Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 June 2017

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  Hebrews 10, verses 35-36.

Is it wrong to do God’s will – to live as He commands and requests, to keep His commands, to model your life on His – just to get a reward?  Isn’t that mercenary and sinful?

I’ve been tilling here on the farm.   Last week, I tilled the rows between my pumpkin plants.   Yesterday, I tilled the backyard that four dogs had made into a moonscape.  Down in the pumpkin patch, the goal was to grind up weeds and make it look more presentable.   It also aerated the soil, which is great for the pumpkins.   In the backyard, once I tilled it and raked it out, I seeded Bermuda grass.   Since two of the four dogs have gone to their proper homes, I’m hoping to see green grass.  God willing in both places, the desired plants will flourish.

Was it wrong of me to till the field to get a better crop?   And was it wrong of me to till the backyard so as to grow nice green grass?   There are things I want for my work (namely plants).  I’m confident that doing so was the best option for both kinds of ‘crops.’  But was it right to churn up the soil to get what I want out of it?

What about disciplining kids?   My grandson has lived most of the last 2 months at our house.   He’s a precocious three and bent on self-focused rebellion like all kids that age.  If one parent told him ‘no,’ he would quickly shift to a grandparent in hopes of hearing a different response (we usually didn’t give in).  We worked to stay united with his Mom and Dad because we want him to grow up to be happy, respectful, and centered.   Spoiled kids are rarely any of those things.  Was it wrong to inflict on an ‘innocent’ three year old conditions (like “no”) that were beyond his control just so we could obtain a desired response, behavior or obedience?

It is wrong to look at God as a wish-machine.   Jesus isn’t some function box where the output in port B is dependent on the input at port A.  The God of our fathers isn’t Pavlov’s dog, responding in kind when we give him a stimulus.  If we think that God’s rewarding of us is the only reason why He promises us good things, then you need to remember what we discussed yesterday.   God’s reward to us is Himself.   He shares Himself with us.   He makes it possible for us to commune with Him.   He invites us to share in His blessings because He, Himself, is the richest reward possible.   Being in communion with God’s perfect love, peace, truth, and justice is the single greatest accumulation of wealth that any human could ever achieve.

We obtain that reward when we believe.   In other words, we do something.   We do it with knowledge that He is worthy and true.  Believing in your heart that Jesus is your savior, that God has done all that’s necessary to redeem you from the terror of your sins, is the first (and last) step we take to gain that communion reward.  When we believe, we find it isn’t unreasonable to want to do things that please God because He begins to re-tool our way of thinking.   Petty things that were once important can take on a different appearance.  When we believe in Jesus, we shouldn’t just want the reward of Him:   we must expect it.   We must expect it because He promised it.   He guaranteed He would pour out His blessings on us that we might share them and invite others into His same communion.   It isn’t a sin at all, and it isn’t hoping wish:   it’s a promise of true hope.

Still, I hope that, whatever my job is in Heaven, God wants me to be a farmer.   I love working outside; I love working in the fields and helping good things grow.   And I love that my grandkids have gotten to see the fields, and play in the grass, and enjoy our home in the country.   It reminds me of better things always to come.   God has promised that and I believe in His promises.

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:3, James 4:12, James 5:11, 2 Peter 1:6, Hebrews 6:15, Hebrews 9:15.

Lord, thank You for Your holy promises.   Thank You for Your rewards, and for making it possible that I might share and share in them.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 June 2017

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  Hebrews 10, verse 35.

I remember when I was a kid, my mom would take business trips.   This was in the early 1970s, and we lived in Minnesota.  At the time, Mom was the one who had a job that took her on trips; Dad worked in the city.   A woman working as the breadwinner was unusual in those days, but, then again, my family was always unusual.  Anyway, when Mom would travel,  beforehand she would ask my sister and I what special thing she could bring home.   We’d tell her our wishes, and then we’d spend a day or two anticipating what we’d get.   Then Mom would arrive back home and…well…she tried.  She got us things she thought we would like but somehow it just wasn’t what we had in mind.  One time I remember asking for a toy called Richochet Racers, which was a toy that shot little race cars out of a plastic gun.   At the end of that trip, I got a cover for my tennis racket.  Another time I asked for a ship model; I got a book.  Years later, when Dad traveled, he would get T-shirts and sometimes collectible things like an ebony pig he bought for me in the Philippines (I still have it).

