Hebrews: Grab Your Sword!

In the 1986 movie “Crocodile Dundee” Mick Dundee, an Australian crocodile hunter is out with his lady friend when they are approached by a young thug. His friend says, “He’s got a knife!” To which Dundee replies, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife,” and pulls out a Bowie knife with an eleven-inch blade. Needless to say, the thug couldn’t get away fast enough.

Ever notice that the Word of God calls itself the “sword of the Spirit”? There’s a good reason for that moniker – it is the only offensive weapon in our Christian arsenal (Ephesians 6:17).  And it is enough because satan runs from the holy power of God’s Word.  Hebrews 4:12 says “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.” John’s vision of Jesus said “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16). Even in the heavens, Jesus still uses the Sword of the Spirit to deliver justice.

So where do we get this sword, and how do we learn to use it? Psalm 119:11 gives us the answer – “I have hidden your Word in my heart,”   Simply put, we memorize Scripture. Every verse, every passage, every promise, and every truth adds to the weight and length and strength of your Sword. And the more you study the Word and meditate on it, the more adept you will be at using it. Is there a particular area of weakness or stronghold where Satan usually attacks? Look for Scripture that addresses that area. Read the verses aloud, write them on notecards and place them in areas like the kitchen, your desk, your bathroom mirror, or bedside table. Get a journal and write the verses out, look up the words, consider how this verse applies to your life – these are all excellent “drills” to help you grow in knowledge and strength in the Word of the Lord.

Consider this, when Satan launches an attack against you, and all you know is John 3:16, (which is an awesome verse to know), you are trying to defeat the enemy with a pocketknife. But if you have been reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing Scripture, when you reach into your heart where that Word has been stored and grab hold of those verses, you are going to pull out a SWORD that will send satan scrambling. Beloved, that’s how you do battle with the enemy of your soul!

(We’re not done with the Sword. We’ll dig into it more in the next devotional.)

Do You Want to Know God?

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*Steel-toe boot warning*

I have the utmost respect for school teachers. I wanted to be a teacher years ago, but I don’t believe I could do it today – not in the current educational climate. Besides disrespectful students, a lack of support from parents, and shamefully low pay, teachers are being forced to teach political rhetoric that is not helpful for a child’s intellectual growth and success. Schools are turning out students who don’t know what they need to survive and thrive in the real world.

Hosea prophesied the word of the Lord to the northern kingdom of Israel prior to and during their fall to the Assyrians. They had always been ruled by wicked kings and it showed. The Lord charged them with faithlessness, lovelessness, disregard for God, cursing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery, and bloodshed. He said they “stumble day and night” (4:5).  The reason for their sin and instability? “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6). What is it they didn’t know? God. The Creator of the Universe. The one who called out their forefather Abraham, who declared that they were His people and He would be their God. The one who led them out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land. It’s not that He didn’t provide evidence of Himself. They didn’t know Him because they didn’t want to know Him.

The Lord said they had “rejected knowledge” and “ignored the law of your God.” (v.6). It was a conscious and deliberate decision on their part. A friend joking accused me of ignoring her when she pulled beside me in traffic one day. But I wasn’t ignoring her because I didn’t see her. We only reject and ignore what we are aware exists.  

If we don’t know God it’s nobody’s fault but our own. We are responsible for our lack of knowledge. Paul said “men are without excuse” when they ignore and reject God. He has made Himself known in His creation (Romans 1:19-20), in His Word (2 Peter 1:20-21), and in His Son (John 17:6). So my steel-toe question is – How much effort are you making to know God? Are you rejecting and ignoring all the means by which He has revealed Himself?  Let me put it another way – How important is knowing God to you?  Beloved, don’t get tripped up by a lack of knowledge.

Jesus

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This semester I’m studying the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I’m planning to do an in-depth study of John over the summer to round them out. I love the Gospels because I love learning about Jesus Every time I read even one of them, I am amazed at all Jesus did. That’s as it should be. Jesus was (is) amazing. As a man, He did the impossible. As God, He did the unimaginable.  He performed miracles and turned the order of things upside-down and inside-out. He left His throne in heaven and gave His life to save His creation – you and me and every human being ever born. All of this is reported by the four evangelists of the first century. It is enough to convince me He is God.  But John’s very last verse always grabs me. “Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Wow! Just imagine if we had a written record of everything He did! It would take a lot of coffee to read through them all.

