Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  Hebrews 11, verses 13-14.

I’m a wanderer.   I learned it as a kid.   We first moved in 1969, when I was three, moving from Bloomington to Minneapolis, Minnesota.   That isn’t very far, but it’s a quantum leap for a family from the suburbs.  I went two years to an old elementary school before they tore it down in 1974.   That year, I spent a year in private school in east Minneapolis.   1975-1976 saw me attend two different third grade classes, one in Iowa and the other in Pennsylvania.  From 1976 to 1978 we lived in Pennsylvania, 1978-1980 in Oklahoma, 1980-1983 back in Iowa, and 1983-1985 in southern Indiana, which I refer to now as ‘home.’  After that, I joined the Air Force, and spent 1985 in Texas, then 1986-1989 in Texas, Maryland, and TDY (on temporary duty) around the world.   From 1989 to 1992, I lived in Italy (living in two different towns during that stay).   From 1992 until 2004, I lived in Colorado, residing in six different places in twelve years.  2004-2005 found me in Montana, then 2005 back in Colorado before moving to Texas.   Since 2005, I have lived full time in Texas, but have traveled all over the country (and the planet), and have lived in three different houses in two towns.  After fifty years of wandering, I’m finally in a home I’ve always dreamed of.   Wouldn’t you know that even my time here may be short, in jeopardy, and that there could be more wandering just up ahead.

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking for a country of my own.

I wish I could say that my story is one of deep public faith, but it isn’t.  In fact, more times than I care to admit, my faith has wandered too and has been weak with my practice of it weaker.  I’ve been rightfully accused of being a hypocrite, and Billy Joel could have once described me as “a man with so much tension and far too many sins to mention.”  I’ve tried, but in following Jesus, trying isn’t enough.   You have to “do” to be believeable to other people, and sometimes what I’ve done has been quite opposite of what I believe.

You know what?  I’m in good company.   Abraham was a wanderer and God did wonderful things through Him.   Jacob was a deceitful wanderer and God led him to live an amazing life.  Moses, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus Himself were all wanderers who did incredible, great things in the lead-up to the time of their Messiah.  After Jesus, all twelve of His disciples wandered, going from place to place to spread the Good News of the friend-Savior they knew.  Some of them were murdered for it; only one lived into old age.

I bet all those people were looking for a country of their own.   I wonder, then, if the country mentioned by the writer of Hebrews isn’t actually the nation of Heaven.   Shakespeare called death “the undiscovered country.”  Hamlet lamented that his life was all sorrow and he longed to journey into the undiscovered country of what lay beyond.   Don’t we all, yet here and now are all we know.   This is where we make our bones, discover what it means to live.   And the longer any of us live – and wander – the more we find that the only real meaning in the fallen world is found in Jesus Christ.  In Christ there is no more wandering.   In Christ, the discovery is amazement and it is continuous.   In Jesus Christ there is fulfillment of all of life’s desires, answers to every question, and peace to settle all restlessness.   In Christ, we no longer need to wander.

Christ is the undiscovered country I wish to explore, yet isn’t it wonderful to be able to do so now, as best we can, in this place that’s rife with both life and imperfection?  Until my prayers are answered and I meet Him face to face, I guess I’ll continue to wander, awaiting my endless time in the country of my own that I know in hope is only a short time away.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

My Lord and Savior, abide with me as I wander here.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  Hebrews 11, verses 13.

Today’s verse is a powerful conviction of the human race and an even more powerful demonstration of the grace of God.   It’s kryptonite to the world thinking of itself as Superman.  It’s a grace bomb.

Up until now, the writer of Hebrews has mentioned Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham as paragons of faith.   They were men who lived out what God asked them to do.   They weren’t better than anyone else in their day; they weren’t better than you or me.   They simply did a better job at putting all their faith in God.  He said then they believed.  They had faith that, if God said so, it would be so no matter what.  No matter what it cost them (even their lives), no matter what had to happen in the world, no matter anything, if God promised something, it would be so.   His word is more reliable than anything else.  I’ll ask you to back up a bit and consider the unspoken implications of what the verse is really saying.

Faith in God is worth dying for because when you have faith in God you’re a stranger in this strange land.

God created this place to be perfect.   It was perfect for a time, though we don’t really know how long Adam and Eve lived in Eden.  God created Adam and Eve to be perfect and they were for a time, existing in harmony with God and the nature He created.   In the Garden there was perfection and there was even evil.   Yet Adam and Eve lived perfectly with evil present until they accepted evil’s lying proposition.  After that, they (and we) embraced evil in corrupting the perfection of what God had created.   As a result, they (and we) fell out of harmony with God and the perfection He intended for us.

