the immortal covenant

“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” [Hebrews 10:16 NIV]

I suggest that this is the covenant that has always been in effect. Every other covenant is but a shadow of this one. All others are an outward refection of this inner reality. God has always been in the business of inner laws. Always been in the business of inner transformation and not external compliance.

Yet throughout history humans have placed a focus on the things that one can see with their eyes. Wanting covenants and laws that govern external behaviors but are impotent to change hearts and minds. Such is the temporal covenant. The one envisioned with earthly imaginations.

Yet since the beginning there has always been an immortal covenant at play. One that is spiritual in nature. Invisible to the eye but powerful to affect the nations. Such was the focus of the sermon on the mount. Following God has never been about external covenants but about inner renewal.

Teach us Lord to hear the voice of your immortal covenant deep within us.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

really bad religious math

when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire ... with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased ... I have come to do your will, my God.” [Hebrews 10:5-7 NIV]

So often religious activities are not the ones that please God. Doing things 'for' God is not the same as the Lord doing things through us. In a sense it is all about hidden motives. Things done out of religious obligation wreak of bad motives. Yet the works of the heart seem very different.

Jesus came into the world not to become a leader who would teach us to do religious things. His command to 'do this in remembrance of me' was not an injunction to begin a new form of religious sacrifice. The 'this' he spoke of was sharing a meal together and not a religious sacrament.

So why is it that we humans seem intent on doing religious things that are not really a part of God's will? Could it be that such activities help us to live 10% of our life as religious and 90% as secular? Is it really all about wanting our will for the 90%? Perhaps it is just really bad religious math?

Help us Lord to live 100% of our lives for you and the things that you desire.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

transactional forgiveness

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. [Hebrews 10:4 NIV]

I think that it is not unusual for humans to make forgiveness a transaction. We do not want it to be free. We want to do something to earn it. The whole Jewish sacrificial system is built around this idea of offering sacrifices to be forgiven. Some even see the cross in this light.

In contrast to this concept, a bruised and beaten Messiah cries out from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This intercession destroyed the whole idea of transactional forgiveness. In a few words God the Son showed us what it means to forgive.

In its purist sense forgiveness is a gift that we give each other. We do it with no expectations. With open hands and hearts we choose to embrace the one forgiven as if they had not sinned against us. There is no act more divine. Nothing greater that shows our love for God and each other.

Lord. Help me to forgive. Help me to release the past and walk in forgiveness.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

religious shadows

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. [Hebrews 10:1 NLT]

Shadows are two dimensional in nature. They give us an idea about what we are looking at but not a complete picture. And, depending on the position of the light source, shadows can misrepresent the image that is projected. Such is some of the imagery in the scriptures.

Scriptural passages are sometimes skewed by cultural shadows that falsely envision God as a wrathful and avenging warrior. The ministry and teachings of Jesus shone a bright light on such shadows. In Christ we understand that we no longer need to rely on shadowy images of God.

In writing to the Colossians Paul tells us that Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. And earlier in this letter the writer tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. In reading these verses we understand that we no longer need to rely on shadowy depictions of God.

Help us Lord to reject shadowy images of you and embrace the reality of Christ.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

spiritual and physical rebirth

He will come again, not to deal with our sins,
but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. [Hebrews 9:28 NLT]

Salvation is a two phased process. It begins with a spiritual birth - eternal life begins this side of heaven. Salvation is then consummated with a physical rebirth when we die. The spiritual part of us takes on a resurrected body that will never die ... never get sick ... never feel pain.

Hope is born when we are spiritually born and is realized at our physical rebirth. One who has not been born again cannot grasp that reality? For such a one this physical existence is all that there is. There is no hope for anything better. Yet hope reigns for those who eagerly wait for him.

Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus! Thank you for the Blessed Hope that we share Lord.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

dead vs living sacrifices

Indeed, according to the Law ... sins are forgiven only if blood is poured out. ... Christ also was offered in sacrifice once to take away the sins of many. [Hebrews 9:22,28 GNT]

In a spiritual sense, I find these to be odd verses. They surface a few questions:
  • Were the death of sacrificed animals required for God to forgive sin?
  • Was it necessary for Jesus to die in order for God to forgive?
  • Did Jesus die because of our sinful actions or to forgive those same sins?
When the writer of Hebrews compares Jesus death to that of sacrificial animals he does with a certain paradigm in mind. To the Jews God had to be appeased before he could forgive sins. The temple system embraced such sacrifices. Yet is that a really valid concept and image of God?

I suggest that the sacrifices that God requires are living ones. Paul says as much in his letter to the Romans. In a very real sense Jesus birth and ministry were such a sacrifices. His death on the cross was a living sacrifice. Dead sacrifices cost us very little while living ones cost us much.

Afresh dear Lord, I offer myself to your service.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

no food poisoning in heaven

These gifts and sacrifices deal only with regulations for the body—food and drink and various kinds of ritual cleansings necessary until the time comes to make things truly right. [Hebrews 9:10 VOICE]

Humanity has learned much about sickness, diet and environment since the times of Moses. Diseases like trichinosis and salmonella arise when meat is not properly prepared. In that respect health codes have always been needed to protect the consumer of such foods.

These regulations will be needed as long as our food is of this earth. Yet we err if we believe that these rules, like the forbidding of eating pork products, have anything to do spirituality. Despite what Moses wrote, one can eat bacon or pork ribs and not suffer spiritually.

That said, I believe that there will be a time when food will not make us sick. There will be no food poisoning in heaven. Things physical and spiritual will be made right. Love will rule that day and every tear will be dried. The former things will have passed away and the new will come.

Blessed be you Lord Jesus Christ. You are working everything for our good.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

the journey from Javert to Valjean

That first tent symbolizes the present time, when gifts and sacrifices can be offered; but it can’t change the heart and conscience of the worshiper. [Hebrews 9:9 VOICE]

This verse paints a picture of two forms of religion. The former, one of external adherence to rules. The latter, an inner transformation. Sadly, the former is much more prevalent than the latter. I know. At age 26 I had an inner change yet chose a life lived adhering to rules and principles.

I sometimes think of my life as the inward journey from Javert to Valjean. In Les Misérables, we learn of Javert, the policeman who loved the law, and of Valjean, the broken man who found extravagant grace from a bishop. One lived a life of obedience to the law. The other a life of love.

In the end, Javert finds no life in the law. He kills himself instead of changing. Valjean's life ends being surrounded by loved ones. His life was marked by an inner transformation of heart and conscience. The story reminds me that serving God is all about serving with love, mercy and compassion.

Renew me again dear Lord that I might serve you with all of my heart.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

the way into the most holy place

The Holy Spirit used this to show that the way into the most holy place was not open while the tent was still in use. [Hebrews 9:8 GW]

It seems that every sect has a designated holy place. Jesus addressed this when he spoke to the woman at well. Her perspective was that the place of worship was important. Jesus corrected her indicating that how we worship (i.e. in spirit and in truth) is more important than where we worship.

In reality, for a believer the holy place of worship lives within us. Paul told the Corinthians that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within us. In that sense, a tent or building is not needed to talk to God. The way into the holy place is the way of the heart. The way of listening to God's voice within.

Open our eyes and our ears Lord to your presence in our lives.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

erased as though they had never existed

I will be merciful when they fail, and I will erase their sins and wicked acts out of My memory as though they had never existed. [Hebrews 8:12 VOICE]

In the late seventies a young friend asked me how it is possible for God to forget. I do not remember how I answered her. In retrospect I think much of the question hits to the heart of who we believe God is. Is he like an accountant demanding a balancing of the moral books. Or is he something else?

