Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 2 March 2018

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.  1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 (NIV).

Oh wow…so much to unpack.  Let’s not let ourselves get wrapped around some concepts that aren’t easily understood.   Instead, let’s speak plainly:   Paul isn’t being anti-Semitic.   He isn’t ‘hating’ on all Jews, but is rightfully condemning those with ungodly intentions.   In doing so, he denounces all sinners.  The people who were the subject of his remarks were, of course, the Jewish priests who both crucified Jesus and then persecuted His followers.  But one cannot read Paul’s words of love in this and other books and conclude that he was anti-Semitic or advocated anti-Semitism.   Paul didn’t hate the Jews:   he hated that they were antagonistic to Christ.   In some ways, he probably hated that he had once been part of that persecution.

In these verses today, Paul is reminding us that those who turn their backs on God displease Him.   They are hostile to believers and whatever believers say and do.  In their doing this, they are heaping up sin after sin on themselves, not just for their self-focused lives or meanness to others but because these things are meanness and sin against God.   In doing this, they are incurring the wrath of God, namely damnation.   They separate themselves from Jesus, possibly for eternity.  This is by choice, not because anyone forced them.  It’s not on God:  it’s on them.  As C.S. Lewis once said, the gates of hell are locked from the inside.

Saying “I believe in Jesus” sets you apart in this world, and it paints a target on your back.  People who don’t believe will separate themselves from you even as you separate yourselves from unbelieving behaviors (if not unbelieving people).  Your “illogical” acceptance of the supernatural will set you against anyone who embraces the easy path of believing other things.  The “establishment” doesn’t believe what you do, and they will come after you.    Plain speaking about matters of the heart can become common sense to you as you see that there is no real love apart from the love of Christ.

Paul experienced these things just as we do.  When he called out his fellow Jews for murdering the Christ, he was persecuted.   History has labeled him an anti-Semite for doing this.   It simply isn’t true.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Galatians 1:22, Acts 17:5, Luke 24:20, Acts 2:23, Acts 13:45, Matthew 23:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:15.

Lord, always remind me to never hate people You love.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 November 2017

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13, verse 8.

You know it’s true:  you might as well just say “amen” now (which actually means “this is most certainly true”).   Verse 8 is one of the foundation verses of the entire Bible.   It’s the explanation, motivation, and reason for everything.   There’s a Maren Morris song that mentions old time country music as “my church.”  It’s explains life; it’s always great; it’s always the same; it’s always there to uplift a sad soul.  I agree with some of that; “can I get an amen?”

Here’s something that merits an amen whether Maren sings about it or not:  Jesus our Savior is the same person He was yesterday as He is today as He will be tomorrow.  Can I get a hallelujah?

Wrap your noodle around this truth.  When everything around you is changing (and the only constant in this crazy world is change), Jesus is.  The great I AM is.  As you feel like your feeling careen around like a pinball, Jesus is the same.   The same Jesus who talked one on one with John, Peter, and even Judas Iscariot is the same Jesus who speaks to your heart today.  In science, gravity and time are constants.   Everything else changes, and you can even vary the effects of both time and gravity even though they are standards.  Yet Jesus is the same.  He is the same no matter the temperature, the time of year, or the phase of the moon.  Yet Christ is more than science; indeed, He invented it, inspired it.   Christ is beyond our science, and beyond our puny religion.  Jesus is the same whether you’re a Baptist, a Hindu, a Shiite (or Sunni or Wahabi) Muslim, or a card carrying atheist vegan who loves Crossfit.   He’s the same Savior we think about when we sing “Jesus Loves Me” as little children or “The Old Rugged Cross” as old people.

Consider, too, that this statement comes at the end of the exhortations where the writer has given us concluding thoughts.   He wants us to remember that, no matter what advice we give, the founder of all advice is Christ.   The source of all wisdom is Christ.   The reason for all we know is Jesus.   And when the world gets sideways as it always does, Jesus is still there just as He always was/is/will be.  Maybe the Doobie Brothers summed it up:   “I don’t care what they may say.   I don’t care what they may do.   Jesus is just alright (oh yeah).”

