Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 10 February 2020

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. Philippians 3:3-4 (EHV).

Paul uses much of this first part of Chapter 3 to remind us to have no confidence in our flesh; to not put our trust in this world but, instead, in Jesus.   He does it using a comparison to circumcision.

Reading this in 2020, even I’ll admit:   it’s uncomfortable, especially as a man.   Yet it’s also logical to compare our faith in Christ to being ‘cut around.’   In the Bible, circumcision goes all the way back to Abraham, who was told by God to do it to the men in his life as a mark of devotion to God.   In today’s world, women will (ok, rightfully) joke that a man’s penis is, to him, the most important part of his body.  Even knowing that joke, God is STILL right, then, to have asked men to circumcise it   He’s saying “dedicate the most important part of you to Me.   Serve me this way.”   In that, it becomes an act of love.    Yet the more you read about it, the more you see it isn’t about a physical surgery.

Medically, there are some uses for circumcision but it is still mainly elective. Even going back to Paul’s time and beyond, that was true.   It seems likely that this was something with which Abraham might have been familiar even before God commanded him to do it.   For Jews of Paul’s day, it was part of Mosaic law; something they HAD to do.   Yet, for Paul and we who came after him, it became just another Jewish custom we were no longer bound to obey because our circumcision was one of the heart:   where God was asking us to cut around all else from the start (even in Abraham’s day).

Keep that in mind when reading the rest of the verses in chapter 3.   It’s not about getting your foreskin cut off:   it’s about excising from your heart any prideful sin that hides if from God.   It’s about dedicating to Christ that which really is most important of all:   our soul.  Romans 2 spells it out:   that our faith in God is a circumcision of the heart, where it matters most.  Colossians 2 then takes that a step further, stating that it was Christ himself who cut off our sinful nature.

It is for men and women both to be circumcised of the heart, to have our sinful nature cut away and our souls reconfigured to be someone new.  Only Jesus can do this.

For further reading:   Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 6:15, Colossians 2:11, Philippians 3:5.

Lord Jesus, circumcise my heart and mark me as Your own.   Cut away that which doesn’t matter and make me into a new person to serve You in Your work.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 16 July 2019

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group.  Titus 1:10 (NIV).

History matters.   It’s pretty difficult to understand how Jesus fulfills everything about the Old Testament without understanding the history of the Old Testament and why things were the way they were.   And it’s pretty tough to understand what Paul means when he’s talking about “meaningless talk and deception” and “the circumcision group” and how that affects one’s belief as a follower of Jesus Christ.

What does having a man’s foreskin sliced off have to do with believing in Jesus?   It’s everything and nothing.  Circumcision was given – and directed – to mankind as a way for men to remember God’s devotion to them.   So that they would know God is with them in the most private, intimate of places in their lives, God commanded Abraham to circumcise everyone in his race.   There were spiritual, medical, hygienic, and physical reasons for all this yet the message to man was still the same:  (from God) I am yours and you’re marked as mine.  No matter what anyone does or says, God is ALWAYS present even in our proudest and most personal moments.

Sort of like now.  In Romans, Paul talks about how a Christian’s circumcision is of the heart, how God marks us from within.   The old covenant has been replaced by a new one.  God’s Son Himself would cut away the sheath around our hearts and reside within.  From now on, it would be God working from the heart – and the words and actions emanating from it – that would make new believers.  There would still be those who insist on putting rules and boundaries around our faith, but those wouldn’t be able to touch God where He truly lives.  Or harm us there.

Because, then as now, the world is full of people who rebel against that, ridicule it, try to pull people away from it.   Most of our world doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ.   Most of the world isn’t circumcised ‘downstairs’ or inside.  Six of seven billion people either don’t care or don’t know about the man from Galilee.  And among those who do know Him, there is internal dissention, disagreement, discord, and disunion on just who He is and a host of other largely meaningless issues; don’t this, don’t that.  Don’t.  Really.  Matter.

Because He still is.   He’s still the Son of God.   He’s still a person in the Trinity.   He’s still the Way, the truth and the life, and the only path to God.   Because He still circumcises those He marks as His own.

It would be difficult at best to understand these things without knowing why circumcision originally mattered.  History matters because He still does.

For further reading:  John 14:6, Romans 2:29, Acts 10:45, 1 Timothy 1:6, Titus 1:11

Lord God, thank You for the gift of circumcision, both its original meaning and Your circumcision of the heart.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 24 June 2019

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.  2 Timothy 4:16 (NIV).