Yet I was always hopeful and always kept the faith that I’d get what I want.   Years later, being a parent and grandparent myself, and being one of those who has tried to do what he could with limited resources, I understand my Mom’s (and Dad’s) situation.   They did their best with what they had at hand.  Somehow I knew this even when I was a kid, and even then, even when disappointed, I still had faith in my parents that they would do their best.   It was love.

What does this have to do with verse 35, which isn’t a child’s hope for a toy?  Verse 35 PROMISES us that God richly rewards those who put their faith in Him.   God guarantees that He will reward us for our faith in Him.  But faith in God can be a tough thing to hold on to despite the fact that, when you have a ‘God moment,’ it’s better than anything else on this planet.   Even better than hoping for a cool toy.  When we have confident faith that God is with us in all situations, He richly rewards us.   Richochet Racers?   Better than that?   A tennis racket cover or a book?   Definitely better than those.

What God rewards us with shames Joel Osteen and I both.   God rewards us with Himself.   He imparts to us His hope, His love, His justice, His strength.   We don’t deserve God’s best but that doesn’t stop Him from giving it to us.  A toy car won’t do you much good when your parents are buried in the cemetery, but believing that they are alive with Jesus will.   An ebony pig isn’t worth much to your soul, but faith in Jesus is priceless because it guarantees you peace now and eternal life forever.  A tennis racket cover actually is of good use now but I don’t have that tennis racket (or that cover) anymore.  But I still have my faith in God.

Being richly rewarded isn’t a matter of being rich, or even rewarded.   It’s about putting your faith in the one who never disappoints because His reward is Himself.   It isn’t some stupid claim on seventy-two virgins.   It isn’t a fancy house and cars in the Houston suburbs.   It isn’t a trip to Disney or even a kiss goodnight from a pretty girl.  Being richly rewarded with the God who has revealed Himself to us through His word is a matter of being aligned with Him.   Of looking at things His way.   Of remembering that He who tests us in so many ways only does so to lovingly build us up for better things.   Of knowing that, whenever troubles come our way (and they will), He is there to stand with us and give us what we need to persevere.  Of understanding that He loves us immeasurably and wants only the best for us.   That’s why He gives us Himself.

Even if Mom had brought me the toy I wanted way back in the early 70s, chances are it would still be in the dump by now (along with that tennis racket cover).   What mattered more was knowing that she loved me enough to give me her best as a reflection of the faith she had in our God, who always does the same.

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12.

Lord Jesus, forgive my short-sighted selfishness.   Thank You for loving me unconditionally, and thank You for parents and loved ones who do that and their best for us.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 June 2017

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  Hebrews 10, verses 32-34.

Is this calling us to actively give up our possessions?  Is it telling us to be content in all circumstances, even when we’re being mistreated?   Actually, yes it is.   It ISN’T saying “be happy about it.”   God doesn’t tell us to enjoy suffering.   But He does tell us to put our trust in Him alone and be content with Him because He is more than enough to overcome any suffering.  He doesn’t promise Easy Street:   He promises to abide with us on any street.  Is this also telling us to turn the other cheek?   Again, yes it is.  When suffering happens, we should focus our joy on it’s true source, Jesus.   Instead of focusing on hurt, to stop the ‘bleeding’ of our suffering, we should focus on He who is with us even to the point of turning the other cheek to the one who is making us suffer.

