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, 13 September 2016

 In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” Hebrews 1, verse 7.

One more about the angels. And nature.

The NIV study Bible I use to assist me with these writings says “Psalm 104:4 speaks of the storm wind and the lightening as agents of God’s purposes.”   Specifically, that Psalm says “He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire from his servants.”

Do you know the story of Elijah and God in the breath of the wind?   It’s from 1 Kings, chapter 19.   Elijah the prophet has been zealously “propheting” for God.   He’s bringing it, giving his all, and what has he gotten for it?   Queen Jezebel is trying to have him killed.   He’s depressed to the point of desperation and needs some encouragement.   God tells him to go outside to witness divine power.   Then God sends a huge wind (maybe a tornado), and earthquake and firestorm but God isn’t in any of those.   When God does show up, He’s in a breath of wind, and Elijah is refreshed to resume his duties as prophet.

The connection between Hebrews and 1Kings?   The power is God, not angels or elements. There’s one I don’t consider often enough.

Now, I’m not going to opine on global warming, man-made climate change, or any of that. Suffice it to say that there are those of us who believe in that and those of us who don’t. Mankind is pretty powerful; we have the means to literally move mountains.   Don’t believe me?   Go to the Black Hills in South Dakota.   Or visit NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain, which is literally a series of buildings inside a mountain. We’ve made nuclear weapons (and safe nuclear power), explored deep space, cured diseases, built the entire nation of Dubai, and we can talk instantly all across the planet.   But those aren’t supernatural.   They’re fantastic (and wonderful) but they aren’t supernatural.   They aren’t ‘something from nothing.’   They aren’t speaking creation into existence, or two ‘men’ destroying two immoral cities all by themselves.   They aren’t parting a sea, stopping a river midstream (or the sun in the sky), turning water into wine, walking on water, or any of those things. The greatest feats humanity can offer are uses or manipulations of created nature, not creating nature out of nothing.

Only God can do that.   We can’t.   The angels can’t.   Benny Hinn (or Benny Hill) can’t.   Only God can do that.

And only God can use nature to send His messages.   Sometimes I think that, when we humans recognize beauty, we’re seeing the world through heaven’s eyes. God touches and refreshes us using His nature.   A vista of the Grand Canyon, Maroon Bells in the fall, the view from the Matterhorn, a sunset from your own front porch:   beautiful and refreshing.   And I believe they may just be messages from God.   “Look at the beauty of my creation.   See a reflection of Me and know I’m even more beautiful.”

Then consider hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, tornados; devastation.   These things are part of nature, part of the fallen world.   They would be out of place if this were still Eden; they’ll be out of place in the world Jesus remakes after the end of time. Until then, we’re stuck with them.   Nature itself is frustrated by sin, and while people and their sins today don’t bring on these natural events, our world still suffers from mankind’s original rebellion. Those terrible storms happen because a frustrated nature still rails against its own not-frustrated nature.   The elements themselves react in ways they weren’t created to.

Yet through it God is still over all.   He works miracles in the aftermath.   Perhaps His angels are at work exercising protection; we may never know.   The stories of rescue; comforting grieving families. Resolute will to rebuild, the ability to put forgiveness into perspective:   these are expressions of God’s Spirit at work in the wake of sin’s results. In them, they are God using such forces of nature for His own purposes. In them, He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.

For more reading:   Psalm 104:4, Daniel 7:10, Hebrews 1:14, Zechariah 6:5, 1Kings 19, Genesis 18 and 19.

Lord God, You are mighty over all the world.   You are over nature, more powerful than any force, and ruler of all we know.   Thank You for being the Lord of all creation, and for all the ways You minister to us.

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.