Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews’
[10APRIL2012] Eastertide Devotional Series
For 20-days leading up to Easter Sunday, I had the privilege of writing a devotional series for my church. I will be posting this devotional series as part of my Eastertide reflections for the next three weeks. Each week in this devotional series consisted of a specific theme (week one: brokenness, week two: repentance, and week three: renewal). I hope you’ll enjoy the series and I invite you to comment here on the blog or email me direct; I would love to hear your thoughts.
Brokenness: Week 1 | Day 2
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 3:1-19
There’s a lot going on in this passage of Scripture, but one portion in particular really grabs my attention this morning. First, the words of the Holy Spirit as the writer shares:
7 That is why the Holy Spirit says, ”Today when you hear his voice, 8 don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness. 9 There your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years. 10 So I was angry with them, and I said, ’Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ 11 So in my anger I took an oath: ’They will never enter my place of rest.’”
It is obvious the writer is addressing God’s people, believers… you and me. One wonders how someone who is “in the camp of God” can “harden their heart” even after seeing the miracles of God for forty years, but apparently it happens. This too, is part of the continuing saga of man’s brokenness; even extending to those who walk among the people of God.
Reflecting upon my own life, I realize how often my thoughts turn to attitudes of ungratefulness. I reflect, on occasion, about the things I don’t have rather than gratefully considering the blessings I do have. I fantasize about how I’d spend money, if I won the lottery or some sweepstakes…without giving consideration to the fact that I live in the top five-percent of wealth holders on this planet.
Brokenness runs deep and I am just as guilty of forgetting the miracles of God in my own life as those who wandered in the wilderness led by Moses. Each day I awaken to the mysterious and wonderful blessings of the God who lives and speaks to me. I want to intentionally remember His blessings and never turn my heart away in hardness from Him. May my life always be an example of obedience.
Take some time today to reflect on the blessings of God in your life. Consider the direction of your life and ask God if there are times that you have consciously or subconsciously turned away from Him or ignored His voice. Ask Him to help you see His active Hand in your life.
Our Prayer: Dear Jesus, I ask your forgiveness for the times I have been ungrateful for your provision and guidance in my life. I pray today, O Lord, that you would help me, through the empowerment of your Holy Spirit, to be more aware of Your Presence and sovereign guidance in my life. May my words and deeds always be sensitive to Your will and Your way. Amen.
8 Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. (Heb. 5:8)
2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Heb. 12:2)
I wonder why we try so hard to avoid suffering, pain, and shame. I’m not saying that diving headfirst into things that will cause us suffering or deliberately looking for opportunities to be shamed is what we should be doing either. I do wonder though, why we look at times of suffering, pain, and shame as a curse and something that we should look for escape from as quickly as possible. These are some deeply mysterious words in the Book of Hebrews and I don’t claim to understand them fully, but the author writes that Jesus was the Son of God and still learned obedience through suffering so he might be qualified as our perfect High Priest. Amazing… a perfect God enduring suffering in order to be perfected; it seems a paradox to me, but that is what the text reads. So, why do we expend so much of our energy and resources to avoid suffering in the first place, and then finding ourselves there double the effort and energy in order that we might escape from it?
I realize only a fool longs for suffering, and shame, but if we are following Christ with our lives and if we are submissively obedient to the Father God, and if we are pursuing missio dei (the Mission of God)… then find ourselves there… in that place of suffering and shame… wouldn’t it be GOD that led us there? And, if that is the case, shouldn’t we be obedient until HE delivers us or accomplishes His goal?
I wonder why we work so hard to make life easy for ourselves. I wonder why we spend so much of our effort, energy, time, money… on ourselves. I wonder why we work so hard to plan for retirement and store up “nest eggs” carefully calculated to support us for ten, fifteen, twenty, or more years after we stop working. Something in this equation doesn’t seem God-dependent to me… at least from what I have gleaned from reading the Bible. I wonder why we go to great lengths to set ourselves up for success in this life and spend so much energy to protect our personal empires. What are we trying to protect?
I realize the kinds of questions I ask and the things I wonder about will irk people and I think that too is revealing. I think it reveals a nature of “self” preservation. The nature of the flesh self doesn’t want to be denied, deprived, or disrespected. So, the false self, the despicable me, fights back. The false self avoids suffering and shame at almost any cost… The religious false self will claim tragedy and travesty is from “the enemy” in order to justify “praying it away” or dismissing it as quickly as possible. The false self will claim God wants to bless “me” with comfort and riches, in order to justify independence of lifestyle. The problem with all this is that is runs contrary to what the Bible as a whole and the New Testament in particular teaches us. Why then, do we kick against the truth the Bible teaches us? The reason is because “me” is despicable.
How then do we live according to the path of Jesus…the way of purgation, purification, and perfection? The writer of Hebrews tells us (please be sure to read Hebrews 12:1-13 for full context).
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 4 After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
The writer speaks about divine discipline, God’s discipline, which is always good for us (Heb. 12:7, 10). Discipline is not always attached to sin. Discipline does not equal punishment. Discipline, as administered by God, is for perfection. The writer explains that God’s discipline produces “a peaceful harvest of right living for those trained in this way.”