A few days ago, my Billy Graham devotion reminded me that “joy” doesn’t equal “happiness” as the world defines happiness.   Brother (and sister), I understand this.   I’m sure you do, too.  Without divulging too many whines, my family is going through a difficult time.   For the moment, my wife and I are unemployed.  Just as He did the last time we went through this, God has a plan in all this.   To be honest, we don’t know what that plan is right now, but we do trust Him and His daily provision.   We’re still eating; we’re still breathing; midnight to midnight, we are still above the dirt.   Everything else is a gift from Him, even the struggles.  We pray the time will be short, and we’re blessed to be able to use it to do things that need to be done here on our farm.   God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Yet it can be a struggle to see happiness or joy in this.   “How could it” you might ask?   “Dave, you’re on the unemployment line again; you expect to be happy?”  Happy no, joy yes.   Every struggle, even unemployment or financial struggles, is an opportunity to make a choice for Jesus.  The verses aren’t saying that my problems will disappear.   It’s only saying that my unseen baggage from them can when I fix my eyes and hope on Christ.  If nothing else, why not ease that emotional burden?

And let’s get real:  the author of Hebrews wasn’t talking about a First-World situation like unemployment or paying your bills online.   He was talking about struggles like being tortured in Roman prisons.   About living in a world with astronomical infant mortality, real starvation, life expectancy of 45 years, and a host of other problems that most of us can’t fathom.   The first audience for verses 32-34 was comprised of people who lived in the primitive first century nations of the Mediterranean.  He was telling them to put all their trust, their hope, their everything on the shoulders of Jesus and let Jesus take the heat.   The author was telling his reader to rejoice in Jesus even when the branding iron struck your flesh, or you were kidnapped to row in a galley, or your family was sold off into slavery because you couldn’t pay your debts, or when they nailed you to a cross.

My puny problems pale compared to those things.   If our ancestors could trust Jesus through things like that, I can too.

I’ll admit:   it’s a struggle.   We are having to ‘skinny down;’ going through possessions, putting our farm up for sale, applying for jobs (literally) all over the world.   It’s hard to face being let go and rejected; it’s hard to face doing without things you’ve worked for or desire.   It hurts to go through this.  Jesus understands that.   He’s with us during these times and is calling us to put our faith in Him.  When the tough times are past, the lessons He’s teaching us today will come in handy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 6:4, Philippians 1:29-30, 1 Corinthians 4:9, Philippians 4:14, 1 Peter 1:4-5.

Lord, help me to trust You in all things.   Forgive my weakness and how I’ve failed You.   I trust You in Your teaching, Your provision, and Your discipline.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 1 June 2017

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering.  Hebrews 10, verse 32.

I’ve been a practicing Christian for most of my life.   There were a few years after I graduated high school when I fell away, when I felt I had lost my faith.   Not surprisingly, even as they were thrilling years of being young, I also felt lost.   In my faith walk, that feeling persisted for most of my twenties, until we became involved in a church in Colorado Springs.   The pastor who led the church was well-versed in sound doctrine and you could feel the presence of God’s Spirit moving in all we did there.   It was a pleasure to do church work then.   I looked forward to Sunday Bible studies, and found that the company of Christian friends was anything but boring.

It’s easy to be ‘amped up’ on faith when things are good.

Like on my first mission trip overseas.   I was in a group that went to China in late 2009.   We dug drainage ditches for a school in the southern People’s Republic.  One souvenir I got from there was a rusty metal bowl.   It was a food bowl used by a student at the school; apparently it was worn out and thrown away.   For a week I watched the kids at this school as they each ate their two meals a day out of bowls like that.   Two meals of rice, vegetables, and sparse meat; thank you to the Big Brother of the Communist Party.   If they didn’t eat then, they didn’t eat.   If you didn’t like what was being served, keep quiet or you might not get any at all.  After the trip I had all kinds of intentions of raising money to help the kids in that school.   Those intentions fell apart when, in short order, I steered a tornado through my marriage.

But I remember the passion of wanting to help, of seeing people in need who really needed help.   I remember the feeling of God’s Spirit motivating me, inspiring me to do something, anything, to help those kids who ate out of rusty metal bowls and slept on hard wood-slat beds with one or two kids to a blanket.  I look at the bowl today and am reminded of how much people need food for the body as well as food for the soul.

