agapé lost

However, I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. [Revelation 2:4 ISV]
It seems that love, like many things, rarely stays the same. Love grows or it abates. It is found and sometimes it is lost. In this verse it is hard to discern what sort of love is being referenced. Offhand I might think it to be just fleshly love. Yet the Greek word translated here is agapé.

Perhaps it is significant that the word used is agapé? Many of us think this is the highest form of love. It is often described as: selfless, sacrificial and even godlike. So how is it that such a love can be abandoned? My theory is that it can only happen when agapé never reaches the heart.

It is certainly possible for graces like selflessness to cease when it is superficial. Sacrifices can stop when they are unacknowledged. Even so, I believe that there is an agapé form of love that will not be abandoned. A love for God that is resident in the new spiritual hear of the believer.

Connect us with our hearts Lord that our love will stay strong.

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

toughness. patience. endurance.

Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. ... I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. ... You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. [Revelation 2:1-3 NLT]

There are seven epistles contained in Revelation. This is how the first one begins. The pattern is the same for the other seven letters. The congregation is first commended then it is censured.

The Greek word κόπος, translated here as hard work, can be rendered 'laborious toil'. It reminds me that following God requires inner toughness and requires us to hang in there when the work is hard. It also reminds me of this sentence that I heard Robert Schuller say many years ago.
Tough times never last, but tough people do.
I think that sentiment is the heart of what it means to endure. There are things in life that try us like nothing else and lay bare either our weakness or our toughness. People and suffering can surface the best and worst in us. It is why patience and endurance are so needed.

Teach me Lord to patiently act and not impulsively react.

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

spiritual keys

I am the one who lives. I was dead, but look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. [Revelation 1:18 ERV]

What do you think about when you hear the word key? Perhaps it is something that can be locked or unlocked? Interesting that 'keys', and not 'key', is used here. Reminds me of the passage where Jesus speaks of the keys to the kingdom. This verse in Revelation is a reference to those keys.

When people read about the keys to the kingdom they often think about spiritual authority over forces of darkness. I think that these kingdom keys are much more practical. I think of the idea that I have the power to speak life or death to a situation. To open or close spiritual doors.

In reality, we all have tremendous power over darkness and even death. By our words we can open doors of light that usher in encouragement. Our actions can lock doors of hate and open ones of love. Yet the power to open such doors is given to the one who has a heart that is divinely open.

Open our heads and our hearts Lord that we might unlock doors that are closed.

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

trustworthy messengers

I turned to see who was talking to me. ... When I saw him, I fell down at his feet like a dead man. He put his right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. [Revelation 1:12,17 NCV]

How do you think you would respond if Jesus appeared before your very eyes? Fainting, as John seems to have done, seems like a logical response. Interesting that Jesus appeared to John as someone that he did not recognize - a being that was unlike anything that he had ever seen.

The text says that Jesus showed up in John's vision with a message for the seven churches in Asia. I love that he chose this apostle to be a conduit for a message to these assemblies. A wild vision given to another may have been discounted. In contrast John was trustable.

In my life I have seen a lot of people speak for God. Sadly, unlike John, some of these were not reliable and their message not believable. I guess what I am saying is that the messenger is important. They must be trustworthy. They must be trusted to only speak what God shows them.

Help us to be trustworthy messengers Lord.

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

the listening heart

I, John, am your brother. ... I was on the island of Patmos ... On the Lord’s day I was in the Spirit, and I heard a loud voice behind me that sounded like a trumpet. [Revelation 1:9-10 NCV]

What do you think John means when he says "I was in the Spirit"? Many commentators interpret it to mean an ecstatic spiritual state of being. Like being in a trance. In my thinking John was caught up in worship and prayer. A place where he was able to hear God's voice in his heart.

Have you ever had God speak to your heart? Ever hear something that absolutely rocked you at the deepest levels. A word or phrase that was undeniably the voice of God. I have. Several times. Such words have brought clarity to me. Often causing me to weep with joy and amazement.

It is hard to be open to such voices because they are not discerned with our heads but with our hearts. People, even religious ones, have been trained to distrust the voices of their hearts. In contrast, the scriptures teach us that God does speak and we can hear him if listen with our heart.

Help me to quiet my mind Lord, that I might have a listening heart.

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

a kingdom of priests

He made us to be a kingdom of priests who serve God his Father. [Revelation 1:6 NCV]

I so need to be reminded about who I am. So often I forget that I am more than what I see in the mirror. I lose sight of eternity and fall into an earthly malaise. Then I read a verse like this and I remember that I am a part of something that will outlive and outlast this temporal experience.

The kingdom of God has no hierarchy. No pecking order. No priest is greater than the next. Each priest is uniquely equipped to serve in the divine kingdom. Yet our ministry is not fleshly. We are called to connect our hearts to God and to people as we serve in this divine kingdom.

So how do we connect? I suggest that we do so when we listen as a friend confesses their fears and their sins to us. We embody a priestly mantle when we offer forgiveness and encouragement. Above all we serve as priests when we intercede, praying to our Great High Priest.

