Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 September 2017

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12, verse 3.

I become easily depressed.   It doesn’t take much to get me down, and sometimes I don’t even realize I’m in a funk even when I am.   Sometimes my wife will ask me “what’s wrong” and I didn’t even realize I was showing a face that showed anything was bothering me.  Sometimes, depression seems like walking in a dark forest, wandering down a path you’ve wandered before and not knowing how you’ll get out alive.

And then I read a verse like this one.   I’ll admit:  sometimes these words seem like just trite.   In a way they seem like they aren’t enough to snap me out of my depression.   They’re almost a euphemism.  When I get to feeling like that, it’s time to step back and look at the forest for the trees.  Looking at just the one verse, it’s a tree.   Jesus lived and died a tough life and death.   So what?   What about me.  How do I get around this big tree?   It’s so much bigger than me, and it’s so cold in here, and dark, and I’ll admit I sometimes still get scared of the dark.

Back up a few steps…look at a few trees together…

Consider Him.   Really, truly consider Him.  He didn’t deserve the cross.  We of the twenty-first century First World focus on “fair.”   “It isn’t fair” are some of our favorite words, especially when we’re depressed.   Have you considered it wasn’t fair for Jesus to give up the beautiful perfection of heaven to come here and live?   Have you considered how He felt sometimes, knowing He was God but living among people openly hostile to Him (some of whom were even His closest friends)?   Have you considered how terrified, anguished and in pure agony he felt being tortured to death by people He could extinguish with just a thought?   None of that seems very fair.

On your hardest days, have you or I ever truly considered the man Jesus living here among us, let alone the man Jesus living now at the right hand of God the Father?

Back up a few steps more…there are a few more trees, a few more things to consider…

Consider Jesus losing heart.   He did, you know.   That last night of His life, in Gethsemene, He was scared to death.   He wanted anything but the cross, anything but the torment of being ripped away from God while fully being God in the moment.   Only He could understand the physical and spiritual agony of it and it terrified Him completely.  What He wanted more was to submit to His Father, and that made all the difference in the world.   Literally.  And consider when He wept.   He did, you know.   He wept – crying, inconsolable grief – when His friend, Lazarus died.   Have you ever cried because someone you loved died?   Jesus did, and He was God.

Keep backing up a few more steps…it’s starting to look like the beginning of a forest…

Consider that the God-man who didn’t deserve the cross, who didn’t deserve the torture, who fully experienced all the emotional agony that you or I could know lived that extraordinary life so that you could live your ordinary life by taking your lead from Him.  It’s easy to lose heart in this world.   It’s easy to get down when really tough things plague you.   Often you don’t do anything and still the blues hit you.  Sometimes that depression can seem like a spinning weight, pulling you down into emotional black water that you just can’t seem to swim out of.   Consider, then, that you aren’t alone in it.  At your very toughest moment, when every other human deserts you and your thoughts seem to close in on you like walls, Jesus is there.   He’s in your heart; He’s in your conscience.   He beckons you to put hope in Him, hope being a promise and not just some wish.   He listens, He conveys peace to you, He gets you through the moment.   Sometimes, when every day seems piled high with interminable moments, well, sometimes the first step on the road back to peace is realizing Jesus is there with us.

Sometimes there’s a tree planted in front of you, but when you and your Lord back up a few steps, you realize He’s with you there in the forest.   And that a forest is just a bunch of trees.   It’s dark there in the forest, but it doesn’t have to be.   Hold onto His Hand and consider Him.   He’s walked around a few trees in His time.   He’s been in the dark forest, and wherever He is, there’s light.  Hold onto that light; hold Him by the hand, and walk forward through the forest passing one tree at a time.   Before you know it, you’ll be on a different path to something and some place better.   Sometimes, that’s a great place to start.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:9, Revelation 2:3.

My Lord, You sustain me in the toughest times.   You guide me, You forgive me, You uphold me.   When I consider You, I I can only feel awesome humble thankfulness.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 May 2017

Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10, verse 17.

Jesus is talking about wiping the slate clean. That’s a concept we, in our so-called modern world, desperately want.

I’ve been depressed lately.   Really, truly, deeply depressed.   It’s likely a delayed reaction to too many big things happening in my life too quickly.   Job loss, new job; anger over losing the old job, frustration with learning the new one; 2 new grandkids in four months; 2 kids living at home in the same six month period; financial woes; running into the city almost every weekend; missing my old travel job and the control I thought I had over my life; an ever-growing list of chores here on the farm   Guilt over past sins that just doesn’t seem to go away; feeling inadequate in everything I do, that no matter what I do it’s never enough or never good enough for my wife or my family or my team.   Feeling overwhelmed even by small things.

That’s all been me over the last few months, actually more like the last year since I went on the bench in my previous job.   I feel so frustrated over so many things, and I feel powerless to actually do anything substantial to change them.   Yes, it’s a lie because God gives us the power to make changes where we are now.   He is always with me; He is always actively involved even when it seems like Satan’s attacks are making progress in bringing me down.   I know all that is true:   I simply still feel so down over all of it and more.

