Hebrews: Turn Around

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“Turn around. Don’t drown.” “Turn back. Bridge out.” Road signs tell the driver one thing: you need to reverse course. You need to change your direction. You are on a dangerous path. They are signs we would do well to heed. The Bible also puts up signs that call us to make a change in the way we are going. Scripture calls it “repentance” and we would also do well to heed these warnings.

The writer of Hebrews focuses on one aspect of repentance in his discussion of elementary teachings: “Repentance from acts that lead to death” (6:1) Remember that he has been talking to “lazy” believers who are unwilling to grow in the matters of the faith. They are content with surface knowledge – just enough to make sure they escape hell. You know, fire insurance.  Our author says that this is a foundational truth. I wonder if 21st-century Christians understand it at all.

What is repentance? Paul described it like this: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret . . .” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is a spiritual and moral change of attitude toward God which turns an individual from sin to God. It is recognizing the dangerous road we are on, how we got on it, and turning back to God. Repentance must have both sorrow and turning. We are often sorry for our behavior (well, let’s be honest, we’re sorry we got caught), but that doesn’t mean we turn back to God.  The Prodigal Son is the perfect expression of repentance.

So what does “acts that lead to death” mean? Other translations may say, “dead works.” This is referring to anything man does in an attempt to save himself. Remember that the readers were largely Jewish, and Judaism had 613 commandments – expounded from the original ten commandments that God had given Moses. These – including circumcision – were the Jew’s “gateway” to salvation. Do all the right things in all the right ways and you will be right before God. The problem was, no one could be right before God even if they followed every jot and tittle of those 613 rules. In the same way, non-Jews cannot be right with God by being “good enough.” Because we never will be.  

Salvation has never been about what we do or don’t do. It is always and only about the work that Jesus has done on the cross. Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus. Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Beloved, it’s not too late to turn around. God will always welcome repentant sinners home.

Hebrews – Back to Elementary School

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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.

Looking in all the wrong places

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If I have a broken leg, I will go to the doctor.  If I have a problem with my car I go to a mechanic.  If something needs fixing around the house, I go to my husband. When I need encouragement and prayer, I call my best friend. And when I need sunshine on a dreary day, I go to my granddaughter.  The wisest people I know are not the ones who try to solve everything for themselves, but they are the ones who know where to go to find someone who can. No one in their right mind would go to the mechanic to fix their broken leg.

So why do we go to all the wrong sources for the answers to life? Why are we constantly “looking for love in all the wrong places?” Why do we seek wisdom from social media (!)? Why do we run to a bottle or a pill to soothe our weary, wounded hearts? Why do we expect our spouse or children to fill in all the empty places in us?

In John 6:25-69, Jesus has been teaching some hard things. Calling Himself “the Bread of Life” (v. 35), He talked of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, something that was forbidden by God. His words were shocking and even offensive to the Jewish people, and many who followed Him turned back. Even His disciples who were closest to Him grumbled.  His response was not a gentle, “I guess I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry.” No. The Scripture says, “Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67). And Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (v. 68-69).

Can you say the same? Who else could you go to for eternal life but to the Lord? Who else can redeem your wretched lost soul? Who else can take all your broken pieces and make you whole? Who else can restore what the enemy has stolen from you? Who else is would die to save you? Beloved, it’s time to stop looking everywhere else for what only He can do. It’s time to throw your lot in with Him – heart, mind, soul, and strength. Who else but Jesus?

My Life

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“In Him, we were also chosen . . . according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

I have often joked that “guilt is my spiritual gift.”  It’s something I’ve always done exceptionally well. Now I know and am deeply grateful that, because of Christ’s redemption, God no longer sees me as guilty.  But I agonize over my past choices and actions and the negative consequences they brought.  The list is long – and I won’t drag them out, but believe me when I say I’ve made some messes along the way.   I’ve always seen them as derailments that knocked me completely off course.  I imagine the path my life should have taken, and how I have altered that path so that God could not do what He intended in my life.  Or have I?