Open our eyes Lord that we may serve you and the world as loving priests.

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

seventeen sevens

From John to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace be yours from God, who is, who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits in front of his throne [Revelation 1:4 GNT]

Seven churches. Seven spirits. These are the first expressions of seven in Revelation. Other sevens will follow. Seven candlesticks, stars, lamps, seals. The list goes on to include, in total, seventeen sevens. It causes me to wonder why so many sevens pop up in the book.

In Genesis the Lord is reported to complete creation in seven days. Perhaps the number is a sign of completeness or fullness. That said, I am not wont to chase numerological rabbit trails. My point is that perhaps, as much of the book is symbolic, we might view sevens in this way.

Given that, I think that John's message is not merely for a small number of congregations in Asia but to the church universal. And when we read of seven spirits we can envision the fullness of God. Complete from beginning to end. Past, present and future. The holy trinity.

Today Lord, help us to receive the grace and the peace that you offer to us.

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

prophetic words

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. [Revelation 1:3 NASB]

John, the author of Revelation, boldly declares his writings to be prophetic. As such he says that a blessing comes to the one who reads, hears and heeds what he writes. I think that this verse separates this book from every other New Testament writing in it's scope and purpose. The book is not a gospel account nor is it an epistle but an accounting of a spiritual experience.

Since 1975 I have been involved in all sorts of Charismatic and Pentecostal groups. For many years I spoke in a prophetic fashion to thousands of people. Most of what I proclaimed embodied what Paul said about prophecy. That it is meant to encourage and build people up. Perhaps that is how we should read this book? Perhaps we should not see prophecy as prediction but as proclamation?

In reality much time is wasted trying to understand what Revelation is predicting. I have not found eschatological charts and timelines to do anything but scare people about end time wrath. In contrast I have seen prophetic words heal and encourage. My purpose is to find those words as I read Revelation. My desire is to understand the prophetic heart of the book. And allow it to inspire me.

Open my eyes Lord that I might see your prophetic work in the world around me.

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

the revelation

This is the revelation of Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King: an account of visions and a heavenly journey. God granted this to Him so He would show His followers the realities that are already breaking into the world and soon will be fulfilled. [Revelation 1:1 VOICE]

This last book of the bible is an appropriate ending to it. Genesis, the first biblical book, begins in a garden. Revelation ends in a garden. The book carries in it themes of heaven and of earth. It is a melding of heavenly visions and earthly realities. It is misunderstood by many like me.

It is important to first note that the book is a divine revelation of a person. In each passage a bit of Jesus the Anointed is revealed to us. I think that it is important, as we read the book, to interpret it through the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus that we find in the gospel accounts.

The book is filled with visions that are hard to understand if we take our eyes off of the one who is being revealed. The clear message of it can be obscured if we get caught up in charts and timelines. It is all about hidden realities revealed to encourage us in our walk with the Revealer.

We need you Lord. Reveal yourself afresh to us today.

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

listen. look. linger.

My brothers and sisters, I beg you to listen patiently to what I have said. I wrote this letter to strengthen you. And it is not very long. [Hebrews 13:22 ERV]

An appropriate ending to this epistle. We benefit most from the scriptures when we:
  • Listen patiently to it's message. Too often we consume the scriptures like fast food. Gulping down thoughts and ideas like a Big Mac. In contrast the writer invites us to slowly chew on the sustenance that is offered to them. Savor the inner meanings of the words and endeavor to taste each idea. Live patiently with ideas. Wait for God to shed light on them.
  • Look for things in it that encourage us. Too often in life people use the scriptures to beat themselves down instead of lift themselves up. As we read we must do so with an understanding that God is good and loves us. As such his words are always good and loving. As we read the bible we should examine what we read in light of God's character.
  • Linger over it regularly. Like a nutritious diet, regular portions of the scriptures are good for our health. We benefit most when we read the scriptures consistently. Spending time thinking about what we read helps us understand both God and ourselves. In my life I have found so much inspiration by simply taking the scriptures in one day at a time.
Lord help us to read the scriptures with discipline that we might embrace its message.

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

his will is always to transform

May the God of peace provide you with every good thing you need in order to do his will, and may he, through Jesus Christ, do in us what pleases him. [Hebrews 13:21 GNT]

Ever wonder what God's will is for your life? Or for your children? Over the ears I have come to understand that his will is more about, as this verse indicates, what he does in us than what we do for him. In reality no one can do anything for God if he has not done something in them.

I believe that the provision this verse speaks about is spiritual in nature. God gives spiritual gifts that we might do his will. That we might become like Jesus, he distributes to us gifts like compassion and wisdom. As we exercise these gifts we are transformed into the image of his Son.

And becoming like Jesus is the heart of being in, and doing, God's will. In essence, we can be in God's will in any vocation, or any situation, if we are being transformed. This idea is so freeing because it allows us to connect with our heart passions and see them as an extension of divine will.

Thank you Holy Spirit for giving us the gifts we need to be in accord with divine will.