Paul was given to hyperbole, but here in this verse, he probably wasn’t being hyperbolic.   It’s likely that there actually were people around him who did physically support him – with food, with friendship, with camaraderie, with prayer.   That’ isn’t what he’s talking about.  When Paul was called before the Jewish, then Roman, authorities, he was probably alone.   He was probably left to defend himself with only the words of Jesus’ Spirit to guide him.  Everyone else, even his closest friends, either deserted him or sought self-preservation from the hell-bent Jewish and Roman overseers.

That’s understandable, you know.   We can only do so much.   While God calls us to boldly proclaim and love Him in all ways even unto death, He asks us more to model the attitude of self-sacrifice; the heart to give everything in His service.   That’s the heart Paul had, the kind of heart that guided him through the times when the government and the religious authorities actually persecuted him for proclaiming Christ crucified.

My Concordia Bible makes an interesting parallel between this verse, especially the last section of it, and Acts 7:60.  In the Acts verse, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is being stoned to death by over-eager Jews.   Stephen had just rhetorically devastated these men, who had called him to testify as to why he was proclaiming the forbidden “way” of Jesus.   Stephen used that occasion to relate how the Jews had followed God in an up-then-down manner from the time of Abraham until that day.   He then bluntly denounced them for mocking God in their hearts because they had murdered Jesus, God Immanuel.   The Sanhedrin stoned Stephen for that, and it was Paul, then known as Saul, who had overseen the murder.

So it’s ironic that, in the verse from 2 Timothy, years after the death of Stephen, Paul asks a prayer for the people who have deserted him.   Stephen wasn’t alone in his dying moments:   he saw heaven open and Jesus.  Paul knew that he, too, wasn’t alone.   That even when his friends left him, he still had Jesus there to bring peace to his heart and forgiveness as its best desire.

We’re in that same boat, you know.  We are given to thinking we’re all alone, certain that the world is set against us and that only disaster and despair are ahead.   Yet it’s a mirage; it’s an exaggeration of our circumstances; hyperbole.   We are never all alone, even when we feel alone.   Stephen wasn’t.   Paul wasn’t.   You aren’t; I’m not.  Even in the worst day, Jesus endures with us, giving us strength to pray for the forgiveness of others.

For further reading:  Acts 7:60, 2 Timothy 4:17

Lord Christ, forgive, uphold, restore, and enrich those who would hurt me today.   Grant them and myself Your peace.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 27 November 2018

Command and teach these things. 1 Timothy 4:11 (NIV).

Paul doesn’t mess around.   He says “command and teach.”   Not “go get some proper seminary training first and then wear nice robes and sing boring music.”   And he doesn’t say “you need a college degree for this.”   And Paul doesn’t say “think it over and, if you’re feeling up to it, speak up when you get the chance.”

Command and teach already.   Very Captain Kirk:   boldly go where no man has gone before (or where many have gone but their love has grown cold).   Speak up and speak out.

These words come in the chapter where Paul has given out some broad instructions to his protégé.  The goal is to minister to others as Christ ministered.   The aim is to build up the body of believers into more closely following our Savior in how we think, speak, and act.   It isn’t about a bunch of rules:   it’s about Jesus.

And to better follow Jesus, when one is called to speak up for the faith, COMMAND and teach.   Don’t mess around with it.   Don’t walk around thinking “I can’t do this” because you can; because His Spirit will do the talking and teaching for you.  Stand up and be counted and speak the truth plainly, boldly, convincingly.   Even people of timid nature can be forceful in their convictions.   Command and teach.   Do it confidently because the power you have to do it isn’t your own.   It is the power of Him who sends you:   the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Yet remember a few things.   The position and ability to command is given by God but respected by men.   Here on the third rock, we earn respect.   If you command and teach in God’s name by humbly submitting to His authority, you’ll be shocked at what He does through you.   When people recognize that, they’ll listen in respect.

And teach wisely.   There’s no shame in not knowing how to do something, but there is shame in knowing you need to know and then doing nothing about it.   Do it in your own way, using your talents and your personality.  Learn to teach and teach to learn.   Do both in submission to Christ.

Finally, before commanding or teaching, go first to Jesus and seek His counsel.  He is the King of the World and knows what He’s doing.    Pray.   Immerse yourself in the Word.   Open your heart to Him and wait on Him to act; go Psalm 46.   He will, in His own good time, and everyone will see it.

When He does, get up and get going.  Command and teach.   Don’t be a jerk about it; Jesus was never a jerk.   We shouldn’t be either.   But stand firm and speak up.

