Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  Hebrews 11, verses 13-14.

I’m a wanderer.   I learned it as a kid.   We first moved in 1969, when I was three, moving from Bloomington to Minneapolis, Minnesota.   That isn’t very far, but it’s a quantum leap for a family from the suburbs.  I went two years to an old elementary school before they tore it down in 1974.   That year, I spent a year in private school in east Minneapolis.   1975-1976 saw me attend two different third grade classes, one in Iowa and the other in Pennsylvania.  From 1976 to 1978 we lived in Pennsylvania, 1978-1980 in Oklahoma, 1980-1983 back in Iowa, and 1983-1985 in southern Indiana, which I refer to now as ‘home.’  After that, I joined the Air Force, and spent 1985 in Texas, then 1986-1989 in Texas, Maryland, and TDY (on temporary duty) around the world.   From 1989 to 1992, I lived in Italy (living in two different towns during that stay).   From 1992 until 2004, I lived in Colorado, residing in six different places in twelve years.  2004-2005 found me in Montana, then 2005 back in Colorado before moving to Texas.   Since 2005, I have lived full time in Texas, but have traveled all over the country (and the planet), and have lived in three different houses in two towns.  After fifty years of wandering, I’m finally in a home I’ve always dreamed of.   Wouldn’t you know that even my time here may be short, in jeopardy, and that there could be more wandering just up ahead.

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking for a country of my own.

I wish I could say that my story is one of deep public faith, but it isn’t.  In fact, more times than I care to admit, my faith has wandered too and has been weak with my practice of it weaker.  I’ve been rightfully accused of being a hypocrite, and Billy Joel could have once described me as “a man with so much tension and far too many sins to mention.”  I’ve tried, but in following Jesus, trying isn’t enough.   You have to “do” to be believeable to other people, and sometimes what I’ve done has been quite opposite of what I believe.

You know what?  I’m in good company.   Abraham was a wanderer and God did wonderful things through Him.   Jacob was a deceitful wanderer and God led him to live an amazing life.  Moses, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus Himself were all wanderers who did incredible, great things in the lead-up to the time of their Messiah.  After Jesus, all twelve of His disciples wandered, going from place to place to spread the Good News of the friend-Savior they knew.  Some of them were murdered for it; only one lived into old age.

I bet all those people were looking for a country of their own.   I wonder, then, if the country mentioned by the writer of Hebrews isn’t actually the nation of Heaven.   Shakespeare called death “the undiscovered country.”  Hamlet lamented that his life was all sorrow and he longed to journey into the undiscovered country of what lay beyond.   Don’t we all, yet here and now are all we know.   This is where we make our bones, discover what it means to live.   And the longer any of us live – and wander – the more we find that the only real meaning in the fallen world is found in Jesus Christ.  In Christ there is no more wandering.   In Christ, the discovery is amazement and it is continuous.   In Jesus Christ there is fulfillment of all of life’s desires, answers to every question, and peace to settle all restlessness.   In Christ, we no longer need to wander.

Christ is the undiscovered country I wish to explore, yet isn’t it wonderful to be able to do so now, as best we can, in this place that’s rife with both life and imperfection?  Until my prayers are answered and I meet Him face to face, I guess I’ll continue to wander, awaiting my endless time in the country of my own that I know in hope is only a short time away.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

My Lord and Savior, abide with me as I wander here.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 April 2017

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:  “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.  Hebrews 10, verses 15-18.

There is so much to unpack here.   These verses quote Jeremiah 31, and if you haven’t read the words of that lamenting prophet, next time you are in a place of need, read Jeremiah.   He, too, knew desperate soul-crushing hurt yet clung to God no matter what befell him (and he lived in terrible times).

Perhaps the best thing that Jeremiah recorded was that quote: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”   In remembering our lawless acts no more, God blots out the consequences of our sins and sees us perfectly through Jesus.   When Jeremiah was alive, men did not know of a man named Jesus; it was hundreds of years before Christ.  Instead, the time after Jesus is what Jeremiah was talking about in chapter 31, specifically the time when Jesus was no longer physically present as a man yet would always be omnipresent as Spirit.   He would live in our souls and reason with us through our intellects.

You and I are living in that time now.   When you say you believe in Jesus, you’re lining up with Jeremiah.   You’re choosing sides, and you’re acknowledging that you desire for Jesus Christ to live in your soul, reason with your mind, and work through your hands.   When you choose sides and choose Jesus, you’re acknowledging that all your wrongs have been forgiven.   Everything that you’ve ever done in sin is forgiven, washed away.   No longer do you need some stranger priest to sacrifice an animal in your stead so that you might make atonement for what you’ve done.