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

honor of the heart, head and hands

Continue to pray for us, for we are convinced that we have a clear conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in every way. [Hebrews 13:18 MOUNCE]

When my son was young we used to watch Star Trek TNG. One of the characters on the show was a Klingon named Worf. The driving force in his life was honor. The character once said: "A Klingon's honor means more to him than his life." That sentence is so spiritual nature.

Yet I do think that the word (honor) might be a bit misunderstood. For some the appearance of honor is all that matters. The focus is to be perceived as honorable by other people. Yet, in a spiritual sense honor is mostly about the consistency between our inner and outer lives.

When the writer speaks of having a clear conscience he is connecting honor to the heart. In reality honor is an issue of the heart. When we say our conscience is clear we are indicating that our heart, our head and our hands are in full accord. To be honorable is to live this way.

We pray Lord for our friends, and ourselves, that we all might live honorably in every way.

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

spiritual authority

Listen to your leaders and submit to their authority over the community, for they are on constant watch to protect your souls and someday they must give account. [Hebrews 13:17 VOICE]

When I first came to Christ in the 1970s there was a phenomena in religious circles called 'the shepherding movement'. It was a heavy handed thing. People were encouraged to ask their shepherd for advice in all matters carnal and spiritual. It lasted for a few years then died out.

I have often said that the issue in religious circles is not really authority. In truth the church is not the military. One may choose to leave one church and attend another. No one has the power to keep a person under their authority against their will. People even escape from cults.

The heart of the issue is about influence. And there is no greater way to influence anyone than to accept them and love them unconditionally. This to me is the heart of spiritual authority. Love people as God loves us and you will have more influence in their life than you can imagine.

Teach us Lord to surround ourselves with people who love us without conditions.

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

the sacrifice of doing good

Do not forget to do good to others, and share with them, because such sacrifices please God. [Hebrews 13:16 NCV]

I love the connections made in this verse. It brings pleasure to God when we do good to others. What do you think the writer means when he connects doing good with sacrifices. Can we do good without sacrificing? I guess it depends what we think the phrase 'doing good' means.

Consider giving. Are we doing good if it is not 'sacrificial'? Or what about serving? Is helping another in our spare time 'sacrificial'? I think that there are varying degrees of sacrifice. Yet a case can be made that money or time spent for another, instead of ourselves, is sacrificial in nature. So I think that doing good to others is usually sacrificial. Unless one is compensated, of course. ツ

Help us Lord to remember that we are blessed to be a blessing to others.

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

the cost of praise

So through Jesus let us always offer to God our sacrifice of praise, coming from lips that speak his name. [Hebrews 13:15 NCV]

For years many have been led to believe that praise is something that we do in Church. A lifting of hands and a joining of voices to exalt God and extol his virtues. I certainly amen that. Yet the singing of songs and the clapping of hands is a very small part of what it means to offer praise.

As the writer says, praise involves sacrifice. It costs us something. King David understood this when he said that he would not give to God that which cost him nothing. Praise often costs us dearly. It demands that we deny ourselves as we follow the way of Jesus. The way of the cross.

Jesus offered the highest form of praise on the cross. He showed us how to offer a sacrifice of praise. Our hearts, like his, offer praise when we are silent when we are accused. Our sacrifice of praise is most real when we deny ourselves, pick up our cross, submit to God and follow Jesus.

Afresh today dear Lord I offer you my heart. Let your way not my way be done.

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

the city of the heart

Here on earth we do not have a city that lasts forever, but we are looking for the city that we will have in the future. [Hebrews 13:14 NCV]

The contrast between the two cities mentioned in this verse is stark. Eternal vs temporal. Invisible vs visible. Inner vs outer. In reality, we who believe are residents of both cities. We walk the sidewalks of this world while living in a city that is so much different that what we see and hear.

The outer city demands our attention by captivating our senses with sights, sounds and aromas of this world. Yet all the while the inner city beckons us to sense an unseen reality. A dimension that is filled with love in the midst of hate. Peace in a time of war. Joy in times of great despair.

Yet this inner city is a place that we must seek out. It does not come to us. We come to it. Like the saints of old we must, by faith, seek this city out. Give priority to this inner city of the heart. Daily we must sense the activities of this city. Then we must live according to the laws of this city.

Lord, please open our inner eyes and ears that we might see the eternal city.

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

the strengthened heart

Do not let all kinds of strange teachings lead you into the wrong way. Your hearts should be strengthened by God’s grace, not by obeying rules about foods, which do not help those who obey them. [Hebrews 13:9 NCV]

I have always been somewhat of a rule follower. Obeying the rules always strengthened my ego but never really did anything for my heart. I found that following the rules produced in me a judgmental attitude towards those who did not follow the rules. And that was a problem.

In contrast, embracing God's grace strengthened my heart and gave me the ability to offer grace to others. People of grace understand that they are divinely loved unconditionally and desire to love in the same way. And as they love unconditionally their hearts are strengthened.

Thank you Lord for the grace you give to me and the grace you offer through me.

