Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 October 2017

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.  Hebrews 12, verse 28.

Awe.   That concept comes from Malachi 2:5, which mentions revering God with awe.  When was the last time you really felt awe about something?   One time when I was at sea, I felt in complete awe being caught in the middle of a storm off the coast of Alaska.   And standing on the ridge of the Grand Canyon was awe-inspiring (and awesome).  The courage of my son standing up to give his very real confirmation testimony gave me a feeling of awe.   And now, during my last days on my east Texas farm, when I look out at the simple beauty of morning mists shimmering off the pond my heart is full of awe and wonder at the beauty of it all.

God has that effect on us.  Imagine the feeling of awe at falling at the feet of Jesus when this life is over, of having Him reach down and take your hand and lift you up.   “I’m so glad to see you,” He might say.   Imagine the awe of having the very much alive Jesus speak those words to you.   Of simply being in the presence of the Alpha and the Omega.  Of knowing He chose you and I to be with Him forever.

All that is possible because His kingdom is unshakeable.   The verse doesn’t just talk about the temporal, earthly kingdom here.   No, it’s talking about His kingdom inside us.   We are the church; we are His church and His vessels for carrying Him to the ends of the earth.   We do that because He lives and reigns within us.   When we live our lives following Jesus, we can’t be shaken.   The world around us may quiver, tremble, and quake, but we won’t.   We may get knocked down but we won’t be knocked out.   We may be hurt but we won’t be vanquished.   With Jesus as our lead, we will always advance.

That’s because His kingdom is within us.   Noodle that thought for awhile and you’ll find it’s awesome as well.  It will inspire real awe, real star-struck feelings within you.  He who died on the cross thinking about you, He who faced down the moneychangers and Pharisees and Pontius Pilate, He who walked on water and talked with Moses and Elijah on the mountain, He who was born in that manger, He who told Sarah she was pregnant, He who walked in Eden, He who spoke and made everything appear:  He has built His church on your heart and lives day to day here on this earth through you.   He’s real and He’s now.  When you live in godly ways, you’re letting Him work through you.   When you have mercy, you’re letting Him act out through you.   When you choose real love, you’re letting Him love through you.  You are a knight in His kingdom because His kingdom is alive and in your heart.  The world of hurt and pain can inflict those on you but it can’t destroy what Jesus has instituted within you.   Nothing can.

Yet His kingdom is also physical, tangible, and on its way.  Jesus’ coming kingdom will be a real, physical place here with real, physical work and real, physical actions.   There will be true government that is un-corrupted by sin.   There will be true justice that is measured by love.  There will be true leadership that is exemplified by Jesus on His throne yet walking with each of us.   There will be real people and real angels and real apostles and real work to be done.   To paraphrase my friend, Phil (of Calvary Chapel here in Paris), our personality, passion, character, and skills – core traits of Christian servants – will be put to work in service of Jesus’ real kingdom, even more than they are here and now.   In that day we will live in the kingdom He intended for us all along:  a place for us to thrive in harmony with Him and in unity with others and even nature.   Remember those words about the lion and the lamb living together?   They weren’t poetry.   They were an advance preview of what’s to come.   Real peace in the life we’ve all longed for.

And it is awesome to think of it all.

My friend, Mark (of Water’s Edge in Frisco), is fond of saying “you’re part of eternity now.”   Right on brother.   You and I get to choose that awe right now.  We don’t have to wait for the end of this life to be in awe of Jesus.   We get to do that now because He has made us righteous and worthy of Him now through what He did at Calvary.   That’s more awesome than an Aleutian storm, or a misty morning in Paris, or even the love of my kids and grandkids.   You and I:   we’re part of Him now, and it is an awesome God we can ponder.

For further reading:  Psalm 15:5, Isaiah 11:6, Daniel 2:44, Malachi 2:5, Hebrews 13:5.

My Lord I am in awe of you, of Your love, Your power, Your heart.   Align my life more and more with Yours.

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 September 2017

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.  Hebrews 12, verses 12-13.

These verses strongly echo Isaiah 35, which says “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”   And it carries the echo of Galatians 6 which cautions men to counsel each other wisely and in Godly love, but to be wise ourselves to not be pulled into temptation.

