Hebrews: The King’s Kid

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I  have often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, dressed, not in royal robes, but the filth of my sinfulness and my inadequate attempts to cover up with torn, tattered rags of homemade “righteousness.” I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When do I most need help? What is your greatest time of need? When we have failed God in our sin. How do we dare approach the throne of the Holy One at all, much less with confidence in our sinful state? Because of our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Remember that the work of the high priest is to intercede for sinful people before a holy God. The high priest approaches God with the blood of the sacrifice to cleanse the people. Jesus both presents the blood and provides it. The priest and the sacrificial lamb. Paul said, “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). That confidence is not an arrogant swagger; it is trust in the faithfulness of Christ to accomplish what He promised – to make us acceptable to God. In Jesus – in His blood, and through Jesus – through His atoning work, you and I are able to come to God, not as sinners, but as His beloved children. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today, Beloved? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended?  Lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

Dressed for (Spiritual) Success

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It’s Saturday morning. I’m sitting here in shorts and a t-shirt. If it was a workday or Sunday, I would be wearing clothes appropriate for what my day holds. Today it doesn’t hold much more than house chores. But one thing I wear every day is the armor of God. Each piece has a distinctive purpose, but I’m thinking about one specific piece this morning.

In Genesis 4, when Abel and Cain brought offerings to the Lord, Abel’s offering – “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” – was pleasing and accepted by the Lord. But Cain’s offering – a stingy gathering of some of his crops – was not. Cain became angry – murderously angry. The Lord confronted Cain and told him, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (v. 7). In essence, God was telling him doing what is right is a means of protection for you, but if you do not do what is right you are wide open and sin will take you. You know the rest of the story: Cain lured his brother out into a field and murdered him out of jealousy.

You and I have the same protection as believers in Christ. We are made right because of Jesus’ righteousness – He bestows it to us as a guard against sin. We take possession of it when we “put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:13,14). Sin is still “crouching at the door,” ready to pounce.  But the righteousness of Christ protects us. Those who do not have this covering of righteousness – or have access to it and do not utilize it – are unprotected and vulnerable. They are sure to fall, just as Cain did.  

Sin cannot go where Christ’s righteousness abides. The breastplate of righteousness protects us from sin. But only if we take it as our personal protective armor. Every piece is important – but the righteousness of Christ protects our most vulnerable place, our heart – the seat of our confidence in our standing before God. When we fail to put on Christ’s righteousness, our hearts are wide open for the onrush of sin.

Are you dressed, Beloved?

Hebrews: Jesus the King

The British royal family has had quite a struggle in the past several years. Being royalty doesn’t always guarantee that everyone will behave well and be happy. Because every member of the royal family is a sinner, just like every “common” human being in the world. This is why the author of Hebrews points to the heavenly throne of Jesus as further proof of who He is. “But about the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God,  your God, has set You above Your companions by anointing You with the oil of Joy.’” (vv. 8-9).

These verses are taken from Psalm 45, a wedding song, and they depict the ascension of Jesus to His take His throne. Yes, Jesus is a king, but He didn’t become a king at the whim of humans. Remember the scene at the royal palace when Pilate mockingly called Jesus a king? The Jewish religious leaders replied, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:1). The people refused Jesus as their king, but it didn’t change who He was because it was God who enthroned and anointed Him.

And what made Him worthy of an eternal throne? He “loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” A lot of kings and queens have come and gone through the ages, some were very good, some were rotten to the core, but none loved righteousness – the standard of God – but Jesus. And none went to the lengths to exalt righteousness that He did. Other kings make laws that demand and enforce a measure of civil behavior, but Jesus gave His life that men might be right before God. There is a huge difference between behaving well and being righteous. It’s an eternal difference.

Everything that earthly royalty is not, Jesus is. Holy. Divine. Humble. Perfect. The author of Hebrews wants us to understand that He is the only hope we have for eternal life and real Joy. He rules over a never-ending kingdom. Beloved, does He rule over your heart and life?

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.

Factory Settings

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My laptop did an automatic update last night. I know it’s necessary, but it is also annoying. Every time my laptop does an update and restarts, it returns to the factory settings and changes the changes I made to help me as I work.  Like all laptops, mine has a touchpad on it which I don’t use because I have better control with a handheld mouse. This thing drives me crazy. I have rather large hands and the touchpad sits right where I rest my hands. When my hands brush it as I’m typing, it moves the pointer so that I am typing in the wrong place on my document. Argh! I have to stop what I’m doing, go to the settings, and deactivate the touchpad. Then try to go back and reclaim my train of thought. So this morning I was typing a verse of Scripture and looking at my Bible, not at my screen. When I lifted my head, I realized my verse what not where it was supposed to be. Then I remembered the restart and had to go back to turn the touchpad off again. I do wish there was a way to permanently deactivate it so it wouldn’t come back on with every restart.