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

the divine self

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. [Hebrews 13:8 NCV]

It is hard to read this and not remember the words that God used to describe himself to Moses. The divine descriptor he uttered was "I Am". I looked up the Greek word translated "the same" here and found that an alternative definition is "self". The idea that Jesus is the "I Am".

This makes sense to me because I believe that Jesus is divine. God in the flesh. Therefore he is "I Am". The divine self. The one who is eternally the same. Love never changing and never ending. Eternal mercy and goodness. Always present with us. These are descriptors of a divine being.

This brings me such comfort Lord. You are always trustable because you are always the same.

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

spiritual copycats

Remember your leaders who taught God’s message to you. Remember how they lived and died, and copy their faith. [Hebrews 13:7 NCV]

I have benefited greatly from those who have taught me about spiritual things. Over forty years ago my friend Jerry taught me what following God was all about. My longtime pastor Ernie passed on to me a love for the scriptures. Adam, the pastor of the church we now attend, teaches me how to embrace the gray areas. Since coming to the Lord I have learned so much from spiritual leaders.

Yet I think that each of these men would absolutely not want me to be their clone. They would want me to copy qualities like their faith but not how they lived. The latter is a mistake that I made when I was young. I admired my leaders and copied what they did. I was a spiritual copycat. Thankfully, I found the unique expression of God in my heart and embraced a faith that was truly my own.

Teach us Lord to embrace the uniqueness of our faith and your life in our lives.

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

confidence of the heart

I will not be afraid, because the Lord is my helper. People can’t do anything to me. [Hebrews 13:6 NCV]

On the surface this statement sounds a bit absurd. People of faith are often mistreated. Saints of old were tortured and martyred for their faith. So the idea that people cannot hurt us seems to border on delusional positive thinking. Yet, perhaps the author is trying to convey a different truth?

Under threat of papal imprisonment and censure Martin Luther uttered these words:
"I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.
In saying this Luther affirmed that there are things in life more important than external appearances or consequences. When he says it is neither right nor safe to go against conscience he affirms that there are things greater than what we can see. His words are filled with a confidence of the heart.

In truth there are things worse than what can be done to us. What we do to ourselves is far worse. It is worse to betray our conscience. In his epistle James teaches us that sin is knowing the right thing to do and refusing to do it. In doing so we do great damage to our very being.

Help me to not be afraid of what people can do to me Lord. Give me a confidence of the heart.

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

the divine presence in the heart

God has said, “I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.” [Hebrews 13:5 NCV]

On the cross Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Perhaps this was the most human thing that he ever said? His emotion was raw. In his heart he knew that God was with him but in the extreme pain of a torturous cross he 'felt' abandoned. In that I take much comfort.

We all know, in our heads anyway, that God is with us in the most awful times of our lives. Yet we often do not sense his presence with us in our pain. Our prayers go unanswered and a feeling of raw abandonment encompasses us. Some do not spiritually survive the experience.

In my own life an inner faith, a knowing in my heart, has helped me to persevere in hard times. Jesus had such a knowing. He experienced a divine presence within his inner being when his outer senses were on fire with pain. Because of this he persevered through feelings of abandonment.

Lord, teach us to look for your presence within when we feel abandoned.

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

satisfaction of the heart

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be satisfied with what you have. [Hebrews 13:5 NCV]

Has there ever been better advice for citizens of 21st Century America? And other nations for that matter. It reminds me of that old Rolling Stones song that refrains "I can't get no satisfaction". The deep unrest about material matters reminds me that satisfaction is a matter of the heart.

The writer accurately observes that the issue is not money but the love of it. And the things that money buys. The matter is one that confronts the rich and the poor. In the most basic sense, satisfaction and contentment are inner issues that cannot met with external things like money.

Our lack of contentment often drives us to make really unwise decisions. We go into debt thinking that a new car or house will bring satisfaction. And they do not. As Paul told the Philippians, contentment is a learning process. A journey of the heart that confronts us at a deep level.

Help us Lord to be free from the love of money. Teach us to find satisfaction in our inner life.

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

the heart of marriage

Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. [Hebrews 13:4 NLT]

I recently had a conversation about marriage with a young man. Here is the question that I asked him: "Who determines whether a couple is married or not? Is it the government? Or a religious group? Or something else?" He was a bit stunned by the question. How would you have answered?

I told the young man that only the couple can determine whether they are married or not. In a sense, no civil or religious entity can legitimize a marriage. These groups only deal with externals. In contrast, marriage is internal. A joining of heart and minds. Such relationships transcend legality.

Faithfulness is the product of the joining of hearts. Our hearts to a spouse. Our hearts to God. There is no entity that can separate this union. Governments cannot. Religion cannot. Each day married people all over the world remain faithful because their hearts have been joined together.

Remind us Lord of what it means have our hearts and minds joined to you and to each other.

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

developing empathy

Remember those who are in prison as if you were in prison with them. Remember those who are suffering as if you were suffering with them. [Hebrews 13:3 NCV]

Jesus taught us that the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets is to "Do to others what you want them to do to you." His words ring especially true for those who are suffering. The main thing that people want is empathetic friendships not passive pity.

