Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 May 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.”  Hebrews 10, verses 15-16.

I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. That thought blows my mind.   Does it apply to everyone?

Do you think Kim Jong Un has a conscience?   This is the man who tortures nearly 300,000 of his countrymen simply for the act of thinking for themselves.   He just ordered the assassination of his half-brother in Malaysia.   He seems bent on provoking war with the West, provoking a resumption of the vicious civil war his grandfather began nearly 70 years ago.   Do you think he has a conscience?   Do you think that his conscience is inured?   He was educated in Switzerland, so it’s reasonable to assume he was exposed to Christianity at some point in his life.   Do you think he rejected it?

Or there was Sayyid Qtub.   You might never have heard of him.   He, too, was educated in the West, and he, too, was exposed to Christianity during his time in America (several years, in fact).   Sayyid Qtub was the original Islamist fundamentalist, a man who grew to hate all that the West stands for and who began to challenge the Arab governments in Egypt in the 1960s.   He founded the anti-American Muslim Brotherhood and was executed by the Egyptians in 1966.   One of his acolytes was a man named Zawahiri, who later worked with a man named Bin Laden to form Al Qaeda.   Do you think they had consciences?

Do you think God wrote His laws on their hearts and wrote them on their minds?

Has He written them on yours?

You know the answer, and it’ll make you uncomfortable to admit that, yes, these people did (or do) know God.   God loved Sayyid Qtub, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Osama Bin Laden enough that He sent His only son to die for them.   He does it for everyone, even those who commit great sins.   Just yesterday, I was at a gymnastics facility here in Paris, talking with a woman there (while waiting for my grandson to complete his gym lesson).   We were talking about the man in Dallas who had just shot the paramedic (and who was later found dead, a suicide, in a nearby home).   The woman’s young daughter quipped into our conversation that “Mommy, Jesus died for that man, too.”   She’s right.   He did.   Jesus died for that lunatic who murdered an innocent first responder and then murdered himself.

Just like He died for You.   You whose sins may be relatively tame compared to Kim Jong Un, Osama Bin Laden, or a crazed killer.  Re-read verses 15 and 16 and tell me if they say “only white people” or “The Holy Spirit testifies to Southern Baptists about this.”   It doesn’t say “This pertains only to the Catholics” or “AME Methodists know this better than anyone else.”   No, those verses say that Jesus’ Holy Spirit testifies to US, all of us, each of us, you and me.   They say that God wrote His holy laws into our hearts and minds.   They are natural law, beyond human education and not caused or inspired by human thought.   They are God bequeathed into us, innately part of us.   They are branded onto our very existence.

So do I think those horrible people, whoever they are, whoever WE are, know about God without being taught about Him?   Yes, yes I do.   I believe that God writes Himself into our DNA, whoever we are, and that our deepest yearnings in whatever culture from which we emanate are to know God more.   To learn about Him, to seek Him, to build on what He put into us and to find meaning in this life through Him.   Some reject this; let’s be honest:   most people reject this.   Yet it doesn’t make the truth less true that God loved us first and wants us first to love Him before we know or love anything else.   His Spirit speaks to us through the conscience, and we each have a conscience even if we dull it.  He loved us enough to die for us no matter what terrible things we do to each other in our lives.  He wants everyone to know this so that everyone might turn from our evil ways to embrace His Way.  Even Sayyid Qtub, the Dallas killer, and Kim Jong Un.

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

Lord Jesus, thank You for being bigger than me, more patient than me, more loving than me.

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 Mark, 18 February 2016

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Mark 14, verses 39-40.

The spirit is indeed willing and the flesh is indeed weak.   Knowing that, we can easily relate to the sleepy Apostles.

Let’s cut a little slack to the Apostles because, well, after all, they’re human.   They were tired.   No, they were exhausted.   These verses occurred very early in the morning, perhaps around 2 or 3 AM. After tramping all around Jerusalem on Thursday, then the last supper, then some incredibly wrenching personal time with Jesus, they were exhausted.

“I would have done better.   I would have stayed up.”