Is God only in control of my life when I make all the right choices? Is His plan so fragile that I can destroy it with an ill-conceived mistake? Can it survive the careless actions of others in my life? Can He work within the craziness that is my life?

As I sit here today I have a small measure of wisdom that I didn’t have in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.  I am convinced to the marrow of my bones that God never lost control of my life, even when I turned in the wrong direction. He has never wrung His hands in heaven trying to figure out how to overcome my foolishness. I’ve seen Him take some of my biggest blunders and missteps and bring something good and positive and Joyful out of them. My life is not a haphazard crazy quilt of all my wrong choices, but a beautiful, if slightly eccentric design that God is still piecing together.  I love David’s musing: “You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with Joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).  The path my life has taken has not always been easy nor straight and true, but God has never been caught off guard. I’m looking back at my life from farther down the road – now sixty years old – and I’m seeing that God’s good and gracious hand has been in it all along.

Road Trip

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We’ve made quite a few trips in my husband’s trusty truck. Every mile was powered by the combustion engine under the hood. That engine had two jobs: to take in fuel and to put out power. My husband provided the fuel and the engine produced power which in turn powered all the other parts of the truck that enabled us to make our trip.
Paul had never seen a combustion engine at work, but he understood the principle. He told the believers in Philippi: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). Do you see the principle? What God works in – you work out. God is at work in you through His Word and His Spirit – providing power, wisdom, strength, and righteousness – your job is to take what He provides and work it out in your life. He gives you His power to overcome the devil. He gives you His wisdom to make godly decisions. He gives you His strength to endure the trials. He gives you His righteousness so you can live a holy life.
You would think we were crazy if we jumped in the truck and expected to make our trip without any fuel to power the engine. How crazy is it to try to live godly lives without the truth of the Word and the power of God’s Spirit? Beloved, God is providing the fuel of holy living – all you have to do is work out what He is pouring in. Get your motor running Beloved, it’s time to hit the road!

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?

Word of Life

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Years ago, in a Ladies’ Bible study class, I asked, “Do I have to read the Bible? Can’t I just read books about the Bible? It’s so hard to understand.” I will never forget the leader’s answer: “Yes, you need to read the Bible. You need to know what God said, not someone’s interpretation. Never take anyone else’s word for what God has said but God Himself.”  You’ve probably heard me say that a time or two. It made an indelible impression on me and want it to have the same effect on you.

Thankfully, about twenty-five years ago God gave me an overwhelming passion to study the Bible. It has not gone away. It is my life’s purpose and mission. I took to heart: Deuteronomy 32:47 – “These are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” I intend to read and study the Bible until I draw my final breath.

Why? Because it is full of wisdom, power, truth, discipline, and insight. Because it teaches me, corrects me, encourages, chastens, strengthens, and humbles me. Because the Word of God is alive and full of the Spirit of God and reveals the heart of God. Because it is a Word of beauty and grace and peace and hope and Joy.

And because it is the only weapon I have to fend off the enemy of my soul. Jesus used this same sword when the devil came to tempt Him. In the face of every temptation, He said, “It is written . . .” and He resisted the devil at every turn with the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-10).  I need that kind of power because His enemy is my enemy too. If the Holy Word was good enough for Jesus, it’s certainly good enough for me.

John MacArthur wisely said, “Make sure Satan has to climb over a lot of Scripture to get to you.” I’m surrounding myself with God’s Word and filling my heart and mind with its truth so that I am protected from without and within.

What is your strategy for dealing with the devil? If it doesn’t involve the Word of God you are sure to fall. Beloved, you need to get into the Bible and let the Bible get into you. Let it sink its roots deep into your heart. Let it surround you. Because these are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

Minutes, Hours, Days, and Years

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Photo: Tom Hussey

My days are packed. I am up at 4:30 and before I leave the house I have filled my morning with Bible study, prayer, writing, (and usually Joy!). And coffee. I put in a full day at the best job ever and come home to supper (my hubby is retired and does the cooking – I am blessed!). I clean-up, often bathe Joy and then spend the rest of the evening studying. I hit the bed and start the cycle all over again. Seven of those make a week and those weeks make a month. Months become years and somehow, it’s almost 2022. That’s why my heart is pricked by Moses’ prayer: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). He is not saying, “teach us to count how old we are.” The word “number” here means to “weigh out,” – to place value on our days. Moses could have said, “Teach us to weigh our days . . .”