What is the weight of the false self that is holding you back? Is there something you are afraid of losing? When Jesus was asked by a disciple if he could follow him, Jesus responded; “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” When James and John asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand, Jesus asked them; “Are you prepared to drink of my cup?” In this statement he was referring to his death upon the cross… and suffering for all humanity. Are we ready to lose everything including the false images of ourselves to find our true image in Christ? Are we willing to do this even if it means losing our status, our possessions, and our means of providing independently for ourselves? Are we really ready to be dependent on God for everything? What if God determines a course for our life that is not what we want… are we willing to go? Are we really honest when we say we will keep our eyes on Jesus and follow him? Are we willing to put our money where our mouth is?
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears (Isaiah 11:1-3)
The last couple of days have been somewhat difficult for me. I am sometimes stricken with doubt and second-guessing myself. I can go days, weeks, even months it seems and never be swayed from or persuaded to veer from my confidence in the course I am following for Jesus. Then one day it seems I look up from the path I’ve been so earnest and diligent to follow and I am all alone… nobody there with me… and it’s quiet, and it’s scary, and I wonder if I should turn back and run or try another path. I think I’m not the only one who experiences this.
In the midst of my doubt and in the midst of my feeling alone, something else also occurs within my soul and I wonder how many other believers share the experience. This “something else” is faith; enormous faith and huge confidence. My feelings of desolation may go on for days (sometimes weeks), but my faith is renewed and I am capable through a strength beyond my own to persevere and continue on in the direction I believe I was called. I may not “see” or “sense” Jesus with the same degree of intensity and clarity as I was in previous moments, but I know He is near and I know He upholds me…and because of this knowledge and confidence of heart I press on with renewed fervor.
I don’t know if this experience is being shared by the rest of my Christian brothers and sisters. I see so many people blown about by the winds of circumstance and enticed by the scintillating distractions that are the faith-wrecking siren songs played at max volume each day of our lives in the media-frenzied world in which we live. It takes a special resolve, and faith that has been nurtured, in order to stand in the midst of desolation and trial, and ultimately…emerge strengthened, refined, and even refreshed.
What does it take to nurture a strong faith? Trust and discipline are the first things that come to my mind, at least in the context of my personal experience. In the circles I have traveled I have often heard the phrase uttered, “Our congregations are a mile wide and an inch deep.” Translation: the Christians we know are shallow or immature. This sounds somewhat arrogant, condescending, judgmental, harsh, and just plain not nice. The truth of the matter is that it is true and it’s not a phenomenon relegated to this particular era or restricted to Westerners (specifically North Americans). In fact, the writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews said as much almost two thousand years ago; see the following:
There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
The path of the Jesus follower does not flow from belief + conversion = maturity. There are also the integers of practice and process, neither of which bring with them overnight success. Jesus talks about his followers being the branches to him as the Vine (John 15:4-5). Thinking about this a few days ago in conversation with my family during morning devotions, and I began thinking about trees and their root systems.
There are a lot of trees that look healthy on the outside, but it’s hard to tell how hearty they are by what they look like on the outside. I think there is a high percentage of Christians that are like trees. Jesus also describes a similar scenario in the Parable of the Sower. I’m not a farmer and I don’t know a lot about trees, but I’ve seen what happens when storms and dangerous winds hit big, pretty trees with shallow roots. They get uprooted, they get toppled, and they die; sometimes they do significant collateral damage to the objects and/or people they “fall” upon. In either event, the outcome is never pretty. Some of the things I read about shallow (flat) root trees are that some varieties are quick growing because the root systems, although shallow, are quick to grow and spread. They cover a lot of ground and feed the early stage growth of the tree to the point that it is capable of producing early fruit. I think some Christians are like this too, getting a lot of pertinent and necessary information capable of producing some fruit, but maybe not enough to produce a lasting harvest (of thirty, sixty, or one hundred fold). Sadly, because a deep root has not been formed, these early blooming shallow root “trees” often tragically fail the testing of their faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
It takes discipline and determination to push into the hard soil of life and develop the deep tap root needed to persevere and endure the storms that will rail against our faith. When the soil of our life is dry, when the soil is hard, and when the nutrients needed for our survival do not seem like they are there…we must resist the temptation to look elsewhere or satisfy our need with something altogether different. True enough, it may satisfy for a season… but our roots continue to grow flat and remain shallow when we opt for this alternative. Instead, God’s Word draws us to burrow “deep” press down into the source of eternal water from the springs that never dry. It is here we find the life-giving nutrients for a tap root of our soul and our faith is anchored strongly. We produce seasons upon seasons of harvests. We produce shade for those in need of rest. We provide haven for creatures to take up safety and residence in our care. We become a tree of Life because we are grafted in to the deep tap root of Jesse, the Lord, our Messiah Jesus.
3-4 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.
5-6 Commit your way to the LORD; and He will do this—
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noon day sun.
7-8 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.
—Do not fret…
—Do not fret…
18-19 The days of the blameless are known to the LORD,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough.
23-24 If the LORD delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble,
he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand.
34 Wait for the LORD and keep His way;
put your hope in the LORD and travel steadily along His path. (Psalm 37)