You Can Thrive

“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:8,23

My prayer this morning is this, “Jesus, show me what you pictured when you spoke this parable. Paint it for me. Rise up in me and show me how you feel about the power of what You describe. You are God and can see into men’s hearts. What does a hundred-fold harvest look like as it’s growing? Let me want this more than I’ve wanted anything – ever.”

Picture this slow motion movie ~ The best of all seeds fall from the hand of God. They land in perfect soil ~ fertile, aerated, and treated. The moment they hit the dirt, germination happens and from the first moment, the promise of something great begins to happen.

I can picture it, can’t you? Don’t you want it? I sure do. I want pristine conditions for spiritual seeds. How incredible is it that heaven’s seeds can come and grow inside of me! God is generous to share them without me having to go to heaven first. “The kingdom is here, now”, Jesus said.

What makes my heart the perfect place to grow heaven’s seeds?  I am open at all times. Willing to listen. Willing to learn. Insatiably hungry. Willing to lay defenses aside. Willing to be wrong. Willing to change.   When seeds hit my soil, no demonic birds can steal it. No limestone foundation comprised of unresolved issues prohibit growth. No weeds are anywhere in sight to crowd out the free expanse of this new planting. Stunning results are assured. What will I become with heaven’s seeds growing inside of me? There is no mystery here. I become the tree in Psalm One; battered at times by the winds of adversity but never fearing annihilation.

Today, I move toward this goal by engaging my personal Gardener. “I am the vine, my Father is the husbandman – or vine dresser.’ John 15:1 ESV I know that my Father constantly assesses the garden of my soul. He searches me and knows what it will take to improve my soil conditions. He never passes judgment to declare me hopeless if I ask for help. He gives specific spiritual guidance. He reveals every rock and why it’s there. He changes my appetite if I love the things of this world too much. He is my compassionate Healer when worries block my ears from hearing Him. He wants my harvest even more than I do.

I’m a picture person. Right now, I see Him slowly walking the pathways of my heart. He’s tilling and inspecting the soil…smiling at the possibilities.

Your seeds are infused with resurrection power – the same that raised You from the dead, Jesus. Don’t let me limit what You want to do by being unteachable. Speak into my soul and be relentless. In Jesus’ name, Amen  

I Am a Lattice of Windows

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.  Hebrews 13:16

How vast are the effects of obeying this verse but only if I understand what God is asking me to do.  It’s not just stopping to help someone carry a heavy package, or taking someone a meal, or even making a hospital visit.  ‘To do good’ means to show someone else the same kindness and favor that God showed to me.  I am to receive and then transmit what I received.  I am a conduit and the point of doing good is to leave an aroma of God, not myself.

A lot of people do good things and simple kindnesses are powerful, certainly.  But without God behind them, the effects are earthbound.  If I am to receive first, then transmit, I must experience the lovingkindess of His blessing.  May the Lord bless and keep you, may the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and be gracious to you, and bring you peace.  Numbers 6:24-26  The Hebrew picture of lifting up a countenance is one of a father holding up a child in order to adore him.  God’s blessing starts with His delight.

Screen Shot 2020-01-22 at 7.57.56 AMWhen the priest raises his hands to pronounce this well-known blessing from the book of Numbers, he faces his palms downward and touches his thumbs together.  The four fingers on each hand are split into two sets of two fingers each and this hand formation is called ‘the overlapping lattice of windows.’  Their tradition says that the Divine Presence will shine through the fingers of the priests as they bless the people.  King David asked God specifically for this blessing.  Make your face to shine upon your servant. Psalm 31:16  David was down and needed to feel the impact of God’s kindness.

As I am blessed, humbly blessed, I am told to rise, then go and communicate this same blessing to another person.  The particular deed isn’t as important as the Divine Presence of God that I take with me.  It’s the humility with which I love another.  It’s communicating what is often unspoken.  “God has loved me so much and I want you to feel that too.”

Lord, I don’t want to waste even one gesture of kindness.  Bless me and let me bless others in the overflow.  Amen

The ‘Praise Him’ Song

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.  Hebrews 13:15

I remember learning this song as a little girl.

Praise Him, praise Him, praise Him in the morning
Praise Him in the noon time
Praise Him, praise Him, praise Him when the sun goes down.

It was catchy and it was a sing-song-challenge that didn’t offend a child, not until that child grew up to face adulthood. Being told to praise when all was not well seemed ludicrous.  That’s unfortunate because adults don’t always get to hear today’s scripture the way it was meant to be heard.