Sure you would, pal.   Don’t forget there wasn’t a Denny’s open at that time.   Around AD33 you couldn’t run to the local QT to get a cup of fresh coffee.   You and I might have wanted to stay awake and keep watch, but in the end, after chatting with our mates, we probably would have quietly sat down and nodded off…just like they did. It’s all the more real when you think that they weren’t sitting there in North Face jackets with thermal sleeping bags.   No, on a cold Judean night in the springtime (think 40-50 degrees), they sat on the hard ground, perhaps against stone walls, wearing thin robes, skirts or tunics and sandals.   I’m thinking they didn’t stretch out to relax.   I’m betting they huddled together to keep warm.

Then they were alarmed when Jesus came back and He was disappointed in them.   They didn’t know what to say.

Now, I’ll confess how I’m getting old by saying that I don’t see how young people can sleep so much.   My kids, they can sleep for hours, sometimes 8-12 hours at a stretch. I don’t think I could count on one hand how many times I’ve slept that long in my entire life and I’m nearly 50. Try waking up one of my kids when they’re asleep and you’ll get a disoriented, probably crabby hot mess. Ask them a question and you’ll likely get a vacant response.   Should it be surprising, then, if that’s the same response Jesus got from His sleeping disciples?   And they hadn’t even been asleep for 10 hours.

Yes, they should have kept a better watch; so should we.   Could they have eased Jesus’ anxiety over what was happening?   Perhaps; we’ll never know. Jesus wanted them to keep watch with Him just like He wants us to keep watch with Him every day of our lives.   He upbraided them to watch out and resist temptation because He knew that their best defense against a Satan on offense was to watch and be ready when sin tempts. He’ll do that same thing for you and I, speaking to our hearts, speaking to us through conscience.  When we are tempted, He’ll speak to us in ways that appeal to our hearts.   “Don’t do it.”   “You shouldn’t.”   “Stop now.” Those are good things to know because we will each find ourselves in moments of temptation every single day.   It’s a fair bet to assume that, like the Apostles, we won’t know what to say when that happens.

Lord Jesus, abide with me.   Remind me to avoid temptation and help me to resist.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

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.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 November 2015

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Mark 11, verses 29-33.

Jesus isn’t being evasive here.   If you think so, re-read the verses a few times.   I believe you’ll see that he’s actually trying to offer yet another life-line.

Consider that Jesus knows the score when He has this exchange with the chief priests.   He knows they’re trying to set Him up. He knows they’re plotting to murder Him.   He knows what’s going to happen at the end of the week, on Good Friday.   Yet, even at this late date, instead of smashing the priests into little bits of priestly mush, He offers them yet another chance to submit to His love and justice. Jesus asks them a question instead of pointing out their wrong-doing. He poses an issue to them, hoping to stir their hearts and minds one more time.

Has He ever done that to you?   I can’t tell you how many times in every day that it happens to me, whether it’s my petty judgmentalisms, or my arrogance and pride, or the lust in my eyes, or the anger that is all too often my go-to reaction. When those times come, I deserve to be smacked down by the Almighty, to have Him put me in my place.   That’s what a human god would do; that’s what Allah would do; that’s what people do to each other.

Instead, Jesus speaks through my conscience, through the moments in the day, and poses to me yet again the questions I need to be asked.   I know it is the voice of God because it doesn’t lead me into further sins, or into tough times without there being a light at the end of them.   The life-lines He throws to us are designed to pull us back, to tug us out of the quicksand instead of letting us choose to sink further.   It’s usually quiet, unassuming, speaking words in my conscience, trying to keep me on the straight and narrow. Do I listen?   No, not always; thanks be to God for His patience with me.

And consider this, too:   Jesus knows the score with you and me right now.   Those sins you and I want to deny we ever did?   Jesus knows about them. The junk we hold onto that we know we shouldn’t?   Jesus knows about it. The hopes and dreams that haven’t come to pass?   He knows them.   Despite all of our crap, Jesus comes to us anyway and asks us that same question:   do you believe in Me? Believing in Him isn’t carte blanche for misbehavior:   it’s carte blanche entry into eternity when we don’t deserve it.   He offered that same free pass to the chief priests yet they passed it by. We should not do the same.

Lord, help me to always listen to Your words, to follow where You guide me.   Thank You for throwing life-lines to me, your grace being the gift I don’t deserve but am so very thankful for.

Read Mark 12, verses 1-12