Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 1 November 2016

That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’  So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” Hebrews 3, verses 10-11

This morning my daily online devotion was from Jeremiah 7:28.   “Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction.   Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.’”  I’m NOT getting into politics here.   And yet, any assessment of our current political situation, especially this 2016 presidential election, brings to mind Hebrews 3, verses 10-11 AND that verse from Jeremiah.  Indeed, it’s more than our politics.   At the risk of saying “back in the day” or “in the good old days,” I’ll say both and sum up what seems to be a common complaint here in the U S of A:  things aren’t what they used to be.  And God is watching.

You know why:   sin.  To paraphrase Si Robertson, we don’t have just any problem.   We have a Jesus problem.  Our problem comes from our not focusing on Jesus, following Jesus, obeying Jesus, loving like Jesus, learning from Jesus, living more like Jesus and like He asked (and commanded) us to do.  The root of that is sin.

Have I tired you out yet?

Sorry, friend, but the truth is the truth.   I’m not a fire and brimstone kind of guy.   I’ve always thought the hellfire-is-coming-so-get-right-with-God approach isn’t for me.   I don’t like other sinners, especially hypocritical pastors, harping to me about my sins.  I know my sins and they bother me greatly; get off my back already!  I mean, Luke 4:23 and Matthew 7:5, please!   I don’t need that kind of aggravation in my life…I get it!

And did you catch how many times the letter “I” was used to talk about me in that last paragraph?   Yes, there’s a reason.   It’s part of the problem.  Perhaps the problem starts with me, with the man in the mirror as Michael Jackson would have said.   Perhaps the good old days became the bad day today because people like me and you screwed up.   I have spent so much time in my life ignoring what Jesus says to me and running after everything else that I’ve done my share to define deviancy down for all of us.

Defining deviancy down:   that’s a Daniel P. Moynihan term.   He coined it to describe how society changes its definition of ‘deviancy’ to accept widespread behavior that previous generations would have condemned so as to avoid, shall we say, rocking the boat.  Yet in today’s verses (and those just prior to it), the author of Hebrews reminds us that defining deviancy down is a fool’s game because God holds us accountable when we stray from His path.  He is just and He is interested in our lives.   He’s paying attention, and still we choose the sins over the Son.  Our ancestors did it, specifically the Israelites of antiquity.

And we’re doing the same thing today.

God had delivered the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt and still, on a few months removed from that deliverance, the Israelites started back to ways that would have made the Egyptians pious.  Idolatry, greed, hatred and malice and anger, sexual sins of all kinds, stealing:  you name it, they did it.

Welcome to America 2016.

God has provided for His people – ALL His people – every day of their/our lives.  If you woke this morning and are reading this now, God has provided for you.   If you have food, air, water, a job, friends, a place to live, and even just a heartbeat, God has provided for you.  Sure, some days seem worse than others; got skin, got sin.   Yet they’re worse to us NOT because God hasn’t provided more but almost always because of human choices.

Welcome back to America 2016.

Most of all, Jesus – God Himself- came here and gave every one of us a free path to eternal life, to living forever in redeemed peace, unending grace, and beautiful lives of perfect worship.   We get to live in harmony with our maker, get renewed perfect bodies, and we get to live as mankind was intended to live.   Even more, before any of that wonderful life even commences we get to let go of our hurt and guilt here and now, and we get to live lives in peace, learning to make amends where we’ve done wrong and learning to live in peace with people just like us.  All we have to do is believe and He does the rest.  And yet we all do everything we can to reject that, to turn from it, embracing the definition of deviancy down while rejecting the divine call of Jesus.

This is America 2016.

Be advised:  is it any wonder that, eventually, God would wash His hands of us?   He’s done it before.   With a heavy heart, I’m betting He would do it again.

For more reading:   Jeremiah 7:28, Hebrews 4:3-5, Deuteronomy 1:34-35, Psalm 95:7-11, Luke 4:23, Matthew 7:5.

Lord, I believe in You.   I’m truly sorry for my sins, for the times I’ve embraced the things of the world instead of You and Your love.   Forgive me, I pray, and renew me to do better, to follow You and You alone.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 11 August 2015

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’  Mark 9 verses 43-48.

Do you think Jesus is talking about hell here?   If you didn’t answer “yes,” perhaps you need to read it again.   Is He talking about eternal burning in an unending fire?   Maybe; there isn’t enough information to know whether this is direct reference or a metaphor.

Why am I asking this?   I’m on the bandwagon of people who decry our nation’s ignorance of hell.   Just this past month, a group of Satanists unveiled a statue in Detroit of Satan; it’s their 1st Amendment right, just as it’s someone else’s to call that “dumb.” Don’t these people fear hell? ISIS murders innocent people by the thousands in ways that are, um, creative and titillating:   don’t they fear hell?   People do unspeakable things to little children, or even to defenseless animals that are part of God’s creation for our enjoyment:   don’t they fear hell?

I live in the south, so there’s no shortage of churches that will give you your fill of hellfire and brimstone preaching that will, in the least, motivate you to contemplate the domain of the devil. Let’s face it:   it’s a sobering yet healthy thing to confront the idea that there really is evil in our world. The place our just and loving God has reserved for evil once our world has ended is hell.   The previous verses in this chapter are only a few of some throughout the Bible that tell us of how damnation awaits those who consciously refuse to believe in Jesus. Whether it’s literal fire, the absence of love, or something else, it will be more unpleasant than anything we could imagine.

But here’s where I’d like to go in a different direction.   Instead of just asking again “don’t they fear hell,” perhaps we could better serve our world by asking “how can I introduce them to Jesus?”   The presence of evil isn’t evidence of the absence of Jesus so much as it is the acceptance of the consequences when we turn away from Jesus.   The longer I live, the more I see Jesus is with me every minute, even when evil prevails. He’s there even when evil shows up on our doorstep, in our hearts, throughout our words and actions when we turn in even subtle ways.   Satan can only exploit us if we let him.

Just like he can only exploit those folks who let him have his way in their lives. Jesus is with us throughout. Instead of standing by, watching while others choose destruction, how about we bridge their self-made gap to Christ?   “Do you know Him?”   “Can I take a few minutes to tell you about Him?”   Those words might mean the difference between someone using their Jesus-given gift of free will to move forward for Him instead of downward towards the realm of the evil one.

Lord, keep me from temptation and forgive my sins.

Read Mark 9, verses 42-50.