Praise is never a denial of pain.  It is not a command to just suck it up to say the right things regardless.  Such dogma does not support the truth that God weeps with His creation over the ways the Fall has affected us.  It does not highlight the truth that Jesus suffered every temptation known to humanity.  How hollow this would have seemed to the audience to whom this letter was written.  They were being persecuted harshly for their faith.  Throughout the preceding chapters, they had been encouraged to persevere and remember the Lord Jesus who also suffered.  So, praise must be compatible with everything that has been said before.  But how?  This verse gives me two clues.

  • Praise is offered ‘through Jesus’.  His Spirit is the One makes me able to sing through my tears. As with every other thing in my spiritual life, it is only possible with supernatural ability that is conferred on me.
  • And, praise is the fruit of the lips that profess God’s name. This means so much more than just calling myself a Christian.  To profess Jesus’ name in the time this letter was written was to potentially lose everything, but it also meant to remember everything His name meant.

If you’ve studied the names of God, you know that the many ways He is addressed encompasses the full reach of His character and power.  This is the secret to praise!  When I know and embrace the many names of God, the result is open praise.  No matter what may be going on, no matter how dark and no matter how complicated my troubles, praise flows out of my spirit because I know to whom I have given my life.  He is conqueror.  He Is Lord of all.  He is provider.  He is comforter.  He is my shield.  He is my refuge.  He is my healer.  Easily, I could keep writing and writing and I’m sure you are filling in the blanks.

When Jesus faced his darkest hours, he did not do so without hope.  He praised His Father for all these same reasons.  If He did, so can I.

Praise was Your default language and it can be mine.  It’s what spills out along with my tears.  I know I’m in good hands.  Amen

What I Must Leave Behind

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.”   Hebrews 13:12-13

For the Jewish man or woman who received Christ as their Messiah, believing would be unpopular and isolating.  For the Pharisee or High Priest of Jesus’ day, embracing Him to step into the New Covenant would be unpopular and isolating.  For the man or woman who lives today in places hostile to the Gospel, acknowledging Jesus as the Way, Truth, and Life is equally unpopular and isolating, even life threatening.

The death of Jesus happened outside the camp of anything having to do with Judaism.  It was not in the city center of Jerusalem; nor was it in the confines of any temple.  The message for anyone then, or now, is clear.  Salvation is about Jesus alone.  It is stepping outside any religious boxes to encounter Him, face to face, at the foot of the cross.

We have grown up in a time when has been easy in the United States to trust Christ.  Within the camp of an evangelistic crusade, someone walks forward as ‘one of many’.  People receive and congratulate them at the front.  How many might go forward for the joy of being affirmed?  Some, indeed.  And in the comfort of the church which can be ingrown, we live and enjoy its community without an awareness that we have embraced Christ at risk of public shame and humiliation.  Jesus went outside the city – bearing his reproach.  To become His disciple, I must also forfeit the expectation of applause and comfort and step outside my city gates.  Out into the open.  Out into the open wilderness where watching eyes that are not always friendly can see me declare my allegiance.

For everyone who has come to Jesus and left religion, family, and friends to do so, Jesus has received you outside the camp.  Your reproach, He understands.  The danger, He has faced.  The abandonment of close friends, He sustained.  But, For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:2   This is the pathway for passing from death to live.  “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me.”  Psalm 23

Oh Jesus, the joy of inclusion into Your Kingdom and into Your arms, eclipses whatever I have had, or will be called to sacrifice.  Amen

A New Altar

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.  Hebrews 13:10

 The altar in the Old Testament sacrifice held the body and blood of an animal.  After the sacrifice, the priests were permitted to eat what was left.  They consumed the sacrifice and it was a holy thing.

The cross was another altar and upon it was the body and blood of Jesus.  Walking away from the old sacrificial system, a new dispensation was born.  A new kingdom of priests is permitted to partake of Christ and it is also a holy thing.

We are now the priests. 

You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. I Peters 2:5

Jesus is the Lamb to be consumed. 

For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  John 6:55-56

It is so peculiar to anyone not in God’s family.  But to any of us who are trembling at the implications of this, and to any of us who have consumed Living Bread, we know the effect on our very being. You and I can do something today that no one in the Old Testament could have imagined in their wildest dreams.  We can, as priests, go into the holy of holies and partake of Living Bread.

