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Spiritual Disciplines

In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 5, the writer concludes the chapter with,

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Hebrews 5:12–14 (CSB)

delicious steak meal

I remember when our kids were little. Their first meals were milk. As they grew, we began to introduce formula, then rice, and then baby food as they were ready at each step. As they continued to grow, they began to eat other foods. No longer were they relying on us to prepare their food; they could slap together a nourishing, delicious PB&J sandwich in no time! Today, they are completely self-sufficient. They can buy their own food with their own money and prepare that food in a variety of ways. Their food oftentimes tastes better than mine!

But what would happen if they never prepared their own food? What if they never fed themselves? What if they were completely dependent on us to prepare and feed them? Obviously, something would be wrong!

The same is true in the Spiritual realm. One of the things we did as the kids grew was to prepare them to feed themselves. When a person becomes a believer and is born again, they are completely dependent on other people to feed them spiritually. The goal is to get people to feed themselves from God’s Word. Unfortunately, like many other pastors, I’ve heard, “Pastor, we’re leaving the church. We just don’t think we’re being fed.”

I remember wanting to say, “Well, if you aren’t being fed, it isn’t my fault. I spend hours preparing the meal and setting the table. I do all I can to present the meal that the Master Chef wants me to deliver. Am I supposed to put it on a spoon and stick it in your mouth for you? ‘Open the hangar so the airplane can fly in!’ If you aren’t being fed, it’s your own fault!” But I didn’t say that.

Application

So, what about you? When you go to church, do you feel that you’re being fed a nutritious meal? Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that you aren’t! A lot of pastors don’t prepare. A lot of pastors don’t know how to feed themselves from God’s Word. A lot of pastors just like to make people feel nice and comfortable. The bottom line is, if your pastor isn’t delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, maybe you need to prayerfully consider looking elsewhere!

But isn’t it also possible that the pastor is delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, but you aren’t benefiting from the prepared meal? Perhaps you aren’t ready for the meat. Maybe you’re just not mature enough. Maybe you need to go back and eat more basic foods.

If you’ve been a believer for more than a few months, you need to begin feeding yourself from God’s Word. No pastor is able to feed a well-balanced diet of what each person needs to everyone in every church.

So how do you start to feed yourself? This is a good place. Read along in your Bible from a translation you can understand, asking God to speak to you. Don’t use an “inspired finger” approach to your Bible reading; read your Bible like you would any other book. Look at a verse in its context within a paragraph and within a chapter.

Yes, it will take time to get used to feeding yourself from God’s Word. But as you read and study, comparing what you’re learning with what other people are learning, you’ll find it easier, more fun, and more nourishing.

You are what you eat.
Are you eating mature food you prepared yourself
or baby food prepared by other people?

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The writer of the letter to the Hebrews brings out an important point in Hebrews 2:1 in our daily Bible reading.

For this reason, we must pay attention all the more to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. Hebrews 2:1 (CSB)

wandering

Some translations begin verse 1 with “Therefore”. Anytime you come across “therefore”, you need to ask, “What’s it there for?” The writer is referring back to Chapter 1. The angels (literally, “messengers”) are spirits who minister to those who will inherit salvation (i.e., believers).

In other words (summing up verses 1-4), because the angels have faithfully ministered to us, we need to pay attention even more to what we’ve heard so that we won’t drift away from it. Jesus spoke, the Apostles bore witness of what Jesus said, and God Himself confirmed the message with signs and wonders. Because of all of this, we need to be very careful to pay attention to the Gospel message, otherwise, we will drift away.

Application

The writer implies that we are predisposed to drifting away. Left to our own devices, we will drift away. Because the Fall so radically affected (and effected) us, even on our best day, our own righteousness is utterly worthless. (Isaiah 64:6)

Robert Robinson summed up his heartcry in Come Thou Fount:

Oh, to grace how great a debtor,
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.

The message the angels proclaimed proved reliable and we have the Bible as an authoritative basis for our faith and practice. God’s Word is our map. How much more should we deep-dive into the depths of God’s Word so that we won’t drift away from the Gospel Message!

Yes, we are so prone to wander when we should be prone to wonder at the grace of God. Until That Day when we do, we should all the more, guard our hearts above all else, because our new, redeemed hearts are the wellspring of our Lifesong. (Proverbs 4:23)

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Getting to know God through His Word.

We begin reading through the book of Hebrews using our Bible reading plan. No one (but God) knows who wrote Hebrews; the author didn’t give any obvious clues to his identity. Some have pointed to Dr. Luke as the author, however, the book doesn’t begin with an attribute to Theophilus as Dr. Luke did with Luke’s Gospel and Acts. In the end, it really doesn’t matter because God Himself is the Chief Editor.

As we read Hebrews, we’ll see the development of the major idea that Jesus is better. He begins by saying that in the past, God spoke by prophets, but recently, God spoke by Jesus. He adds that Jesus is the exact expression of God’s nature. (Hebrews 1:2–3 )

It’s as if the author already knew the following verses:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1:15 (CSB)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been among you all this time and you do not know me, Philip? The one who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9 (CSB)

In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4 (CSB)

The twenty-five cent theological word, incarnation sums up what the author is summarizing. John summarized incarnation this way, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ” John 1:14 (CSB)

Application

Jesus defined eternal life this way, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent.” (John 17:3 CSB) If you want to have eternal life, you have to know God.