For further reading: Psalm 46:10-11, 1 Timothy 5:7, 1 Timothy 4:12

Lord, put Your words in my mind and mouth, and help me to command and teach in Your name.   Help me to do it humbly, wisely, and confidently.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 2 October 2018

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 1 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).

Imagine if God called an atheist to preach the Gospel.  Or if He called Louis Farrakhan (or an Iranian mullah) to preach reconciliation with the Jews. Imagine if a Alec Baldwin went on the Tonight Show to preach for reconciliation in the name of Jesus.

That’s Paul.   Think of the worst possible persecutor, the very harshest, the meanest guy you could meet and it was Paul.   He relished what he did for a living:   killing followers of “the Way.”   He was a zealous follower of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and lived in His temple in Jerusalem.   That is, until a roadside meeting with that one true God shut, then opened, Paul’s eyes.   The persecutor became the persecuted, and every time that happened, he doubled down on it.   He gave thanks to Jesus for picking him, the most unworthy of servants, to become zealous for His message and carry it to places unknown.

Today’s verse changes direction from the last few.  Keep in mind that this change of direction happens right after Paul warns Timothy to avoid false teachers and properly invoke God’s law.  Paul has used the first part of his letter to remind Timothy that not everyone is for him…or Him.   Now he begins a section of different instruction, outlining God’s grace and how it is a unique gift from the King to preach the faith to people who need to hear it.

Not everyone is called to that calling.   I’ve never really felt it, other than the daily urge to write these word.  I can’t do much but I can do this.  Some pastors tell me that they innately knew they should become pastors.   One told me it was like God slamming shut every other door in his life until he walked through the ministry one.   Another seemed to relish being a pastor instead of “just a pig farmer’s son” (as if that’s something to be ashamed of…it isn’t).

No matter, to minister to others in the name of Jesus is a calling that I think each of us gets in our own ways.   Some get it to be a full time job.   Jesus molds our lives in unique ways.   Have you ever thought that there are 7.2 billion ministers for Jesus alive right now?   It’s true.   Yet not all know it, or Him.   So it’s up to us to use the gifts He gives us and the good fruits of His Spirit that are kindness, understanding, and love to help others along their way to Him.  Imagine if God called an atheist to preach.   Better yet, imagine how He’s calling you.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:13, Acts 9:15, 1 Timothy 1:13

Lord Jesus, all my praise to You for putting Your love on my heart to follow and preach You in my own way.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 October 2017.

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.  Hebrews 12, verses 16-17.

Esau.   We’ve talked about Esau before, early on in discussing Chapter 11.   Refreshing your memory, Esau was Jacob’s brother who was rash, impetuous, and emotional.   He and his brother knew their father and grandfather had been promised by God Himself that He would make them into a blessed nation.   It was their family inheritance; it set them apart from everyone else on the planet.   It’s logical to assume Esau grew up hearing these accounts (first-hand even, from both Abraham and Isaac), yet Esau treated God’s promise with casual contempt.  One time, Esau’s emotions got the best of him and it had eternal consequences for mankind.   He traded his birthright – perhaps the most important thing a man of antiquity possessed – for a bowl of stew.   Later, following his brother’s trickery, he was subjected to being a second-place citizen in his own family even though he was first-born.

Admit it:   the reason Esau did this was that he was godless.   Specifically, he craved less God in his life except when it served his own purposes.

Then there’s his brother.  Jacob’s deceit was two-fold.  First was the verbal acquisition of Esau’s birthright by taking advantage of Esau’s own foolishness.  Then came the physical blessing of their father, Isaac, through active deception and playing on Isaac’s own loving words.  No objective analysis of Genesis 25 and 27 can reach any conclusion other than that Jacob was a crafty deceiver, maybe even dishonest.  He must have been a conflicted man, harboring deep, real faith in the living God while still clinging to the worldly ways of taking what you want.  Before the world was made, God had marked Jacob to carry His lineage and fulfill His purposes.   Even without Jacob’s participation, I’m sure God would have found another way to include him.  It’s amazing how God can turn human dysfunction into Divine glory.

Yet none of this excuses Esau.   Esau treated the gift of divine birthright as a cheap thing.  He didn’t regard it as important.   He didn’t consider the implications of rejecting it.   Instead of saying to himself “I’ll get a bite someplace else”, Esau demanded his weaker brother feed him.   Jacob pressed Esau with what must have seemed a silly demand, that Esau forswear his first-born birthright to property, blessing, and special status as God’s chosen vessel of the redemption promise.   Rather than taking this seriously, Esau flippantly signed away his birthright in exchange for a full stomach.   I hope it tasted good; I’m betting Esau didn’t give it a second thought.

