Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 4 July 2018, Independence Day

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (NIV).

Because today is Independence Day, a few words about the United States.

We persevere through faith.   Scratch the surface of the veneer that is our popular culture and you see that we, as the United States of America, persevere.   We persevere because our nation was founded on the idea of human liberty that is a gift from God.   That having faith in God is what makes us successful and able to persevere.  Those who would tear down that notion and replace it with twisted ideologies like socialism miss the point.   Our rights, our liberties, our blessing as a nation can’t be taken away by men.   It was given to us by God.   Knowing that, we persevere.

This isn’t to say that we are better than anyone else because we as a people aren’t.   It’s true that our institutions, our history, and our dedication to freedom do indeed set us apart from every other nation in human history.   Nobody else has done the things our nation has, and that makes America special.   We are indeed a place set apart where you can be what you want to be.   But let’s not get too big for our britches and say we’re better than other people because we just aren’t.

What makes us special, however, comes from the Almighty.   On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare America’s independence from Great Britain.  On July 4th, those same traitors signed the instrument of treason that made it official.   The primary author of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged that man’s rights were given to mankind by “Nature’s God” (Thomas Jefferson’s words, not mine).  Thus, the first nation in history conceived on the idea of liberty was conceived acknowledging that liberty originates with God.   242 years later, informed Americans still believe this is so.

The idea of God-given liberty isn’t in vogue today.   Indeed, the protection of liberty must always be upheld by each new generation if it’s to endure.   We have persevered to overcome the challenges of settling a continent, throwing off the evil of slavery, throwing off the slavery of economic calamity and governmental dependence, and the ongoing challenges posed by evil enemies who hate us because we’re free.   Because we believe in God.   There are nations in the world with deeper faith than the US, that express faith better than we do.  Yet there is no place on earth that has been so uniquely blessed by God  as the United States of America.   We have always persevered because of God.   As long as acknowledge that we are free only through our God, we can continue to do so no matter what persecutions and trials are ahead.

For further reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

Lord, thank You for blessing my home, America.   Help us to always see You as the only source of our liberty.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 31 October 2016

So, as the Holy Spirit says:  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did.  Hebrews 3, verses 7-9.

Jesus is over you and me and everything we know.   Simple, right?  Why do we resist that truth?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”   Those are some of the most eloquent, meaningful words ever written.   They’re from the Declaration of Independence, and while they specifically talked about the most cherished beliefs of Americans, in reality they speak for all humanity.   All your rights are yours because God gave them to you.   Government doesn’t give you rights.   Presidents and Congresses don’t give you rights.   Most of the media doesn’t know what it’s talking about.   Your rights are yours because God created you and gave them to you and no government can take them away from you as long as you live in peace with your fellow man.   Yet the trend in the last 100 years has been to cede rights to authority, to have the government control more and more, giving we people less and less room to exercise our true rights from God.

Through it all, Jesus is over you and me and the government and our rights and He personally guarantees us that He is the ultimate freedom in the world.  So why do we turn away from this so often?

Last night, I was watching a Seth Rogen movie; “This is the End.”  I was channel hopping between the Dallas Cowboys game, Food Network, Game 5 of the World Series, and this Seth Rogen flick.   The movie was a drug-induced parody of the end times, where Seth Rogen and his Hollywood pot crowd survive the Rapture and await their ultimate end.   It was mostly tasteless and, to be honest, not very funny (like most of Seth Rogen’s movies), but it was actually interesting from the point of view of writing this blog entry.  It was all about the consequences of rebelling against God.   These self-indulgent movie stars poke fun at their self-indulgent ways and then try to “earn” their way into eternal salvation (which happens to include the Backstreet Boys in one final eternal boy-band boogie).  The characters in the movie hold up in a house while post-apocalyptic Los Angeles is gradually transformed into hell on earth.  In the end, they are either consigned to hell or jet-ported into the light of heaven (where they smoke marijuana forever dancing to Nick Lachey).

What’s the point?

We turn away from God in so many ways.   Like the people of Moses’ day did.   Like the folks watching the Cowboys win at AT&T Stadium did.   Like the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence did.   Like the first readers of Hebrews did (even before it was called “the book of Hebrews”).  You and I, we jealously guard our rights to things we cherish as Americans or simply as people, yet in doing so we sometimes rebel against God.