A few years later, I took a trip to Africa.   The one place on earth where I felt closest to God was while walking up into a new church in a small east Ugandan village.   Our mission group helped finish construction of the building, and we attended the dedication service for it.   There were hundreds of people flowing into the building that day.   It honestly felt like being in a procession of angels, with everyone singing, praising, and showing real joy at the simple fact of being together in God’s presence.

Those are the kinds of feelings that verse 32 is talking about.   When we’re new to the faith, or when we are riding the high water moments of our faith journey, it’s easy to feel caught up in the moment with the Spirit.  It feels completely refreshing to have your soul renewed; if you haven’t lived that experience, it’s like a spiritual Nestea plunge.  Nothing sensual of this earth compares to the touch of God in your life.  Yet when you feel it, the world around us doesn’t suddenly become any easier to live in.   Indeed, professing one’s belief in Christ puts a target on your back.   Christ Himself promised that, while His burden was light, it would cost His followers everything.  Yet there’s something completely invigorating about plunging into faith to which nothing else can compare.

Verse 32 reminds us that we should remember those feelings and cling to those times.   In a world that’s hostile to Christianity, we’ll need them to get through the promised rough days ahead and those through which we now persevere.

For further reading:  Hebrews 6:4, Philippians 1:29-30.

My Lord, thank You for the times when You’ve filled my heart.   I couldn’t have known how empty it was if You hadn’t filled it.   Help me to remember that when evil attacks.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 30 May 2017

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  Hebrews 10, verses 30-31.

Before we move off these verses, let’s talk about revenge.

Verse 30 is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:35, meaning that the quote goes back to Moses.  They are part of what’s called “the Song of Moses,” which was a recitation he gave in front of the assembled Israelites.  In it, he’s saying farewell to his fellow Israelites, warning them to not push God to the limit.   God gave them free will but He did so in order for them to want to love Him willingly.   Moses doesn’t have much time left, and he uses it to explain, one more time, the mercy and justice of the Lord.   Immediately after, he says that the Lord will judge His chosen people.   Left out from the book of Hebrews quote is how got “will have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left slave or free.”

On one hand God talks about judging people harshly, and on the other hand God talks about having compassion on them.  My friend the atheist might be laughing at this because it would appear to give credence to his assertion that God is crazy.  Except that it doesn’t.

The Song of Moses sings about the same thing the Hebrews 10 says:   God is just and merciful.  When you devote your heart to God, you set yourself apart from the scoffers, critics, and God-haters.   When you realize how full love, peace, justice, and harmony  are found only in God’s Son, Jesus, you say to the world “I believe.   I’m not like the others.”   Elitist?   Not at all.   It’s a profession of faith in understanding that the Triune God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob is a God of peace and understanding, but that, like any parent, His peace and understanding have limits.   When we push our ultimate parent to His limit, should it be a surprise that we would incur His wrath?

It does no good to try to predict what that wrath would look like.   Fire, tribulation, burning sulfur, the agony of hell:  perhaps it could be any of these.   Perhaps, too, it could be discord, anxiety, difficulty, troubles, even depression.   These, too, can be God’s tools to avenge our rebellion.   What did the song say:   “Be careful what you wish for cause you just might get it.”   Perhaps God’s wrath in our lives is coated in sensual pleasure.   But notice a couple of things about whatever medium He chooses.   One, whatever evils beset us, they only do because of our own pulling away from God.   He’s still there, in the center, where He always is.   It is us who move away; it is us who draw ourselves away from His mercy and grace.   Draw far enough away and it would be as if He had drawn Himself out of our lives, which He cannot do because He loves us unconditionally.

Notice, too, that all of those pains are temporary things.   They are physical or emotional difficulties that come into our lives for a relatively short time.   When they do, they are actually for our good.   That can be hard to see, but it’s true.  God disciplines those He loves, and discipline can be tough to endure.   Sometimes it’s terrible; sometimes it even lasts for years.  Yet it isn’t permanent, and if we submit ourselves to it, we are disciplined, ‘discipled,’ and made stronger.

