Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 29 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:2.

Something else needs to be said before we move on.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, without God, everything is meaningless but nothing can contain Him.

I was reading about how Google Home doesn’t recognize the name of Jesus.   A story online said that the in-home smart speaker recognizes the names of Buddha, Allah, and even Satan and can relay to you a whole encyclopedia of knowledge about those names, but that it says “I’m sorry I don’t understand” (or something like that) when you ask it about Jesus or Jesus Christ.  Newsflash, my friends, God doesn’t need Google Home but He loves the people who make and use it anyway.   Ditto Alexa, Echo, Facebook, Bing, and any other gadget or browser we can think of.   Indeed, God’s word will spread even MORE when people deny it.

Crazy?   Yes, actually it is.   The conventional world can’t see how this makes sense, but the world that believes in Jesus can.   His word is too good to be contained; it’s too good to be bottled up or confined by the smallness of human activity.  People can try, but the good news always comes through.   It did in concentration camps.   It does in prisons, and inner cities, and communist re-education camps, and even in Hollywood.  It even happens in organized churches.

In this verse, Paul describes how people strongly opposed his preaching.  In Philippi Paul had been strongly opposed and it stung him.  He considered it outrageous that God’s word would be opposed, that anyone would try to interfere with or target or stop the preaching of words ordained by the Lord Himself.  Yet despite the opposition, word spread.   People all over Greece and Asia Minor wanted to know more about what these missionaries of “The Way” were saying.  Tyrannical Romans couldn’t stop the message.  Hostile Jews and their synagogues couldn’t stop the message.  Skeptical Greeks and hateful pagans couldn’t stop it.  By the time Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he was used to being opposed, and he began to recognize that it was to God’s glory that all this happened.

That was true 2000 years ago.   It’s still true today.   God doesn’t need us to preach His message.   He can get it out any way He chooses.   Yet He chooses us to do it for Him, to talk about it one on one, to build relationships based on common worship and understanding of Him because without Him everything else means nothing.   God chooses to work through us as we love one person at a time.  Nothing could contain that way back then; nothing can contain it now.

For further reading: Ecclesiastes, Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, I pray:  work through me today. Love others through me.   Teach me to represent You.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 March 2017

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:  “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.  Hebrews 8, verses 7-12.

It’s like God was saying “folks, you just don’t get it.   In fact, that is what He was saying, and doing, and is why He kept instituting new covenants to benefit mankind until, finally, one could be instituted that would be eternally complete.   Keep this thought at hand:   this was for our benefit, not His.   This was to prepare us, NOT because God had to practice to get it right.   All throughout human history, since the fall in Eden, God has been reaching out, preparing us for the ways and the time when He would restore a clear path to Himself again.   In Eden, Adam and Eve were without sin.   They lived in full harmony with God, seeing Him face to face, talking with Him one on one.   It’s how God designed people to live.

Enter sin.   Enter the serpent.   Enter falling into temptation.   Enter the divide.   Millenia later, we’re still in that divide.   Many thousands of years after Adam, 4500 years after Abraham, 4000 years after Moses and even 2000 years after Jesus, mankind is still in the divide between himself and his God Almighty.   You and I can disagree with that, and we can rail against the fact of it.   We don’t like it when people confront us with ugly truths, but they’re still truths.   We’re full of sin and unable on our own to walk with God.   It’s true for you.   It’s true for me.  It’s true for your saintly mom, Billy (and Franklin) Graham, Pope Francis (and Pope Benedict), the heroes fighting for freedom in Afghanistan, and even my minister friend, Raymond, in Africa who does practical Godly ministry better than anyone else I know.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus built the bridge.   Jesus serves as the path between sinful men and our perfect God.  Jesus forgives all our sins and teaches us how to turn from them.   And He clothes us in Himself so that, when the perfect Father sees us, He sees us through the prism of His perfect Son.   Without Jesus, God (who sees everything) sees an unholy person who can’t be in His presence because His holy presence requires holiness.   Without Jesus, sins aren’t forgiven.   Without Jesus, the old covenants of Moses and David still hammer us with unachievable law, requirements that we still misunderstand and can never fully comply with.   Without Jesus, there is no path to God.  Mohammed can’t get you there.   Buddha and years of navel-gazing can’t get you there.   Paiute, chanting to Mother Gaia, praying to your ancestors, and a thousand Hindu gods can’t get you to God.  Only Jesus.