I think that we find the answer in words like love and mercy. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul tells us that love is kind, patient and keeps no record of wrongs. I believe that these words describe God. He is not like us. His very nature is to forgive in such a way that no record is kept of the offense.

This concept challenges us because we simply want God to be a better version of us. Forgiveness comes hard for us so we think that it comes hard for God. We need penance to forgive so we think God needs it too. We see the sin when we forgive. God sees wholeness and restoration.

Help me to be like you Jesus. Patient. Loving. Kind. Keeping no record of wrongs done to me.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

Knowing God

Never again will everyone teach his neighbor or his brother by saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because all of them will know me, from the least important to the most important. [Hebrews 8:11 ISV]

The idea of knowing God is a somewhat controversial topic. Is it possible for the finite to grasp the infinite? The temporal to embrace the eternal? Or perhaps the idea is more about knowing God and letting his example, in Jesus, influence the way that one lives in a fallen world?

In my thinking it is a bit of both. We are first introduced to God when we are spiritually born. Our lives from that point is all about growing in a relational knowing of God. We see him in the lives of others. Biblical lives. Lives of friends. We come to know him as we experience his spirit.

The idea is that we grasp the infinite and embrace the eternal one day at a time. Our eyes are opened to the invisible as we encounter the divine each day. Knowing God is a progressive experience that changes us at a very deep level. And in a very real sense it is impossible to un-know God.

Thank you Lord for revealing yourself to us through the Holy Spirit.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

inner laws

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people. [Hebrews 8:10 NRSV]

This verse shouts to me of the new birth. It screams out to us about spiritual transformation. In one sentence the writer has cut through all of the superficiality and hit the heart of what it means to be God's people. A people not of denomination or affiliation. A people of the Spirit.

Such a people answer to a higher power because they follow a higher law. These have received the promise of the new and good heart. They have entered in a covenant named Jesus. Such a people are able to hear and see differently because they are inwardly different. They are transformed.

Teach us Lord to follow the good heart that you have placed in us.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

a covenant named Jesus

Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. [Hebrews 8:6 NRSV]

The concept of divine testaments and promises is woven throughout human history. There seemed to be such communications in Eden. When the floodwaters receded God spoke such words to Noah. Abraham was made promises by God. And Moses received a testament on the mountain. Genesis, the first biblical book, is filled with covenants. It teaches us about the prevailing concept of God.

That said, it seems consistent that a person writing to Hebrews would speak of "a better covenant" with "better promises". It does make me wonder though. Is the concept more human than divine? Is it simply an evidence of a human legal mindset? Is it possible that we have gotten it wrong? Is the better covenant not really a covenant at all? Is it actually a manifestation of God himself?

When Jesus spoke of coming to fulfill the law was he not speaking to how the law was an imperfect reflection of the heart of God? Do we not see the flaws in Mosaic law when our eyes are opened to Jesus, the heart of every covenant and promise? I guess what I am trying to communicate is the idea that there has only ever been one covenant. And the covenant is named Jesus.

Lord. Please open the eyes of my heart that I might understand your heart.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

not influenced by sinners

Jesus is the kind of high priest we need. He is holy, sinless, pure, not influenced by sinners, and he is raised above the heavens. [Hebrews 7:26 NCV]

The best of us ... the holiest ... the smartest ... the most moral ... are all influenced by cultural norms and the environments which we were raised and live. Then there is Jesus. Described here as holy, sinless and pure. These words communicate a uniqueness of being and character to me.

This uniqueness is how I describe what it means to be holy. It is why, as this verse says, Jesus is the kind of high priest we need. We do not need a spiritual leader who is simply one of us. We need one who is not influenced by us. We need One who is in all ways God. Yet has walked as one of us.

You Lord are what we need. Help us to walk in this understanding.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

when prayers look like grace

People now come to God through him. And he is able to save them completely and for all time. Jesus lives forever. He prays for them. [Hebrews 7:25 NIRV]

One on the roles of a Jewish priest was to pray for people in his flock. This pastoral role is somewhat carried forward in the church. It is a vital role but certainly not limited to the clergy. I sometimes think that we are most like Jesus when we are carrying our friends to God in prayer.

I wonder if grace could be described as the prayers of Jesus. Priestly prayers like the one that Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail when he was tested. Perhaps grace and the prayers of Christ are one in the same? Maybe our own prayers are meant to be a form of grace?

Breath on us Holy Spirit that our prayers would be a means of grace.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

the law made nothing perfect

On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. [Hebrews 7:18-19 NET]

Moral codes are always insufficient because they are dependent on the strength of the one who follows them. Such laws rarely do anything but deter an individual from bad behavior. These laws are dependent on outer strength and mental willpower. In contrast we have an inner law of hope.

Throughout time people have arisen who are different. They seem to possess spiritual power. These have been spiritually born and follow an inner law that is greater than human codes. They look like others but possess a power that transcends feeble laws and principles.

Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about such people. He told him that these were born from above. In the flesh these are still a work in progress. Yet these are ones who hope in dark times. Believe before they see. They have a divine power that imbues them with love and compassion.

We draw near to you Lord. And we hope.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

hope is an anchor

We who have found safety with him are greatly encouraged to hold firmly to the hope placed before us. We have this hope as an anchor for our lives. [Hebrews 6:19 GNT]

In the natural, an anchor prevents a boat from drifting due to winds or currents because it connects the vessel to the bed of the body of water. Likewise hope is what connects us to the reality of God. Hope is what keeps us grounded and prevents us from spiritual drifting. It is why hope is essential.

Yet this hope is not like the tenuous 'hope so' verbiage that folks often speak of. This hope is all about the very nature of God. We hope in our own resurrection from death because we believe that God is one who brings life from death. Hope anchors us to the essence of who God is.

I believe that Isaiah embraced this form of hope when he wrote:
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Help us Lord, when life seems out of control, to remember the safety that we have found in you.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

it is impossible for God to lie

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable
because it is impossible for God to lie. [Hebrews 6:18 NLT]

There are foundational truths about the nature of God. These influence our behavior. Because we believe that God is loving we take seriously his command to love. We are challenged to goodness as we embrace the idea that God is good. Our hearts are drawn to emulate Jesus because his behavior reflects the image of God. Our image of God drives us to be more and more like him.

Yet we can become confused if we do not rightly interpret passages of the scripture. We can read verses that conflict with the image of a loving God and assert that they are true because we think that every verse must be true because "God said it" and he cannot lie. Holding a black and white view of such scriptures is dangerous because it can lead to envisioning God as something he is not.

Lord. We confess that you are good and loving all of the time.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

Lessons in patience from Abraham

Abraham was patient, and so he received what God had promised. [Hebrews 6:15 GNT]

There is an old joke where one prays for patience saying that they want it now. Waiting for a promise to be fulfilled can take years. And sometimes it never comes in our lifetime.

A childless Abraham was promised descendants. He embraced the promise into his latter years. When he was very old he had Isaac. There are lessons about patience that we can learn from Abraham:
  1. He made mistakes. He tried to fulfill the promise himself with a son conceived with his wife's servant. In doing so he took control of the promise rather than releasing it in prayer.
  2. He kept working while he waited for the promised son. He kept his flocks, managed his household and did things necessary to living. In this he showed trust in God.
  3. He remained hopeful. I think that patience is all about hope. We wait on the Lord because we hope in him. We believe that he will fulfill his promises to us.
  4. He believed though he did not see. Developing patience is all about embracing the invisible kingdom. God's kingdom operates on things that cannot be seen. Like love.
Abraham received what was promised because he had patience. We must also be patient. Even if we do not see the promised fulfilled. We trust God because we know God.

