Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

These are the same verses from yesterday, but I’ve added in the last sentence in verse 2.   It’s one of the most famous, most quoted verses in the entire Bible.  To get the full effect, you really need the previous words.  “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Read that to yourself over and over a few times, and try to let it sink in.

Yesterday we talked about Franklin Graham and his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse.   Neither Franklin Graham nor anyone in Samaritan’s Purse set aside pure joy to endure pure torture for you or anyone else.   We talked about volunteers and first responders fighting fires and rebuilding after hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes.   None of them ever set aside joy, endured the cross, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father.  Your neighbors haven’t done this.  Barack Obama never did this and can’t; ditto Donald Trump.   Neither can Brad Pitt, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Benny Hinn, Miss America 2017, nor your saintly little old lady grandma.

Jesus did.   He didn’t just do it willingly:   He did it lovingly, fully, without hesitation.   It’s the theme of the entire Bible and the central event in all of human history.   Everything that every is or was or will be hinges on Jesus dying on the cross, then rising to live forever.

The creator of all things, the most powerful being imaginable, who created everything simply by speaking; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (as both Isaiah and Handel called Him):   He, the omnipotent and omniscient God willingly, enthusiastically let sinners He created nail Him to the most humiliating device of torture ever devised in hell.   He did it with gusto.   Jesus not only took the worst mankind could throw at Him:   He ASKED for it.  He ran the race of life fully, to its end, to show us where we were going.

He did so because Barack, Donald, Brad, Francis and the rest of us can’t.   We simply can’t.   We aren’t Him; we aren’t God.  He is.   We desperately needed Him to do it, too.  All too often, we don’t throw off those entangling sins.   Too often, the race seems like too much for us.

Yet there He is in the race, running ahead of us, drawing our gaze, our focus.  He’s in there to pace us, to give us someone to run toward.  He beckons us to persevere, to endure because He endured much tougher things than our day to day lives.   Notice that Jesus doesn’t take us out of the race.   He doesn’t pluck us from the middle of the world, removing us from our sins.  No, Jesus stays with us to give us a reason to push forward.   The reason is Him, sitting as equal with His Father in heaven, beckoning us to persevere, to run the race day by day.  With Him there is peace now and a meaningful forever.  In Him is the victory; in Him is the goal of running the race.   All of human history prepared for His coming, and when He came, all of history after Him was set on a different path.  No empire could prevent His resurrection; no ideology can refute it, deny it, or withstand it.  Every Christmas, memes and cards say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   That’s true, but don’t bottle that up until the Holidays.   Jesus is the reason you run your race today.   He’s there in every step, not just every December.

Get up and get back in your race.   Your goal is dead ahead.   For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   He did it so you could run your race.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I lift up Your Name to praise You for running my race with me.   Abide with me, push me forward, and help me to finish in Your strength.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 10 April 2017

Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Hebrews 9, verses 25-26.

Once for all.   That matters.   My friend, Anthony, wrote a song with that title.  “Once for all our debt is paid.”  It isn’t a time and time again thing:   it was once.   That’s almost antithetical to us as ‘modern’ people.   We constantly go back and forth and have to do and then re-do whenever we mess up.   It’s that way with home improvements.   It’s that way with relationships.   It’s that way with our sins.   If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has relapsed into an addictive behavior.

Yet Jesus ‘went there’ once and once was enough.   If anything, that ought to be proof enough for us of His divine nature.   The ancient priests had to offer sacrifices every day, then once a year on the Day of Atonement in the Most Holy Place.  Again and again they went back to repeat the same actions over and over in hopes of eliciting better behavior after.   Didn’t Albert Einstein call that ‘insanity’ (repeating the same behavior again and again hoping for a different outcome)?

Insanity:   that’s a good word for sin.   Sin makes no sense.   Sin is illogical.   Sin is randomly destructive, often hurting others in unintended ways beyond just the hurt we inflict on ourselves.   Sin is a mental illness.   Yep:   sin is insanity.

And once for all, the cure for the common sin of insanity was a single visit by Jesus to the cross.   Once for all our debt was paid; thanks for the jingle, Anthony.