If I could time travel and live in the time of Aaron, and then experience what it was like to live under ceremonial law, how burdensome it would seem.  I would be the only one alive who would know Jesus intimately.  I would be the only one who would have experienced eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood.  I would know the real Lamb of God.  I would want to tell them what was coming and what it would be like to no longer have to travel to the temple to be near the holy of holies.  The possibility of the holy of holies dwelling inside each believer would have shocked and stunned them.   And for this privilege ~ they would only have to look to Jesus as their Lamb ~ and live.

Thank you for the new and better way.  I am alive to be Your temple.  You are my continual spiritual sustenance.  Amen

 

 

 

The Center of Stability

It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.  Hebrews 13:9 

A strong heart.  That’s what I want, don’t you?  I want my life to be rooted in the stability of pure doctrine, the doctrine of grace and the love of God.  If it is, I will know-that-I-know that I am loved and nothing and no one will shake it.  I will know-that-I-know that I am at peace with God and no sin, past or present, will drag me down. Stability is found in the truth of the pure Gospel of grace through faith.  God forbid that this would be a cliché that has no effect on my daily life and the relationship between God and me.

The concerning thing for the writer of Hebrews was that his audience (a persecuted Jewish population) had shifted their stability from the undeserved bestowing of God’s grace upon them to the keeping of ceremonial laws.  They did this in two ways ~ 1.) They went back to old laws that were no part of the New Covenant, and 2.)  They adopted strange new teachings that had never been relevant to the Law.  The effect was really the same.  They had a false sense of all being right with their world.  Their stability was misplaced.

God forbid that I might not take this seriously and believe that they had simply kept all those rules for nothing!  This whole matter is much bigger than that and Paul addressed it.  For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.  Romans 6:14  He didn’t call the keeping of the law a waste of time; he called it sin.  What a leap.  Why is it sin rather than just wasted steps to please God?  Because to wander away from grace is to make Jesus and the cross irrelevant.  It is to make His sacrifice a trivial, unnecessary thing.  If they could find peace and stability with God through religious practices, why was grace needed!

To put all my trust in grace means that I place no trust in my own efforts to make God happy with me.  Grace reminds me that I am a sinner and absolutely lost without the love of God poured out through the sacrifice of His Son upon an undeserving person.  Grace is humiliating if I value my own sense of pride.  Grace is empowering if I’ve embraced the truth that I fall short of God’s glory and need a Savior to clothe me with His righteousness.

You and I are loved.  If we are trying to do anything today to make God happy with us ~ this message is critical.  We may not be eating ceremonial food under the Law but we are performing a litany of needless rituals under the same Law that held these early Jews captive.  Rest in grace. Savor it. Dance because of it. Breathe in its beauty.  God’s grace is poured out in limitless measure.

To know such love, a love that never changes no matter what I do, is my rest.  Amen

“She Sure Has Changed!”

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Time changes people.  Suffering changes people.  Prosperity changes people.  Power and influence alter people.  Bitterness transforms people.

You may think you know someone but let ten years go by and you might comment, “I saw her recently and I hardly knew her.”  You knew something had happened that changed her dramatically.  Her countenance, posture, energy . . . perhaps all of these were unlike how you experienced her last.  Then she opened her mouth.  Everything she said and how she said it pointed to a person with whom you weren’t familiar.

It can go the other way too.  Someone may surprise us.  “I’ve always known her as withdrawn, even a bit sour.  Something has happened.  She was so radiant and engaging!”

The point is ~ people change.  Some for the good but just as many deteriorate into a bad version of themselves.  Add the dynamics of a relationship and it’s hard to settle into a rhythm you can count on. One of the greatest compliments you can receive is for someone to say, “You haven’t changed despite all that has happened to you.” 

Perhaps that’s because you’ve walked closely with the God who never changes.  The fruit of the Spirit exhibited in someone’s teens is still the same fruit of the Spirit when they’re in their fifties.  The face may change, so does the aging body, but someone’s inside world continues to beat with the heart of Jesus.  Time does prove the quality of our faith.

If you are grieving the loss of a relationship that changed over time, know that your tears are tempered by the assurance that God will never change on you.  Who He was to Sarah, to Hannah, to Lydia, to Haggar and Mary Magdalene, He is to you.  Centuries have not changed His face.  Man’s sin has not embittered Him.  The reigning hallmarks of God’s character were written in stone for all time.  A love declared is a love that endures.

Thank you, God, that I can rest safely with You.  No fear of how the future might look.  Amen