Our hope is in you Lord. We believe in you. Help us to be patient.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

while we wait

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. [Hebrews 6:12 NIV]

Several words jumped out to me as I read this verse:
  • lazy - I have found that my relationship with God requires diligence;
  • imitate - often we can learn from the mistakes and successes of others;
  • faith and patience - we really cannot have one without the other;
  • inherit - there are things we do not earn but are simply given;
  • promised -  speaks to me of a future filled with hope.
These words speak to me about what it means to wait on the Lord. We do not idly wait as for a bus. Our waiting is all about being diligent in faith and patient in prayer as we look forward with hope.

You are worthy Lord Jesus of our faith, diligence and patience. We praise you.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

he will not forget the love you have shown

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. [Hebrews 6:10 NIV]

Sometimes society embraces a definition of justice that seems to be more like vengeance. In this verse the writer points us to a more positive image of it. It reminds me of this:
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice. (Isaiah 30:18)
So many come to fear God because they believe him to be a dispenser of a fire and brimstone form of justice. They mistakenly misunderstand the nature of God and divine justice.

In contrast this verse assures us that the things that God remembers are not about our sins but about the ways that we have loved. I find much encouragement in this form of justice.

Thank you Lord for the inspiration that I see in your justice.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

spiritual dehydration

A field is useful to farmers, if there is enough rain to make good crops grow. In fact, God will bless that field. But land that produces only thornbushes is worthless. [Hebrews 6:7-8 CEV]

Dehydration is deadly. Everything needs water to live. In a spiritual sense water is representative of God's Spirit living deep within us. Jesus puts it this way: "If you are thirsty, come to me and drink! Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you".

The process of spiritual hydration begins when one is spiritually born and infilled with the Holy Spirit. The cycle continues each time we come to Christ in prayer. We hear his voice and receive life-giving water. He hydrates in many ways. As we serve him our inner beings are filled.

The image of a garden paints such a beautiful picture of spiritual life. Thorns and weeds can choke out healthy crops if we are not diligent to uproot them. Likewise the good soil of our new hearts need to be cared for each day. It is a cooperative effort between us and the Giver of spiritual rain.

My heart is open Lord. Send your rain to hydrate me that I might water the world.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

those who were once enlightened

    it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened ...
    and who then turn away from God. [Hebrews 6:4,6 NLT]

This is one of the most difficult and controversial passages in the New Testament. Many theologians have wrestled with it and disagree with the interpretation and application of it.

In my view the passage should be interpreted in light of the previous chapters that speak about the Israeli exodus from Egypt. People in that era are similar to ones in the church today.

The issue is basically the difference between repenting with your mind and your heart. Many today mentally assent to Christian beliefs yet have never had a transformation of their heart.

These appear to be believers. They often talk the talk and walk the walk. Yet these have never known God at a heart level. Consequentially they fall away as those in the wilderness did.

Thank you Lord that what is impossible with us is possible with you.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

spiritual unconscious competence

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. [Hebrews 6:1 NLT]

What are the 'basic teachings' referred to in this verse? The writer proceeds to tell us that they include repentance, infilling of the Spirit, faith, baptism, resurrection and judgment. In essence this verse tells us that maturity is not about rehashing theology but putting learned theology into practice.

In psychology, the four stages of competence relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill. The stages are: Unconscious Incompetence; Conscious Incompetence; Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence.

Conscious Competence is a good descriptor of the basic teaching phase. Here one first learns of kingdom principles. They have head knowledge. As one puts these principles into action a process of transformation takes place. Conscious Competence become Unconscious Competence.

This stage of Spiritual Unconscious Competence is marked by not having to be told to love. One loves instinctively because they have been transformed by years of practice. What was once in their head has journeyed to their heart. They have become mature in their understanding.

Help us Dear Lord. To practice love that we might love instinctively and unconsciously.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

learning through practice

No one who lives on milk alone can know the ins and outs of what it means to be righteous and pursue justice; that’s because he is only a baby. But solid food is for those who have come of age, for those who have learned through practice to distinguish good from evil. [Hebrews 5:13-14 VOICE]

The phrase "coming of age" reminds me of the Jewish rite of "Bar Mitzvah" or "Confirmation", it's Christian counterpart. In each rite a transition from childhood to adulthood is celebrated.

This seems to be the sense that the writer is communicating. Yet I think that example breaks down in that spiritual maturity, by nature, continues to progress well in to adulthood.

I love the words "ins and outs" and "learned through practice" used in this translation. Spiritual maturity is all about the ins and outs. About what we practice on a daily basis.

Our spiritual journeys are all about learning to distinguish the good practices that mature us from the bad ones that keep us from growing. As we do, we spiritually come of age.

We need you Lord. To discover the ins and outs of the kingdom. And to practice faith each day.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

made complete by suffering

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him [Hebrews 5:8-9 NIV]

It is one thing to say we love God in the good times. Easy to love when we are not offended. Easy to obey when the road is smooth. In times such as these we really do not need faith.

Yet in times of suffering ... when life is reeling out of control ... in moments of anger, desperation an hopelessness ... faith is needed. In such times we have opportunities to spiritually mature.

Dark times can produce in us a depth of spiritual character than cannot be found in easy times. These moments give us opportunities to perfect our faith. And become more like God.

As the song says, we ask you Lord for: More Love. More Power. More of You in our lives.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

prayers heard but unanswered

     During the time Jesus lived on earth, He prayed and asked God with loud cries and tears.
     Jesus’ prayer was to God Who was able to save Him from death.
     God heard Christ because Christ honored God. [Hebrews 5:7 NLV]

Jesus was fully human. He cried. He wept. On the eve of his crucifixion he prayed in a garden with much sorrow and a heavy heart. He asked the Father to rescue him from the fate that was before him. As he prayed, he surrendered his life to God saying not what I want but what You want.

As I read about Jesus' prayers in the garden I am better able to understand that God hears our prayers even when he does not answer them. It helps me to know that Jesus struggled as he prayed. And in the end he honored God by releasing his desires and asking for God's will to be done.

We bend our knees and our hearts afresh to the One who hears us. Thy will be done.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

a priest like Melchizedek

And in another Scripture God says,“You are a priest forever, a priest like Melchizedek.” [Hebrews 5:6]

A few thoughts about Melchizedek: 1) he was a king and a priest; 2) Abraham was his contemporary and recognized him with a tithe; 3) as such his title preceded Jewish priests and Levites.

Some have speculated that he was, based on verses like this, a preincarnate appearance of Christ. Not sure if that is true but I do believe that the verse teaches us a few things about the Messiah. It tells us that Jesus' priesthood is eternal and supersedes all earthly religious titles.

The verse also teaches us that Christ is more than a priest. Like Melchizedek, the Messiah is a king. Unlike Melchizedek his reign is not limited by time or space. As John tells us, he is King of kings and Lord of lords. John also tells us that his kingdom is filled with priests.

Lord help us to live lives that point others to the One who is called a priest forever.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Does God have a Middleman?

Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. [Hebrews 5:1 NLT]

This verse presents us with questions? Like how does God interact with humans? Are there things that only certain people can do? These questions deal with words like clergy, laity, sacred and secular. The questions hit to the heart of why Jesus came and how the Holy Spirit works in us.

The topics of priests and sacred work is one that goes back to early times. Ancient ones felt unworthy or unable to interact with God so they appointed priests. Their mindset was that only certain people had what it took to talk to God. This idea was destroyed when God came in the flesh.

