Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 October 2017

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12, verses 22-24.

One of my favorite Christian songs is “Days of Elijah.”   There’s a particularly good version of it by Twila Paris that’s not saccharin, not too rock & roll, not too corny.   It’s just uplifting, and one of the verses in the song says “out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.”  Look up the geography of Jerusalem and you see that Zion is the hill on which the first and second temple’s were built.   It was literally God’s home address on terra firma.  It’s where the Temple was located, where King David reigned and is buried, where the Last Supper was held, and it’s not far from Calvary.   In contemporary usage, Zion refers to the land of Israel itself, and to the cause of establishing the modern nation of Israel.  Yet in days of old it was where God lived.

That’s a lot to draw from just a few verses.  Then again, Jerusalem has been ground zero for most of human history, and Zion is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem.   There’s a lot to consider with it.

The writer of Hebrews invoked Zion to symbolize heaven made possible by Jesus.   It is the new heaven, the new dwelling place of the living God.   You and I get to go there, to worship in His true temple, to make our home with Him (to tabernacle with Him).   Where Sinai symbolizes our need for Jesus before heaven, Zion symbolizes our heaven with Jesus both here in this world and in the next.  Sinai was a place of power and fear:   Zion is a place where the greatest power in the universe – God’s love – took root and grew.   Sinai was law:  Zion is love.   Sinai was remote:   Zion is connection.

I can hear Twila singing about “righteousness being restored.”

Read, too, about Abel.   The writer recalls Abel, invoking that the sacrifice of Christ means more than the sacrifice of Abel (both the blood of the animal Abel sacrificed as well as his own as the victim of history’s first murder).  Abel gave a representation of divine blood in a sacrifice about his personal faith; Jesus actually gave His own blood as the faith sacrifice for all persons.

Read, too (again) about the firstborn.   Recall the story of Esau and Jacob (or, for that matter, Cain and Abel, or any of the first-born sons of the patriarchs).   Jesus makes us all as if we are first-born.   We ALL get to inherit the best of the family.   We all get to be treated as special because of what Jesus did in dying on that rugged cross.

“These are the days of Elijah declaring the word of the Lord.”   Elijah declared God’s word to an unbelieving world.   You and I get to do the same, thousands of years after Elijah, thousands of years after the Word of the Lord Himself.

Finally, there is the new covenant.   We’ve discussed how a covenant is more than just a contract or an agreement.   It’s a blood oath, a God-affirming vow made in faith and justice.  God had made covenants with humanity all through the age of the patriarchs yet all of them were made to point us to our need for His redemption.   When Jesus came, He delivered that redemption and made it possible for men to speak directly with God.   He restored balance by making the perfect atonement.   He made a path for us to spend both now and eternity in God’s presence.  The Old Testament covenants pointed us to our need for God, yet the covenant made by Jesus points us to God in our lives.  God has always judged all people yet now we get to see His judgment more clearly, more as an act of loving justice instead of punishing vengeance.   We get to see that God’s holy law from Sinai was made perfect by His holy sacrifice from Zion.   That the covenant Jesus made by Zion is one to which we can still be bound today.

Go download Twila’s song.   I guarantee you’ll like it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 24:23, Revelation 14:1, Galatians 4:26, Exodus 4:22, Revelation 20:12, Genesis 18:25, Psalm 94:2, Philippians 3:12,Galatians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:2, Genesis 4:20, Hebrews 11:4.

Lord, thank You for so many messages in so few words.   In these days of Elijah, help me to declare Your Words to those around me.

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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, 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.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 October 2016

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  Hebrews 2, verses 14-15.

How does the devil hold the power of death over you?

Another observation of the men’s retreat I attended last weekend.   The speaker, Chad Bird, made a point I had never considered before:   man’s sin went from zero to sixty in a moment.   Think about it.   The first sin recorded for us was disobedience.   Adam and Eve disobeyed God.   They made idols out of themselves and failed to trust God (who had proven His trustworthiness at all times to them).   Then they blamed each other, then they blamed God.  To us, that seems pretty innocuous.  Yet, to God, it spoke of a chasm in the human heart.