This is true because God instituted the new covenant that He promised in the verses above (much of which are quoted from the prophet Jeremiah).   What men couldn’t make right through our insufficient means and petty pagan religions God made right through the selfless sacrifice of Himself in His Son.   We didn’t ‘get that’ when it happened.  Far too many of us still don’t today.

For further reading:  Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Exodus 19:4, 5, 20: 1-17, Romans 11:27, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ezekiel 11:20, Zechariah 8:8, Isaiah 54:13, John 6:45, Luke 22:20.

Lord God, I praise You for making things right, for Your selfless sacrifice that purchased salvation for all of us.   Thank You more than I can say.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 February 2017

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.  Hebrews 8, verse 3.

Think about that first statement:   every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.   I’ve never been part of a committee to hire a pastor, but I know a little bit about the process.  The pastoral calling is a calling, to be sure.   But it’s also a job.  Like other jobs, you’re vetted by potential congregational employers.   You network with other pastors and peers.   You can move around from place to place, moving  up, down, and around the pastoral chain of command.   And you can be fired or promoted.   You’re called by God into the ministry, but you’re hired by people to do the job.   You’re appointed.   You’re appointed specifically to perform pastoral duties that other leaders in other careers don’t perform.

Except Jesus.   Jesus wasn’t a Levite; we’ve talked about this before.   Jesus wasn’t part of the political structure in the synagogues or at the Temple.   Jesus was taught and trained by rabbis as a younger man (so much that He was frequently called “rabbi” (or ‘teacher’) by His followers), but he wasn’t an ordained priest.   He didn’t serve in the rotation to offer sacrifices at the Temple.  No, Jesus was the high priest simply by virtue of Him being Himself.   It wasn’t that the rules didn’t apply to Him:  it was that He kept them so perfectly that they no longer mattered.

So if Jesus isn’t an appointed priest, why does He need to have something to offer?   You know the answer:   He doesn’t, at least not by virtue of His being divine.   No, Jesus offers His personal sacrifice not for His sins, which were none, but for yours and mine, which are legion.  The priests of Jewish antiquity would slay animal sacrifices, then sprinkle the blood on altars and on the people as a way to remind them that their sins were paid in full.   Once a year, he would even sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant to fulfill God’s command and serve as yet another reminder of that salvation.   Jesus sprinkled His own blood on the sins of all mankind so that all men might benefit once.  Those animal sacrifices would no longer be necessary.

If you’re an unbeliever, this is the part where you’re saying “so what, big deal.”   Fair enough; yes, actually, fair enough.   Your lack of belief in the need for all this would be understandable.  Yet Jesus still offered it for you as well.   And what else He offers is something that wouldn’t have been available any other way except by the shedding of His own blood:  access.   Jesus offers access.   You reject that access if you choose to dis-believe, but He offers it too you anyway.

Jesus offers access to real peace, tranquility while living out the rest of our lives here on the Third Rock.   Jesus offers access to understanding of how belief in Him is the foundation of intellect and the purpose of reason.   Jesus offers access to the communion of saints, participation in a millennia-old following of the greatest people in history.   Jesus offers access to freedom, freedom from guilt and shame and all the negative things that can bog a man down.  And Jesus offers access to Himself, an opportunity for you to have a personal relationship with Him, one on one, so that you might share in His love and glory while giving those things to Him as His due:  all by loving other people as an expression of loving Him.   He created everything in love.   You get personal access to Him, our creator, because He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for things He didn’t do.

Make no mistake about it:   Jesus Christ is the central figure in all of human history.  It isn’t Marx; it isn’t Confucius; it isn’t Mohammed; it isn’t the Buddha.   It is Jesus and Jesus alone who stands at the center of all human history, human endeavor, human thought, and human potential.   He appointed Himself to supersede and make complete the need for and history of ritual sacrifices.   And in doing so, while at the center of all that is, He offers true access to what only He can offer.   Tell me, good friend:   why would you resist that?

For further reading:  Hebrews 2:17, 5:1, 9:9, 9:14.