Sin, evil, corruption, sickness, deterioration, death:   those weren’t what the world was created for.   They are the abnormalities that have overtaken the world and made the normal perfection for which it was created abnormal.  We have become abnormal in a world that considers things truly abnormal to be normal.  The way around all this dysfunction, this frustration of God’s good plan, is faith in Him.   Putting our faith in God, in His Son, Jesus, changes the equation of abnormality back into one of true normality.   Disharmony becomes harmony again.

And to have that harmony in full again, unless Jesus returns, we have to die for it.   Loving Jesus fully means being willing to die for Him.  After all, He died for us.

The world of hate that we inherited from Adam and Eve’s idolatrous rebellion thinks itself to be above God.   The men cited here in Hebrews saw past that.   They didn’t have the benefit of the knowledge of Jesus for Jesus wouldn’t be incarnate for thousands of years.   Yet they still put their faith in this unseen God, trusting that He would redeem them from the hatred of sin.  They put their faith in Him doing what they couldn’t.   They hoped He would redeem them in this life, but trusted He would keep His promise whether in this life or the next.

My friend, Bill Brimer, likes to talk about ‘grace bombs.’   This is a big one.   It dropped right in front of you and exploded in your face.   Blew you away, in fact, with it’s power of love.  The ‘you’ that revels in the sensuality of our world is paled by the ‘you’ who is better than all that.   You’re better than all that because God re-made you to be better.   He remade you by redeeming you even when you and I distrusted Him.  His grace overcame our grudges.  He exploded his grace in your face by being His Word, by giving His word, by keeping His word, by being Himself for us.   All we have to do is believe because He does everything else and He does it because of love.   He proved it to these biblical forbearers.   He does it still.   BOOM.   Take that, wannabe Superman.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

Lord, thank You for exploding Your grace in my face, for all You have done and do today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 August 2017

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.  And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  Hebrews 11, verses 11-12.

The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac is a miracle.   If you aren’t familiar with it, the 50000 foot synopsis is that God tells an 80 year old Abraham that he will have a son from his similarly elderly wife, Sarah.  Abraham believes it…and God then waits another generation before making the promise come true.  Sarah initially laughs at God’s messenger when said messenger delivers the news.   Yet nine months later, Isaac is born.   Eventually, Isaac has children, and their children and children’s children become the nation of Israel.   In time, they are as numerous as stars in the sky.   In time, Abraham also blesses all people after him because one of his descendants is Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, in a day of invitro fertilization, advanced medicine, and modern sanitation, American women having children at advanced age seems like no big deal.   Janet Jackson, who is a few months older than me, just had a baby…and she and I are both in our fifties.  That simply wasn’t the case in Abraham’s day.   Thousands of years ago (in fact, only a few decades ago), if a woman was beyond her mid-thirties, it was unlikely she would even conceive let alone have a viable, healthy baby.   The risk to both child and woman was too high.   In the Third World today, that’s still very much the case, though even this is improving.

Can you imagine a woman in her eighties having a baby to a man who is 100 years old?   You might read about it in a tabloid…or in the book of Genesis.   I found a story online about a woman in her seventies in India who recently had a baby.   But she had the baby in a modern hospital and benefitted from modern practices.   Sarah bore Isaac in a tent in the desert when she was in her seventies, maybe eighties or older.

It’s a miracle.  What’s the miracle, though?  That God created life out of lifelessness?   That old people had kids?   That a nation of believers was created from a barren couple?   That the Messiah would eventually be born to this couple’s descendants?

Or was the miracle that they believed?

If you think about it, that miracle still happens every day.   In the face of a world that is still hostile to the idea of God (let alone the physical being of Him), that’s miraculous.   People in Abraham’s day rejected God en masse.  After all, Sodom and Gomorrah happened in Abraham’s day.  Of the 7 billion people here on the Third Rock today, most still reject God.   Most people reject this story of Abraham as just a fable.   Most of those 7 billion people reject Jesus as Savior, or even as a fact.

Face it:  if you believe, and if you hold onto that belief despite a world marching in lockstep to vigorously oppose that, then it’s a miracle.  It’s the Spirit of the living God taking hold of your soul.   It’s the Great I AM joining with you to help you live your life for others.   It’s the Savior demonstrating His endless love for you by redeeming you from that world hostile to Him.  Whether or not God will use you to produce a nation of His chosen people remains to be seen.   It did for many years in Abraham’s life, and then it all came true.