I learned a lot about empathy during the three years that I weekly visited prisoners at a state penitentiary. I realized that the inmates did not need a minister but a friend. They did not need my wisdom but desperately wanted my empathy. They benefited most from my vulnerability.

I often say that I received so much more from the inmates than I gave to them. I saw how one mistake could change a life in such a negative way. I also saw how much love they had for me. Life is filled with opportunities to develop empathy if we are willing to live outside of our comfort zones.

Dear Lord, please transform our pity into empathy.

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

loving strangers as spiritual siblings

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it [Hebrews 13:1-2 NLT]

The Kingdom of God, in a spiritual sense, is one filled with familial relationships. We are all spiritual children of God and sibings in Christ. It is why the writer urges us to persist in loving. Even when we are offended or rejected. We love without condition in the manner that God loves us.

The word philoxenia, translated hospitality, is defined as a love of strangers. It fits so beautifully with the idea of loving your spiritual siblings. In reality, a stranger in the flesh just may be a spiritual brother or sister sent, in angelic fashion, into your life to be loved by you or to love you.

Open our eyes Lord that we might see those who we meet as our spiritual brothers and sisters.

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

a transforming fire

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” [Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV]

When I hear the phrase "consuming fire" my mind wanders back to that moment when Moses first encountered God. He saw a bush that appeared to be on fire but the bush was not consumed. God was in the bush but he did not harm it. So it is with the presence of God in us.

His presence burns up all that can be burned. Shakes everything except what cannot be shaken. God's presence in our lives is anything but passive. He aggressively transforms our lives that we might be like his Son. It is why we are thankful and why worship him with reverence and awe.

Coming Holy Spirit. Burn away all that holds us back. Shake us loose from all that hinders.

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

the message of two mountains

You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom ... No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. [Hebrews 12:18,22 NLT]

The verses surrounding these speak of ancient Israelis being terrified by the voice of God at Mount Sinai. The contrast between that mountain and Zion could not be more stark. The contrast seems to spill into the image of the Warrior God to the image that Jesus presented us with in the gospels.

I think that many today suffer because they embrace the imagery of the first mountain. The ancient picture of divine wrath and vengeance. They sadly identify more with a God to be feared than a Father to be loved. In doing so they miss the joyful gathering at Mount Zion, the city of the living God.

Lord, please open our eyes that we might see the angels rejoicing.

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

spiritual pollution

Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people. [Hebrews 12:15 CEB]

God's grace is a communal phenomenon. When grace is given to one it affects us all. A life transformed transforms other lives. Yet some think that grace, amazing as it is, is a purely personal matter. These embrace the idea that salvation is 'personal' and are blind to a greater grace.

Consequentially, some do not understand that a lack of experienced grace can pollute a spiritual community. We need the grace given to others to confront us about things like unforgiveness and selfishness. Such grace can cleanse the atmosphere of spiritual pollution.

Help us Lord to be agents of grace that cleanse our communities of spiritual pollution.

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

peace and progressive transformation

Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. [Hebrews 12:14 NET]

What do you think of when you read the word holiness? Perhaps you see it as form of sacredness or piety? The Greek word carries with it a sense of being progressively transformed by the Lord into His likeness. That makes sense to me. The Christian life is all about spiritual transformation.

This verse indicates that the fruit of such transformation is a pursuit of peace. Furthermore it teaches us that this sort of peace is not merely passive. The peace that God desires is not about a cessation of war. His peace is all about pursuing the welfare of the other and not the self.

This rings true to me. This kind of peace involves transforming pride into humility. Offense into forgiveness. It is not about nations but about individuals becoming like Jesus. The lack of such transformation is an evidence that one does not know or see the Lord in this life or the next.

I need your transformation Lord. Help me to do the things that make for peace.

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

love and unintended consequences

Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? [Hebrews 12:7 NLT]

What do think of when you ponder the word 'discipline'? Perhaps visions of spankings or time-outs come to mind. It seems logical to us that a loving parent would do everything in their power to help their kids become disciplined adults. So they draw boundaries around their kids choices. As these boundaries are created consequences are given. If the child crosses the boundary they are disciplined.

I think that boundaries and consequences are what must be examined when we consider divine discipline. The idea of boundaries can be traced back to Genesis when God told Adam that there would be consequences if he ate of a specific tree. Adam ate and was forced to leave Eden. So for some it follows that everyone is disciplined by God in this very personal manner.

My thinking is that the account in Genesis is more allegorical than historical. The story is meant to teach us about ourselves and how bad choices can result in unintended consequences. In my view God generally disciplines us through natural consequences. Because he loves us God uses the consequences of our choices to bring discipline into our lives and make us disciples.

Open our eyes Lord to how you are bringing discipline into our lives.

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

experiencing joy when we are unhappy

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]

In some sense faith is a circle. It begins with Jesus when are spiritually born. This is when we first meet him. The circle ends when we meet him in the next life. Between these divine meetings Jesus teaches us how to live a life of faith. In that sense he is the source, the means and the goal.