My Lord and my God, I praise You for offering Yourself as the only atoning sacrifice for my wrongs.   I praise You and thank You for giving me access to You and, through You, to an eternity of love.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 January 2017

And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared:  “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Hebrews 7, verses 15-17.

It’s another verse affirming the supremacy of Jesus.   We’ve already established that a pedigree matters to people.   It doesn’t matter to God, but we need to know that our leaders are ‘legit.’  Here’s more proof of that.  Those words “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” are directly quoted from Psalm 110 and from the earlier Hebrews verses.  This means that, in first century Judea, when Hebrews was written, the psalm was already hundreds of years old, dating back centuries to the time of King David.   The original readers of Hebrews would have recognized this already ancient verse and ascribed power and meaning to it.   How much more so should we.

We’ve already spoken about how Jesus wasn’t a Levite, so for Him to be the ‘priest forever’ meant that He would have to have been declared so by God.   Jesus fulfilled all the priestly requirements, including the ones in line with the example of Melchizedek.  Going back to our first century timeline, up to that point, who else had appeared who was like Jesus?   Did John the Baptist do the things Jesus did?   No.   Did the Maccabeans?   Nope.   The Jewish Sanhedrin?   Nope again.   In fact, in all of antiquity, who else could lay claim to even being able to preach the words, perform the miracles, die the cruel death after living a sinless life, and demonstrate the Father’s true character the way Jesus did?   You know the answer.  In the twenty centuries since the life of Christ, has anyone else done these things?   Again, you know the answer.

So who else but Jesus would appear?   Are you looking for someone else?   Do you seriously expect someone else to appear who would do what Jesus did?   Even discounting Christ’s divinity, do you seriously, truly expect another person will appear in all of history who will be able to satisfy the requirements of a go-between with God and man the way Jesus did?   Over three hundred Biblical prophecies were completed in Jesus Christ.   The odds of anyone else being able to do that are astronomical, physically impossible.   Could anyone else do what Jesus did?

Buddha didn’t.  Mohammed didn’t and never could.  Martin Luther King and Billy Graham (or Billy Sunday) didn’t.  Neither did any of the old Communist dictators (including the still above room temperature Raul Castro and the boy-tyrant Kim Jong Un), Martin Luther, Pope John Paul II, the Apostle Peter, Torquemada, any US president including George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, Timothy Leary, Elon Musk, or Buddy Holly even before the day the music died.

The fact is there is no other man who has or might appear who has become a priest like Melchizedek.   There is no other priest whose lineage is eternal, and to whom a great stranger would tithe a tenth of his possessions.   There is nobody else throughout all of time who could have said, done, and lived the way the man from Nazareth did.  There is only Jesus.   In all of human history, only Jesus of Nazareth satisfies all the things that the author of Hebrews says about a true intermediary between God and man.   Science, logic, history, and faith prove there simply is no other way.

For further reading:   Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6.

Lord, only You.   Only You could be the Savior of mankind.   I believe in only You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 December 2016

…and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.  Hebrews 5, verse 9.

What does “made perfect” mean?   Is it referring to Jesus being immaculate of His Father’s Spirit and the woman Mary?   Is it the work-filled nature of His ministry here?   Is it how he endured temptations and trials here to make a perfectly-lived human life?  Does this refer to how He endured the terrible suffering of crucifixion without falling into any kind of sin, even the seemingly irresistible sins of thought?

Answer:   yes.   See, that was easy!

Make no mistake:   Jesus the Christ is eternal.   He has always been and always will be.   Though born of a human here, He was not created before that.   Being God, He simply is, and was, and is to come.   Jesus wasn’t ‘made’ whether it’s made perfect or made anything else.   Yet, for our understanding, we need to consider how He lived that perfect life here and, in doing so, made something that had never been made before.   That perfect life He lived here:   that’s indeed one thing that the author is referring to.

What’s more, that perfect life was made for something else that mattered even more:   perfect salvation.   God used Jesus’ perfect existence as the only way to reconcile a rebellious humanity to Himself.   He required perfection; He required blood of atonement; He required willing sacrifice of everything to His perfect will.   No ‘very good’ person ever had or ever has since; only Jesus could do it.   In willingly submitting to God’s will to atone for all sins, Jesus made perfect salvation for all mankind.