It made me think of our human “factory setting,” of our sinful nature that came with us when we were born. My granddaughter is almost two, and we are dealing with temper tantrums and disobedience and “NO!” At this age, it’s not entirely intentional; she is reacting out of the sinful nature that bedevils every human being. How I wish for her sake and mine there were a way to turn that sin nature off completely.

Unfortunately, it isn’t an automatic adjustment when we are saved.  Rather, it is our daily task to put aside our sinful nature and take up the righteous life of Christ Jesus. It is taking control of our thoughts (1 Cor. 10:5), renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2), “putting to death the misdeed of the body” (Rom 8:13), and “living in accordance with the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). And it’s a lifelong fine-tuning. But the end result will be a beautiful thing because we will become more and more like Jesus, which, by the way, is our original factory setting.

Spiritual ADD

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Yesterday, while writing in my prayer journal, I stopped to refill my coffee. While the Keurig was brewing, I decided I needed something quick to eat so I went to the pantry. Yes! One granola bar left, but the shelves were a disorganized mess.  Now if I can’t get my life in order, at least I can get my pantry in order. So I started straightening up the shelves. When my coffee finished, I figured I’d make a bathroom visit while I was up. The bathroom sink was a mess so I grabbed the pop-up wipes and set to work. Finally done, I headed back to the kitchen to retrieve my coffee and sit down. But I left my granola bar on the counter. Back to the kitchen to suddenly remember I left clean clothes in the washer last night, I need to throw them in the drier. Finally back in my study where I noticed my phone blinking a notification on Facebook. Let me check that real quick. And thirty minutes later I remembered I had been writing a prayer to God. I was embarrassed to return to my journal and admit that such insignificant stuff had pulled me away from Him. And that’s really nothing compared to the mental distractions when I’m trying to read the Bible and pray. Satan loves to throw all kinds of thoughts at me to break my focus.

How do such mundane, trivial, worldly things distract us from the majesty and beauty of the Lord God of heaven and earth? What on this earth could possibly compete with God’s holiness, righteousness, and perfection? When Isaiah had a vision of the Lord – “seated on a throne, high and exalted, the train of his robed filling the temple and the seraphs declaring “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Is 6:1-3) – he could not take his eyes off of Him.

One day I will see the Lord face-to-face and I know that, as grand as heaven will be, He will be my only focus. So why not now? Maybe, Beloved, you need to join my prayer that God would grant us eyes to see even a small glimpse of Him so that nothing draws our hearts and minds away. Not even coffee.

You Must be Righteous

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Continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s gospel is all about the Kingdom of Heaven and revealing Jesus as the rightful King. So far we’ve learned about who the Kingdom people are in the Beatitudes. We’ve learned about the influence Kingdom people should bring to the world in 5:13- 20. In Matthew 5:17-26, Jesus taught about Kingdom righteousness. I’ll jump ahead and give you the key to this passage: “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). The Pharisees and teachers of the law were considered the most righteous people in Jerusalem. They built their righteousness on following every jot and tittle of the law – and most of those jots and tittles had been added to God’s Law by man. Their lives were consumed with following rules and rituals, even washing their hands was an elaborate process that was more about the show than about cleanliness.

Who does the Bible point to as “righteous?”  Matthew 1:19 says, Joseph [Mary’s husband-to-be] was a righteous man, but not because he adhered to the letter of the law. When Mary announced that she was pregnant, and he knew this baby was not his, by the Law he should have taken her out to be stoned to death. But “he did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph chose to treat Mary with mercy. That is why the Scripture called him “a righteous man.”

Jesus later called the religious leaders hypocrites (and a brood of vipers!) because, though they did everything right, they did it all for the wrong reasons. He said “You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matter of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt 23:23).  They obeyed the letter of the Law but neglected the heart of the Law, which is love.

So how could anyone be more righteous than the religious hierarchy? By understanding that God commanded obedience to the Law, but not for obedience’s sake. The Israelites were to obey the law because they loved God. And love changes everything.