For further reading:  Genesis 17:17 – 18:14, Genesis 21:2, 1 Corinthians 1:9, Romans 4:19.

Lord, I praise You for the life of Abraham and the miracles You worked through Him.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 1 August 2017

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  Hebrews 11, verses 8-11.

When I was a kid, Jerry Lewis used to call himself “the super-Jew” because he would entertain the entire world for 20 hours straight on his annual Labor Day telethon.   Every year, “Jerry the Super-Jew” would sponsor A-list entertainers to work without pay to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).   Over forty years, he raised hundreds of millions of dollars by singing, dancing, vamping, and doing whatever he could to raise awareness that there were thousands of children afflicted with deadly diseases that could be cured.  According to Wikipedia, Lewis began to host telethons to raise money for heart disease.   Later, people with knowledge about muscular disorders came to him and broke his heart.  He had pity that people would respond in kindness when presented with the news that their fellow man needed help.

That’s faith.

Much like Abraham.  I don’t know if God ever told Jerry Lewis to go on TV to raise money, but He told Abraham to simply go to live in a new place.   Abraham did it.   Can you imagine hearing a strange voice from inside you, telling you to leave everything you know and go into some new place?   And it wasn’t as if Abraham did it on a whim.   He was an old man when he first acknowledged God’s command, and what a command it was.   God promised to bless ALL peoples of the earth through Him.  All Abram (as he was then called) had to do was believe and obey.

That’s a tall order, even in Bronze Age Mesopotamia.  ‘Obey me by leaving your home and going to a strange land full of strange, hostile people.   Go there and you’ll be blessed.’   Let’s face it:   we’d both be hard-pressed to say ‘yes, Lord, I’ll go.’   Not Abraham.   He believed that God would bless his fellow man so he left.   He left and headed northwest, to Canaan.   He didn’t know specifically where or why, just that God told him to do it and God would keep his promises.

Beyond these things, we don’t know much about Abram’s upbringing to give us any background as to why Abram would so willingly accept God’s promise as true.   Perhaps that’s the most miraculous part of the mystery.   Abram took God at His word and believed Him.   It’s almost as if he intrinsically understood that this God meant only love and hope for him.  Abraham trusted that God would do good no matter what He told him.   For this, Abraham is remembered as the first of the Semites:  descendants of Noah’s son, Shem, who followed God and became His chosen people.

That’s the real “super-Jew.”  Would that you or I could have such faith and be super-Jews who believe in Jesus.   Here’s the kicker:   we can.   Nothing from God is stopping us.   When we don’t exercise such faith, it’s not God’s doing.   It’s something else.  What’s in your way today?   Will you let it block you, or will you listen to the voice that says “go” no matter where it takes you?   In Matthew 28, Jesus echoes the same command He once gave to Abraham.   Jesus tells us to “go.”   Will you go today?  Where will you put your faith?

Jerry Lewis is still very much alive (currently 91 and still both super and Jewish) but the telethon became a shadow of what it used to be.   In 2011, the MDA unceremoniously dismissed Jerry  after decades of his service because they didn’t feel he connected with younger audiences.   As of 2014, the annual event was discontinued.   I find that sad.   To tell the truth, it was always a bore for a little kid to watch the Labor Day telethon because it was on all three channels and my family wasn’t interested in the Las Vegas entertainment it showed.  Yet I find myself amazed now at the faith this actor and comedian had in his fellow man to simply help kids in need.  I’ve heard Jerry Lewis can be a tough man to get along with.   Perhaps Abraham was as well.   Both men must be shrewd and wise, but also very kind of heart.   Those are super qualities for anyone.

For further reading:  Genesis 12:1-18, Acts 7:2-4, Hebrews 6:17, Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 21:2, Matthew 28.19.

Lord, may I go where You lead me today.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 July 2017

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.  Hebrews 11, verse 7.

Even unbelievers know the story of Noah.  The account of Noah and the great flood is perhaps more famously known than even many stories about Jesus.  God made a number of covenants with mankind, and the one he made with Noah was the second.   God first ‘covenanted’ with man through Adam.   The covenant with Adam consisted of blessings before and after the fall.   In Eden, God promised to bless mankind; after Eden, God promised to curse the ground because of mankind while sending a redeemer to redeem mankind.   Noah lived under that covenant, awaiting that redeemer…until the day God confided to him that He was going to wipe out all living things because of man’s sin.   That’s when Noah’s faith had to kick in.  So what exactly did Noah do by faith?