Think about that.   Perfection done for you.  It’s for eternity.   It is for you and me and everyone we know and everyone who has lived.  That perfect salvation was all that’s required for all of us to spend forever with Jesus in communion with Him.   We get to share in His graceful blessing of joy, peace, happiness, and even work all because He did all the work that was necessary in living, in making, a perfectly lived life.   We get to do this here and now, then for eternity later.  Only Jesus could offer Himself perfectly as the exactly perfect sacrifice necessary to do away with the consequence of sin that is eternal death.   Only Jesus did it; only Jesus offers the path to eternity today.   Mohammed doesn’t; Buddha doesn’t; Shintoism doesn’t; the Kardashians don’t.   Neither does Donald Trump, a brand new pickup truck, the Democrat or Republican Party, or Chunky Monkey ice cream.   Only Jesus.

Have you ever made something that is so good that you’re busting your buttons that you’re so pleased with it?   Have you ever felt proud of things you’ve done, or said, or written, or even thought?   Have you ever felt joy at times in your life, or maybe joy with family and friends?   I imagine that’s how God must feel all the time when He considers all Jesus did.   I imagine it’s how He must feel when He welcomes a believer into eternity and sees that redeemed believer through the prism of Jesus.

Jesus was born and ‘made’ human in an unusual way that neither compromised His divinity nor took on human sin.   He spent a life working with His hands, and His heart, building a life that could be used ultimately in service to God.   All through that life, He perfectly resisted the temptations that ensnare the rest of us, knowing that even a tiny thought of sin would ruin God’s plan for perfect atonement.   And He willingly went to die in our place, knowing that, when He had finished the painful trials of agony and torture, God’s wrath would be satisfied and mankind could be at peace with Him.   All of that means “made perfect.”  All we have to do is obey…and believe.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:10.

Glory to You, my Lord and Savior, for Your perfection, the perfect life You made, and for the perfect love who is You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 October 2016

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.  Hebrews 2, verse 11.

Think about this one.   I mean really, truly, slowly contemplate the idea being stated by this Bible verse.

You’re like Jesus.

Jesus is like you.

You and Jesus, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything creator of the universe, are family.   You’re in His.

You aren’t part of Allah’s family.   In fact, nothing you can do could ever get you close to Allah; you’ll never be good enough.   You aren’t on the same level as the Buddha.   He reached nirvana first and, well, we just aren’t that cool.   Your ancestors did it better than you.  The earth and Mother Gaia are so much bigger than you.   Name one other faith on this planet and, chances are, you and I just don’t measure up.   This isn’t Rag On Other Religions Day:   it’s simply the way things are.

Not so with Jesus.   With Jesus, you’re family.   We’re family.   You and I, we are adopted children.   It’s as if He showed up at court and did everything necessary to fully, freely, finally adopt us as His own children.   Even more, He doesn’t just think of us as children:   He looks at us as brothers and sisters.   Equals, peers, siblings, friends:   we aren’t just family.   We’re on the same level.

Now, let’s keep it real.   Us, we aren’t God.  We aren’t supernatural and we aren’t the Triune God the way Jesus is.   But He asks us to put off thinking like that and reminds us that He came here as Himself, as fully man while being fully God.   We don’t have to understand that mystery.   In fact, we don’t get to.   It’s simply a fact we get to accept.   Yet fact it is.  We can’t do what He does in the supernatural realm and we never will.   We are the created, not the Creator.

But as men, we get to relate to Jesus man to man because that’s how He relates to us.   He reminds us that He lived a full life among us.   He ate, drank, slept, laughed, cried.   Jesus did the same things you and I do except sin.   He lived the kind of life we were designed to live to teach us that it could be done.   He lived the life we could live, that, post-death, we will one day get to live.   And He did it out of love to set things right.

Buddha didn’t do that.   Allah can’t do that.   Neither can the Hindus, the Mormons, the atheists, or any other followers of any other faith.   But Jesus did it.

He did it because He sees us as people, as men and women.   He meets us where we are and asks that we meet Him there in return.   He wants to meet us on a human level because He knows that’s what we can understand.   He knows that He can appeal to our understanding, our hearts and minds, because He is the foundation of all understanding.   Faith in God is the beginning of human reason.   Jesus knows this and wants us to know it too so that we can live our lives here in purpose and love with Him as our guide.