Jesus did not appoint religiously trained, or particularly holy, people to represent him on earth. In doing so he made sacred the the unsacred and he qualified the unqualified. Christ removed the middleman. The notion of priests vanished. Everyone is a priest. Each is called to ministry.

Help us Lord to discover what we are called to do (be it plumber or pastor) and do it well.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the throne of grace

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4:16 ESV]

What comes to mind when you hear the word grace? Perhaps you think of mercy or compassion? Maybe the concept of unearned favor? Interesting that God's throne is described with this word. Why do you think that it is? Why is it a place where one can find mercy instead of judgment?

I believe that the character of God's throne and God himself are the same. We have confidence when we pray for mercy because that is God's character. We trust that he will help us because his very nature is compassionate. We draw near according to God's character and not ours.

We come Lord know that you will have mercy. Believing that you will help us. We praise you.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

touched with the feeling of our infirmities

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. [Hebrews 4:15 KJV]

Throughout the gospels we read about how Jesus was moved by compassion. How do you think those around him knew that? I think that they saw Jesus moved to tears. The image I find in the gospel accounts is of a Messiah who is touched deeply by the things that cause us pain.

I love that messianic image. And in a very real sense, only a sinless Messiah is able to help us. Only One who stands outside of the quicksand of sin is able to stretch his arm forth and pull us out. This is the image of God that I most see. Touched by our sin but in a position to rescue us from it.

Teach us compassion Lord. Use us to rescue others from the quicksand of sin.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the last high priest

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. [Hebrews 4:14 ESV]

What comes to mind when your hear the title High Priest? I think of the person who was designated to enter the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the Jewish Tabernacle where God dwelt. To get there the priest had to pass through other rooms. This seems to be what is referenced here.

The High Priest was the one who interceded, before God, on behalf of the Jews. He made offerings and prayers for himself and for them. In that sense Jesus is presented as a great high priest. One who has, metaphorically, passed through the outer rooms and entered God's presence.

The metaphor breaks down, all of them do, if one tries to read it literally. The central point is that Jesus, one not qualified by Mosaic law to be a priest (he was not a Levite), became the last High Priest. This is what we confess. We no longer need a human priest. Our priest is in heaven.

Heaven, the holiest of holies, is accessible because of you Jesus. We give you thanks.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

naked and exposed

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. [Hebrews 4:13 NLT]

This verse conjures up words like omnipresence (the presence of God everywhere at the same time) and omniscience (the idea that God knows all that there is to know). The psalmist tells us so beautifully that wherever we go, God is there. There is no place in the universe where we can hide.

Reading "naked and exposed" reminds me of Eden. The garden where life began. The scriptures tell us that, before they sinned, "the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame". The story of Eden tells us that from the very beginning humankind has been accountable to our Creator.

I want my accountability to God to be only what I do. Not that I always do good things. Yet my accountability to him is much deeper. He sees my heart. My motives. The deepest part of me is exposed before him. And that is why I believe that he is the One who can help me in ways that no other can.

Come Holy Spirit. Expose our inner infections and heal them as none other can.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the word: living; active; sharp; discerning.

The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. [Hebrews 4:12 GNT]

I love this description. In context it is referring to the idea that we must not harden our hearts to God's voice. I think that many mistakenly apply this to the bible. In doing so they limit divine communication to words written many years ago. This presents us with an incomplete image of God's Word.

In my experience God has spoken to me in many ways. I have felt his voice pierce me. Separating my voice from his. My thoughts and desires from his. These experiences lead me to believe that when God speaks it is like a surgeon operating with a scalpel. Precise. Helpful. Healing. And skilled.

The words alive and active tell me how relevant his voice is to me. He uses what I read and hear to transform me on a daily basis. His words to me can do things that nothing else can do. He is not constrained by my ability to hear but can, and does, communicate to me as I walk with him.

Help me to keep my heart open, and not hard, to your word Lord.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

his voice. our hearts.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Hebrews 4:7 ESV]

I remember reading a quote by an English author in 2008. His words rocked my world. I could not escape the impact and the application it had on my life. It went like this:
"Why be something to everybody when you can be everything to somebody?"
I cannot describe the power that this sentence had on me. I wrestled with it for months. It led me to retire from pastoral ministry and care for my wife full time. I believed that I had heard God's voice.

My message is to simply say that God speaks to us. Sometimes through others. Often through the scriptures. The issue is how we will respond. Will we soften or harden ourselves to what he says? Will we wrestle with what we hear? Will we dismiss it? Or will we be changed by it?

Lord God help us. Teach us. To keep our hearts soft. And be open to your voice.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the promise of rest

God’s promise that we may enter his place of rest still stands. ...
We who believe are entering that place of rest. [Hebrews 4:1,3 GW]

The writer continues to teach about this idea of rest and how it is dependent on faith and trust. This idea seems to be prominently important to him. It makes me wonder what it means to rest. The Jews were commanded to rest on the Sabbath. Is this the promised rest or is it something else?

I think that the promised rest is not a Sabbath rest in the sense that we take a day off during the week. Not that there is anything wrong with resting our bodies from the rigors of work. I am thinking that this promised rest is spiritual in nature. And gained when we stop trusting ourselves.

I have entered into such a rest. Not that I permanently stay in that rest. My experience is that rest grows as I continue to cede control of my life to the Lord. I have found that the promise of rest only comes when I trust the Lord instead of myself. For me it has been a matter of letting go of control.

Once again Lord, I proclaim my trust that you will work everything together for my good.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

entering a place of rest

they were not able to go into His rest because they did not put their trust in Him. [Hebrews 3:19 NLV]

We do well to remember the story of the 12 men who Moses sent to spy out the promised land. Only 2 of the men came back believing that Israel was able to take the land that God had promised them. The other 10 spoke of giants in the land and communicated fear. The people believed the 10.

In a sense this is the story of our lives. Will we embrace the future with optimism or pessimism? Will we trust that God will be with us on the journey? Or will we be afraid of the future? The question challenges me. I sometimes look to the future and fear the worst. And I find no rest when I do.

Transparently, I often think of the past when I look to the future. But instead of seeing times of joy, I remember the times of fear. In that I am like the 10 rather than the 2. It reminds me that I am only trusting God when I am not in control. I can only enter rest when I am trusting God instead of myself.

I am afraid of the future Lord. Help me to trust you and to enter your rest.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

partners with Christ

For we have become partners with Christ,
if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end. [Hebrews 3:14 NET]

I love the way that this translation renders the Greek word metochoi as partners. It carries with it a sense of sharing or partaking. The sense in my mind is that we are active participants in God's work on earth. Think of us as junior partners. Learning from the senior partner as we walk at his side.

The second half of the verse serves to remind us that our partnership is ongoing and active. No silent partners. The word rendered confidence brings with it a sense of reality. This partnership we have with Jesus must be real. It must touch us deeply. Only then can we hold firm until the end.

You call us partners Lord. Help us to see ourselves as co-laborers in your work on earth.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the antidote to deception

encourage each other daily ... so that none of you is hardened by sin's deception. [Heb 3:13 HCSB]

The Greek word parakaleite, translated here as encourage, can also be rendered as comfort, exhort or console. I love that! It reminds me of what Paul writes to the Corinthians about what it means to speak prophetically. In reality we need God's prophetic help to keep us from being deceived.

I sometimes think that encouragement is simply giving a friend our undivided attention. These are often the times when we engage our heart with the heart of another. In such moments divine words of comfort spring forth from within. These words encourage our hearts and keep us from sinning.

