Are You Paying Attention?

This morning I very quickly typed in my laptop’s password – maybe a little too quickly because it was wrong. I tried again and still messed it up. I tried a third time, slowly, paying careful attention to the keys I was hitting. And I got it right that time. God has been impressing those two words on my heart a lot in the past several years. “Pay attention.” In so many areas of my life, I need to pay attention. In my job, at home, in my relationships, in my schoolwork, and in my ministry. And with my granddaughter. It’s not enough to sit in the same room with her and watch TV or scroll through my phone while she plays. No – she wants Nana’s full attention. And I give it to her gladly because building a block castle, rolling the ball across the floor, or helping her wrap up her baby doll is better than anything on TV or my phone.

My password debacle made me think of the discipline several of us are doing, writing out small portions of Scripture every day to eventually write through the entire Bible. We’ve all noted how much we’re discovering because writing forces us to pay attention to every word. For instance, as we’re writing through Job we’re seeing little glimpses – and a few bold declarations – about Jesus that we never noticed before. On the surface, Job is a depressing book and we tend to want to get through it as quickly as possible. But it looks so different at a slower pace.

Now I had a different direction in mind for this devotional and the Spirit just completely re-routed it. So here goes. He pointed out just now John’s proclamation that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1) We know that “the Word” was Jesus (v. 14). By paying attention to every word of the Word, I am paying attention to Jesus. I can’t think of anything better to give my attention to. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you have to take pen to paper and write out every word in the Bible, (but if you want to, I’ll post a link to our group in the comments) – but I am saying that taking the Bible – taking the Word – at a slower pace allows you to see things you’ve never seen before.

Beloved, what are you missing? What do you want to see? How might it change your life if you paid attention to the Word – and the Word made flesh?

The More You Know . . .

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

Just to see him smile make my life worthwhile

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

And I do.

Written by Phil Spector and first recorded by “The Teddy Bears,” this song hit the number one spot in 1958. Through the years it was covered by many other artists and I bet as you read those lyrics, you were singing the melody. I know I did as I typed them. One of my daily prayers for my granddaughter is that she will grow in the knowledge of God and love for God every day of her life.  Because the more she knows God, the more she will love Him. How can she not?

When she knows that God is holy, when she knows that He is righteous, when she knows that He is high and lifted up and that He not only sees her but cares about her (Gen 16:13)  . . . when she knows that He is mighty, when she knows that He uses His power on her behalf (Eph 3:20) . . . when she knows that God is faithful and will “never leave [her] nor forsake [her] (Jos 1:5), when she grasps “how wide and long and high and deep” is His love for her (Eph 3:18) and understands that “nothing can separate [her] from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39) . . . when she knows that He loves her so much that “He sent His one and only Son” to die to save her (John 3:16) . . .

How can you not? Perhaps it never occurred to you that you can know God, but over and over His Word invites us to do just that. Paul prayed that believers will “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19). I have discovered that the more I come to know Him, the more I love Him and the more I love Him the more I want to know Him. Beloved, can there be any better pursuit for your life than to seek to know God? “My heart says of You, “Seek His face!” Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8).

Hebrews – Back to Elementary School

My Elementary School class photo

I hate math. I always have and I always will. I know it’s important to a functional society, but it has always been a huge struggle for me. I have a word-brain, not a numbers-brain – and whose bright idea was it to put letters in numerical equations?  I cried my way through math homework, from first grade through college. My math pre-test was so poor I had to take two “remedial” math courses before I got to the one that actually counted toward my grade. I had to go back to the basics – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – before I could move on to College Algebra.

When the author of Hebrews wrote about the lack of spiritual development among his readers, he said, “Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (6:1). Just as I had to relearn elementary math, they had to relearn some basic stuff about the Christian faith. So what were these elementary, foundational teachings? “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:1-2). I dare say that believers in the modern era don’t even grasp these “elementary” concepts of the faith. For contemporary Western Christians, the basics are things like, “Jesus loves me,” having devotional time a few days a week, learning about disconnected Bible stories, and showing up at church at least two Sundays of the month (at least we’re not Chreasters, right?). We only want to know about how God desires to bless us and how just much we can flirt with sin and still take the Lord’s Supper. If verses 1-2 are describing “elementary truths,” then our churches are filled with toddlers today.  If those subjects are spiritual “milk” then it’s no wonder the 21st Century church is dangerously malnourished.

The writer has said, “Let us leave the elementary teachings . . . and go on to maturity. And God permitting, we will do so.” (v. 1,3). Oh, Beloved, God permits. It is His desire for us to be mature and complete – which the Greek renders as “perfect” – in our faith. But before we can get there, we have to start here, in elementary school. Over the next few devotionals, we will fill our cups with milk and try to grow up in Christ.

This is Huge!

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Sometimes I can read a verse a hundred times and on pass 101 something clicks and blows my mind. Last night was #101 for Hebrews 5:14. The writer had been admonishing his readers for refusing to grow up in their faith and take in the rich, nourishing “meat” of biblical truth. They were satisfied to know just enough to ensure their salvation. “What’s wrong with that?” you may ask. “Isn’t that what Christianity is all about?” The core of Christianity is the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But for the spiritual babies among us, and for this “mature” teacher, there is something huge that we’ve been missing.

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Pay attention to “by constant use have trained themselves.” Remember that the writer had declared that they were lazy and undisciplined in their spiritual growth. He was urging them to consistently and vigorously “exercise” in the Word of God. For what purpose?” And this is where I have holy goosebumps. “to distinguish good from evil. “Yeah, yeah, that’s good.” But wait, there’s more – and the only reason this caught my attention is because I wrote a school paper recently that made this very point.

Go back to the Garden of Eden, and Genesis 3 where Eve is having a foolish conversation with a serpent who said, “God knows that when you eat [the fruit of the tree of the knowledge good and evil] your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). And it happened just as he said; they ate and they suddenly knew things they’d never known – evil things. But it was knowledge they could not bear for they did not have God’s divine capacity, in knowing good and evil, to distinguish good from evil. There’s a difference. That’s why I am so excited about this verse. Hebrews 5:14 says that by consistent, disciplined training in God’s Word we can distinguish one from the other.

 “Good and evil” is used only five times in the Bible – four of which appear in the Fall narrative. “Good from evil” only appears once in the entire Bible – right here in our key passage. Do you see it? This evil knowledge that was unleashed on the human race by Adam and Eve’s sin can only be brought under control by consuming and applying the Scriptures diligently and purposefully.

In my spirit, I am standing on a table shouting: “YOU CAN OVERCOME EVIL THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD!” You can and you must or you will forever struggle with the sinful nature you inherited from the first sinners. This is huge! This is life-changing. I implore you, take this to heart. Pick up your Bible Beloved, and be set free.

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.