Hebrews shows us how everything points to Jesus. And Jesus points to God. If you want to know what God looks like, how He acts, what He likes and dislikes, just look at Jesus.

I’ll go one step further: If you want to know God (and not just about Him), get to know Jesus (and not just about Him).

And how do we get to know Jesus? Just like we get to know any other person: Spend time with Him. Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Love Him. We do all of these things through the Spiritual Disciplines of Bible reading, Bible study, Bible memory, prayer, worship, fellowshipping with other believers, etc.

Today’s application is to do just that! Get to know Him better by spending time with Him, listening to Him and talking to Him. If you want to know what God looks like, just look at Jesus. He is the exact image of His father.

For more information on the Spiritual Disciplines, check out Don Whitney and Dave Matthis’s excellent books below. (affiliate links)

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So it finally comes to a head. In today’s Bible reading in Acts 15, we see that the Judaizers (aka, the “Circumcision Party”) have insisted that anyone who comes to faith in Christ must also be circumcised in order to be a good Christian. (By the way, they’ll keep raising their ugly heads through the rest of our Bible readings this year)

Just coming to faith in Jesus isn’t enough. It’s never enough for religious people.

They’ll tell you that you have to join a church. You have to pray a prayer. You have to be baptized. You have to read your Bible. You have to go to Sunday School. You have to go on a mission trip. You have to write a big check to the church. You have to drive the church bus. You have to ______. (fill in the blank)

The bottom line is, they don’t believe that Jesus is enough. Somehow, they think that they have to contribute to their salvation. And they insist that you should, too!

That was the crux of the Reformation in the early Sixteenth Century. The Church agreed with the Reformers — like Martin Luther — that people can be saved by grace by faith in Jesus. But Luther and the other Reformers added one little Latin word sola. Sola means alone.

The Reformers said that it wasn’t just salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. They said that according to the Bible alone, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone to the glory of God alone.

The Reformers insisted that no one can add to what Jesus did for us. What Jesus did (once and for all) is sufficient to make us right with God. Period. Nothing can improve our standing before God. Nothing!

Application

Now, lest I be misunderstood, there is nothing wrong with (and a lot can be gained by) praying, being baptized, reading your Bible, going to Sunday School, going on mission trips, giving money to a church and so many more things.

But the bottom line is that if what Jesus already did for us isn’t enough, then Jesus didn’t have to do anything at all!

Spend a few minutes today praising God that everything that was necessary to make you right in God’s eyes has already been done by Jesus. Rejoice that you get to enjoy a relationship with your Creator without having to do anything but rely on what Jesus has already done. That’s great news!

By the way, if you want to learn more about the key issues for the Reformers, check out my sermon series, The Five Solas of the Reformation that I preached in October 2017 in celebration of the Five Hundredth Anniversary of The Reformation.

In today’s Bible reading in Acts 8, we are introduced to a Samaritan sorcerer named Simon. For a long time, Simon had amazed people with his magic. And then he heard the gospel. Simon and many other Samaritans responded to the gospel message and were saved. (Acts 8:13) Simon began to follow Philip, watching God do marvelous, miraculous things!

The Apostles in Jerusalem could hardly believe their ears! Samaritans have been saved?! Peter and John went to check it out and learned that the Samaritans had been baptized in Jesus’ name, but had not yet received the Holy Spirit.

Now, I don’t want to get into the discussion here of Holy Spirit baptism as being simultaneous vs. subsequent to salvation. I don’t have the space or time to get into that right now.

When Simon saw that the Samaritans received the Spirit (there were obviously physical signs), he was amazed and offered money for the “authority” to bestow the Spirit by laying his hands on people. (Acts 8:19)

Peter sharply rebuked Simon (Acts 8:20-23) who immediately repented deeply of his sin.

So what was Simon’s sin? All he did was ask to be able to lay hands on people so they could receive the Holy Spirit. What’s wrong with that? That sounds like a noble request, doesn’t it?

Application

Peter said that Simon’s heart was not right with God. Simon’s heart condition resulted in his offer of money in exchange for the authority.

Transactional religion is dangerous. Unfortunately, people practice it all the time, often without even realizing it!

Transactional religion resembles a vending machine. You give the machine money and the machine gives you a soda.

The most obvious example would be someone who asks God to save their dying child and telling God they’ll go on the mission field in exchange. But there are far more subtle ways that believers practice transactional religion. We read our Bible, study our Bible, memorize verses from our Bible, pray, fast, etc. “believing God” for blessings of one form or another. Yes, there is a blessing that comes from doing all of these spiritual disciplines. but God is not obligated to do anything for us!

Perhaps having an attitude that God is indebted to us for something that we do demonstrates that we don’t really understand what the Gospel is all about!

The Gospel has nothing to do with us doing anything. It is all about all that Jesus has already done for us. It’s a very unfair exchange: All of our sin, rebellion, alienation, and lostness in exchange for Jesus’ holiness, righteousness, and forgiveness.

That’s the Gospel. It can’t be bought because it’s free! It can only be received.

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