Hebrews: Home

My husband, son, and I lived in Florida for almost twenty years. We had jobs, bought a house, became involved in a church, made very dear friends, and my son’s entire school life was in Florida. But – no offense to Floridians in the least – we never felt like we were home. I’m an Alabama girl. Red clay runs through my veins and cotton is my favorite flower. Home is where your heart is, and my heart is in Alabama. To quote that great bespectacled poet, John Denver, “Hey, it’s good to be back home again.”

The writer of Hebrews would understand. He said, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14). We’re looking for a home that will last. We won’t find it here in this world. Not even in Alabama. But that’s by God’s design because we weren’t made for this world. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). “Gentleman” Jim Reeves sang, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” We are pilgrims here on our way to our heavenly home.

Jesus is at work today, preparing a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  He made this promise in John 14:2-3: “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  Jesus is fixing up your room in His Father’s house.  With just the right colors and furnishings, everything will be perfect for you when you arrive.  I hope he hangs His portrait on the wall.  But then again, we won’t need pictures, we will see Him face to face, in all of His glory.  Imagine, all of the great men and women of the Bible, the martyrs, missionaries, servants, those who preached to great audiences of people, and those who lovingly wiped feverish brows in the name of Jesus all together in the great halls of God’s house.  And oh, what wonderful reunions with those who made it home before us!  My mom, dad, and big brother will be there, and dear and precious friends that I miss so much.  We will all share in the joy of God’s house, for Jesus has been working all this time to make everything ready.  No wonder He “apprenticed” as a carpenter for thirty years here on earth. Is this your forever home? Do you know the Carpenter from Nazareth? What do you imagine your place will look like in heaven? Beloved, keep moving toward heaven. When you get Home you can take your boots off and rest. Forever.

The Display of His Splendor

I couldn’t understand why I was in such a difficult trial. I had committed no grave sin that warranted discipline. I was being obedient to what the Lord had called me to do. And unlike so many other seasons of suffering, I hadn’t caused this one. “What is up with this God? What am I missing?” Then, as He loves to do, the Spirit took me to the Word for a word.

I was in the gospel of John. Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples, like me, looked for someone to blame. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2). Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). Then the Lord healed the man. His eyes were opened and he could see.

When you read on in this account, the man’s healing drew a lot of attention. Many questioned the validity of the healing and the religious leaders pressed him for answers. They foolishly claimed that the healer was a sinner. The man proclaimed, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see” (v. 25).

And that’s the point. People were talking about this miracle and about Jesus. The work of God was displayed in his life. From this account, I realized that I was not being punished or disciplined. I was being set up to display the glory of Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior. And isn’t that the point of our lives – to be “A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (Is 61:3)? When I was younger my Mom always warned me about my behavior because “We don’t want people to talk.” Well, I’m sorry Mom, but you’re wrong about this one. We want people to talk. We want them to ask questions. We want His name repeated all over town because of what He has done in our lives. “Did you see what God did? She had the worst reputation in town and now she shares Jesus with other women on the streets.” Or “He was so sick, no one thought he would survive that, but look at him now – so healthy and strong and praising God.” Or my own testimony: “She was such a negative, bitter, unhappy person and now she overflows with Joy!” I don’t know your story or your particular struggles but I know the Author of it, and I know that He is writing His name all over your life. You, Beloved, are the story of God.

Hebrews: Outside the Camp

“We’re New Testament Christians, why are we studying the Old Testament? This stuff doesn’t apply to us anymore.” “One reason,” I answered “is because the New Testament writers used it quite a bit in their books and letters.  If we want to understand what they were saying, we need to understand their references.” That’s what we’re going to do in today’s passage.

“The high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp” (Heb 13:11). It was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. The day when the sins of the nation were atoned for. It was a day for fasting and prayer and confession. It was the day that the slate was wiped clean and the people were declared righteous – at least until they sinned again.  The high priest took the blood of the slaughtered animal into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple as a sin offering and sprinkled it on the mercy seat of the Lord. The carcass of the animal would be carried outside of the camp/city to be burned because it represented the sin of the people. Sin must not be allowed to remain among God’s holy nation.

The writer makes the new covenant connection in verse 12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Jesus was the sacrificial animal. Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Lord. And Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city of Jerusalem because He bore the sin of all humanity. And by His blood, those who believe and receive His atonement are made holy.

An interesting aside here is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified at Golgotha because of His radical message. But by putting Him outside of the city proper they were unknowingly confirming that He was indeed the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Because his original audience was believing Jews, the writer urged them to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore,” symbolically rejecting the old ways of Judaism (v. 13).

As believers in Christ, you and I will often have to “go outside the camp” of popular opinion and cultural relevance, even within the church, to live in holiness. But we’re in good company. We’re out there with Jesus. Remember what He said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Oh, and there’s one more reason why we need to study the Old Testament, even as New Testament Christians – because Jesus is all over it and all in it. It’s worth digging into the early texts to know Him better. All of history, including the entire Bible, is His story. It’s the greatest story ever told.

