Hebrews: And Now, a Word of Encouragement

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Parenting – and grandparenting – is not for the faint of heart or the weak of conviction. My granddaughter is 2 ½ now and is equal parts sweet and sour. She is struggling to learn how to listen and mind.  We often have to put her in “time out” because she ignores us when we tell her to stop or ask her to pick up her toys. I know it is all part and parcel of her age, but I’m pretty sure there is a familial stubborn streak there that is a mile wide and just as deep.  After a time-out session and after she has complied with my requests, I take her in my lap and thank her for (finally) minding me. I always tell her I love her and that she is still Nana’s sweet girl. I think it’s very important to follow discipline with affection and affirmation.

The writer of Hebrews followed a similar pattern. After a difficult discourse on not falling away from Christ he was careful to tell his readers, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (Heb 6:9). “I know you are struggling, but I love you and know you will prove faithful.” Follow the hard words with encouragement. He added, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (v. 10).  God was well aware of the genuineness of their faith, as evidenced by their faithful work and more so by their love toward Him and fellow believers.

He returned to the theme with which he started as a gentle reminder that endurance in the Christian life requires more than just good thoughts. “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.  We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (vv. 11-12). Ah, there’s that word again – lazy. If you want to endure to the end, you cannot become lazy and apathetic. A lazy Christian is really an oxymoron. Jesus said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). If, as Paul said, we are “being transformed into the likeness of His Son, (Rom 8:29), we will always be at work.  That work involves love, diligence, faith, and patience.  But it’s worth it because God has promised us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). That, Beloved, is worth hanging onto.

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?

Hebrews – Pay Attention!

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It was my constant mantra with my son. “Pay attention to what you’re doing!” He was the proverbial bull in a china shop and plowed his way through life, leaving messes and chaos in his wake. So when the author of Hebrews says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore to what we have heard . . .” (Hebrews 2:1), I can certainly sympathize. So many troubles could be avoided if we would just pay attention to what God has said. Paying attention is a deliberate exercise. One of satan’s favorite ploys is to lull us into a relaxed state of mind. We let our guard down. We become complacent. We tolerate things we would not if we were applying ourselves to God’s Word. We are less and less willing to endure and persevere; instead, we just give in and give up. Paying attention becomes too much effort. God help us.

Why all this attention to paying attention? “so that we do not drift away” (v. 1b). It is so easy to overlook things that seem small or insignificant or familiar to us.  More spiritual problems are caused by neglect than perhaps by any other failure on our part. It is rare when someone who has been following the Lord suddenly decides to just turn away. More often spiritual failure occurs because we just drift away from truth. We neglect Bible study. We skip prayer. We let a flashy preacher with gleaming white teeth tell us what God said. We give the culture more credit than we give to the Creator. We make time for sports and leisure but have no time for reading God’s Word.

One of the most relaxing times I’ve ever spent was floating on an oversized innertube on a man-made “Lazy River.” We just sat in our plastic donuts and let the current take us wherever it went. We gave no thought to where we were drifting, we just enjoyed the ride. That’s the picture I get when I read this verse. The author is talking to people who were once zealous for God, who had ceased to care about what God said and were just drifting along – and drifting away.

Beloved, are you taking the Word of God for granted? Are you neglecting your soul by neglecting your Bible? Have you stopped paying attention to what God is saying? It’s not too late to get out of the lazy river and back into the Word of Life. I’ll grab a towel for you and meet you back in the Scriptures.

It’s Time to Grow Up

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I grew up a church kid.  I was on the cradle roll, became a Sunbeam, then a G.A. and on up the church ladder I went. I never lacked for instruction. From my earliest childhood, I heard stories about Jesus. About angels, shepherds, and wise men. About the mean old devil in the wilderness. And oh, the miracles: blind eyes opened, thousands fed from a few loaves and fishes, walking on water and calming storms. And of course, I learned about the cross and the empty tomb. I heard them all and believed they all were true. But I still didn’t believe in Him. It took many years and a lot of patience on God’s part for me to go from stories to faith.

The author of Hebrews implored his readers to move beyond the milk of “elementary teachings about Christ” and feast on solid food like mature Christians. It’s interesting that these “elementary teachings” are “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:2). Here’s what shocking: he said their lack of spiritual maturity was because they are “slow to learn” (5:11). Does that mean that they were struggling with these rudimentary issues?  No. The word “slow” means lazy. They hadn’t put forth any effort to learn. They’d been content with “elementary” knowledge rather than graduating to the deeper teachings of the faith.

I would say that the vast majority of folks sitting in the pews today don’t have even an elemental grasp of the basic tenets of the faith. So, if the Hebrew Christians were considered “slow to learn” because they only understood “elementary teachings”, what does that say about the church in our generation? We’ve become content with a “preschool” faith. Bible stories and psychological “Bible” studies and a religion of the new holy trinity – me, myself, and I. That’s not going to help us in the days of persecution that are on the horizon.

Are you ready to put the bottle down and dig into some solid spiritual food? I’m going to dedicate Monday’s devotionals to dig into the book of Hebrews in the days, weeks, months ahead. Beloved, grab a fork (and your Bible) and join me at the table. Let’s sink our teeth into something satisfying.

Babes in Christ – or Men and Women of God?

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My granddaughter eats from a plate that belonged to her daddy when he was her age. It is made of hard plastic and has brightly-colored cartoon dinosaurs painted on it – she calls them “puppies” and so puppies they are. We’ve tried to remember to always hand wash it, to preserve the puppies’ colors because dishwasher detergent tends to fade and bleach away designs on dishware. But lately, it’s been put in the dishwasher rather than take the few minutes to hand wash it with a gentle cleanser. A couple of days ago I noticed flecks of white showing in the puppies and the colors were not as bright as they had been. Our laziness was beginning to show – and it was beginning to diminish the dish.

The writer of Hebrews chastised the recipients of his letter saying, “We have much to say about this but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (5:11). The word “slow” caught my attention, and I grabbed my spiritual shovel to start digging.  What I found was a very sharp rebuke. That word does not indicate a learning disability – it speaks to a heart problem instead. The word means “lazy, undisciplined, no longer trying to learn.” Oh. The writer continued by saying that they were not growing and progressing in their understanding of God’s Word and their faith – “you need milk, not solid food!” (v. 12). They were content being spiritual “infants” sucking on their spiritual bottle.

So how do we grow in our faith? How do we go from babies on milk to men and women producing fruit for the Kingdom of God? The writer continued, “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (v. 14). Spiritual growth requires spiritual discipline –effort and time and developing holy habits that become an ingrained part of our character. Salvation is always the work of God, but growing in our faith requires our cooperation. Beloved, lets you and I determine to put down our bottles, shake off our laziness, and grow up. Let’s revive those bright colors so that the world can see the unfading beauty of men and women of God.