And when the time came for their father to die, Isaac wanted to bless his sons respecting that birthright.   Jacob tricked Isaac and got the blessing that had been intended for his older brother.   But Isaac was a man of character, an upright and faithful follower of his Lord.   He couldn’t go back on his word even when his favorite son pressed him for something you and I might consider fair.   The firstborn blessing had been given and Jacob would become heir to all Isaac was and owned.   And it had happened because Esau had shamefully regarded God’s promise.

Moral of the story:  don’t treat God’s gifts cheaply.

I mentioned yesterday that it seemed strange that the writer of Hebrews would talk about the powerful concept of sexual immorality in only a few words before spending the next two verse talking about Esau’s immorality.   Those words were almost an off-hand comment.  Yet perhaps the message of these two subjects actually fits together.   It’s not about the sex; it isn’t about hunting for wild game.   It isn’t about the lust for flesh or the lust for status.   Immorality is immorality no matter what form it takes, and the writer cautions followers of Jesus to be on our guard against it.   If we, like Esau, treat God’s gifts cavalierly, it should be no surprise to us when all we receive in return are cavalier rewards.  If we, like Esau, think God-less thoughts from our hearts, is it any surprise we might find ourselves dis-inherited and at war with the world of our own making?

For further reading:  1 Genesis 25:29-34, Genesis 27:30-40.

My Lord, I pray You had mercy on Esau.   And I pray here for Your guidance that I might not treat Your many gifts flippantly.   Help me to appreciate Your value in all times.  

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 10 August 2017

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.  Hebrews 11, verse 20.

Perhaps the story of Jacob and Esau is a good example of ‘mixed blessings.’  If you don’t know much about Jacob and Esau, they were twins born to Isaac and his wife, Rebekah.  Esau was born first, only minutes before his brother, but was the blood-born heir as firstborn.   Yet God wasn’t with Esau as He was with Jacob, and Jacob shrewdly talked his brother out of Esau’s birthright, then deceitfully gained his father’s first-born blessing by posing as Esau.  Shady story?   Perhaps, yet I’d ask you whether or not such things happen in our world today.   You know they do:  from families to nation-states, each of us acts in our own best interests.

Sometimes those interests are in line with how God is blessing us.  That was the case with Jacob.

When Isaac was old and nearly blind, he wanted to give his formal, ecclesiastical blessing to his first-born son.   In cahoots with their mother, Jacob and Rebekah schemed to deceive Isaac so that Jacob, and not Esau, would receive that blessing.   You’d be mad enough to kill if your younger brother had taken away everything that was supposed to be yours.   Esau was, and he swore to kill Jacob, then prepared to make good on that vow.  That’s what happened yet in being both fascinated and repulsed by this story, don’t overlook the miracle of it.

Isaac blessed his sons because he had faith his God would bless them accordingly.   What’s more, God blesses Jacob and Esau both after the deception.

Isaac lived his life knowing God, having seen God bless both his father, Abraham, and himself.  Isaac gave his blessing when he was old and while Abraham was still alive.   In doing this, Isaac is a witness to his belief that God was good and would bless and prosper the world as He said He would.   Such faith in adherence with worldly customs like birthright blessing shows trust in God and thankfulness for all that God has given us.  Isaac seems like a bit-player in Biblical history yet his faith is most important.   God made the covenant with Abraham to bless the world through him.  It is Isaac who puts that covenant into motion by passing on his faith-based blessing to his son.   God kept that covenant promise despite Abraham’s shortcomings (like lying about the identity of his wife) or Isaac’s (who did the same thing about his own).

And when the world (via Jacob) intervenes with the sin of deceit, God still uses that to make good on what He promised.  Hearing about Esau’s vow, Jacob, again with the help of his mother, flees to her homeland and is, himself, deceived by his uncle.   Jacob falls in love with his cousin, Rachel, yet is deceived by Rachel’s father into marrying her sister, Leah, in exchange for seven years of work.    Eventually, Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel and fathers twelve sons who will become the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

In the meantime, God blesses Esau by giving him wealth and a large family through his cousin Ishmael’s line.  Esau never forgot his vow to kill his brother, yet God blesses him with the spiritual gift of mercy.   Many years later, a wealthy Jacob returns home to submit to his brother’s will (itself an act of faith).   Instead of murder, Esau forgives his brother, and the families are reconciled.   When God sees Jacob’s willingness to submit to his brother’s punishment for the deceit of years before, His heart is moved and He renames Jacob “Israel.”   The rest, as they say, is history.

