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.