I love what this verse teaches us about the relationship between suffering and joy. It helps us understand that we can experience joy even when we suffer. Yet such a joy cannot be realized if our focus is inward. We experience joy when we, like Christ on the cross, are focused on others.

In this light we understand the difference between being happy and being joyous. We can have joy even when we are unhappy if our attention turns to how our affliction can benefit others. We can endure unhappy circumstances if our eyes are focused on Jesus and the kind of joy that he saw.

Teach me Lord to turn my focus away from myself and onto others,

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

parasitic sins

Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. [Hebrews 12:1 MSG]

I love the imagery that Eugene Peterson energizes this verse with. It reminds me of how marathoners prepare for the long race. They train. Eat right. They have a regimen that readies them to encounter obstacles and make it to the finish line. This verse likens life to a spiritual marathon.

In that sense it is teaching us to strip ourselves of harmful things like fear, bitterness, worry and anxiety. And reminding us that that sinful acts can latch on to us and, like an invisible leech, suck the spiritual blood out us. These things can cripple us and disable for the marathon of life.

Open our inner eyes Lord that we might see the things that disable us for the race.

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

the spiritual cloud

We are surrounded by a great cloud of people whose lives tell us what faith means.
So let us run the race that is before us and never give up. [Hebrews 12:1 NCV]

I have heard some say that this verse supports the idea that ghost-like saints surround us in our daily lives. My thinking is that this cloud is simply an illusion to the idea that we are not alone in our faith journey. Faith is not something that we live out by ourselves. We need each other.

In this sense we are all a part of a spiritual cloud. A cosmic community of love and encouragement. This cloud is eternal in nature. It transcends time and space. It is filled with people, past and present, who inspire us and encourage us to never give up as we run the race of faith.

In light of this the writer admonishes us to persevere in hard times. He reminds us that we are a part of a spiritual community, a cloud if you will, filled with people who remained faithful when they suffered. And as we persevere we also demonstrate what it means to live a life of faith.

Thank you Lord for this cloud of witnesses that surround us as we run the race of faith.

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

leaning into your heart

      All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith,
      yet none of them received all that God had promised. [Hebrews 11:38 NLT]

The essence of faithfulness revolves around how we live as we wait for what has been promised. How we live when things do not turn out the way that we want. Do we persevere or do we fall away? Do we continue to believe that God is with us or do we allow doubt to morph into unbelief?

My belief is that we can only be faithful to One who we actually know. Paul wrote to Timothy saying that he endured suffering because he knew the one in whom he trusted. Sadly many fall away in hard times because they do not actually know God. And they really do not believe in his promises.

On a personal level I often struggle in this area. Even people who know God have doubts when life is hard. Sometimes it is really difficult to believe that God is working things for my good. In times like these I simply lean into my heart, the place where his promises are alive and well.

Help us Lord to find a way to lean into our heart when life does not make sense to our head.

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

so that they might rise

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. [Hebrews 11:35-36 ESV]

History is sadly littered with stories of torture. Sadder still is the justification for such acts. Governments rationalize it by invoking national security. Other examples seem to be more sadistic in nature. And to a lesser extent, mocking seems to be a fruit of this same nasty tree.

These things all point me back to the One who was tortured with flogging and a crown of thorns. The One who showed us how to rise above the sufferings of our lives. The One who quietly trusted the Father when life was reeling out of control. The One who gave us an example of a better life.

Thank you Jesus for showing us how to rise above the mockings and sufferings of our lives.

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

transformed weakness

They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. [Hebrews 11:33-34 NLT]

Daniel was a prophetic adviser to kings. His childhood friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were also advisers. These four men were dragged off into captivity when they were just boys. You can read about them, and how they were persecuted for their faith, in the book of Daniel.

I love how these verses speak of these men, tested by lions and a fiery furnace, having weaknesses transformed by faith. It reminds me of how I stuttered as a young boy. I was very afraid of giving oral reports at school. Public speaking scared me until the day I first spoke for God at church.

God is in the business of transforming our weaknesses. Moses had his stuttering transformed as he spoke for God. The first disciples had their fear transformed when they saw the resurrected Jesus. Perhaps seeing Jesus is the key to transforming human weakness into divine strength?

Lord, help me to really believe that I can do all through Christ who strengthens us.

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

the upside down nature of faith

It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. [Hebrews 11:27 NLT]

In a very real sense trusting God is all about seeing things that are visible only to our inner eyes. Thomas Carlyle put it this way: "It is the heart always that sees, before the head can see." This is a difficult concept for some because they have relied on their heads for so long.

King Solomon teaches us in Proverbs that we trust God with our heart. He goes on to say that we should not depend on our own understanding. Yet our senses tell us to trust our heads and not our hearts. In a sense faith is born when we take that first leap and begin to trust God with our heart.

This to me is the upside down nature of faith. Our head tells us to seize control while our hearts want us to let go of it. Our brains refuse to believe what cannot be seen even though our hearts know it to be true. The battle rages on. Will the head subdue the heart? Or will the heart triumph over it?