Jesus sees you as His brother or sister because He wants you to see Him as your brother.  He wants to be the person with whom you can confide, and trust, and rely on.   Jesus wants us to know Him as family because family sticks together.   Because family is a bond that matters.   Because a family is the primary unit in every society, and because mankind was designed to live in families.

Seriously think about that.   Seriously contemplate that thought.  Jesus brings many sons to glory because He sees those sons, you and I, as brothers whom He loves and adores.   That’s the best news you’.

For more reading:   Hebrews 13:12, Ephesians 5:26, Matthew 28:10.

Lord Jesus, my brother and my Lord, thank You for loving me as your sibling!

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 5 October 2016

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.  Hebrews 2, verse 10.

One of my favorite hymns is “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”   In it, the lyrics paraphrase Hebrews 2 with the poetic lines “How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the chosen One bring many sons to glory.”

Magnificent.

Indeed, isn’t it true how so many verses in Scripture are memorable because they are poetic?   This one especially sticks with me.   “Bringing many sons and daughters to glory” inspires in me thoughts of mission, and brotherhood, and mercy.   The thought has an almost Gaelic feel to it, as if there are thousands of mournful believers moving through the fog towards a dim light in the distance.  The closer you get to the light, you see Jesus is the light, and that His arms are open, His heart of love on display, His presence evaporating the fog of sin and unbelief.

For years now, I’ve thought of my Christian walk as an active thing, a living, ongoing event.   It has seemed like a movement.   I’ve learned that we’re in a spiritual war, one in which battles are fought on a personal basis every day.  The battle manifests itself in resisting temptations, professing faith, encouraging others in the face of sin and despair.   On one side stands Satan, general of the armies of the fallen.   He uses evil to manifest itself in every dark emotion with which we can be plagued.   Lies, pain, and anguish are the carnage he leaves on the battlefield of human souls.

Yet on the other side is Jesus, meek and mild yet overwhelmingly powerful.   He is humble yet strong, quiet yet unfathomably deep, all peace yet all martial in protecting the peace, justice and love that stream from His very presence.  He only tolerates Satan because Satan allows that peace, justice and love to shine in ways that build up His cherished creation, humanity.  With a thought He could vanquish evil forever.   With depth we cannot fully understand this side of heaven, He gave Himself up as payment for all the evil we embraced and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory.

I also love that phrase “pioneer of their salvation.”   In my walk of faith, my daily war against the spirits of evil, I get to follow Jesus as a pioneer.   Your life and mine are unwritten; thank you Natasha Bedingfield.  Today isn’t fore-ordained and tomorrow isn’t here yet.   We’re writing our lives as we live them.  What we do in our lives today pioneers the ground on which we build our lives.   We get to use the free choice God gave to each of us to do with what we will.   It’s God’s hope that we’ll look to Him, to Jesus, first and always, as the pioneer who blazed a trail for us.  It wasn’t a wagon train trail through the prairie or a lonely ride across uncharted ocean.   It was living a life without sin, loving all others as He loved His Father, and then dying the death of just, noble sacrifice so that others might live forever.  Jesus and only Jesus blazed that path to God for us.   Buddha didn’t; Mohammed didn’t; L. Ron Hubbard didn’t; our ancestors didn’t.   We don’t today.   Only Jesus.

Only He, who fulfilled ancient prophecy and was incarnate a little lower than the angels, pioneered the path into paradise and, in doing so, poetically brought mankind into that glory.  He did it how?   Through suffering.   The physical torture, the spiritual agony, the abyss of separation from God:  only Jesus did those things and only He persevered in true character through them to guarantee us the promise of hope that is His salvation.  You and I can’t imagine the suffering He endured.  Not even the horrors of concentration camps or the monstrosities of ISIS in our world today can compare to the terror, agony, and pain Jesus endured for our benefit.  It’s simply beyond our compare.   Yet endure them He did and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory forever.

For more reading:   Romans 11:36, Luke 24:26, Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 7:28, Romans 5:  3-5.

Lord, I thank You and praise You for bringing us to glory, for pioneering the way into eternity.