For forty years, the Israelites wandered in the Arabian desert of Sinai, rebelling against God.  He gave them His laws and they immediately started to lawyer Him.   They tested Him.   They flaunted His laws.   They thought themselves better judges of their hearts than Him.   And so they paid the penalty for doing this in that those who mocked God died there in the deserts and are lost to time and history.   Their children and grandchildren became the ones who inherited Canaan.

And still we turn away.  We have examples from the past and still we refuse to learn from them.

I don’t know how many people were murdered in Chicago this weekend but, if trends continued, World Series or not, there were probably a dozen or more.   Murder is outside of God’s design.   And I don’t know how many children starved to death in Africa yesterday; I’m sure it was hundreds, maybe thousands, and starvation is outside of God’s design.   I would bet that, just since last Sunday, worldwide there were a million or more thefts or stealing incidents.  And at the end of every sin, Jesus is still there, over all of us and imploring us to not harden our hearts yet again.   To turn back to Him and let Him soften what we, in choosing our sins, have turned to stone.

 

 

For more reading:   Acts 7:36, Acts 28:25, Hebrews 9:8, Numbers 14:33, Deuteronomy 1:3, Psalm 95:7-11

Lord, soften the heart for You that I’ve hardened.   Please forgive me of my sins, and teach me Your better way.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 31 March 2016

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.  Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. Mark 16, verses 9-14.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most eye-witnessed events in antiquity.   More people gave corroborating eyewitness accounts of seeing Him alive after He was dead than people who witnessed the assassination of Julius Caesar, William Wallace’s victory at Stirling, the driving of the Golden Spike, or even the attack on Pearl Harbor.   Legends don’t have that kind of evidence.   Legends aren’t spoken of by multiple unconnected sources within a generation, but the death and resurrection of Christ was.

All too often people couch their unbelief (or dis-belief) in Jesus by saying “there’s no proof” yet I hope you’ll see that this just isn’t the case.   There are more post-resurrection accounts of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there are of the ancient kings of England, yet nobody disputes there were kings before the Anglo Saxon invasion.   In the four gospels there are more corroborating proofs of the life, death, and post-death life of Jesus than there are descriptions of Abraham Lincoln’s mother.   In the words of those who saw Him up close, there is more convincing evidence of the real existence of Jesus the Christ than there is existing evidence that proves who shot JFK.

Yet we don’t doubt any of these things while so many people doubt Jesus. What more proof do you need?

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, according to my study Bible, the earliest versions of Mark don’t contain these last few verses.   They may indeed have been added later, and they may (or may not) have been added by John Mark himself.   Like so much else in the world, we don’t know. If this bothers you, perhaps ask yourself why.   And consider this:   Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence most likely didn’t say “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Lincoln’s first draft of the Gettysburg Address may not have said “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Over a thousand years ago, at the council of Nicea, it was decided by scholars of the day that (today’s) ending of Mark fit with the rest of the book.   That’s good enough for me.

Yet when you boil down the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the proof isn’t the majesty and beauty of it.   The proof is that, by faith, you receive the miracle of His redemption.   For that no proof is needed.   It’s proof enough of itself.   Legal evidence is impeachable and potentially corrupt. Jesus isn’t.  He proved it so.

Lord Jesus, I believe in You because You are who You say You are.   Nothing more is needed.

Read Mark 16, verses 9-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 March 2016

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews. Mark 15, verses 25-26.

“We hold these truths to be self evident:”   Thomas Jefferson wrote that in the Declaration of Independence. It seems almost crazy to us that the document which founded our nation should contain these words.   It’s like they’re a big ‘duh’ to the world.   Of course freedom is self-evident.   It simply is; everyone knows that…

…except that, in 1776, everyone didn’t.   In fact, Mr. Jefferson’s statement was revolutionary beyond simply fomenting a war.   Neither common people nor government officials looked at the rights of man as self-evident.   They were things that were given by those above to those below.   Specifically, rights and freedoms were what the government or the powerful told you they were.   You didn’t have the right to free speech, or to attend the church of your choosing, or to criticize politicians, be secure in your home and possessions, to assemble peacefully, or any of the other freedoms later protected (from our government) by our Constitution.   The only thing that was self-evident was that the common man or woman was, as we would consider it today, uncommonly oppressed.