Teach us Father to hear the unspoken and see the invisible. That we might encourage a friend.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the unbelieving heart

See to it, my brothers, that no evil, unbelieving heart is found in any of you, as shown by your turning away from the living God. [Hebrews 3:12 ISV]

In the context of a forty year Israeli wilderness experience the writer speaks to us about our hearts. He indicates that the unregenerate and unbelieving heart will eventually turn away from God in the wilderness. We all have seen this play out when times are tough and friends turn away from God.

In contrast we have also seen the glory of those who have endured, believing in God, under hellish experiences. In my view, people who actually know God, have a heart relationship with him, cannot turn away from him. Those who are born from above have new hearts that are incapable of unbelief.

Give us wisdom Lord that we might be instruments of love and grace to an unbelieving world.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Wrath vs Rest

I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ [Hebrews 3:11 ESV]

What do you think about when you hear about the wrath of God? Images of lightning bolts and fiery brimstone appear for some. Yet for others, the absence of God's direction come to mind. With Israel a two week journey lasted 40 years in the wilderness. It is a terrible thing to go it on our own.

To me this is the essence of faith. Will we go it alone? Make our own decisions? Or will we rest? Will we believe that God is leading us? Will we trust/rest in the Lord with all of our heart? Or will we worry? In a sense this is what wrath looks like to me: worry; anxiety; helplessness; and despair.

A most troubling idea is that God will allow us to go our own way if we, like the Israelites, reject His ways. He will allow us to be afraid of giants. He will permit us to do things that bring harm to us and others. Yet He will allow us to enter his rest when we place all of our trust and hope in him.

I desire to enter your rest Lord. Lead me in ways that bring peace.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

our hearts are tested in the wilderness

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness [Hebrews 3:7,8 ESV]

What do you think of when you hear the word 'wilderness'? I think of a place where there are no creature comforts like running water or electricity. The Israeli journey from Egypt was through such a place. At times, no food and no water. The people were bitter about their hard circumstances.

In the wilderness they complained. Their hearts hardened as they wondered if God was with them. The wilderness tests our hearts like nothing else. In times of deep distress we are tempted to envision God as the author of our pain. As we give in to the temptation our hearts harden just a bit more.

In contrast, those who see God differently are able to keep their hearts soft in the wilderness.

The key is how we see God. Do we imagine Him to be the one who controls our every step and leads us into pain? Or do we believe Him to be one who walks at our side in the dark times? One who loves us at each step and hears our every prayer. How we see God is the key to keeping our hearts soft.

Thank you Lord for walking with us in the wilderness.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

we are his house

Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. [Hebrews 3:6 NIV]

I love the word pictures that are painted in the scriptures. Sometimes believers are portrayed as the body of Christ. Peter writes of us as living stones laid upon the foundation of Christ. In this verse we are called his house. Bettered rendered as his household. Sons and daughters each of us.

The writer presents conditions to membership in this household. I do not think that he is saying that if we do these things we are members. In contrast he is saying that family members do these things. God's children are known for their confidence in God. These celebrate the hope that they have in him.

We glory today in the hope that you have placed in our hearts Lord.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

greater honor than Moses

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. [Hebrews 3:3 NIV]

Interesting to note that the words translated as honor in this verse are actually two different Greek words. The first, doxēs, carries with it a sense of something glorious. The second, timēn, denotes a sense of value. Great descriptors when comparing the the ministries of Moses and Jesus.

Moses was such a great leader. One of the greatest of all time. His ministry stands above those that follow him in the Old Testament. He was a revered leader then and still today. Yet his ministry was built on the ministry of God the Son working through him. This is why Jesus is honored more.

As with Moses, our ministry rests on the idea that God, the divine builder, is working in and through us. Consequentially anything we do is of lesser value because we are building on the foundation that Jesus has already laid. In that sense we are merely building on top of what he has already built.

You are worthy Jesus Christ. Of honor. Praise. Glory. Of all we have and are.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the heavenly calling of faithfulness

Therefore, holy brothers, partakers in a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Jesus Christ, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses was faithful in all His house. [Hebrews 3:1-2 MEV]

The two examples given in this verse reflect the two aspects of faithfulness. Faithfulness to God. Faithfulness to people. These are the things we are called from heaven to do. When we ask for God's kingdom to come we are praying for the courage to be faithful to this heavenly calling.

The words 'till death do us part' have been spoken countless times in wedding vows. They encapsulate the idea that real love is faithful. In a sense faithfulness witnesses to faith. We profess faith in God by our faithfulness to love Him and his creation. One cannot be faithful apart from faith empowered by love.

Dear Lord. When faithlessness knocks at our door, cause us to consider Jesus.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

He had to become Human

He had to become as human as His sisters and brothers so that when the time came, He could become a merciful and faithful high priest of God, called to reconcile a sinful people. Since He has also been tested by suffering, He can help us when we are tested. [Hebrews 2:17-18 VOICE]

Was it possible for God to understand humanity without becoming human. Could the One who created all things understand temptation if such a One had never experienced it? Was it necessary for the Son of God to become the son of man? These questions point the essence of the incarnation. Why was Jesus born? Why was it necessary for God to be born human and experience life as a human?

I am not sure that anyone can categorically answer this question. On one hand God is presented as One who CAN do anything. Following that logic, it seems appropriate to think that he could experience life as a human without becoming one. On the other hand, I think it is appropriate to say that God had to become one of us so that we could relate to God. To understand who He is. How He reacts. In a very real sense Jesus came to show us how to react when we are tested and find ourselves suffering unjustly.

So the issue, in my view, is not so much about God gaining a knowledge of humanity he did not have but more of us gaining a knowledge of God that we did not have. The incarnation, life, teachings and ministry of Christ teach us so many things about God. Like what real humility looks like when we are treated unfairly. How being silent when we suffer is more powerful than talking. And how the power of prayer can make us each merciful and faithful priests. In this sense He had to become human.

In our suffering Lord help us to be faithful priests and merciful reconcilers.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Jesus is not ashamed of Us

He purifies people from their sins, and both he and those who are made pure all have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his family. [Hebrews 2:11 HCSB]

I have found the purification from sin to be an ongoing process. We have been purified. We are being purified. And we will be purified. It is a process of transforming maturation. Each time we follow the Holy Spirit's lead He purifies us a bit more. With each step of faith we become more like Jesus.

Disobedience brings shame. We sin and feel the shame of how our actions impact those around us. Shame is a powerful dynamic in life. Yet when God looks at us he sees past our shame. Past our sin. He sees us as saints purified from shameful deeds. Jesus sees us as spiritual brothers and sisters.

In like manner it is our obligation to see ourselves and those in our spiritual family with the eyes of Christ. We must resist the urge to identify our spiritual brothers and sisters as 'sinners'. They are, like us, in a process of purification. We must not be ashamed of these saints of God.

Forgive me Lord for all of the times that I cast shame on your children.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

He Entered into our Suffering

He is wearing a crown of glory and honor because he suffered and died. [Hebrews 2:9 NCV]

In every sense Jesus entered into the suffering of all of humanity when he was born of the virgin. He suffered things like bruises. Disappointments. Sadness. Grief. Everything that we suffer he suffered in some form. On top of that he suffered by exchanging an eternal existence for a temporal one.

The incarnation is something that no one can understand because the experience uniquely belongs to Jesus. Yet it is safe to speculate that Jesus must have felt confined by a space and time that he created. Some think that it would be like one of us deciding to live and die as an ant.