Lord, teach us to retrain ourselves to follow our trusting new hearts.

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

entering in to another's suffering

It was by faith that Moses ... chose to share the oppression of God’s people. [Hebrews 11:24-25 NLT]

I remember that first night of the grief workshop that I attended when my first wife died. The chaplain told us that we would have to step into our pain to release it. To heal we would have to share our pain with another person. Letting go of our pain is one of the most difficult things we can do.

On the flipside, people in pain need someone to share their suffering. In these verses Moses teaches us that choosing to share in the suffering of others can affect us for the rest of our lives. It is a difficult message for people who want to keep their options open and their hearts their own.

It is hard to think of this and not consider all of the caregivers that I know. People who have chosen to enter into the suffering of one that they love. Their lives are turned upside down. Yet these, because of love, show us the way of Christ. May faith lead us each to enter this kind of love.

Help us Lord to take ours eyes off of ourselves that we might see those who are suffering.

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

trials, tests and temptations

When God tested Abraham, faith led him to offer his son Isaac. Abraham, the one who received the promises from God, was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice. [Hebrews 11:17 GWT]

This verse presents us with interesting questions about trials, tests and temptations.
  • Does God order us to do something, like human sacrifice, just to test us?
  • Is it possible for an act of faith to be more religious than spiritual?
  • Why do human beings do bad things in the name of God.
To begin, I need to state the obvious. Theologians have and do differ greatly on this subject. Yet I think how we answer these questions reveal more about our image of God than we think.

If one thinks that God is a divine chess master they might lean to the idea that God is in the business of testing us by asking us to do things that seem contrary to love and goodness. But if one sees God differently they might envision these 'divine' testings more like religious temptations.

In reality, many bad things are done in the name of God that have very little to do with God. Yet God is greater than these bad things and he is able to bring good out of them for our good.

Help us Lord to discern between your voice in our heart and the religious voices in our head.

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

foreigners and nomads

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. [Hebrews 11:13 NLT]

In light of eternity, our life on earth is but a proverbial drop in the ocean of time. Yet we often do not live as though we really believe that. Why do you think that is? Is it because we are inwardly blinded to that reality? Or is it simply a reflection of where are hearts are at?

Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of our nation. Independence Day in America is an important part of our culture. Yet somehow in our celebrations we forget that we are but foreigners and nomads in this land. We belong to a kingdom that has come and is coming. Something to celebrate.

Lord, help us to remember in our heart of hearts that we are of another kingdom.

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

a city with eternal foundations

      Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations,
      a city designed and built by God. [Hebrews 11:10 NLT]

It is hard to read this verse and not think about what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God. When I consider the words 'eternal foundations' I am reminded that there are things that are timeless in nature. Forces such as love, faith and goodness seem to transcend time and space.

This city, designed and built by God, seems to be twofold in nature. There is a present realization of it that manifests through people who have been born from above. In that sense the city is already here. Yet there is a future city that is yet to be revealed. With Abraham we long to see it.

Yet as we wait for such a revelation we work to bring the kingdom and the will of God. We understand that the kingdom, like God's will, is not about the seen but about the unseen. We see this eternal city as one erected on divine invisible foundations. Such is a city we look forward to.

Our Father, we pray once again that your kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

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

unrewarded faith

Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. [Hebrews 11:6 WEB]

The 11th chapter of Hebrews is often referred to as the hall of fame of faith. The writer lists people from the scriptures who lived lives of faith. From Genesis he mentions Abel, Noah and Abraham as well as Isaac and Jacob. He reports that "these all died in faith, not having received the promises".

This last sentence calls into question the idea of God being a rewarder of seekers. Yet it also helps us to discern the upside down nature of divine rewards. Think of how Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, called people, who are poor and persecuted, blessed. How can these things be rewards?

Have you ever considered the idea that the reward of faith may not be for us but for others? In truth all of humanity was rewarded because of Noah's faith. The Jews were delivered by Moses faith. In this sense the reward was given to another. Perhaps that is the nature of heavenly rewards.

Perhaps our faithful endurance in poverty or persecution can be a pathway to blessings for our children? History is replete with such accounts. Yet the idea is challenging for those who want to be rewarded now. These forget that we seek God not to be rewarded but to know Him and his ways.

Lord, teach me to remember that that I do not seek you to be rewarded.

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

the who, not the how, of creation

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. [Hebrews 11:3]

I remember that Sunday in the early 80s when I was teaching Junior High Sunday School. I asked the kids if they believed that science supported the idea that God created the world. Most thought that it did. I pointed them to this verse in the bible and began to discuss the idea of faith and creation.

Some adamantly hold to a literal view of Genesis and to a view where the earth is about 6,000 years old. Other see the creation story as an archetypal one meant to inform us about the nature of our beginnings. Even so, each view teaches us that all things visible came from the Invisible.