Yet there’s another great thought in these verses that segues off that ‘once for all’ theme:   “culmination of the ages.”   ALL of human history since the fall had led up to the cross.   Everything about the story of man found it’s climax, it’s high water mark, it’s highest height in the moment when Jesus walked out of His tomb.   The highest point of all human history isn’t the inauguration of Barack Obama, man standing on the moon, exploding an atomic bomb, Lincoln freeing the slaves, or Columbus discovering the New World.   No, the culmination of all human history, before and after, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  One time and one time only did God incarnate live, die, then live again to defeat the power of death and restore the power of living love to humanity.   Once for all, Christ died to atone perfectly for all our sins, and once for all Christ rose to live perfectly for all eternity so that we might have the promise of doing the same.

As people, we like our pride.   We get the big head and like to think more of ourselves than we should.   Our achievements are the best, and our way of thinking is superior to all who thought before us.   I’m guilty of it; so are you.   Yet none of that matters.   None of our best achievements as individuals or society can compare to the simple perfection of Jesus of Nazareth redeeming us from our sins.  If God had chosen to achieve that redemption in another way, then that way would be what we talk about, and it would be the culmination of history.   That simply isn’t the case.   Once for all our debt was paid.   It was paid with blood through the mystery of how God did it.   He defeated death.   He defeated Satan.   He defeated hopelessness.   He defeated sin.   Once for all and for always.

For further reading:  Hebrews 10:19, Hebrews 4:3, 1 John 3:5, Hebrews 7:27.

Lord, I praise You for living, dying, and living again, once for all.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 October 2016

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.  For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  Hebrews 3, verse 3-4.

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence.   But if you want to be truly accurate, Jefferson wrote the draft (borrowing heavily from the philosophy of Locke and Montesquieu) and it was a committee of four people (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston) who edited the draft and produced the document that the original Founding Fathers all signed.  Yet we give the credit to Jefferson.

“Barack Obama wrote the Affordable Care Act.”   Actually, that’s factually wrong.   He signed it into law, but the law was crafted, with his input, by numerous other members of the Democrat Party.  But we give the credit – and the blame – to President Obama.

Gutzon Borglum carved Mount Rushmore…but it was actually a whole crew of carvers and construction engineers over several years.  Donald Trump built, well, every hotel, casino and building with his name on them…but it was actually thousands of construction workers, designers, managers, and planners all working together (with better hair).  I built a house in Falcon, Colorado in 2002…but actually I did nothing more than purchase a nearly-complete home that someone else had built.

The builder gets more credit than the building itself.   Or those who actually construct the structure.   It’s natural, very typical, that we do this.   You can read for yourself that this goes all the way back to the author of Hebrews.   Practically speaking, it almost assuredly goes back further than that.  It’s natural that we remember Hannibal but don’t know the names of the soldiers, officers, and even other generals who campaigned with him.   It’s natural that we remember the names of famous actors from the silent movie period but the names of lesser actors and extras are lost in obscurity.

The builder has greater honor than the house itself.

My early life experience is military.   I was in the Air Force for 13 years (eleven active, two reserve).   In the military I learned to operate within and be assured by the chain of command.   God is the ultimate commander, living at the top of that chain.   From the lowest protozoa to the complex ‘colonel’ of man, everyone has a place in the chain (whether command or food).   When great battles are fought or lost, history remembers the name of the commander because the commander is responsible for all those below him and all that they do.  That’s another example of the builder being greater than the house itself.

Notice, too, the subtle way the verses confirm that Jesus is God.    Verse 3 says that Jesus is greater than Moses, and then verse 4 equates Jesus with God.   Because He is God.

What’s the purpose?   Even today in the most liberal Jewish practices, Moses is revered as the greatest Jew who ever lived.   Scripture refers to Moses in much the same way.   Three verses from Deuteronomy give Moses’ epitaph:   “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”  Moses led millions out of oppression.   Moses recorded God’s laws, which are the basis for all western law and civilization.   Moses served as the commander of an army of millions.   Moses stood in front of God personally.