In the past 2000+ years, man has had a variety of reactions to Jesus. Some have denied He is the Son of God and say that the reports of His miracles and resurrection were all fabrications. Some disregard Him altogether and claim He has no impact on their lives. Some have never heard His name at all. Some have laid claim to His name for their own glory and power and wealth. Some made it their mission to figure Him out – as if they could. And some have just fallen at His feet in worship, grateful for His mercy and grace and overwhelmed by His love. I am one of those. I have devoted my life to studying the Scriptures to know Him better. The more I know Him the more I love Him. And John says that I’ve barely scratched the surface.  I suppose if I knew it all, my heart would burst with affection and adoration.

Jesus is everything He claimed to be. Miracle worker. Teacher. Son of God. Savior of the World. The First and the Last. And He is so much more. Oh, Beloved, I pray you know Him and love Him. He is everything to me.

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.

Grown-Up Faith

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“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15

I grew up in a Christian home, my mom took us to Sunday School, church, Sunbeams, Vacation Bible School, and so on.  I don’t recall a time when I didn’t know about the God who created the whole world and I always knew that Jesus loved me.  I asked Him into my heart when I was nine years old and was baptized.  For many years I did Christianity my own way until my way proved unstable and God drew me back to the church. But rather than learning Bible stories, this time I began to learn Bible truth, and I started to see things in Scripture I had never seen before. I realized that what I had was “faith” built on sweet Bible legends, but it was not saving faith for eternal life.

Biblical scholar Dr. Irwin Lutzer says that true faith is three-fold. “First it involves knowledge, the fact of Jesus’ death for sinners.  Second, it means we assent to the truths of salvation; finally, it involves trust, the transferring of all of our confidence to Christ alone.”[1]  We recognize our own need for a Savior, confess that Jesus’ death secured our salvation, and believe that through God’s grace we are forever redeemed and set free. Many of us who grew up going to church get to the first stage and most also reach the second. But few will go beyond knowledge and assent to trust.

Faith – saving faith – is more than knowing Bible stories. It is knowing the God behind the stories and surrendering your whole being to Him through trust in Jesus Christ. It is radical and extraordinary and if it doesn’t transform your life, it’s probably not saving faith.

I’m so grateful that the Lord opened my eyes to the truth nearly forty years ago. I decided to fully trust in Him and I’ve never looked back. He’s proven faithful and true every single day. Beloved is your faith in those sweet childhood stories about God or is it in God Himself? Is it time for your faith to grow up?

[1] Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1998), 99.

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.

Do you Know God, or Just Know About Him?

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Did you know that you can believe in God without believing Him? You can acknowledge His authority and sovereignty and still not submit to Him. You can know God and not know Him at all. James said “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (Jas 2:19). The demons, who are fallen angels (Matt. 25:41, Rev. 12:9), know very well who God is.  They knew who Jesus was (Matt 8:28-30 They do not lack knowledge. They lack love.

Knowing God is not the same as knowing about God. One is knowing God with your head.  The other is knowing God with your heart. Knowing God by heart is rooted in love and is visible to others. Paul said “If I have can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2 – emphasis added).

I graduated from seminary with a 3.95 GPA (one lousy B!). I am currently in graduate school at the Bible college where I work and hold a 4.0 GPA. But I was recently told, that for all my A’s in seminary, I am not a godly example for those closest to me. I hope that is not true. That means that all I’ve learned is only “head-deep” and has never made it to my heart. Jeremiah said, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom . . . but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me . . .” (Jer. 9:23-24). The words used here are insightful. Understanding God is gained by “proper learning and observation.” Knowing God comes through intimacy.  In other words, the more we know God – not just know about God – the more we will love God. The more we love God, the more we will love others.

I never want to be puffed up with knowledge. My heart’s desire is to build up others with love (1 Cor. 8:1). I don’t always get that right. But I’m trying. Beloved, do you know God? With your head or your heart? If you don’t know Him with your heart, how will you ever love Him? How will you ever love anyone?