Stop Looking Back

I have a lot in common with Moses, the hero of God’s people. No, I’ve never parted a sea or made water come from a rock. I’ve never led a nation out of slavery nor floated down the river in a basket as a baby. What I have done that Moses also did was argue with God.

After Moses fled Egypt as a wanted man, he settled down and started working for his father-in-law as a shepherd. Then he saw a burning bush and heard God say, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10). And he argues with God. Moses starts giving all the reasons why he can’t do what God has called him to do. “They won’t listen to me. They won’t believe me. I’m not an eloquent speaker. I stutter.” Finally, Moses says, “O, Lord, please send someone else to do it!” (Ex 4:1-13).

My version of Moses is: “I’m not good enough. “I’m not smart enough. And then the sure kicker: “I have an ugly, sinful past, God, I’ve done so many shameful things.” Then I pull out my carefully cataloged and categorized list of all my failures so that He can see why I am the absolute wrong person for the job. I was recently struck by what Bob Goff, lawyer, speaker, and New York Times best-selling author said, “We spend a lot of time memorizing failures that God spent a lot of love saying we could forget.”

He’s right. John said that the Father lavishes great love on us and calls us His children (1 John 3:1). Even before we called Him our Father. Paul said, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God loved you while you were doing the very things that sent His Son to the cross. When you accepted Christ, all your sins went under the blood of Jesus and left nothing but the Father’s love.

You are no longer a sinner in the eyes of God. You have been cleansed and reborn and filled with His Spirit so that you are enabled and empowered to do that thing for which He created you. Oh, Beloved, don’t look back when God calls you to move forward. He knows who you were – and who you are now. You are His child.

Seeking Jesus

“Why are you here?” I asked my class asked one Sunday morning. After a minute someone said, “Because it’s Sunday morning and I’ve gone to church every Sunday for my whole life.” Another answered, “I am here for the fellowship of my church family.” Others chimed in: “I’m here because the Bible said ‘Forsake not the assembling of your selves together.’” “I am here to be fed in my spirit.”

I recalled this conversation while reading John 6. Jesus confronted the crowd that followed Him after He had fed more than five thousand people the day before (John 6:1-13). When they came looking for Him Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (v. 26).

Now verse 2 said that the people “saw” the miraculous signs He had performed.” So what did Jesus mean? Here’s where the Spirit stirred up the word nerd in me and said, “Saw?” The word used in verse 2 is to see as a spectator, to view with the eyes. But the word that John used in verse 26 means to discern clearly, to behold – to experience. It’s like the difference between watching a football game from the stands and playing it on the field. You can be a fan, but until you put the pads on and take the hits and cross the goalline with the ball in your hand you haven’t experienced the game. The crowd has seen with their eyes the miracles of Jesus – healing the sick and feeding the multitudes – but they did not understand what the signs were pointing to because they did not see them with their hearts. They were fans, but they hadn’t experienced Jesus.

The Lord said they were back because He fed their bellies and they expected more of the same, but if they had looked with faith – if they had experienced Him – they would know Him. They would follow Him because He is the very Son of God and the only means to eternal life.

You and I need to seek Christ for who He is, not just for what he can do for us – to know Him for the Joy of His presence, and not only for His presents. I can find nowhere in Scripture that God says, “I want You to know all I can do for you.” But I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…” In knowing God, we discover what He can do, but if we are only seeking Him for what we can gain we have missed the whole point of the relationship.

Beloved, why are you seeking Jesus?

Jesus in Your Shoes

All across this nation, the anti-Christian machine is working to shut out every mention of God and deny the rights of Christians to express our beliefs. Nativity scenes are banned from the public square, or equal space must be given to anti-Christian displays. The Ten Commandments are being removed from government facilities, and students in school are forbidden to give reference to their faith. Lawmakers are pushing to ban all teaching of “religious doctrine.” God is unwelcome and unwanted in this country.

But don’t miss what John said, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Brothers and sisters, don’t forget that the Spirit of Christ dwells in you. Everywhere you go you take Jesus with you. So as believers, we take Jesus into the marketplace and the government sector. Students take Jesus into their school. Employees bring Jesus to work.

The Lord declared that His followers are ”the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13, 14). Salt is our witness in the world. Light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Salt is essential for life in general. It is one of the oldest and most universal food seasonings and methods of food preservation. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes and it makes us thirsty. Here in the deep south, boiled peanuts are a favorite snack, but you’d better have a drink nearby because properly prepared boiled peanuts are very salty.  A salty Christian seasons the world with love, Joy, kindness, grace, compassion, and the good news of the gospel. They preserve the character of Christ in a tasteless culture and a properly prepared Christ-follower makes others thirsty for the Living Water.

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.  