Most of all, you aren’t guilty any more.   You’ve been declared ‘not guilty’ and you are permanently not guilty.  Jesus took ALL of your guilt and negated the need for you to carry it around.   This is perhaps my toughest sin; it’s the one I all too frequently commit.   Years ago I laid the guilt of my sins at the cross, yet I seem to constantly walk back there every now and then and pick up the writhing, nasty sack that contains that guilt.   I throw it over my shoulder and walk away.   With each step it feels heavier, smells worse, threatens more.  All the while, it feels like Jesus is looking at me from His cross, staring down at me, imploring me to put the bag down again and walk away from it.  It’s like He’s saying to me “I’m forgiving all that.   It doesn’t define you any more.   I define you now.   You can put it down.”

Years of faith, years of study, years of therapy, years of prayer confirm this truth to me, that Jesus fully, freely declares me not guilty of even the worst things I’ve ever done.   Yet I still commit the sin of trying to carry around that guilt again and again, long after he’s forgiven it.   It lures me back, welling up feelings of remorse, inadequacy, hurt.  The harsh truth is that it is a sin to keep picking it up.   It’s a form of idolatry, and it’s like saying to Jesus “I don’t believe You really can do this.”

He forgives that sin too.   That’s the point where my head is blown.   I’m completely befuddled at how He does that, how He forgives me when I mess up the first time, then how He reminds me that He’s forgiven those later sins too.   It’s because of His sacrifice that He reminds me of how He loves me, how He’s forgiven me, how He’s written that love on my heart and in my mind.   How that divine love defines me now.

We’re living in the time when that is the norm.  It has been the norm for over two thousand years since the days when Jesus walked the earth.   These days, He still walks it, but does so through the feet of a billion believing souls.   We are living in the time Jeremiah prophesied, and before the time when Jesus will return to walk again on His own feet.  The same feet the Romans nailed to the cross…the same cross where we daily lay down our sins and work to walk away from them knowing all the work we really need has already been completed.   Somewhere in my head I hear that song from “Frozen,” trilling me to ‘let it go.’   How I wish it felt that easy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7m, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I constantly relive, re-carry the guilt of all the sins You’ve forgiven.   You did it completely, fully.   Help my unbelief.

Practical Proverbial, 18 July 2016. This week’s topic: conflict and soft words

Conflict Management.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4: 31-32. AND A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1.
So let’s do some confessing, here: I’m guilty of completely violating these verses. I stink on ice at keeping them. In this political year, with so many things being said, I find myself constantly debating people online. Sure, I justify my arguments with saying “I’m standing up for what I believe” or something like that. In my mind, I think I’m doing some kind of good by sharing my (usually) polarized opinions. The world is a better place, you know, because Dave Terry shared his opinions on Mrs. Clinton, events in the Middle East, the Federal deficit and any other range of issues. Sure; whatever.
In the end, it isn’t kind. It’s unkind. It isn’t tenderhearted: it’s mean. And while I forgive anyone who’s wronged me, all too often that isn’t the vibe I exude. More often than not, I probably look like a jerk.
Would you act this way at work? More and more employers surf employees’ social media sites. Would you want your employer to see things you’ve written online? Would I want my employer to see what I post to others? More importantly, would I want them to see HOW I interact with others? It might not paint a flattering picture, especially when I work in a career where managing people. I wonder how many jobs I’ve silently lost when I applied online and then lost out because when an interested employer was turned off by my contentious social media posts.
We don’t have to wonder what Jesus would think. He telegraphed is thoughts in His words above. Last time, we talked about how to resolve conflict by going to the person with whom you’re in conflict. In these verses above, we’re told a few of the characteristics of how we should talk when we’re doing that.
We’re to put off bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice; whew! If I do that, what else would I share on Facebook? No matter, that’s what we’re to do if we want to bridge the gap between our neighbor and ourselves. Even if we’ve been wronged, even if we are the one who has wronged another, no matter the circumstances, we are to put off the fruit emotions of evil and display the behaviors of Christ.
Why are we supposed to interact in this way? The quick answer is “because Jesus says so.” In reality, that’s all we need to know. In further reality, He tells us to be kind and forgiving and caring because ‘a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ The words He inspired into Solomon aren’t much different from those He inspired into Paul, are they? How many times have strong arguments ended when one of the arguers simply lowered the tone of their voice? That isn’t a coincidence. God doesn’t tell us to do things that lead us further into sin. When He tells us to forgive, speak kindness, and act out in goodness, it’s because they are the best and right ways to interact.
Be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving; be these things because that’s how Jesus is with us. Be these things and still be strong. Acting in soft ways doesn’t mean someone is weak or spineless. If you think about it, it takes a strong person to actively put aside raw negativity and let God re-make how we react. Indeed, it takes a backbone to stand up for Jesus when so much of the world stands against Him. The trick becomes standing up and standing firm while not letting our standing get in the way of His message. In doing that, His directions to speak softly and be kind are the best ones with which to lead the way. After all, it’s better to be able to cop to being overly kind than to have to admit you’re a jerk.
This is how we manage God’s way.
For more reading: James 1:19, Colossians 3:13, Hebrews 12: 14-15, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 16:7, Leviticus 19:18, Luke 17:4.
Lord, thank You for Your commanding advice on how to resolve conflict. Help me to live this out where I am today.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 24 February 2016