He’s just alright.  He’s just in time.   You can count on Him.  We should sing about that.   Can I get an amen?

I have a friend who is going through a particularly rough time right now.   He just left one job, and his family situation is all in turmoil.   My friend has always been plagued by darkness and has become one of the more hopeless people I know.   No faith, no grounding, he’s lost his way and is miserable.   Some of it is circumstances beyond his control; some environment; some the past; and some of it is his chickens coming home to roost.  Just last night we were talking about his having no identity, and I asked him to call me when he’s ready to seek it.  To call me because there’s really only one place to find your lasting identity.   It’s at the cross.   It’s there and only there that we can lay down our weapons, our guilt, our fears, and our pride and be renewed in both spirit and mind.

It’s because the Jesus we find on the cross is the same Jesus who walked on water is the same Jesus in the Word is the same Jesus listening to our prayers today is the same Jesus who loves children is the same Jesus who will judge the world.  He’s the same God no matter what.   When my friend sees his world collapsing around him and he feels bereft of all that’s good, by going to the cross and meeting the same Jesus there, he can begin again and move in a different direction.

I’m not a pastor.  I sometimes wish I had some of the knowledge my pastor friends have gained.   If not the knowledge, then maybe a little of the wisdom.  When people come to me and ask about why I believe what I do, all I can do is paraphrase C.S. Lewis who said that he prayed because he couldn’t help himself.   I believe in Christ because I can’t help myself.  Everything else I’ve sought in this world has left me wanting and hollow.  Yet I go to Jesus and see that He’s the same as He always is.   That helps me to realize that He’s the God I crave, the God I want to follow, the leader I want to emulate, the unchanging Savior I desperately need, and the friend I want to always cherish.  Jesus is just alright because He is ALL RIGHT and is always Himself.   Can I get an amen to that?

For further reading:  Psalm 102:27, Hebrews 1:12.

My Lord, this is most certainly true:   You are God.   You are the only constant in the universe.   You are good, worthy of praise, and all life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 March 2017

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.  Hebrews 9, verse 15.

Part of having your conscience cleaned up is remembering that the things you once did held you hostage until you were set free.  You and I don’t need to be held as slaves by the memories of those things, but it’s fitting and proper that we remember how we were kept as slaves to sin.   As people who were held hostage by terrorists.   As bystanders who are victimized by criminals.

Think about it.   That little white lie, that exaggeration, that deliberate falsehood, that cover-up:   all of those things come from that little white lie.   It’s just as serious as the cover-up that destroys everyone around it.   That little white lie holds power over you…if you let it.   That tiny indiscretion holds you in its grip, until you see there’s a better way.   Without a way out, you can’t escape.   That tiny act of rebellion holds a gun to your head and threatens you with death.

The tempter knew this.   He reveled in it, looking for victims to use in his struggle against God.   He found them in Adam and Eve.   He found them in you and I.  Those tiny moments of pitting ourselves against God are moments when we align ourselves with Satan and deny God’s better plans for us.  “I know better” becomes the deceptive cry of alleged independence.   In reality, those words are just a vow of slavery.   C.S. Lewis said “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.”   Bravo, Jack:   when we embrace our sins, we volunteer to walk into hell and lock the door behind us.   The tempter knows this, knowing the laws of God, the covenants of the Old Testament and how they convict us over and over again. Twisting those words is one of his favorite ways of continuously working to keep us focused on our sins.

Step back and take a breath now.   This is said NOT to brutalize you, to hurt you or guilt you.   There is hope, but you can’t do it on your own.  Good doesn’t result from some holier-than-thou Jesus-follower talking down to sinners like himself.  All alone you and I know what feels bad, and how things that feel good at first very often go sour afterwards.  We don’t need people hammering us over and over all the time.  All alone you and I can’t turn from our sins.  Brow-beating us with them doesn’t help, doesn’t make the situation better, doesn’t prove Jesus’ love.