He built the ark.  Some scholars think it took almost 100 years to build the ark.   Up until the mid-1800s, Noah’s Ark, a craft of Biblical ‘legend,’ was considered to have been the largest ship ever made.   Noah, his 3 sons, and their families worked for decades to build the ark that would protect living creatures from extinction.   They did it based on a promise made by an unseen God.  I get frustrated if it takes me longer than a few days to complete a project on my farm.   Imagine how I would feel working on something, full time, for an entire century.   Morning, noon, and evening, for days, weeks, months, and years…then decades.   Imagine how Noah’s neighbors must have ridiculed him for what he was doing, all the more so when he answered “because God said so” when they asked him why he was building this thing out in the middle of nowhere.

He built the ark out of fear.  Noah built the ark because God told him to, and Noah walked with God.   He knew God and pursued God’s heart.  To do that, like his ancestor Enoch, Noah feared God and respected Him.   He understood his place as a man yet also his place as God’s cherished creation.   A thousand or more years before Moses recorded Genesis, Noah listened to stories told by his ancestors about the Father’s indescribable power and love.   Yes, Noah built the ark out of fear:   a healthy fear born in love.

He had faith that God hadn’t forgotten him during the long days on the ark.   Noah and his family lived on the ark, floating on the world-wide ocean, for nearly a year.   Imagine how it must have felt hearing things crash up against the side of the ark.   Think of how they must have felt to hear the muffled screams of people pounding to get in as the rains poured and the waters rose.  Think about the somber loneliness when those screams stopped.  I can’t imagine taking care of dozens, maybe hundreds of kinds of animals for all that time.   Perhaps the eight people on the ark kept so busy that they didn’t have much time to think about it, but I imagine there must have been times on the ark when they wondered if God had forgotten about them.   Noah probably clung desperately to his faith because that faith of 500 years had persisted through a century of building, and a year on the waters, and all through everything that happened afterward.

After the flood, when God caused the waters to recede and it was safe to leave the ark, God covenanted with Noah to never again destroy the world in a flood.  God made Noah the heir of righteousness so that, through him, the world would eventually know redemption.  Noah had faith that God would use all this to change things for the better.  And that’s exactly what happened, even as it would take many generations before Noah’s descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, would come to make it so. These days, in America, the rainbow has been co-opted by the gay rights community as their ‘pride flag.’  Yet even this serves God’s purpose for He gave rainbows to the world as a reminder of his ancient promise to Noah:  to love and sustain us and never again destroy the world in the way He had once done.  What mankind would twist for his own ungodly devices our God is still overseeing for His better purposes.   Perhaps that’s part of what kept Noah going all those years ago.   Even unbelievers can understand that.

For further reading:  Genesis 6:13-22, 1 Peter 3:20, Genesis 6:9, Ezekiel 14:14-20, Romans 9:30.

My patient Lord, thank You for the life and account of Noah.   Thank You for the rainbow reminder of Your love.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 July 2017

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  Hebrews 11, verses 5-6.

Do you know the story of Enoch?   Outside of the Bible, to our society today, he’s pretty irrelevant.  From Genesis 5:  “When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.  After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”   So let’s recap.   Compared to the others in the line from Adam to Noah, Enoch didn’t live very long (only365 years) and he had kids when he was a “young” man of 65.   Enoch was the father of Methuselah (who is recorded as having lived 969 years:  longer than any other human in history).   He had other unnamed children.   And Enoch “walked with God.”

In the rest of the narrative, that phrase matters.   None of the other men or women in the narrative (from Adam to Noah) are said to have “walked with God.”  My Concordia Bible reminds that “walking with God” is different from merely living.   Seth, the child of promise after Cain murdered Abel, isn’t said to have walked with God.   Not long-lived Methuselah, and not his son, Lamech, who became the father of Noah.  Only Noah is said to have also ‘walked with God’ and that was long after Enoch.

It wasn’t for not knowing God.   Genesis 4 says that, around the time of Seth, men began to call on the name of the Lord.  This means that men and women knew God and knew they depended on God.   Adam and Eve had known God perfectly and had rejected Him.   Their son, Abel, had known and understood God, but had been killed by his envious brother.   Cain knew God face to face and flaunted Him.   Cain’s brother, Seth, and then Seth’s children and children’s children all knew God and started to call on Him for things He would do and provide.  Yet they didn’t walk with God.   Only Enoch did that.

