Hebrews 5: The Milk Diet

Baby Christians need milk, that’s what Hebrews 5 tells us. It says that new believers need the elementary truths of God’s word fed to them over and over again. Just like the infant’s tiny tummy which only permits a few hours between feedings, the new believer needs a constant diet of foundational truth. But this passage that goes well into Hebrews 6 is actually a call to wean ourselves from the milk diet. While we will always need foundational truths, we must mature. We must add solids to our spiritual diet.

But what does solid food look like? The answer from Hebrews isn’t exactly cut and dried, yet it is clear that a solid diet leads to righteous living and to teaching new believers. Perseverance is also vital, as is a willingness to fail. After all, failure is part of maturing.
The other night I laid down with Sam to get him to sleep. Yes I know, this is a terrible practice, but I’m afraid we are terrible parents and do it every night. On the one hand, it is disruptive to have to lay down with your child to get them to sleep. Ah, but on the other hand it is a little piece of heaven. Sam is such a darling little snuggler and he is growing up so fast. I don’t see myself ever regretting this as wasted time.

Anyway, Sam was laying there practicing counting, which he does in English and Spanish, thanks to Dora the Explorer. He was holding up his pudgy little hand and trying to make his fingers stand upright as he counted them. He was whispering the numbers to himself and I was laying next to him, watching. Unfortunately Sam’s fingers weren’t cooperating. With two-year-old dexterity, he just couldn’t get his third and fourth fingers to do what he wanted. So he just decided he’d yell at them in an angry and indignant voice: “Hey!” Then he started over with the counting. But his little fingers were stubborn, popping up before he wanted them to. “Hey!” he yelled out again. He must have done this four or five times, getting more and more frustrated before I decided to help him.
Like Sam we often fail when we try new things, and like Sam we may even grow frustrated. But no one has ever learned to walk without taking some pretty brutal falls and I think this process applies to our spiritual life as well. If we stay on the milk diet, we won’t fail, but we won’t fulfill God’s plans for us. God wants us to attempt great things for Him and expect great things from Him. (William Carey). This does not mean that all our attempts will succeed. They won’t. But as my pastor, Lon Solomon, says, “God steers a moving ship.”
This week may we reflect on our spiritual diet. Like the infant we can survive on milk, but God wants us thriving not surviving. So where are the solids in our diet? Are we attempting great things and persevering in faith? Do we have spiritual mentors who encourage us and hold us accountable? Are we praying for wisdom and discernment? Living the Christian life is a process, but it is also a diet — meaning we must partake daily. May God bless you and me this week with an insatiable appetite for solids!

Hebrews 5: For Praying Out Loud

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears.” (5:7) The simple fact that Jesus prayed has tremendous implications for us. If God Incarnate needed prayer, then how did we ever come to believe we could charge through life without it? Yet much of the time that’s what we do. We neglect to pray, even though we have time for television, facebook, and the treadmill. And when we do carve out time to pray, we often get distracted. Other times we blaze through a list of petitions without feeling or faith that God answers prayer.

Perhaps then it is quite significant that this statement from Hebrews tells us that Jesus prayed out loud. Obviously we know He did this when He was teaching the disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and when He was blessing meals that they shared, but the Bible also makes it clear that Jesus prayed out loud while He was by himself. (See Matthew 26 and John 17). Why would Jesus do that? Jesus criticized the prayers of hypocrites who prayed aloud for the sake of being overheard, so Jesus’ motivations must have been different. Perhaps He was modeling for us a way to stay focused. When you pray out loud, your mind doesn’t wander off nearly as much because words aren’t nebulous. I do not pray out loud all of the time, by any means, but I do find it fruitful to speak out loud some of the time.
On occasion, I also enjoy praying the Psalms, and many, if not most, of them have lines about praying aloud. They have phrases like “To you I call,” “I cry out,” “I call to the LORD,” “when I call to you,” and “To the LORD I cry aloud.” There is scholarly support that although we’ve changed these expressions “into metaphors of the soul” the Israelites were literally speaking them out loud. (Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life) It might not feel totally instinctual at first, but for me, praying aloud grows more and more natural the more I do it. As an aside, I also think it helps to have prayed aloud in groups. Corporate prayer has been a source of incredible blessing in my life, and it has probably helped me feel more comfortable hearing my own irritating voice talking to God.
This week may we ponder why it is that praying aloud by yourself feels awkward. Where did those feelings come from? Then may we boldly speak out loud to God. After all, Jesus did and that’s reason enough, don’t you think?