They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. Mark 14, verses 53-54.

Does Jesus do your heavy lifting? If we warm ourselves by the fire in the middle of the cold night, are we really being warmed inside or is it just a half-measure to ward off the hostile cold?

I’ll be honest: Jesus does ALL the heavy lifting.   He does it for me and for you; He does it because of His grace and not because we deserve it or earn it or anything the preacher says to do. Everything that was ever needed to make me right with the Holy Father of the Trinity was done by Jesus.   Even my choosing to believe in this isn’t my action alone; I couldn’t even believe if Jesus’ Holy Spirit hadn’t first inspired and enabled me to do it.

So I just live my life, sinning from day to do.   Some days it’s petty things like a white lie or living in advantage of His blessings.   Some days it’s an outright big one, like rage or adultery in my thoughts or grudges or any one of a hundred things that separate me from my Lord.   In those times, He reminds me again and again that He forgave all of my sins, that I have no penalty from the Father for them even though they deserve eternal damnation.   He reminds me that I don’t need to do these stupid things, that I don’t need to hold onto guilt, that I’m His. If you don’t think that’s heavy lifting, try reminding an addict that he has the power to give up his addiction if only he’ll take the gigantic small step of starting to trust.   Jesus does that a thousand times a day for the addict sinner known as me.

And through it all, what do I do?   I warm myself by the fire.   I join in with Peter and the other curiosity seekers who won’t actually go stand beside Jesus and fight for Him (or even show solidarity with Him).   No, I’m there trying to keep my hands and face warm in the chilly morning air.   It’s cold out here and I am more concerned with thinking I can ward off the cold than with being true to my heart. I’m one of the folks joining in with the very guards who arrested Jesus and brought all this into being. You and I can judge Peter for being a coward, for these moments when he actively, enthusiastically denied knowing his best friend and Savior, the man he told (in more friendly and comfortable circumstances) “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” “I’d never do that, Dave,” you say.   “I just wouldn’t.”

Yes you would.   So do I.   I do it with every rebellious thought that rushes through my sin-encrusted mind.

Know what Jesus does?   He does the heavy lifting.   He does the hard work of making those rebellious thoughts and actions into vapors of the past.   He does it with offering me the blood on the cross.   It’s a free offer, no guilt-motivation involved.   It’s the only thing that can really, truly keep me out of the cold emptiness of oblivion.

Lord, thank You for doing all the heavy lifting of forgiving sins.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 August 2015

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” Mark 10, verse 17-21.

Do you grasp the enormity of what Jesus is saying to the man?

This stranger runs up to Jesus while Jesus is walking to Jerusalem.   Jesus is walking to Jerusalem knowing He will meet adulation and crowds who will, five days hence, watch Him be murdered. This man doesn’t know any of that.   He has heard about Jesus and wants to meet Him.   Perhaps the man is full of himself and wants a little of Jesus’ fame to rub off on him.   Perhaps the man is a spy from the Sanhedrin, sent out to size up Jesus before He gets to the city walls.   Perhaps the man is genuinely curious, confused in life and looking for a meaningful existence.

In truth, we don’t know.   All we know about the man (at this point) is that he ran up to Jesus and assumed a position of worship. The man then tells Jesus He is “good.”   Jesus’ reply:   He doesn’t say He isn’t good.   He simply reminds the man of the depth of his words, that if He’s saying Jesus is a ‘good teacher’ then he is insinuating that Jesus the Good Teacher is God because “no one is good, except God alone.”

Enormous.   That definitely falls into the “get more than you bargained for” category.

How do you think the man felt when Jesus said this to him?   Do you think he was bewildered, shocked to be called out and called back?  Based on later verses, we learn that the man is wealthy and conceited; it’s likely that he is trying to test Jesus for some unknown purpose not the least of which is pride. Jesus knows all this and yet He doesn’t smite the proud man.   Instead, He offers the man every chance to come clean and have a genuine relationship. “You say I’m God. Tell me:   what do you REALLY believe?”   Can you imagine Jesus’ penetrative stare?