It was nothing new.   Jesus was the King of the Jews, both literally (being descended from King David, himself anointed by God) and figuratively (as God and spiritual King).   This was the title with which the Jewish chief priests had mockingly labeled Jesus.   When Pilate questioned Jesus, he asked the Lord “are you the king of the Jews” to which Jesus replied “it is right that you say I am” in a bit of masterful instruction. Pilate, too, seemed to mock Jesus with this title, yet because Pilate was a non-believing Roman, perhaps it really is so that Pilate was as much asking as he was mocking.   This side of heaven, we won’t truly know.

Yet the advertisement which Pilate had nailed to Jesus’ cross was still self-evident.   It simply was a statement of fact.   That was, in fact, what happened.   Pilate had the sign made, then nailed to the cross over Jesus’ head.   It was written in several languages, so that those who witnessed the execution would know both what the Romans thought of Jesus and the Jews, and (unwittingly) that they were executing the one true King. The sign said what it said and meant it.

It means the same thing still. Deist or not, Thomas Jefferson might just agree.

Lord Jesus, You are the one true and only King.   You are the King of the Jews.   You are the King of Eternity.   You are my King.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 March 2016

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Mark 15, verses 22-24.

Sometimes the Bible is overly dramatic. Sometimes the verses are so descriptive that it’s almost too much, almost melodramatic, like watching a Cecil B. DeMille movie.  The imagery ‘goes there,’ doesn’t leave much to the imagination.   Worldwide flood, ten plagues, talking donkey, humiliating the prophets of Baal, Philip disappearing from the eunuch, the Revelation:   name all you want, they’re sometimes a lot to swallow because, in some ways, it seems over the top.

And sometimes, as in verse 24, it’s powerfully under-played.   Consider these for words:  “and they crucified him.”   Consider those words closely because everything you know, everything on this planet, hinges on the powerful understatement they convey.

There is no salvation without the crucifixion.   You’re eternally dead in your sins, and the holy triune God of eternity doesn’t know you, can’t acknowledge you, hates your sin, and damns you forever.   There is no forgiveness, there is no happiness, there is no satisfaction, there is no love without Jesus dying on that horrible cross.   What’s more, everything you know about the world is changed.  There is no western culture without the crucifixion.   There is no church, no Protestant Reformation, no brilliant Renaissance, no Enlightenment ideals, no Declaration of Independence, no industrial revolution and western prosperity, no Western laws and traditions that support the rights of man.   Everything we know politically, economically, militarily, socially, culturally, artistically, ecclesiastically, and even physically changes, morphs into something unrecognizable, without Jesus’ death on the cross.

“And they crucified him.”   Four pretty powerful words, don’t you think?

“Oh come on, Dave.   Now you’re the one being overly dramatic!”   Really?   The crucifixion is the central event in human history; we measure culture, law and most of our activities today from it.   The events that descended from it permanently dispersed ancient Judaism, brought about the demise of the Roman Empire that crucified Him, and inspired the rise of the Western society that recognizes Him.  The systems of justice, economy and society on all seven continents are measured against the life and legacy of Jesus, culminating in His selfless sacrifice of Himself.  Everything we judge to be decent and pure, we do so because of what we know of Jesus Christ.

And in just four words, Mark describes what humanity did to its creator.   “And they crucified him,” as if is the subdued ending to a vast saga, which it was.   Those simple words are the four-word coda on the music of our soul, as if a great fugue had concluded with a still whimper, then dying notes fading into silence.

Consider the agony of being crucified, of being tortured for hours, dragged through the street in humiliation, subjected to persecution no innocent man should conceive, then having thick spikes driven repeatedly through your body. On the cross, you don’t die of blood loss, you die agonizing in asphyxiation:  you heave your body up on the spikes holding your feet to the cross, gasping just to draw a breath.  And that’s what’s up ahead.

And it changed everything.   The Romans, Jewish priests, and bystanders there at Calvary didn’t know that “and they crucified him” would soon come to mean “and it changed everything.”

It’s not a four-word coda:   it’s a symphony..

Lord Jesus, thank You for being crucified so that my soul wouldn’t be.   Thank You for doing what I can’t.   Thank You for the cross.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.