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 2

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This is the second lesson in our study on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel, focusing on “The Beatitudes.” The first four “Blesseds” show the priority of the Kingdom of God versus the world as Jesus said the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed. The second set of four “Blesseds” shows the characteristics that should mark the citizens of God’s Kingdom.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (v. 7). Merciful people have compassion for those in need, to the point that they actively and practically work to meet the need. God sets the standard for mercy as He showed needy sinners mercy through the cross of His Son. Those who show mercy, Jesus said, will be shown mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (v. 8). The heart, being the seat of thinking and understanding, is where we talk to ourselves. The pure in heart will speak to themselves of pure things – Philippians 4:8 things. And Psalms 23:7 shows us that pure hearts will always lead to clean hands. These are the ones who will see God. That should make us pay careful attention to our thoughts.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (v. 9). Peacemakers are not doormats. Peacemakers work to restore broken relationships and bring peace to both parties. The most important of those broken relationships is between God and men. Until there is peace there, there will never be lasting peace among men. Peacemakers are called sons of God. Not every human being is a child of God, only those who prioritize the Kingdom of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for, in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 10-12). If you are living the righteous life of a Christian you will expose the wickedness of the world without saying a word. And the world will hate you for it. This is normal. Jesus said it is cause for rejoicing. If the world does not hate you, you better check your brand of Christianity. These are the ones for whom the Kingdom of God is a present reality.

What’s interesting is this is not just a random list, but shows the progression of the life of a true believer who goes from knowing they have nothing to offer God for their sins, to becoming a person who so emulates Christ that the world hates them for it. Blessed are you, Beloved, when you abandon yourself to the God who created you and loves you.

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 1

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This will be a little different. Once a week over the next couple of months, we’re going to study the Sermon on the Mount. While this devotional is not written specifically as encouragement, studying the Word of God always encourages us. The focus of the Sermon on the Mount – in fact, Matthew’s focus for his Gospel – is the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Matthew wants to prove that

Jesus is the long-expected King in the line of David and the promised Messiah.Jesus opens with what we know as “The Beatitudes,” nine times that He describes people who are “blessed” in the Kingdom. The first four, vs 3-6, turn the idea of blessing on its head.

Jesus said blessed are “the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But these are people who are nobodies in the world. But remember, we’re dealing with Kingdom values, not the world’s values.The poor in spirit are those who realize that they have nothing to offer God for their souls. They have no hope in themselves for eternal life. Their hope is in the promises of God. They will receive the Kingdom. Those who know they have nothing are given everything.

Those who mourn are mourning their sin. Jesus said they will be comforted. How? Paul said that “godly sorrow” for our sins “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Those who mourn are comforted when their sorrow turns to repentance then forgiveness and the burden of their guilt is lifted.

The meek are not the weak. Meekness is the fine art of being kind and gentle towards others, especially those who “do not deserve it.” It’s how God treated us. The meek, Jesus said, will “inherit the earth.” Now honestly, who would want this earth? But wait. Rev. 21:1 says that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” A new earth would be a truly blessed gift.

Then, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” How do you know that you’re hungry? You have hunger pains. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness feel genuine pain at the unrighteousness in the world. If you don’t, you may need to check your relationship with God. Unrighteousness breaks the heart of God. It should break our hearts as well. How do we deal with hunger? We eat. This unrighteous world is hungry for God. Let’s feed them the Gospel. We – and they – will be filled, satisfied, beyond measure.

What does all this mean for you? Unless I miss my guess, you, like me, are not great in the world’s eyes. But God has great things in store for those who trust in Him. Beloved, are you blessed by the world’s standards, or by God’s?

Bible Lessons with My Cat

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My cat doesn’t know Jesus, but she teaches me some valuable spiritual lessons.

We keep Celina’s dry food bowl full so she can nibble throughout the day (kind of like I do), but every morning when I come into the kitchen she sits by her bowl and cries for food – even though there’s still plenty there! I dump the old food back into the plastic tub we store it in, and scoop it right back up into her bowl. This morning as I set her bowl before her I said, “Celina, you do realize that I’m giving you back the same stuff that was in there.” But she attacked it like it was something new and wonderful.

The world treats us the same way, my friends. When we cry to the world to have our desires met what we receive is the same old thing that failed to satisfy us yesterday and the day before. The world has nothing new to offer us; when we feast on worldly things we’re always hungry for something more. Only God can satisfy.

Another lesson she teaches me is about trust.  When I pick up her bowl and head to the cabinet, she follows me, sticks her nose right in the middle of what I’m doing, and watches intently to make sure I do it right.  She meows as if she’s telling me how much food to put in the bowl.  The thought occurs to me – how often do I bring an issue to God and follow Him around, giving my opinions and expectations for the solution? As if I know better than the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. “God if You would just . . .” I’m learning – ever so slowly – to stop telling God what to do and just tell Him about the need. He never fails to come up with better solutions than I ever could.

Jesus said that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Isaiah said, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). Your Father’s provision is always fresh, and He will always meet your needs perfectly – without your help. Don’t be like Celina, Beloved. Trust God to give you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it, and plenty of it.