Finally, notice that God doesn’t ensnare us into the dread of His justice.   We fall into it.   Through some kind of circumstance, we initiate that falling.   We place ourselves in rebellion against Him and, when we’ve reached the limit of His patience, we are before Him, subject to judgment.   Is that fair?

Fair?   What is fair but a four-letter F-word?  God is the arbiter of fair.   Apart from seeing fair through the lens of God, our interpretation of fairness is skewed.   God owes us nothing, yet He constantly provides even if it’s only life, air, and food.  We earn His judgment, yet He’s constantly working to help us avoid it.  He knows that, apart from Him, we can do nothing.  He understands that, with our limited comprehension, to stand guilty before Him would be a dreadful thing for our soul.  God knows that revenge is a terrible thing, even if we bring His revenge on ourselves, and He’d rather spare us that consequence.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 32:35-36, Romans 12:19, Psalm 135:14, 2 Corinthians 5:11, Isaiah 19:16, Matthew 16:16; John 15:15.

Lord, I pray, discipline and mentor me that my heart may change and I may turn from my sinful ways to avert Your vengeance.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 May 2017

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  Hebrews 10, verses 30-31.

Once again I injected myself into a ‘discussion’ with my friend, the atheist.   Once again I found him both vulgar and offensive, and he said he found my Christian faith offensive as well.   His online thread was about how atheists are deeper intellectuals than most people.   I stayed out of the discussion until the point where he began disparaging to believers.   At that point, I waded in, and once again, I feel sad about it.

I’m sad both because I never feel like I do a good job at representing Christ as a loving follower.   I feel like I let Him down because of my poor words and my proud attitude.   And I’m sad for my friend, who (almost violently) rejects the peace and comforts of faith for the sensuality of this world.  For any of us who reject Him, the Triune God reserves the right to judge, avenge, and repay His people – including both followers of Jesus and atheists – for the ways we rebel against Him.  I’m not comfortable with that fact, but it’s still a fact.   It’s actually a comfort.

The ‘dreadful thing’ verse I mentioned yesterday is found here, in verse 31.   It is the concluding sentence in a paragraph that talks about God’s holiness.  It’s a convicting verse in a convicting chapter of a book about God’s grace.   God, whose nature prevents Him from doing anything unholy, is therefore purely holy and, thus, purely just.   The only true justice in the universe is therefore found in the presence of God.   You can see, then, why it may be a dreadful thing to be found in His hands.

I rarely feel fear anymore, fear here being the terrorizing, angst-ridden emotion of dread.   Yet I have genuine dreadful fear of the power of God and what I deserve from Him (absent the saving atonement of Jesus).   The discussion with my atheist friend yesterday ventured into the subjects of sin, forgiveness, and truth (specifically about science).   Yet every time we have these conversations, I walk away feeling dejected, depressed.   It’s because I don’t like playing ‘gotcha’ with God’s word.   More and more, it isn’t my place to try to use debating tricks to try to change his mind.   Such tricks are unkind and antithetical to the Word.   Besides, they doesn’t convince him of anything except that I seem like a hypocritical jerk.    Yesterday, I simply told him what the Bible said and encouraged him to check it out on his own, told him that perhaps God was talking to him because he was so passionate about the discussion.   He told me to perform unnatural acts on myself and other things.

I know that we have to stand up for what we believe.   And I know that we need to use the talents God gives us to encourage others in their faith walks, even when their faith walk is a walk away from God.  It’s one of the reasons why I would dread to be in His presence, answering for these things I’ve done.   I feel like I’m letting Jesus down.   Even so, I know it also isn’t my place to judge whether or not my friend or anyone would be liable to God’s wrath.  The better way to live would be to witness, to leave it at that, and perhaps also to do what Abraham did.   If you remember, Abraham pleaded for the people of Sodom.   When they had clearly, brazenly, unrepentantly transgressed, Abraham still prayed for, pleaded for them.   We should do the same.