Both the incarnation and the crucifixion gives us examples of what it means to enter into the suffering of another. These provide us with a spiritual road-map. Will we, like Jesus, choose to enter into the suffering of others or will we choose to keep a 'safe distance' from those who need us the most?

I am selfish Lord. I only think of myself. Help me to deny myself. To really love.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

distributed according to His will

God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. [Hebrews 2:2,4 NET]

The subject of miracles and spiritual gifts is one that has been debated for many years. Some believe that such things ceased when the canon of scripture was completed. Others see miracles in the ordinary events of life like the birth of a baby. Most of us pray for them when we are in impossible times.

My views on these things have changed over the years. I still believe in miracles but think they are rare. In contrast I do not think that spiritual gifts are all that rare. Especially if we are open to to seeing such gifts with new eyes. I have often sensed the Holy Spirit working in the oddest ways.

I have felt the presence of God. That oneness with Him has changed me. It has given me eyes of compassion and words of encouragement. I have felt my heart break for a friend in marital troubles or one with a cancer diagnosis. These transformative things seem to be a part of his will for me.

Forgive me Lord for wanting what you give more than what you are. Fill me afresh.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

an Antidote for Spiritual Drifting

We must give our full attention to what we were told, so that we won’t drift away. [Hebrews 2:1 CEV]

The spiritual walk is an intentional effort. It requires our full attention and engagement. No one has ever drifted to their workplace or arrived by accident to their desired destination. The spiritual life is a disciplined journey. Consider what the apostle Paul writes to Timothy:
"discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things ... for the present life and also for the life to come."
Spiritual disciple does to our heart what physical training does to the body. By taking in good things we nourish our heart. By doing good things we exercise our heart. As in the physical these things take time and effort. No one grows or gets strong over night. It is why need to be spiritually disciplined.

Help us Lord to develop disciplines that grow and strengthen our inner being.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the Prostrating posture of Worship

“Let all God’s angels worship him.” [Hebrews 1:6 NIV]

Worship is a fascinating concept. In modern times the concept has become one of song, jubilation and praising with our voices. In this verse the Greek word proskynéō is rendered 'worship' by most translators. It can also be translated: "to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior".

Mostly, I think that we have lost the concept of prostrating ourselves before God. My sense is that the word conveys meanings like submission and humility. There is a reverential posture that is communicated when we read about someone prostrating before God. There is also a sense of prayer in it.

That said, I think that the word may communicate too much of a physical perspective. Many who prostrate the body have not done so with their heart. In truth worship is always always always a matter of the heart. Prostrating our heart to His. Bowing our will to His. Worship is so much more than music.

Lord. We come. We bow. Let your kingdom come in us. Let your will be done.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

a Creator of creators

In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth [Hebrews 1:10 NIV]

What comes to your mind when you hear the word foundation? I think of a house being built. Everything rests on the foundation. Jesus speaks of this idea when he compares building our lives on either the rock of his words or on the shifting sands of own ways. The foundation is the most important part of a structure.

Yet the foundation is not the whole thing. Isn't it interesting that God lays a foundation and we build on it? This speaks to me of a divine imagination. Surely God could have done more than lay the building blocks of creation. Yet he chose to involve us in the creation of offspring and other parts of his earth.

That said, this may not resonate with some who imagine God to be doing more than building foundations. Some imagine God to be in control of every part of the building process. These do not see the wonder of creation that I do. I mean really, is it not wonderful to see God as a Creator of creators.

I want to build on divine foundations Lord. Inspire me to create new things.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Do angels serve because they love?

In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? [Hebrews 1:7,14 NIV]

What goes through your mind when you hear the word angel? Perhaps you think of images from a movie or from the bible? Have you ever considered that angels can take on different forms? The word angel can also be translated messenger. It seems logical that such messengers could appear in human form.

Is it not interesting that angels are referred to as servants? Not surprising to me that these spiritual beings serve God. Yet the idea that they serve believers is quite wonderful. All things seem to be created to serve. In some sense service is a thread that runs through all of creation. Serving is love in action.

A thought comes to me that I have never had before. I wonder if the angels serve because they love? Are there angels who do what they do because they love us? Is their ministry to us simply an expression of their love? In serving are they not providing us with a heavenly example of what it means to love? I think so.

Teach us Lord to connect the dots between loving and serving.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

You are my Son

For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus:
     “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.”  [Hebrews 1:5 NLT]

I love what theologian John Gill says about this verse: "Christ is the Son of God, not by Creation, nor by adoption, nor by office, but by nature". Unlike the angels, Jesus existed before anything was created. He laid aside such an existence when he was born. Even in that he showed us the humble nature of God.

The gospel accounts testify of this nature. With each step he took. With every word he spoke. Jesus testified of the true nature of his Father. When tested by religious experts he showed a heavenly wisdom. He taught us the nature of love as he embraced the leper and healed the sick. He was God incarnate.

And with his last breaths he revealed the true nature of God. He forgave. He encouraged. And he endured. He never gave up. He revealed to us what it is like to be God's child. So with this in mind, I invite you to live fully into your inheritance. To live in such a way that God's nature is revealed to others.

Teach us Lord to walk in such a way that your nature is manifested in our lives.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Elevated above the Angels

This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is
elevated above theirs. [Hebrews 1:4 VOICE]

The One who the angels proclaimed is greater than the angels. This is the central focus of the remainder of this chapter. In the following verses the writer alludes to the idea that the Son is God himself. It is in this context that the Son is greater. In a sense only the Creator can ever be greater than the created.

In truth there are but two distinctions: Creator and created. Yet humans tend to rank our existence based on lineage or rank. It seems to be important to some to feel superior to others. This is temporal thinking. It does not recognize the common fate of all things. Death levels the playing field. It comes to each being.

So the question is this. Will we, the created, accept the rule of the Creator or will we rebuff his reign? Will we acknowledge His holy name or will we proclaim our names above his? It is a simple concept but one that is difficult to live out. We often forget who we are. We forget that the Creator has created us to love.

Remind us again Lord that we are wonderfully made to love and serve you and your creation.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

He Sat Down

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high [Hebrews 1:3 ESV]

The Mosaic Law contained a set of rules that dealt with the types of animal sacrifices that were required to deal with sins. These sacrifices were done on a continual basis in Jerusalem even in the days of Christ. Sacrifices were a large focus of Judaism and every Jew was compelled to participate.

In a sense sin, and the need for purification, was always before a believer. In contrast these verses speak to a different type of cleansing. When we read "he sat down" we understand that another sacrifice is not needed. On the cross Jesus eliminated the need for sacrifice because sin was dealt with in full.

Yet even today there is a sin consciousness that is prevalent amongst Christians. These identify more as ones sinning than ones forgiven. At every turn they seem to be reminded of their failings and shortcomings. These have never discovered the truth that Jesus has purified us from our sins.

We give thanks to you Lord for the finished work of your son on the cross.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the exact representation of His nature

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. [Hebrews 1:1-3 NASB]

I think that a book written to Hebrews by a Christian writer would first have to speak of things contained in the Old Testament. Such a text would need to address how, in light of messianic revelation, one should read the Hebrew scriptures. And whether a Hebrew is obligated to obey Mosaic Law?

In these first few verses the writer seems to make a contrast between things written by men moved by God and things expressed by the exact representation of God. He seems to indicate that things "spoken to us in His Son" carry a greater weight than things spoken by the prophets. I find this helpful.

The "Red Letter Christian" phenomenon is a reflection of such thinking. That approach helps me to discern spiritual truth when I read the Old Testament. As I read I filter the text through the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus. This method has helped me to process and understand many things written there.