So I’m attending a School of Discipleship and Ministry at the Calvary Chapel where we attend here in Paris.   This week’s lesson was about how to carry out the mission of the church.  In doing that, Jesus followers are encouraged, even expected, to live in ways that edify and glorify God, that are Godly and upright, and can be a good example for others.   That doesn’t mean being goody-goody or snotty:  it means ‘walking the walk and talking the talk.’   It means being honest and moral.  And that’s tough, especially in a poor town full of drug use, poverty, despair, and economic disadvantages.

Every day you live your life like that is like working out hard in the spiritual gym.   It’s like pumping serious iron of the soul.   Every time you say ‘no’ to temptation, you lift the weight, then put it down.  Every time you walk away when you could be confrontational you run the extra spiritual mile.   Every time…you get the picture.

Yet it’s true.  In order to walk a Godly walk we have to choose the best path.   We have to train ourselves up in the ways of the Word.  That requires studying Scriptures.   That requires personal prayer with God.   That requires doing things that Jesus wants us to do:   loving, listening, helping, serving, being selfless.  When all I want to do is buy a six pack and forget my many troubles, God calls me to write these words instead.  To listen to other believers, to share my story and work to serve others.   To walk away, confess my pain, accept His peace.

Man, that’s a tall order.   You better believe, then, our Savior is a tall, tall man.

During this School of Discipleship and Ministry, the pastor is talking about core beliefs of the church, about church history, about mission and vision, about leadership in the Lord.   The center of all he’s taught is Christ and only Christ.   I find that refreshing, and even though change is coming in my life I intend to keep returning to finish out the course.  I find it refreshing because so much else of the world in which I walk is focused elsewhere.   You know yours is as well.   NFL debates, same sex marriage, public corruption, celebrity wreckage, divorce, unemployment, kids having kids and kids aborting kids:   pick your poison.   In 2017 America there’s plenty to go around.   So I find my respite these weeks in going back to God, in focusing on first principles.   First of those is Jesus Christ is God who lived, died, and lives again to redeem sinners like me and you.   He did everything necessary to make that happen, and now He asks us to follow Him.   To follow requires a spiritual workout where you’ll flex muscles of the soul, sinew of the conscience, blood pumping and heart racing to new beats.

Yep:   that’s a tall order indeed.  Are you willing to stand up for the mission?   “I don’t think I can” you might be saying.   It might seem too embarrassing, too inconvenient, perhaps even too risky given the social world we live in.  But let me propose that, if you’re even thinking about it, God’s Spirit is already working within you, calling you to a new purpose, a new mission.   He’s giving you a mission He’s prepared just for you, and He’s going to ready you for it.   Put on your gym shoes, my friend.   We’re in training.

For further reading:  Isaiah 35:3-4, Proverbs 4:26, Galatians 6:1.

Lord, help me to train up more to serve You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 March 2017

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!.  Hebrews 9, verse 14.

You know what I’m looking forward to most in heaven?   A clean conscience.  In heaven, there won’t be guilt, or tears, or angst, or sorrow over things we’ve done, said or thought.   There simply won’t be a place or time for them when living eternally in the presence of the Triune God.   Knowing Him fully will crowd all that out.

Until then, there’s faith.

Ah faith.   Please understand, I’m not bad-mouthing faith because it’s faith in Jesus that imparts into us His salvation.   Yet I must confess I find it tedious and a cop-out for Christians (like me) to constantly use “well, in heaven…” as our fall-back position.   I’m thankful Jesus secured eternity for me, but what about now?   I desperately need His help now to get through every day here.   Temptation lurks in every minute, and my conscience bothers me about things I’ve done here on the Third Rock.   Perhaps my faith is weaker than I know because, all too often, my conscience zings me about sins long ago forgiven, even forgotten.

My judgmentalism; my impatience; my adulteries; my foul language; my lying; my hatred; my idolatry; you name a pet sin:   I haven’t done some of these in years yet the fact that I did them, or even that things were done to me, still greatly bothers me.   Occasionally, the burden wells up from my soul and I feel real despair.

It’s a taste of what Jesus must have felt hanging there on the cross.   For the first time in His life, His eternal life, He set aside the dignity and self-control He lived and allowed sin to overwhelm Him.   Things He hadn’t done:   Jesus allowed all that guilt, angst, loathing, and insecurity to flood Him and take Him.   Indeed, only a few hours before, He had been on His knees in the garden, sweating rivulets of blood so great was his overwhelming sorrow at the knowledge of what He must do.  Now that sorrow truly overwhelmed Him as He not only felt my guilt but took on Himself the penalty for it.   He who could not die was killed by it, killed for us.