Whether in an instant or over millions of years the message is the same. We all may not agree on the "how" of creation but we all agree on the "Who" of creation. By faith we discern that we are not random and purposeless beings. Our lives are ennobled by faith in the God of Genesis.

Dear Lord, please open our minds and our hearts to the message of creation.

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

unseen realities

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen. [Hebrews 11:1 TLV]

There has always been a desire for evidence of things unseen. We search the stars watching and listening for proof of life beyond our planet. Movies abound imagining life in a galaxy far far away. We are all captivated by the thought of discovery. And sometimes we hope of such things.

So it is not unusual for the scriptures to speak of realities not seen. In a sense life is all about things invisible. All about the unseen forces of love and hate. How these unseen things manifest among friends, families and nations. In truth the things we see are often a mirror of what is unseen.

Faith is both a belief in, and an evidence of, realities not seen. A person of faith embraces these invisible realities because they have been touched by them. They have evidenced God working in their life and in the world. Their hope is tangible because they have experienced God themselves.

We arise in faith Lord declaring that you are Lord of all that is seen and unseen.

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

burning bush moments

... the just shall live by faith [Hebrews 10:38 NKJV]

The scriptures are replete with stories about men and women who exemplified a life of faith. People who believed in God in the darkest of times. Courageous ones like Moses who rejected the safety of Midian for the perils of Egypt. Or how Jacob became Israel as he wrestled with God.

Such people remind me that the journey of faith is lived by people who know God. Moses, for example, was happy to live in Midian until he had an encounter with the Lord. Something was born inside of him at the burning bush. He was never the same. His life took on a new direction with a new purpose.

It reminds me that living by faith often begins with a burning bush moment. A spiritual encounter. A surrender to the will of God. Such was my experience in April 1976. I sensed a divine presence as I closed my eyes to pray that day. It changed me forever and enabled me to live by faith.

Once again Lord. We close our eyes. We pray. And we return to our burning bush moment.

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

enduring with a confident trust

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. ... Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. [Hebrews 10:35,36 NLT]

Whenever I hear the word 'trust' I remember that I am only trusting God when I am not in control. So, in light of these verses, I am thinking about my need to be confident in those times that life seems so out of control. In truth, such times are opportunities to become more confident in God.

So what should we have confidence in as we patiently endure? As Paul writes to the Romans, we should be confident that God is working in dark times. He is causing things that seem to be out of control to work for our good. And he is causing them to grow us into the image of Jesus.

And as we become more like Jesus we find ourselves doing God's will in the same way that he walked in God's will. We grow in love and compassion. We find ourselves confidently trusting God in the storms of life. And in our darkest days we endure with a confident trust and patience.

Our hope is in you Lord. Build our confidence in you as we trust you in hard times.

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

Into the hands of the living God

“Vengeance belongs to me,” says the Lord, “I will repay.” Again,“The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. [Hebrews 10:30-31 WEB]

British Colonial Christian theologian Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon titled "Sinners in the hands of an angry God". These verses, quoted from the Old Testament, are descriptive of the writing of a person who embraces an angry God perspective. Many today embrace such a paradigm.

I once had a discussion with a pastor about his views of the fear of the Lord. He described to me about how we should fear God. I called him on that saying that he was not really afraid of God. Yet such is the imagery that many have embraced as they paint the Lord as angry and vengeful.

In my view the operative word in these sentences is living. God is the epitome of all that is living. He is the author of life, love and goodness. It is not a fearful thing to fall into his loving hands because there is no fear in love. And his perfect love actually casts out our fears.

Thank you Lord for the love that I feel in your presence.

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

together to encourage

Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. [Hebrews 10:25 BSB]

This may be one of the most overused verses in the bible. It is often quoted to shame people for not attending a church service or special event. Sadly those who quote it often forget that Jesus taught us that he is there when two or three are gathered together in his name.

The heart of this verse is about our need to be with each other. Sharing our hearts as we spend time with each other. It is really difficult to share anything in a religious service where there is not two way communication. Hard to find encouragement when no one is listening.

Conversely, I have found so much encouragement when someone listens to me with an empathetic ear. There is so much inspiration in small group settings. The Holy Spirit seems to be in the dialog and in the sharing of hearts. It is why we must labor to schedule such times with the ones we love.

Help us to find times to be with people that refresh us and those in need of encouragement.

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

spiritual gardens

since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings ... let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess ... let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works [Hebrews 10:21-24 NET]

There is a progression in these verses. Faith creates hope which produces love.
  • Sincere heart faith causes us to draw near to God. Any other flavor of faith is not really faith. And as we draw near we are assured that we belong to God.
  • Hope is a lot like assurance. Consequentially this kind of hope does not resemble wishing but is more like confidence in nature. We hope because we know God. 
  • Love is the outward manifestation of an inward reality. As faith and hope are established our focus is turned away from ourselves and onto others in selfless love.
The operative words are "let us". Faith, hope and love are not passive spiritual concepts. These must be fully embraced and worked out in our lives. Like a garden they must be cultivated.

We again commit ourselves to tending the spiritual gardens in our lives Lord.

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

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.