Teach us Lord to process everything that we read, hear and see through Jesus.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

She bent over to look into the tomb ...

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb ... Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”. Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. -John 20:11,15-17 NRSV

I so love this exchange between Mary and Jesus. The transition from tears to joy speaks so deeply to me about the transformative power of the resurrection. Isn't it so interesting how Mary did not pay too much attention to this guy? It was unimaginable that this "gardener" could be the one she followed for many years.

Then he spoke her name and everything changed. Gardner became Teacher! Death became Life. Sorrow became Joy! I can see her rushing to him with a holy embrace. Such is the impact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believing that Jesus is alive gives us a holy hope that we will live with him forever.

Dear Lord Jesus. Because you live we live too. Because of the resurrection our fear of death is gone.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing series on the Gospel of John.

The Weekend that Changed My Life

April is an awesome time of the year for me - it is the time that I remember that Easter weekend in 1976 when I gave my heart to Jesus. My journey to that weekend started in April 1972 when my new bride (we were married the previous June) Ellen came home from a visit to an ophthalmologist with bad news – he told her that the retinas in both eyes were hemorrhaging and she would be blind within a month. The next 3 years were painful years ... visits to eye hospitals ... failed laser surgeries ... losing hope about life as I watched as my beautiful perky wife retreated into painful despair. Several years later hope was returning ... Ellen was seeing in shades of gray ... she could somewhat function with a powerful magnifying glass. Then hope was crushed on a Sunday in November 1974 when Ellen awoke with dark spots in her eyes ... before the day was out everything was black again ... I was devastated!

The days were dark again ... sadness and despair ruled the day ... I medicated with beer and bourbon. Then something changed – I transferred to Houston Texas from Newark New Jersey in February 1975 ... Ellen and I moved in March. Within a week of moving to our new house Marvale, a neighbor, knocked on the door ... Ellen answered the door and Marvale knew instantly why they had move to Houston ... you see she and her husband Jerry (with their 2 children) were packing their moving van in Oklahoma that same Sunday that Ellen’s eyes were hemorrhaging ... they had no clue why they were being transferred to Houston ... but God knew and when she met Ellen Marvale also knew. A friendship began to grow with our new neighbors ... Jerry tried to talk to me about Jesus but I would have nothing to do with religion or God ... my wounds went deep.

On a Sunday in August 1975 Ellen capitulated to Marvale’s invitation to come to church ... after all I had to work that day and couldn't go ... and went to church with her and her family. The pastor did something different that morning ... before he gave his sermon he asked if anyone would like to invite Jesus into their heart ...Ellen’s hand shot up ... she was the only one and the pastor decided to speak to her after the service. He proceeded to give his sermon and asked people to turn to a bible passage ... as Marvale opened her bible Ellen looked down and pointed to the scrpture ... she saw the words of the scripture ... and could read the very small print ... she could not believe what had happened ... she could now see out of her left eye ... simply miraculous!

That evening I returned home from work to this wild and thoroughly unbelievable story and ... being a very wounded and skeptical man ... I shrugged it off as a part of the weirdness of our lives. A week later the reality of the miracle hit me in the face ... I came home to the news that Ellen had ... for the first time in over 3 years ... got her drivers license ... I was shocked and could no longer stay in denial of what had happened to her ... she had passed the eye exam. At her insistence we started going to the church where she accepted Jesus ... what a weird place ... people smiled and seemed to enjoy church ... there were no hymnals ... they didn’t kneel ... it made me feel quite uncomfortable. I quickly took control and announced that we would begin attending an Episcopal Church ... the denomination that I grew up in. Ellen acquiesced and we began a journey that encompassed several churches and many Full Gospel Businessmen’s meetings. I was beginning to see that faith was more than a religion ... I started to be lovingly ... and sometimes not so lovingly confronted ... with the scriptures.

On a weeknight in the fall of 1975 Ellen interrupted my TV time with a few questions ... ones that would impact me for the rest of my life. She started with “Do you believe in the bible?” I replied sarcastically “Of course I do ... Episcopalians believe in the bible.” ... I wasn’t going to let her get the best of me ... my religion was just as good as hers. She asked another question: “Do you believe in evolution?” I said “Of course I do ... it is science.” Then she said something that rocked me – “Then you don’t believe in the bible”. Of course being a New Yorker I had to say something, so I retorted “I don’t know about all that but whatever the Episcopalians believe is what I believe.” I had no clue what the bible said because I had never read it and for some reason this bothered me.

As the months passed I watched Ellen become stronger ... we would argue ... I would win but didn’t really feel that I had won. She was being transformed into something beautiful. Then Good Friday 1976 came ... by now we were watching the 700 Club almost every night ... I was often moved by testimonies of healings and miracles. That Friday night Pat Robertson invited us to take communion with him ... we used a hamburger bun and apple juice ... it was so moving ... my heart was touched and broken. The next night we attended a Full Gospel Businessmen’s convention with Jerry and Marvale ... a medical doctor spoke ... the message was endearing ... then came an altar call for healing ... Ellen still struggled with diabetes and went forward for prayer. As I watched her go forward my heart broke once again and I closed my eyes and prayed my first real prayer. I began to pray by saying “God if you will heal my wife I will stop drinking” ... as I spoke a presence came over me ... I became aware that I was a sinner ... I felt dirty on the inside ... I changed my prayer and told the Lord I would give up the booze because it was what he wanted me to do ... I didn't really know it but I was surrendering my heart to Him. A minute later I opened my eyes and there was Jerry standing in front of me – he told me that the speaker was praying for people and asked me to go down with him. I went down and the man put his hand on my head and blessed me ... that was it ... I thought that nothing had happened ... that is until the next day.

The next day was Easter and we went to church in the evening with our neighbors ... no one had a clue what I had done in the quietness of my heart the night before ... I didn’t plan to tell anyone. I remember, like it was yesterday, that night at a large church in Houston ... I was caught up in worship for the first time in my life. I remember we were singing a chorus from the Andre Crouch song "My Tribute". We were repeating the verse "To God be the glory" … I was in a state of surrender … singing my heart out … entering a most holy place of worship … then ... shock of all shocks ... I came to the realization that I was no longer singing in English … I was totally freaked out ... I tried to rationalize but I couldn’t – God had met me, given me a spiritual gift and assured me that I was His ... powerful transformation was beginning ... it was the beginning of the wildest ride of my life ... a ride with my friend Jesus

It has been fun remembering and writing about that season of my life some 30 years ago ... a sweet memory that I will celebrate this week as I remember Jesus’ week of passion ... a week that started with praises ... continued with betrayal, denials and death ... and ended with miraculous resurrection. What a difference between Good Friday and Easter ... back then and back in April 1976.

... first posted on April 7, 2006

He saw the Joy

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. [Hebrews 12:2 GW]

The spikes ripped through his hands and his feet. The pain was excruciating. The shame unbearable. Every part of his body shook with agony. Thoughts of despair captured his mind. He was fully human and experienced torture as one of us. Yet he saw the joy beyond the cross. He saw resurrection.

Unlike the thieves who flanked him on each side, Jesus transcended pain. And shame. And agony. And despair. These things could not lay hold of him. As he hung on the cross he forgave. He blessed. He gave us an example to follow in difficult times. His inner eyes were fixed on a resurrection from death.

Jesus turned evil inside out that first Good Friday. He had an inner vision of joy that caused him to endure death. Overcome shame. Perhaps this vision of joy could do the same for us in hard times? Maybe life is all about embracing joy? And in the end, seeing joy is all about seeing our resurrection.

Dear Jesus. Help us to embrace the joy that is ahead of us when we endure hard times.