Hebrews 5: Baby Food

The other night I was laying down with Sam. Yes I know, this is a terrible practice, but I’m afraid we are terrible parents and do it every night. On the one hand, it is extremely disruptive to have to lay down with your child to get them to sleep. Ah, but on the other hand it is a little piece of heaven. Sam is such a darling little snuggler and he is growing up so fast. I don’t see myself ever regretting this as wasted time.

Anyway, Sam was laying there practicing counting, which he does in English and Spanish, thanks to Dora the Explorer. He was holding up his pudgy little hand and trying to make his fingers disappear into his fist as he counted them. He was whispering the numbers to himself and I was just laying next to him, watching. Unfortunately Sam’s fingers weren’t cooperating. With two-year-old dexterity, he just couldn’t get his third and fourth fingers to do what he wanted. So he just decided he’d yell at them in an angry and indignant voice: “Hey!” Then he started over with the counting. But his little fingers were stubborn, folding down before he wanted them to. “Hey!” he yelled out again. He must have done this four or five times, getting more and more frustrated before I jumped in to help.
Spiritually, many of us are like Sam. We try the same task that we just aren’t ready for.
But we need to graduate to solid food. We need to recognize our own limitations, not by angrily berating ourselves with “Hey!”

Hebrews 5: The High Priest

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were falling away from the true doctrine — the gospel of Jesus. The book was intended to restore them and to eradicate the wrong thinking that had crept in.

In Hebrews 5, we read about the tradition from the Old Testament of having high priests. This description is so sweet and tender. It was the responsibility of the high priest to “deal gently with those who [were] ignorant and [had gone] astray.” This model is not what I associate with Mosaic Law. I guess it’s because I tend to generalize, imagining it as rigid and void of grace, as if the Pharisees were always in charge. But that’s inaccurate, and certainly not what God intended. God didn’t want Israelites cut off because of sin; instead He assigned the most revered religious leader among them to gently restore the lost. According to this passage, being a high priest was not a role that involved being removed from everyday life, holed up in a hebraic huddle. No, it was a job that required great interpersonal skills, compassion, mercy and dedication. In essence, being the high priest meant you were a shepherd of the people.
So who then is the perfect high priest? Jesus Christ is, because He is also the Good Shepherd. In fact, all of the beautiful pictures of what God intended for the Israelites are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the perfect High Priest, sympathizing with our weaknesses and offering his very life to atone for our sins. He deals with us gently, even when we are ignorant and go astray like ingrates. He is ever full of love and compassion. No matter what.
Have we taken our High Priest for granted? Have we fought the loving staff of our Good Shepherd? And what does it mean to be Christ-like in this context? Do we gently restore those who go astray or do we cut them off?
This week may we embrace the atoning sacrifice and restorative love of our Savior, and may we emulate Him as we gently love ALL whom God has placed in our path.

Hebrews 4: The "Me Too" Jesus

I’m making a slow march through Hebrews — every chapter is so rich that it is hard to choose just one or two things to blog about. But in these last verses of Hebrews 4 we are told that our high priest, Jesus Christ the Son of God, is able to relate to our humanness. And I’m so thankful for that, aren’t you? Although Jesus never sinned, He was tempted. Jesus’ life wasn’t easy either. He suffered — shedding tears for friends and sweating blood in utter despair. And of course there was the brutality of the cross itself. Through it all He was God, but He was also man. He was misunderstood, misrepresented, and maligned. And He didn’t deserve any of it. So Jesus isn’t our burden-carrying automaton, He’s a compassionate lover of our souls. He’s waiting to comfort us and relate to us, saying in essence, “me too, friend, me too.”

Jesus’ humanity was a very present comfort to me today, because today I was misunderstood. Although Jesus wouldn’t have said what I said (His message was always pure), and although Jesus never had anything to regret (like I do), He was misunderstood. He understands my weird and helpless feeling of not being able to straighten out the message sent and the message received. He’s lived it, more purely than I have and at a much more intimate level. Jesus’ own disciples, his closest friends, misunderstood Him. They had a tough time getting it right, and yet Jesus was ever-patient, ever-loving.
I am so thankful that Jesus loves me, that He understands me, that even though He knows how impure my heart is, He loves me anyway. I am so thankful that in my sorrow He is there, that in my temptation He is there, that He is full of compassion and sympathy.
Chapter 4 closes with these words: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
I am so thankful that in big things and small I can go to Jesus and receive mercy and find grace. Are you in a time of need? Is there some burden you should take to Him today?