by her mommy, Ashley Andrews

You may have noticed when I write the word Joy, I always capitalize it as a nod to my granddaughter Joy. She has brought so much Joy to my life. No, my Joy is not in her, but God has used her to open my crusty heart to receive the Joy of the Lord.  I’ve never been a bubbly, happy-happy person. My best friend always gave me coffee mugs, kitchen towels, and wall hangings with “JOY” plastered on them. She said she was going to force Joy on me “whether I liked it or not.” Don’t tell her I said this, but I did like it. When they told us what our granddaughter’s name was going to be, I called my bestie and we both laughed. But even as much as we love her, the past two years haven’t always been grins and giggles. There have been some hard days, but my Joy has remained. Not because of my granddaughter, but because my Joy is rooted in the Lord.

She’s not the first baby to inspire Joy. When Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her much-older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John, the older woman declared, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for Joy” (Luke 1:44). How could a baby in the womb recognize the Lord? Because “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 41). That’s the secret to Joy. Joy is not an emotion, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). In the Scriptures, fruit is the outward evidence of what is going on inside. We recognize a peach tree by its soft, golden-pink fruit which is produced in the tree. People will recognize the presence of God’s Spirit in us by the fruit: “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control” (vv. 22-23).  When we “live by the spirit” (v. 16) and are “led by the Spirit” (v. 18) and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25) we will exhibit all the fruit of the Spirit.  

Beloved, are you low on fruit? Maybe you need to nurture your soul with more of the Holy Spirit. How? Feed on the Word. Drink in praise. Prune off the dead branches of sin. And let the Son shine on you. That where you’ll find the Joy of the Lord.

Roots and Fruit

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It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Did God Really Say . . .?

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“Did God really say . . .” (Gen. 3:1)

Why do I have so much trouble driving the speed limit? The speed limit is 70 MPH – so I go 75 or 80. It’s 55 on my way to work, so I set my cruise for 62. Oh, don’t you judge me – you’re doing it too. Some of you are flying past me like we’re on a NASCAR racetrack. What makes us want to try the boundaries?

I recently wrote a paper on Genesis 3:1-7, the account of the fall of humanity. You know the story, perfectly innocent couple in a perfect garden home enjoying wondrous fruits – until a sneaky, lying snake approaches the woman. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman responded, albeit not entirely truthful and he comes back with, “You will not surely die . . .” (Gen. 3:4). There is an interesting play in the serpent’s words in verses 1 and 4. The word “really” (‘ap) is an adverb that essentially asks the question: “Is it even so that God hath said?”[1] Combined with the serpent’s rejection of the consequences of eating the fruit, it appears that in verse 1 the serpent was not asking Eve, “Did God truly speak these words?” but rather, “Do you think God meant what he said?” That’s why I push the speed limit – I don’t think they are serious about it. One can almost see the serpent wave his hand with a “Pshaw – You will not surely die!” The serpent was casting doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s truthfulness. Does He really mean it? Will He do what He claimed He would do?

That is one of the enemy’s favorite tools – causing us to doubt God’s integrity – whether it is questioning God’s willingness to punish sin or His willingness to save us, protect us, provide for us, and deliver us. And it has infiltrated the church. “No, God won’t punish this wicked desire of yours, He is all love, love, love!” Paul said we must become wise about the devil’s schemes. Beloved, In case you ever wondered – you can absolutely, 100 % trust what God says – about punishment and blessings. The devil is a liar.

[1]. “Lexicon :: Strong’s H637 – ‘aph,” Blue Letter Bible, Accessed September 19, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H637&t=NIV