We know that days are made up of hours, which are made up of minutes. But we forget that every minute counts. Here’s a question for you (and me). Do you have any idea how many minutes a day you spend mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or surfing the internet? Have you ever been surprised at just how much time passed while you were thumbing through your phone? I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of wasting minutes I will never get back. Minutes that make up hours that make up days that make up weeks and months and years and a lifetime. So, I’ve adapted Moses’ prayer: “Lord, teach me to number my minutes, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” Teach me to weigh them, to understand how precious – and fleeting – they are. Teach me to spend those minutes wisely on eternal things – on the Gospel, on people, on Your Kingdom. I’m not saying, never go on Facebook again; that’s where I connect with most of you. But you and I need to value the time we invest there and make every minute count for eternity. The poet, Mary Oliver, famously asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Consider your answer to that question, Beloved, and spend your minutes well.

This Is The Way

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A few years ago I needed to drive from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to pick up my husband at the airport. I also had to pick up my son from work on the way. Both required me to drive on I-20 East. I headed to my normal exit – blocked. What? I went to the next exit – blocked. Okay. Drove to a third exit – blocked again. My GPS was stubbornly trying to get me back to the blocked exits and I could not convince her to find another route. We’d only lived there a year and I rarely drove far from home, so I had no idea where another exit was. At this point, a touch of panic began to set in and without thinking I muttered “O Lord, what am I gonna do?” Then I realized what I had said and turned my lament into a prayer: “Lord, what do I need to do here?” The GPS suddenly told me to turn right and I noticed that the road I was on was running parallel to I-20 and in just a few miles I came to another exit – just past the big wreck that had closed the interstate. I breathed a prayer of thanks as I got onto the open exit and headed in the right direction.

I immediately thought about Isaiah 30:21 which says “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

We often get in a panic trying to determine God’s will because we think it’s up to us to find it. But that is the enemy trying to overwhelm and confuse you. God has a definite plan for your life. He does not expect you to blindly stumble along in the hopes that you’ll happen upon it by chance. He has the route mapped out and He will guide you each step of the way – but often only one step at a time, and not always the direct route you expect. If you’re wondering where you’re supposed to be, don’t panic, just ask the Lord, “What do I need to do here?” and follow exactly where he leads.

Not a Princess

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I stood next to a table filled with t-shirts at a woman’s conference and a pink one caught my eye. It had a sparkly crown on it and the words: “I’m a princess!” My Daddy is the King of the Universe” The woman next to me picked it up and handed over her credit card. “Don’t you just love this?” she asked me. “It’s very cute,” I answered. In my head, though, I said, “But I don’t want to be a princess.” Princesses are fluffy, and I’m not the fluffy sort.

I want to be a queen. Like Esther, who wore her very best dress and crown to go to battle for her people. She could have let Haman slaughter the Jews because she was safe and well-kept in her palace in Susa. But when her uncle Mordecai told her, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14), she waged war against her people’s enemy with feminine wisdom and godly courage.

I want to be a warrior. Like Deborah, who was the only female judge of Israel mentioned in Scripture. When the commander of Israel’s army refused to go into battle without her, Deborah accompanied Barak and ten thousand men to a great victory, singing, “March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21). I want to be like Jael, who lured the enemy Sisera into her tent and drove a tent pet into his temple as he slept (Judges 4:21).

I want to be the Lord’s handmaiden, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who, when told she would endure a scandalous pregnancy, said “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38). I want to tell everyone about Jesus like Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:39) and Mary Magdalene (John 20:18). I want to be like Dorcas, who was full of good works which she did (Acts 9:36).

No, I don’t want to be a fluffy princess. Crowns are for heaven – to be cast at the feet of Jesus. Right now you and I need the helmet of salvation. There’s a war on and the Kingdom of God is calling us into battle. Are you ready? “March on my soul; be strong!”