And Jesus is more powerful than Moses.   Jesus is more powerful, more worthy of honor, power, recognition, and glory than the greatest hero of Jewish antiquity.  We remember Moses but not the names of most of the Israelites who lived in his day.   How much more so should we and do we remember Jesus, who is greater than Moses, who built ‘the house’ in which Moses and the rest of the world lived?

For more reading:   Deuteronomy 34:10-12.

Lord, You are worthy of all praise, glory, love, and adoration.   You are over everything.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 February 2016

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Mark 14, verses 17-21.

“Every weld is different.”   My son told me that just yesterday.   He attends a small college in Sherman, TX where he’s learning to be a welder. We were talking about his classwork and he remarked that every weld is unique; like fingerprints, no two are the same.   The best a welder can do is to be able to say “that’s a good weld,” then go on to the next one.

Profound.

Really, it truly was a profound statement and I’m proud to be the dad to a son who connects those particular dots (and pieces of metal). Re-read his quote, then consider it in the context of today’s verses.

We’re all different; God made each of us individually and “very good” in His perfect eyes.   Each of us has things that are unique and can serve God’s purposes. Even those who are disabled, dying, downtrodden, no-damn-good-dirty-dog-sinners, and, yes, even politicians have unique abilities and talents that are just as valuable as those of the beautiful people and sanctimonious churchgoers who assume they have it all together. Everything we have is a gift from God, and Jesus as God gives to each of us beautifully.

Even to Judas Iscariot.

It wasn’t that Judas’ gift was his place to betray Jesus.   It wasn’t that Judas was pre-ordained to be a sinner, to be the betrayer of Christ.   That simply isn’t true, and an honest study of these verses and others that corroborate and explain them will lead you to the inevitable conclusion that God never creates us to sin.   God didn’t create Judas to betray Jesus, but when Judas did so, God used it for His redemptive plan.   “But if Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus then who would have?”   Answer:   I don’t know.   Neither do you, or your pastor, or the pope, or Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, or Barack Obama. The only thing we can assume is that God would have found a different way to redeem His people because that’s what He promised to do.

Jesus loved Judas.   Judas had unique abilities, and was a very good weld. Is it any wonder, then, that such a devoted God would mourn the woe that would come to the man He had created as an individual to love but who would send Him to a cross instead?

Every weld is different and God is a master welder. My son taught me that the way you test a weld is to try to break it.   You drop your welded metal onto the floor and if it breaks, then it wasn’t a good weld and you need to re-do it.   At the Last Supper, Jesus dropped Judas on the floor, and Judas broke.   How unfortunate for him that there wasn’t time for a re-do.   How fortunate for us is the same.

Lord, I pray for the soul of Judas Iscariot.   And I thank You for making me individual, and for loving me that way.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 18 January 2016

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mark 13, verse 32.

We’ve talked about this before, about how end times prophecies boil down to our being prepared for the world to end any minute now.   Admit it:   the idea of the world ending, of God calling an end to time and of everything that we know or has ever happened coming to a conclusion seems far-fetched.   It seems preposterous, illogical (worse:   it’s logic-defiant). The end of the world seems contrary to everything God created us for, right?

Wrong.

In fact, the end of time is exactly the event for which God created us.   God created us out of His perfect love and grace.   He created us to be in full communion with Him forever, to enjoy His blessings and share His love with us with Him for all time.   However, the sin that we embraced so long ago stands in-between us and realizing God’s real plan.   He’s holy and can’t have anything to do with our sins.   Enter Jesus, who atoned for our sins and clothed us with Himself so that we can stand in front of the holy triune God blameless and made holy again.   God created us to share His love perfectly, as He does, and in our current state we can’t do that.

Yet when that will happen nobody here knows.   Jesus’ own words in this verse confirm this truth.   He says them just after assuring us that His words are truth and are reliable, that when everything else goes away He and His words will remain.  Jesus Himself doesn’t know.   The Spirit of the Father and Son doesn’t know.   NSA doesn’t know; neither does Barack Obama, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, Donald Trump, Rick Warren, your pastor, your BFF since fourth grade, nor any person we can think of. Only God the Father Himself knows when it will happen.