Read the story of Isaac, Jacob and Esau in Genesis; start in Genesis 27.   I’m hoping you see how yesterday’s themes of foreshadowing, devotion, reason and resurrection play out in all their lives because, in some ways, they are both the picture of the life of Jesus to come as well as a picture of the kind of lives even we live today.  Each of our lives is a bag of mixed blessings.   It’s my prayer you come to see how, mixed or otherwise, they’re all still blessings from above.

For further reading:  Genesis 27.

Lord, thank You for mixed blessings.   And thanks for the story of Isaac and his dysfunctional family.   May it be a blessing to my own.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 August 2017

 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.  He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.  Hebrews 11, verses 17-19.

So much to unpack here.

Devotion.  Are you amazed by Abraham’s devotion to God?  And even his devotion to Isaac?   Our modern interpretation of the Bible can pain Abraham in an unkind picture.   “He was willing to murder his own son.”  Admit it:   you’ve thought that; so have I.   How could Abraham MURDER his child?  Our society (rightfully) looks at that as heinous.  Here comes the part you won’t like (because it’s uncomfortably true):   Abraham wasn’t told to murder, nor did he try to murder Isaac, nor did he have the heart for murder.   God commanded Abraham to SACRIFICE Isaac to Him.  God was saying to Abraham “commit to Me everything about what you love most.   Be willing to give even your son’s life to Me because you trust Me.”  A murderer thinks otherwise (if he thinks at all).   Abraham was willing to kill his son, his most precious family member, if it meant dedicating that person’s life and his own to his Father.   Devotion like that is rare even in the Bible.   Would you or I be that devoted?

Foreshadowing:  “He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” could have been written about the Father Himself.   From the moment of man’s fall, God had promised to redeem mankind from the sin we accepted and made our own.   This included Abraham and Isaac, who were sinful people not unlike you or I.  Abraham had trusted that God would keep His promise to give him a son and God kept that promise.   God then commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that firstborn son and the heir of all Abraham had or would be.  Can you see how, in all of this, God was foreshadowing to Abraham (and us) what He Himself would do with Jesus?   What’s more, God promised that it was through Isaac that all this would happen, that Abraham’s offspring “would be reckoned.”

Reason.  Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead.  He didn’t just FEEL it:   Abraham REASONED.  He thought it through.   He quickly but logically, cogently deducted that God had kept His prior promises and that God was powerful enough to do anything He wanted.   Abraham reasoned that, if God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God would bring Isaac back from death.   It wasn’t an emotion, and it wasn’t being caught up in the moment, though both of those probably happened.  Instead, Abraham intellectually deduced this honest conclusion about God.

That brings us to our final point:   resurrection.   Abraham deduced that God could resurrect Isaac, so he prepared to end his son’s life.   It was the action of faith that Abraham took in response to the action of faith God had already offered to him.   God foreshadowed yet again that Isaac’s death could be overcome by God.  He promised Abraham that the sacrifice would be worthwhile because it was to God Himself.   That sacrifice could only be completed in resurrection, which was how God ultimately completed the even greater sacrifice of faith that took place on Calvary.  Death could only be reasoned, only be accepted, only be tolerated, only be made right through resurrection, through Divinely restoring life to lifelessness because spiritual death was true lifelessness.   Abraham grasped that thought as he held a knife to his son’s throat.   And that’s when God stayed the knife.

Like you and I, Abraham and Isaac wandered in this world.   Abraham perhaps more than any of us because he lived as a nomad, residing most of his life in tents as he traveled from place to place.   He knew that God would bring him home, and he knew that God would always abide with him no matter where he wandered.   Yet in this greatest test of his life (and perhaps ours), God called him to account and asked him “what do you REALLY believe?”   It was for Abraham’s benefit, not God’s.  Abraham wasn’t a super-human:   he was just a man, albeit one of good character.   But he was simply a man, like you or me.  How amazing is it that God chose to reveal these things about His character and ours through the life of this ancient patriarch.

For further reading:  Genesis 22:1-10, James 2:21, Geneses 21:12, Romans 9:7, Romans 4:21, John 5:21.

Lord, thank You for the willingness of Abraham to commit everything to You.  

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.