Jesus proves Jesus’ love.   The way to turn from sins and for good to result from bad situations is by constantly reminding people that Jesus died for them.   That Jesus fully and completely forgives ALL our sins.   That Jesus fully and completely restored our relationship with the Holy God Almighty.   That Jesus took on all of our guilt and punished Himself with it so that holy justice wouldn’t have to punish us.   The Gospel was Jesus’ aim in living, dying, and living again.   THAT is what we need to remind ourselves with when the sins of yesterday bubble back up and threaten “I’m still here.”   No, they aren’t.   They’re gone and powerless forever.   Those memories can only hurt if we empower them.   Jesus gives us what we need to make that not happen.

When you realize that Jesus’ Gospel frees you from your sins, your conscience can become clean.   He cleans it up for you.   The guilt and tempting and re-tempting and hurt that you carried around don’t hold you hostage anymore.   Jesus holds your hand and you walk up to that locked door in hell, and He unlocks it for you, then leads you out.  He tells you that you’re forgiven.   He tells you that you are fully restored with God.   He tells you that He will be with you in all ways always, even up to the last second of your life.   He tells you that He has plans for you, that He wants to work new things in you and through you.   He tells you that, with Him, you have everything you need to stand and resist the tempting and persevere.  Those things you thought, said and did in the past may have held you hostage in the past.   But they don’t anymore.

For further reading:  Galatians 3:20, Luke 22:20, Romans 8:28, Hebrews 6:15, Acts 20:32.

Lord, thank You for setting me free, for making me clean, for forgiving me.


Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 February

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. Mark 14, verses 12-16.

If you don’t know the story of the Last Supper, then my prayer for this is that you learn something about it.   I’m not yet going to dive into the deep spiritual meaning that Jesus’ Spirit imbues in each of us through His real presence in the elements of bread and wine; relax, peeps, we’ll get there.   Instead, let’s just focus a bit on the history of it.

You know what I think about coincidences (in case you’ve forgotten, it’s ‘there aren’t any’). It’s no coincidence that Jesus would use the ceremony of the Passover seder to give His gift of the Holy Supper. The rich symbolism of Passover was ancient even in Jesus’ day; to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “this is deep, old magic.” BEFORE freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, while they were watching the Egyptians suffer through the ten plagues (that were designed to inspire Pharaoh free God’s chosen people), God came to Moses and commanded him to paint lamb’s blood on the lintels and doorposts of every Hebrew home.   The Hebrews were to stay inside their homes and eat a meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs while God’s angel of death passed over each home where it saw the entryway blood.

Read that again and let it sink in, then consider the story with these words.

While they were still in their sins, God personally came to sinner slaves and, through the blood of an innocent lamb on the entrance to their hearts, purposefully forgot to kill those inside.   To commemorate this, the sinners followed God’s command to eat a meal that would remember this action of God’s holy grace. Lamb signifying the death of an innocent; unleavened bread to remember freeing them in haste from their sins; bitter herbs to remember the unsatisfying taste of their slavery to sin. Blood that God would see and remember their sins no more. The meal became a milestone in every believer’s life.

Sound familiar?

The first Passover happened over a thousand years before the life of Christ.   And every year since they had been delivered, even when in captivity in Babylon then dispersed in the diaspora, the Jewish descendants of those Hebrew slaves had eaten this meal in remembrance.   Jesus the man was a descendant of Israelites; so were His disciples.   So, on that Maundy Thursday, the night before He was murdered on Good Friday, Jesus used the ecclesiastical, spiritual, historical and personally emotional significance of the Passover meal to institute what we Christians know as Holy Communion. It’s not a coincidence.

Noodle that today, then give thanks and glory to God.

Lord Jesus, thank You for using the beauty of Passover for Your Last Supper and Your Holy Communion.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.