The Fear of the Lord

“Be sure to fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.”  1 Samuel 12:24

 What are you afraid of?  What fills you with fear, makes your heart pound and sets your nerves on edge?  Spiders, snakes, lion and tigers and bears? Oh my!  Or a lonely life, financial hardships, sickness, or a wayward child?  In our day and time we are fed a steady diet of fear by the media.  Children are learning to be afraid of things I never even thought about when I was young. This world can be a very frightening place – so maybe I’ll just stay inside my house.

No one likes the feeling of fear, yet multiple times in the Old Testament we hear God saying to His people, “Fear the Lord your God!”  Isn’t He known as the God of love and peace and joy?  Yes, without question – God is full of love, peace, joy and so many other wonderful attributes, but the command to “fear the Lord” is not a contradiction.  Let’s look a little closer at “fear” in the Holy Scriptures.

When God says that we are to “fear the Lord” it means that we are to regard Him with the reverence and awe that is due Him.  He is worthy of every person’s respect and submission – He is God – high and exalted, seated on His righteous throne with the earth as His footstool.  Psalm 95: 6 tells us “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for He is our God.”  We owe Him reverence and worship because He has created us and He has redeemed us.   When we give Him the honor that he deserves, we will find that there are many benefits and blessings for us.

Psalm 25:14 offers one of the benefits I love the most: “The Lord confides in those who fear Him.”  The fear of the Lord opens the way for an intimate friendship, the kind that allows for confidential conversations.  Note that this verse says that The Lord is the one who confides; He takes us into His confidence and shares wonderful truths with those who fear Him.  God says in Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” This means that He will reveal to us things we would never think to ask Him about.  I don’t know about you, but I want to be God’s intimate friend and know what’s on His mind.  Imagine that.

We also find that “those who fear Him lack nothing.” (Psalm 34:9)  The Scripture is very clear in Psalm 111:5: “He provides food for those who fear Him.” Do you have a need? Come before God with humility and reverence and seek His provision.  Out of His great abundance, He has promised to meet the needs of those who fear Him.  And He has promised to meet more than just our physical needs; “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3) He will give us everything we need the godly life He has called us to.  As a matter of fact, God goes even a step further. Psalm 145:19 says “He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him.”  He will meet the needs, and fulfill the desires of those who fear and reverence Him.

In Proverbs we learn that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom [and] knowledge.” (Proverbs 9:10, 1:7) Would you like to lead a wise life?  Do you desire knowledge?  These come as a result of reverence before God.

Fear of the lord is life-giving and life-enriching. Proverbs 19:23 tells us “The fear of the Lord leads to life;” Proverbs 14:27 says: “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life;” and Proverbs 10:27 promises that “The fear of the Lord adds length to life.”  When we life in the fear of the Lord who is Life, we are blessed with life.

One of the most important benefits of living in the fear of the Lord is found in Exodus 20:20, “The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  One aspect of “fearing the Lord” that we fail to talk about today is fear of the Lord because He is holy, and His holiness is an awesome thing.  You may be thinking of “awesome” as something dramatic and wondrous, but by definition it means to be afraid, be frightened, and be filled with dread.  If we really understood the awesome holiness of God, we would be frightened as well as awed.  Consider John’s account of Jesus’ arrest.  “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am He,’ Jesus said.  When Jesus said ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:4-6-emphasis added) The terminology used here tells us that Jesus’ arresters fell to the ground as if to die; for the weight of Jesus’ deity and holiness was thrown against them in those three words: I am He.” The fear of the Lord will keep us from sinning, because we cannot bear the wrath of a God who is both holy and awesome that will fall on the unrepentant sinner.

What can we do, we who are steeped in sin? Are we doomed forever? Is there hope for us who live under the fear of the Lord?  We look to the cross of Jesus, and here we find love, awesome love, divine love, perfect love.  1 John offers us this hope: “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives our fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”(1 John 4:16-18-emphasis added) Jesus Christ took the full wrath of this God who is both holy and awesome, and gave us love instead – perfect love.  This is why we no longer fear the awesomeness of God, but we regard this awesome One with reverence and awe.  For He has cast our sin from us and bathed us in His blessed and pure, perfect love.

Holy, Awesome Lord God, in love You came and in love You gave, and by Your love I am saved. What more can I say but “thank You.”  Amen.