But if disobedience seems simple, the next sin recorded in Genesis wasn’t.   If you aren’t familiar with the story, Adam and Eve sin, so God provides for them but expels them from the paradise on earth that was Eden.  After awhile, they make love and have a child in the usual way; that child is Cain.   Later, they have Abel.   Remember that, just after the fall of man, God promises Adam and Eve that He will send a deliverer to them.   Since Cain was the first person given to them, isn’t it possible that they thought Cain might be that deliverer?   He was the first born child (indeed, the first child born in all humanity), and while first born children sometimes get the hardest treatment, they’re also the first born.   In the ancient world especially, that carried connotations of birthright, favored treatment, and being set apart as special.

If you consider all that, then isn’t it likely that Cain was brought up knowing it?   Maybe he was a little spoiled?  It isn’t a logical stretch to understand that Cain had a problem with ego, and that ego problem manifested itself in pride.   Cain and his brother became farmers, and when both of them decided to bring fruits of their labor to God, Cain’s pride burned into resentment.   His brother, Abel, selected the best of his sheep herd, then slaughtered it in sacrifice to God.   Cain, on the other hand, simply selected some nice crops and said “good enough” for his sacrifice.  Result:   God looked with favor on Abel’s offering and with scorn on Cain’s.  It wasn’t the produce:   it was the heart.

Result from that:  chasm and chaos.  Cain murdered his brother.   Sin 1:  disobedience.   Sin 2:  murder.  Zero to sixty in the space of a few verses.

Flash forward to our so called modern day.  Your flesh and mine aren’t any different from Cain’s (or Adam’s or Eve’s).   We suffer the same emotions and temptations they did.   While they never had the internet or indoor plumbing or supermarkets like we do, we have never enjoyed face to face relations with the Almighty the way they did (nor the simplicity of life lived at its most basic level).  Satan isn’t very original.   Jesus said he is the father of liars, that he has been a liar from the time of creation.  Lies and deception are still Satan’s primary weapons against us…because they’re effective!   They drove wedges between Adam & Eve & Cain & Abel and their God; they drive wedges into our relationships today.   All our sins today start with the casual idolatry of Satan’s lies and how we choose to believe them.   Disobedience, murder, cheating, adultery, stealing; pick your pet sin:   they’re all based on simple tricks that Satan has used for centuries.   We’re tempted and we fall time and time again.  As a result, we die to God with every disobedience.   Die enough and it’ll become permanent.

Yet the same Jesus who allows us to live in a world where we are tempted by Satan all day is the same Jesus who asks us to put our trust in Him alone because all blessings flow from Him:   the same way they did in the days of Cain and Abel.   He overcame death on Calvary, rendering spiritual death meaningless for those who would use their lives here to trust Him.  He took away the power of Satan’s cunning lies and offered mankind the better way.   Jesus made right what Adam, Eve, and Cain had taken wrong when they first trusted Satan’s deceptions.

We don’t know what happened to Cain.    He wasn’t the promised deliverer, though in reality God delivered him.   Cain absorbed the consequences of his actions, first focusing on his own selfishness but then, perhaps, later on something more.   God put a mark on him so that other people wouldn’t kill him, and that mark was really a kind of blessing because it gave Cain the opportunity to reflect and turn back to God.   Genesis tells of him building cities, and fathering other people (some good, some not).   At some point, he (obviously) died; we don’t know when.   His death meant that Satan’s power of sin resulted in punishment, namely that death.  Yet it also meant God delivered Cain and each of us from further influence by Satan.   He has no power over the dead; only God does.

For more reading:   1 Corinthians 15:50, Ephesians 6:12, John 1:14, Genesis 3:15, 1 Corinthians 15: 54-57, 2 Timothy 1:10, 1 John 3:8.

Lord, help me to resist the power of the devil in my life today.   When I am tempted, help me to choose You and Your path of peace instead of Satan’s lies and death.