Sure, they can ban public displays of Christianity, but by your presence as a Christian, Beloved, Jesus still walks through this nation – in your shoes.

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 Can Love

Joy and her friends at church. Photo by Wanda Williams

My granddaughter preached a sermon the other night. As I was taking her to her mommy to settle in for the night we were rehearsing all the people that she loves. She loves Mommy and Daddy. She loves Nana and Poppy. She loves Mimi and Papa. She loves Aunt Linda and Uncle Wayne and Aunt Rhonda and Uncle Mike and Aunt Alta. She loves Granny. And she turned to me and said, “And I can love Uncle R (name redacted). Her mommy and I looked at each other with a “Wow!” Uncle R is not a nice person. He has been mean to the rest of his family. He has a history of violence and cruelty. And the last time he was around Joy, he took delight in sneaking up behind her and scaring her. He is not allowed around her anymore. But she said, “I can love him.” Out of the mouths of babes . . .”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44).  I want to ask Him, “Love him? Why? I mean, who gets their kicks from scaring a little girl?” And Jesus’ words continue: “that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father in Heaven (v. 45). And there it is. God said that His children are called to live in a radically different way. They love – even their enemy.

“Love your enemy” sounds good on paper, but it’s not always easy to do. That’s by divine design. Love –genuine love – has to come from God. John said, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7), and “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (v.16). We can only love those who mistreat us because God loved us first, and His love fills us up and spills out onto the one we cannot love on our own. I know that Joy’s parents have the good sense to keep a distance between her and Uncle for her safety. But what if – someday –she’s the one who will love him to Jesus? Isaiah prophesied, “a little child will lead them” (Is 11:6). I don’t think Uncle R stands a chance against a little girl who is determined to love him.

When I Stand Before Jesus

I wrote this several years ago, and as I was reading this passage this morning, the Holy Spirit revealed something new to me (which is why we read the Scriptures over and over and over – there’s always something new to learn.)

I have always been drawn to the story of the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11), mostly because I can see myself in two of the main characters.  So many times I am part of the judgmental crowd.  Like the religious leaders, I catch someone and call them out, accusing them and looking on with scorn.  Oh, I’m never obvious about it mind you – it’s all done in my head – but I might as well have drug them before the church because I’ve declared them guilty.  Yet, I have also been the woman, the sinner caught in the act standing before Jesus shamed and ashamed.  I know I am guilty as I stand clutching my sheet of self-reproach, trying to cover my nakedness and my sin.

Here is where something new came to me. I initially said that Jesus sees me in both roles and reminds me of my own sinfulness as He calls me to drop my rock of condemnation. But I realized that I was wrong.  Because I am washed in His blood, my sin has been removed – “As far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12) never to be remembered again. He will never throw my sin back in my face. He may gently chastise me for my judgmental attitude, but He does not remind me of my past transgressions because He has forgotten them. That’s huge to me, because I have an enemy who loves to taunt me with my past – and I have a past that gives him lots of ammunition. But Jesus steps in with His scars and declares me forgiven and free.

After He turned her accusers away, Jesus told the woman He did not condemn her. He didn’t even condemn her accusers. He condemns no one.  Paul said that He is the only one who rightly could, but He doesn’t (Rom 8:34). Instead, He sacrificed Himself to take away the condemnation our sin has heaped on us. Yes, sometimes you and I are both the accused and the accuser, but oh, to be like the One who pours out grace and mercy to all who believe. Lord, help me to be more like you and less like me.

God Sees You

A high school or university has thousands of students roaming the halls, sitting in classes, and congregating on the lawn. Each student is but one of the many wanting to see and be seen, hoping that they stand out from the rest.  Perhaps you go to church Sunday after Sunday and sit in your usual spot, one person in a large congregation, hoping for a word of encouragement.  If you search the internet for “Christian Blogs” or “Christian Devotionals,” you will find that there are millions of bloggers out there vying for readers.  I am one tiny voice in the chorus of Christian writers. It’s easy to feel like we are just one face in a massive crowd.

In the city of Jerusalem, there was a pool, called Bethesda where “a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed” (John 5:3).  They were there in hopes of healing. The rumor held that an angel would come and stir the waters and the first person to get into the pool would be healed.  Historians tell us that when they weren’t watching the waters they were begging for alms.  An invalid of thirty-eight years was part of that great number.  He was there alone, helpless, and hopeless – just one pleading face among so many (v. 7).  But Jesus saw this man out of all the other faces and He healed him (vs. 6, 8-9).  We don’t know why He singled this man out, but I believe John included this account to show that Jesus sees each one of us individually.  We are not just part of the vast sea of humanity. 

The Bible tells us that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17), and it is true that the death of Jesus is sufficient to save all of humankind. (Although we know that not all will believe and receive His salvation.)  But He is a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3).  If you are in Christ, He knows you – personally, intimately, and completely.  Beloved, you need never worry that you are just a nameless face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.