I don’t deserve that.   I’ve never done anything in my life to deserve such a thing from anyone, let alone my Creator and Savior.  My whole history has been one of sin, from my first cry on that day in 1966 until just now.   I’m guilty as hell for all of it and I should be.

…Except that I shouldn’t be.   Not any more.   Dealing in “should” is a chancy proposition because “should” is so subjective.   Here’s one instance where should is actually quite sure.  I shouldn’t be guilty anymore because, in Jesus, I’m not guilty.   I’m not guilty by reason of substitutionary sacrifice.   I’m made not guilty by Jesus hanging there on the cross and taking my guilt on Himself.   I’m made not guilty by Him saying “I’ve got this.   Go and sin no more.”   And I’m made not guilty by the very last words He offered us while He was here: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”   That’s hope for right now.   Right now, in whatever I am going through, Jesus is with me, in me, seeing through me, acting through me.   He’s down for my struggle right now, and it’s His Spirit that gives me the courage to turn back temptation and turn away from causing myself more hurt.

Every time my conscience bothers me, I get to remind myself that Jesus offered Himself as a living sacrifice so that my conscience is cleansed from acts that lead to spiritual death.   My judgmentalism:   judged not guilty any more.  My impatience:   forgiven by God’s patience.  My adulteries:   made innocent again by the intimate soul of my Savior and true friend.   My foul language:  cleaned up and turned for a better purpose.   His purpose.   His mission.   I get to live the rest of my life as a worker in His fields, using the talents He gave me for the mission He has me on to meet, greet, and welcome others with the Gospel.   And when it get’s tough, the Jesus living through me is a whole lot tougher.

Yesterday, the pastor at church here in Paris shared a quote.   To paraphrase, it isn’t faith in Jesus that unites us as believers.   It isn’t church, or what we do, or even following the Bible.   The Gospel of Jesus is what unites us as believers.   It is the good news of His salvation that unites us and forgives us and gives us the promise of real hope.   Without the gospel, there is no good news or redemption.   With it, there are only unlimited possibilities for God’s real good here and always.  That’s hope for here and now to use throughout the rest of our lives.   And it’s hope to live past our numbered days here to start a life forever that will have no number or end.  On that our hearts and our conscience can always be clear.

For further reading:  1 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 5:2, Psalm 51:2, Psalm 65:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Zechariah 13:1, Hebrews, 10:2.

My Lord and my God, all praise and thanks to You for cleaning my conscience, for forgiving my sins when I don’t deserve it, for loving me when I’ve been unlovable.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 November 2016

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.  Hebrews 3, verse 14.

“Original conviction” is believing in Jesus.

Just last week, my wife and I were talking again about feeling faith in God.   I remarked that I’ve never “felt” that God feels I’m special; I believe I’ve shared that here before.   The whole experience & feeling of ‘being saved:’   never had it, never felt it.   The overwhelming feeling of God’s presence that crowds out everything else:   I haven’t yet felt it even as I know in my heart I have experienced it.  Later I learned I’m not alone in this.   On Saturday morning I attended a men’s Bible breakfast here in Paris.  Several of us were talking about this same thing – that feeling of being saved – and I remarked the same thing I’d said to my wife.   One of the other men said that he and his wife had felt a pulling, a calling, to come back to the church in Paris (Calvary Chapel), and that they’d had that same surety of feeling when they bought their house.   It was as if God was telling them “this is where I want you.”   That’s something with which I can relate.   If I’ve never felt ‘saved’ or had that big God-moment when I felt His overwhelming presence, I can also say that on many, many occasions throughout my life I’ve felt that same “this is where I want you” feeling.  If God hasn’t spoken to me one way, He’s made it abundantly clear He’s speaking in others.

When we realize that, it becomes one of the ways we can share Him.   It’s an affirmation of our original conviction, our determination and need to believe in Jesus.  I’ve been a believer all my life, was brought up going to church most every Sunday.   Even when I fell away for a few years, when my wife and I took our family back to church it always felt like it was the right place to be.  It was as if God was telling us “I want you to get to know Me here” and He made our lives worthwhile.  We joined with others who believed the same things, and we were constantly fueled by God through His church, energized and empowered to do the things He’s prepared us to do.