I don’t know about you, but that’s daunting for me.   All too often, I try to hide my sins from God, thinking that if I do x, y or z, Jesus won’t know about it; ludicrous. When I read verses like these where Jesus makes Himself known obliquely yet boldly, I’m reminded that He does the same thing to me every day.   He is always beckoning me in His word, my conscience, my schedule and a thousand ways every day to come to Him with everything. Instead of smacking me down, which I deserve, Jesus blows my mind by letting me come to the conclusion that He is who He says He is and He’s made it ok for me to come to Him.

That’s one of the things Jesus did for the man in these verses.   He tipped His hand just a little in order to let the man know that He was in the game to win, specifically to win the man’s soul.   He does the same thing for you and me.

Lord, I believe You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.   You are Him and You are good.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 22 May 2014

You shall not commit adultery. Exodus chapter 20, verse 14.

This one is hard to write. If you’ve read this blog for any time, you’ve heard me talk about my affairs. To be honest, I try to not live with regrets.   It’s better to let God take them over, to let go of them and live in forgiveness instead.   But I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t regret the affairs.

Adultery is idolatry is lying is stealing is dishonor is coveting is hatred. It starts with idolatry, putting yourself first instead of Jesus or those closest to you. Unfaithfulness starts in the heart and it starts with that thought of “what about me?”   Me first; my needs; I need this.   Let’s be real:   not all self-needs are wrong, especially if you’re abused, used, or hurt by someone else.   But when you put yourself before anything else, the idolatry leads to the coveting.   That leads to the lies, believing the lies you tell and those told to you.  

Even when you live in forgiveness, you know there’s a part of you that did this thing that cut someone to the core. You did that thing that ripped apart the fabric of your relationship at its most fundamental level.   I know people who step out on their spouses and can live with it.   But without forgiveness, I honestly don’t understand how they do it.

Adultery is more than just sex.   That’s the most visible and visceral part of it.   But make no mistake: you don’t have to take your clothes off to cheat on someone. And when you do that, there is regret.   Self-loathing, anguish, regret, hurt, pain: they’re all there in the eyes of the one you love most, and they’re also there when you’re alone in your thoughts.

The only thing that can change your heart, that can help you truly turn away from this pattern of destruction, is the love of Jesus Christ. Repenting means responsibility.   It means baring what you’ve done and committing fully to Him, and to the good mercy of Him and those you’ve wronged. There are many reasons why people do it, and, to be honest, none of them are valid. When you’re done, the only thing that can clean you up is the blood of Jesus.

I’m the blessed one.   Forgiveness was given to me.   I repented; I changed. God fixed my marriage and we became better. Yet, now and then, the regret comes bubbling up.   Now and then, the sins of the past try to cloud the goodness of today.   You beat it back with forgiveness. God forbade adultery because He understood how it would shred us, tear us away from Him.   It did my marriage, and it did me. Only God can make that better.

Lord Jesus, forgive me of my sin and clean me up from it.   Thank You for your forgiveness, for Your healing, and for a true second chance.

 

Read Exodus chapter 8, More plagues…what happens when our hearts are hard…

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 19 March 2014

Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I.  Ruth 3, verse 12.

Selflessness.  Boaz was selfless.   One of the things I like most about the Book of Ruth is how the two main participants, Ruth and Boaz, are selfless, and in this verse we get to see an example of that   Boaz is attracted to Ruth, and has said he wants to marry her.   If you’ve fallen in love and ever wanted to spend the rest of your life with someone who you just couldn’t get out of your mind, then you know the feeling; you remember where Boaz is in this verse.

And he’s willing to give her away to do the right thing.   The code of the Israelites was that the closest family kinsman redeemer always had first say in matters such as this.   In Naomi’s family, there was someone closer.   Boaz knows this and, despite his growing feelings for Ruth, he upholds the code, the honor, his faith to God through his faith in this system, by telling her he might have to let her go.  That’s selflessness.

We need more of that in our lives.   Today, we aren’t going to pound on my character or yours; I think we get it.   We aren’t Jesus.  Instead, what are some ways you and I could become more selfless where we are?   There are plenty of ways we can show that we put others, put God, before ourselves.   What are some of them that you could do today?   You and I might not have to give up a potential spouse, or maybe your way is something just as serious.   That’s between you and God. 

How can we learn from Boaz’s words to Ruth, the way he was willing to selflessly give up something he had grown to love?  Tell me – better yet, tell Jesus – what are some ways we can become more selfless for Christ?

Lord, please show me where I can become more selfless, act more for You and less for myself.

 

Read Ruth 3.