And so I do.   I pray for my atheist friend.   According to his own words, this, too, is offensive.   Yet I do it all the same.   The same God who is over all of us – including him – is also constantly loving us, working for us, living to beckon us back to Him.  Jesus died for atheists too, and He gives my denying friend life, provision, and all things.   While our holy, just God has the power to smite, it isn’t in His nature to desire to do so.   Instead, it’s in His nature to be merciful, caring, guiding, loving.  I hope my friend can come to see this.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 32:35-36, Romans 12:19, Psalm 135:14, 2 Corinthians 5:11, Isaiah 19:16, Matthew 16:16.

Lord, forgive my inadequacies and my sins in how I mess up being a good witness for You.   Teach me Your better ways that I may speak well of You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 May 2017

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  Hebrews 10, verses 28-29.

Skipping ahead few verses we find this quote:   It is a dreadful ting to fall into the hands of the living God.   Perhaps that one verse better sums up the idea behind these two.

Just this morning, a Facebook friend posted a list of things God can’t do.   They’re things like “God can’t stop loving you” and “God can’t break a promise.”   All of them are accurately referenced to Bible verses, so they’re true.   It seems crazy to think that there are things God can’t do, and I suppose you could argue whether the meme should say “won’t” versus “can’t.”   I’m not partial to one term or the other, so either works for me.

One of them says “God can’t be unholy” from Isaiah 6:3.   God is holy; the whole earth is full of His holiness, reflecting that holiness and His eternal glory.   A holy God can’t tolerate un-holiness in His presence.  In order for God to remain holy, He won’t tolerate un-reconciled un-holiness to be near Him in any way.   When Satan strolled into heaven (in Job), God had already provided remedy for Satan’s wrongdoing (way back in Genesis).   When you and I stand in front of God as believers in Jesus, Jesus has already done everything possible and necessary to reconcile our status with the Holy God.   God can’t and won’t tolerate our un-holiness, and He can’t and won’t be made unholy or tarnished with our un-holiness.  And because God will see us through the filter of His Son’s perfection (His own), He won’t see us as unholy sinners.   God will see us as made holy by His own blood sacrifice.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person who spends their entire life rejecting Jesus.   Put yourself in the shoes of the person who believes in Jesus, then recants.   Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is completely apathetic, even agnostic, about Jesus.   If you know God doesn’t tolerate un-holiness, even if you don’t believe there is a God, do you want to be the person who stands against Him when you find out He’s real?

Mind you, these verses aren’t a guarantee of God’s vengeance.   They aren’t hellfire and brimstone for the damn dirty sinners who turn Him away (which is each of us and some time or other).   God is guaranteed to be just because holiness is just, and justice (real justice) is based in holiness, and God is holy.   Yet God, who is both just and holy, doesn’t guarantee harsh treatment for those who reject him.   Our holy God is also a God of beautiful mercy.

Instead, the point of these verses is to point out the fact that this holy, just God is all-powerful.   It points out that a holy, just God has the power to smite those who oppose him.   Unless you have some sick death wish, why would you want to pit yourself against Him?

In olden days (or in ‘modern’ Islamic nations), legal justice is meted out by ecclesiastical authorities.   In the days of Moses, legal justice (as an extension of God’s delegated authority) would be meted out on those against whom witnesses would testify.   Our legal system today is a descendant of that concept, namely in how those found guilty would be found guilty based on trial against them (including eyewitnesses).   If you know your actions could place you in jeopardy, why would you want to act in ways that could bring ruin on you?  After all, it’s a dreadful thing to fall in the hands of the living God, especially if you may deserve it.  If you’ve ever played the “would you rather” game, then think of this proposition as that game.   Would you rather adhere to God’s requests or dare Him to follow through?

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 17:6-7, Isaiah 6:3, Matthew 18:16, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Revelation 1:5, Ephesians 4:30.

Lord, I fear, respect, and love you.