It’s because of Him.   It’s because of believing in Him.  I used to think that people like me (now) were corny, sometimes faking our faith for appearances, sometimes saying we believe almost to convince ourselves that it’s really true.   Sometimes I wonder if I’m not saying I believe in Jesus out of fear of Him.   Not just the respecting, awe-struck fear, but the terror-in-the-night kind of fear, knowing that I’m just a man out of billions, somewhat small in this world.   He’s God.   He’s the creator of everything, the omnipresent and omniscient God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Dave Terry.  Those are some big shoes to fill; I don’t feel qualified to walk in them.  Who am I to believe in this awe-striking God?   Who am I that He would believe in me?

And then I remember that He talks with me.   He lets me know from time to time that He is with me, that He wants me to do A, B or C by those feelings from deep in my heart.   His Spirit speaks to my conscience, letting me know when I should shy away from some things and approach others.   This never happens when I’m on the edges of sin (or knee-deep in it); God’s choices aren’t designed to lead us deeper into wrongdoing.   No, sometimes He speaks to me by a verse hitting me just right, or seeing light rays through a cloud bank, or the satisfaction of being around people I love.   Even sometimes through the realization of a job well done.

Ephesians 3:12 says, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”  That means here and now, today, you and I can approach God fully knowing that Jesus did everything possible and everything necessary to make it so that we could.  We still fear and respect and love God Almighty but we get to approach Him fully and freely knowing that He won’t see us as sinful or worthy of destruction.   He sees us clothed and wrapped in Jesus, made righteous because we believed that Jesus is our one and only Savior.  It’s a convicting belief of determined conviction.  When we fully realize the meaning of that concept, perhaps we also realize that God is speaking to us loud and clear.   Feeling or no feeling, it’s more than enough.

For more reading:   Ephesians 3:12.

Lord, I believe in You.

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 12 February 2016

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. Mark 14, verses 28-31.

Why did Jesus say this?

Last week, I attended a men’s Bible study out here in Paris, Texas. It was the first one of this year, and the pastor was recanting some of his personal history in the context of five “R’s” that he wanted the men of the church to remember throughout the year (revelation, realization, reliance, repetition, relationship). During his talk, he mentioned how, as a young Marine, he woke up on a beach one time, hungover with a strange naked woman beside him.   His conscience bothered him because he thought of himself as a Christian yet was spending so much of his personal time living in markedly un-Christian ways.   He said that God’s Spirit convicted him, prodding him to the realization that he could turn and follow Jesus unconditionally, or he could live unconditionally as a worldly man but couldn’t, in good conscience, still call himself a Christian.

Why did Jesus say this to this man?

Let’s be fair: the Disciples probably thought they meant well.   Jesus was plainly telling them that He was about to be arrested, tortured, and murdered and that none of them would lift a finger to stop it.   If your best friend said something like that to you, wouldn’t you immediately become indignant? You’d jump to defend yourself; “now wait just a minute!”   In part, you’d do this out of love for your friend.   But in being fair, we also need to be honest:   you’d also do it for yourself, to ward off a perceived attack on your dignity. Yes, we really do usually think (and act) as if ‘it’s all about me.’ Peter, John and the rest were no different.

In true friend-form, Jesus then responded with the truth.   “This is what’s going to happen.   When I’m at my neediest moment, you’re going to deny me.   You’re going to run away from me and lie about Me to save your own skin.”   He wasn’t doing it out of anger or spite: it was a matter of fact.   Yet I’ll give you another motivation that may not seem too apparent.

It was out of love.

Why would Jesus say this to His friends?   To convict them, of course.   He said what He said so that they would feel it, internalize it, contemplate it, and know all the more the power of His Word on that Easter Sunday just a few eternally long days later. Jesus had yanked them into this supernatural event and used supernatural fore-knowledge that He shared with Peter.   “Before the rooster even crows, you’ll deny me not just once but three times.”   Perhaps that number three has meaning as well.   After all, three is a significant number in Scripture…think Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.   Think “on the third day.”   In convicting them through their consciences, Jesus was also using a Scriptural reference to turn a painful event of recollection into a Gospel-proclaiming lesson of powerful truth.

Next time you do something outrageous and you feel the sting of your conscience, think “three” and that maybe God is trying to tell you something.

Lord, I pray You convict me daily of my sins, turning the pain of my remembering them into Your glory here and now.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.