We can’t know for certain how many people were on the Earth in those days.   A website, https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/how-was-the-world-populated/, mathematically postulates that the pre-flood world population could have been massive by the time of the flood; at least as much as the 6 billion people alive now.  That makes for a great many people who knew God, or at least knew of Him, yet the Bible says only Enoch walked with God.   Enoch believed in God, put his faith in God, trusted God all through his 365 years. Enoch lived to seek God, to know God more.  Not until King David many centuries later is there a person mentioned in the Bible who sought God’s heart this way.  At the end of His life, Enoch didn’t die.   Like Elijah the prophet, God simply took Enoch.   One second he was here and the next second he wasn’t.  That’s a rare gift from a graceful God since the Bible records it happened to only one other person.

Knowing God isn’t enough.   Instead of simply knowing of Him, which even un-believers do, we need to believe in Him, to put our faith and trust in Him.  We NEED to do as Enoch did.  Instead of simply saying “I believe in God” because “In God We Trust” is on our money, we need to believe in God in such a way that we let Him become a truly intimate partner in our lives.   We involve ourselves with Him.  We talk with Him.   We plan with Him.   We cry, obsess, think, scream, laugh, and do everything with Him.   Like Enoch, we learn to walk with God.   We our faith in God and this pleases Him because we do so from the heart.

Maybe it was easier for Enoch.   Maybe God walked and talked with Enoch the way He had with his ancestors Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel.   Or maybe not; Scripture doesn’t say and, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters to us is walking with God.

For further reading:  Genesis 5:21-24, Hebrews 7:19.

Lord, I pray, let me walk with You today.   Walk with me today that I might know You more and model my day in Your way.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 July 2017

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.  Hebrews 11, verses 4.

Yesterday we explored how faith is truth.   Today let’s talk about the first person in the Word who is remembered for believing that.

Read the story of Abel in Genesis 4.   We don’t know much about Abel beyond his birth, his vocation, and his death.   He was the second-born child to Adam and Eve.  Abel was a shepherd, and he loved the Lord.   He proved His love for the Lord by offering the best of his possessions as a sacrifice.

Stop and consider that.   In a time when humanity was only beginning, before communities, before commerce, before money, before crime, and even before most families, Abel saw fit to offer worship to God by sacrificing the best of his flock of sheep (“the fat portions” from “the firstborn”).   He recognized that the only thing he could offer in worship to his creator was all he had.   He gave the best and he gave it from his heart.

Then he gave his life for that.   His brother, Cain, murdered him for it.  In truth, Cain murdered Abel because of Cain’s own sin. Idolatry, greed, rage, and envy took hold in the older brother so much that they consumed him and planted the idea of murder in Cain’s heart.   Whatever his motivation, Cain killed his brother because his brother had done what he, Cain, had not.

Thousands of years later, when we talk about this story, we don’t just talk about Cain:   we talk about “Cain and Abel.”   We use their account as the ultimate story of how sin can divide loved ones.    Cain lived a long life after he murdered his brother.  God put a mark on Cain so that everyone would know who he was and would shy away from him.  We know he became the father of a tribe, the builder of cities, and a ‘great’ man known for his actions.   We don’t know how he died; he may have died as an old man, or even when the flood drowned everything other than the beings on the ark.

Yet it was Abel who we remember.  The writer of Hebrews commends Abel – not Adam, Eve, Cain, or Seth the younger brother Abel never met – as being righteous.   He does so because Abel demonstrated faith in God that God would accept the blood of his sacrifice as fitting.   Indeed, God, who still walked the earth with people even then, regarded Abel’s gift as good while rejecting Cain’s as not.   You and I can identify with Cain, who may have thought he was giving God his best when all he was doing was giving God what he wanted.   Cain gave God leftovers:  Abel gave God his best and his all.

Many billions of people later, do we do any different than Cain?   Do you or I give our very best to God every day?  Most obviously, do we do so in our tithes and offerings?   More to the point, do we give God our best in our work, in how we live with our families, in how we relate to other people?   Do we put God first in our thoughts and ask Him to be involved in everything we think, say, or do?   Abel did and it cost him his life.

Are you prepared to go that far?   Abel was.

For further reading:  Genesis 4:4, 1 John 3:12, Hebrews 12:24.

My Lord, thank You for the story of Abel.   May I be as willing as he was to give my all to you, to dedicate the best in my life only to you.