Maybe it follows that either me or you would think “so why doesn’t He just tell us?”   Kind of presumptuous, don’t you think? Let me answer your question with a question: “would you really want to know?”   Don’t bother digging up the “why” to that question; that’s your business.   But would you really want to know when the end of time is happening?   Wouldn’t it cause some of your passion for life to cease, the very thing that makes humanity into what we are?   If we knew when things would end, how many of us would simply give up and not truly live?   Worse, how many of us would sink further into debauchery in the false belief that this life is all there is, so we’d better live it up now because at X time we’re done.

That’s not what God intended for us at all.

Nobody we can conceive of knows when all this will conclude; perhaps it will happen before you read my next blog entry; even so, come Lord Jesus.   And if it doesn’t, then let’s thank God for another day to make the most of the lives He gives us.   Let’s live today to find ways to advance Him in our lives, to dedicate our time and talents to His work, to be Jesus and share Jesus for someone who doesn’t yet know Him.   Doing that, then it won’t matter when comes the end of all things.

Lord, I praise You that you, my God, have ordained an end to this world.   Come Lord Jesus in Your good time.

Read Mark 13, verses 32-37.

 

Practical Proverbial, 13 January 2016

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Mark 13, verses 30-31.

It’s easy to overlook the commitment that God is making with us in these two verses, yet perhaps we do so all the time.

These verses come at the end of the section that talks a great deal about the end times, reminding us to seek Jesus now.   To seal the deal of our salvation (no pun intended), Jesus gives us assurances that what He’s said is dependable.   “I’m promising you now that what I say will happen in your lifetimes.”   The world ended in the lifetime of the Disciples?   Perhaps not the planet, but the world of their upbringing did.   A few years hence, when most of them were still alive, the Disciples saw or heard about the destruction of Jerusalem, including the sacred Temple.   The Romans marched in and wiped it out, then scattered the Jews for nearly 2000 years. Many reputable Biblical scholars point to the destruction of Jerusalem as having fulfilled the end times prophecies described in Daniel, Revelation and other places throughout the Bible.   I’m not one of them; I’d advise you to Google it for yourself.   Let’s just summarize by saying that verse 30 makes the promise that those who heard it would see the end.

Then, just after making that promise, Jesus permanently seals the deal.   It’s as if He says “don’t get wrapped around the details, folks.   I keep my promises and I always will.”   Everything we know, every single thing that is, every bit of matter in the universe will go away and be destroyed; that was evident to the believers of first century Judea.   Yet when all that we know is gone, Jesus will still be.   He who is the great I AM and the Word which became flesh was and is and is to come.

It’s the only promise we can rely on.

We can’t rely on Barack Obama (or anyone in the government, actually).   We can’t rely on Stephen Hawking.   We can’t rely on the academic self-appointed intelligentsia.   Hollywood?   Can’t rely on it.   Jobs? Can’t rely on them.   Bank accounts (or the Powerball)? Your new car?   My grandson?   Your Friday night plans? The neural matter between our ears that holds our thoughts and dreams?

Zippo.   Can’t rely on them.

All those things will pass away.   All of them are perishable and deteriorating, even dying. Not Jesus.   When the knowledge and tangible things on which we’ve built our lives are gone, Jesus remains.   He will remain; He does remain; He is.

Perhaps that’s the better promise of the two given in these verses.  It’s great that we get to fulfill prophecy, but what matters more is that Jesus is.   His words are reliable, true, and life even when reliability, truth and life seem to be no more. In our worst moments of despondence, God the Father, Son and Spirit still is committed to us and committed to redeeming us from the consequences of sin.   His love is the glue that holds our world together, and even when that world seems to be falling to pieces and going away, His promise and love still remain because He is.

Lord, I thank You and praise You for being committed to me, a sinner. Thank You for remaining when all else fails.   Thank You that Your Word will never pass away.

Read Mark 13, verses 32-37.