... this devotion is part of a series on the book of Hebrews.

Unbearable Sorrow

I want to share a bit on a topic that has been on my mind since I read a post that my friend Jill Hollis wrote about her gut-wrenching battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. Here is an excerpt from her post:

"I believe that this life is full of the unbearable. Often unimaginable heartbreaking pain and suffering."

Reminds me of this line from The Impossible Dream, that beautiful anthem from Man of La Mancha:

"To bear with unbearable sorrow. And to run where the brave dare not go"

The words take me back to that Intensive Care Unit where I, along with my two young children, watched my first wife breathe her last breaths. Sometimes our sorrow is so unbearable. Often life presents us with seemingly impossible circumstances. And sometimes it feels like God is not there.

But on that occasion. As Ellen was slipping off to a new life. A nurse walked in and asked if she could sing Amazing Grace. Ellen's favorite song. With tears rolling down our faces we witnessed the passing of our beloved wife and mom. The song made our sorrow a bit more bearable.

I don't really have any answers to the question of intense sorrow other than to say that life is often riddled with pain and suffering. But I think that in the midst of our pain God sometimes reveals Himself in unusual ways. I think of this verse from the book of Hebrews that speaks of angels:

"Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?"

The word Greek word translated "angel" is sometimes translated "messenger". Perhaps that nurse with the beautiful voice was one of those messengers? Perhaps one of the purposes of angels, be they heavenly or earthly, is to help us bear the unbearable? Perhaps the admonition to bear one another's burdens or sorrows is a primary reason for our existence? Perhaps sorrow is unbearable without angels?

Thank you Lord for the angels in our lives.

- originally posted in September 2009

A Criminal’s Death

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 NLT]

These words break me and inspire me. When I compare my attitude to that of Jesus I find myself severely lacking. It is impossible for us to comprehend what it was like for Christ to lay aside eternity and enter a finite existence. It has been compared to a human being being born as an ant, living as an ant and giving their life so that other ants might live. Yet even that scenario comes up short.

The phrase "he took the humble position of a slave" teaches us what real humility looks like. It is hard for many of us in America to understand what it is like to be a slave. Yet how many of us have worked in jobs that we hated or have suffered in abusive relationships. These images begin to describe the humility of Christ Jesus as he walked amongst us and was lastly condemned to a cruel death.

Who among us would voluntarily die a torturous death for someone else? A fate reserved for criminals and those despised by "civil" people. I find it ironic that the people who should have known better, both religious and secular leaders, acted like criminals in the ways that they treated Jesus. Such is the path of the proud. Yet, in contrast, the humble road always causes us to pick up our cross. How could it not?

Dear Lord. Teach us to walk as slaves. Help us to deny ourselves and pick up our cross.

... this devotion is part of a series about the writings of Paul..

It is Finished!

He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. [John 19:30 NASB]

The words “It is finished” are translated from one Greek word: “tetelestai”. The word is an accounting term used in Jesus' times to indicate something that was “Paid in Full”. When I consider this aspect of the cross I think of the word redemption. Jesus death redeemed us and paid our debt in full.

The idea of being redeemed speaks of a debt that was owed and is now forgiven, or paid in full. It reminds me of a phrase in the Lord's prayer that is often translated "forgive us our debts". It begs the question: "What was the human debt that was forgiven on the cross?" I think that this debt is the one we have to love both our creator and his creation. We are created to love and we trespass when we do not love.

Some see this word, “tetelestai”, from an accountant's transnational perspective. I think that we miss the message when we reduce it to those terms. Jesus' death was the ultimate act of love. As his divine blood flowed down from the cross he was showing us how to love. He was showing us what love really looks like. When he died his mission of love was finished. Our debt of love was paid in full by his redeeming love.

Lord help me to love as I remember the price love paid for my redemption.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

Has there ever been a more surreal death in all of history? Lean into this with me if you can. For hours, in the middle of the day, darkness reigned over the earth. The atmosphere was tenuous and people were certainly on edge. Then from the cross a scream penetrated the darkness. It was God's own son crying out with words of being forsaken. Oh my! Small wonder that some thought he was calling out for Elijah. Who would have ever thought the Messiah, the son of God, would feel forsaken and say such a thing.

This short statement so encourages me. Many times I have felt forsaken by God. When my first wife died at 43 my soul cried out with words too painful to say out loud. In hospital rooms and rehab facilities I have felt so alone and forsaken. To know that Jesus experienced like feelings of being forsaken gives me courage to hope again. To know that my Lord knows what it is like to feel forsaken gives me renewed energy to pray. The son of God could have kept silent but broke the silence so that we would know that he understands us at the deepest of levels of our pain and despair. Who is like this Messiah? Who is like Jesus?

My God. My God. Thank you for suffering the pain of feeling forsaken.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

I Thirst

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

These words are the first that Jesus speaks to us that reminds us that he was fully human. So far he has spoken divine words of forgiveness, assurance and care to those around him. John, the gospel writer, seems to indicate that Jesus said “I thirst” to simply fulfill this Messianic prophecy from Psalm 69:
“They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
His statement caused wine vinegar to be given to him thereby fulfilling the prophecy. Yet, I think that the message from these words is much deeper than a mechanical fulfillment of prophecy. In these words we see into his sufferings and get a glimpse into the normalcy of his death. Like so many others who have died Jesus body suffers dehydration and he becomes thirsty as his body enters it's final stages.

These final words remind us also that Jesus is the giver of living water and his blood is representative of what we remember when we drink of the cup at communion. His words also remind us that he calls all who thirst spiritually to follow after him. He is the only one who can satisfy us and quench our soul. He is the only one who has suffered and died to do so.

My soul thirsts and aches after you Lord. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

Behold, your son! ... Behold, your mother!

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in all of the hoopla that is surrounding Jesus as he suffers on the cross and forget that one is watching him with a broken heart. What would it have been like to have been Mary? Can you even imagine watching your son being treated in such a vile fashion? What a nightmarish experience this must have been for Mary as she watched her beloved son, who has done absolutely nothing wrong, be nailed to the cross. Words escape me as I try to come to grips with her feelings.

Yet another is also watching with a broken heart. John, the writer of the gospel, who describes himself as "the disciple whom he loved", is standing next to Jesus' mom. He too cannot believe what he is seeing. His soul has been pierced and hope seems so far. To these two hurting souls Jesus speaks sweet words calling them into a family relationship. With these words Christ is speaking to us about finding comfort in each other when life seems out of control. In a sense we are God's familial gifts to each other.

Lord, give me an open heart for your family. Help us to share our pain with each other.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

Today you will be with me in Paradise

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Two condemned men are watching Jesus. These two are also nailed to crosses. Both have joined in with the crowd in their mocking of Christ. Both have heard Jesus pray and offer forgiveness to those who mock. To those who drove the nails. To those who gamble for his robe. One hears him forgive and continues to mock him - perhaps he saw forgiveness as a sign of weakness? Yet the other responds differently and rebukes the other thief. Two thieves. Two men dying. Two different reactions.

What follows is truly amazing. Nailed to a cross a thief cries out for the forgiveness that Jesus offered. The mocker has been transformed by Christ's words of forgiveness and now defends him to the other thief. And all the while Jesus is listening. Not only to what the man says but to the faith that comes from his heart. Then, in an amazing mix of boldness and desperation, the thief cries out to Jesus. And, oh my, Jesus' response to him is so unexpected. So amazing. So divine. As he is dying he offers hope to everyone.

I am in awe of your forgiveness Lord. Help me to forgive as I am forgiven.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.