Some of what bothers me isn’t my fault; I’m innocent of much, maybe even most of it.   Yet if I’m going to be truly honest, all of the things that plague me stem from some kind of sin, either mine or someone else’s.   All dysfunction and strife in the world stems from some kind of sin, either now or in the distant past, even sins that aren’t our own.  The Bible says that all creation is frustrated by man’s sin.   Taking that thought to its logical end, when Adam and Eve first fell, their sin set into motion violence, disease, weather patterns, disasters, and other ‘natural’ phenomena that affect us today.   If you think that’s possible, then perhaps it’s possible for the sins of 7 billion souls alive now affect this planet still.

I know, wacky stuff.   It’s kind of a stretch; it’s kind of crazy to think about it…even if it’s true.  The goodness of God with us in Eden kept sin away, but man’s embrace of sin unleashed these terrors into a place never intended to know them.

Here’s some good news, then.   Jesus will remember our sins no more.   When Jesus moved His Spirit into my heart, He ended the residency of sin.   He drove it out and away.   He wiped the slate clean and in His mind’s eye, they don’t even exist anymore.  He did that in me here and now.   Later, when Jesus returns to renew this corrupted planet, He will remember our sins and lawless acts no more.   He will remake nature; He will wipe out crime; He will change everything we know about living in this place. And in doing so, He will make it so that the things that plague us will never plague us again.   It will be as if they had never happened.

When I get down, I cling to remembering this.   Sure, I do the things to try to beat back the darkness.   I make realistic lists of things to do and work to get them done, then pat myself on the back for doing so.   I remind myself that I’m doing my best.   I remember that the past no longer exists, and the future hasn’t yet happened.   But most of all, I remember that Christ is in my heart and hurts when I hurt.  That He hurt more than I could know for pains like I feel these days.  That He died to make my hurt a thing of the past, and that His death means my sins and lawless acts are remembered no more.

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

My Lord, abide with me when I get depressed.   Help me through the dark days, and comfort me with knowing You don’t hold my sins and acts against me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 22 November 2016

 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  Hebrews 4, verse 13.

This is a season of struggling.  The holidays shouldn’t be that way, I know, but I find myself emotionally struggling this year.  Job stress, money woes, heavy schedule, health worries, family busy-ness, personal issues:  I feel tapped out, like I could use a really good cry.  I know I’m not the only one.   Just this morning I talked with someone else who’s feeling pressured and struggling as well.   Yeah, it’s a symptom of sin; got skin got sin got problems.   All true, but let’s not pig-pile more onto the situation; there’ll be time to have that talk later.   For now, I’ll say that I’m struggling.   You might be as well.

God knows all of it.   Nothing about it is hidden from Him.  He understands that I’m depressed and hurting inside and that I feel like the world is beating me up right now.   He understands that you’re juggling so many things and sometimes feel like the walls are closing in on you.   God knows all of what you’re feeling because, like verse 13 says, nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight.   He sees into our thoughts the same way He sees every leaf fall from every tree.

You can’t run away from your problems and you can’t run away from God.  When God told Jonah to go preach repentance in Ninevah, Jonah got scared and tried to run.   That only delayed facing the problem Jonah needed to face.   But he found he couldn’t run away from God.   Wherever Jonah went, whether in the port, on the boat, in the fish, or finally in Ninevah, Jonah learned that God was with him.

Thinking about that, perhaps the problem that Jonah had to address wasn’t the sinful people of Ninevah.   Maybe it was a little closer to home.  After all, the author of Hebrews would one day comment on the obvious:  everything is uncovered and laid bare before God.   We and we alone are responsible for the things we think, say, and do.   Sure, we can find ourselves swept up in things beyond our control.   Or sometimes others seem to force us to do things we might not otherwise do.   Or sometimes bad things happen around us.   Yet there’s just no denying that, whatever your pet sin might be, you and I alone are responsible for stepping over the line and into something that displeases God.   We own our sins, and God can see all of them.   He insists we be responsible for them, that we answer for them when He says “what do you have to say about all that.”   That question will come at the end of every human life.  How will you answer?

You can answer “I believe in Your Light, Lord.”   The light will shine on you then because He shines on you now.   Don’t forget the verse from Daniel, where it is said that God “reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.”   Yes, God sees and knows everything and, yes, He sees our hidden sins, our buried guilt, and our not-so-buried worries and cares.   Yes He does and will demand we, as mature adults, accept accountability for our wrongdoings.  Yet He doesn’t see things to lord them over us.   He sees to REVEAL, to KNOW, and for His LIGHT.   God came to us in Jesus to shine light into the darkness of the things that plague us.   He came to see our sins, then to remove the consequences of them.  He shines light on the black mold that rots us from within and begins to scour it away with the healing purity of His light and love.   When you are called on by your Creator to answer for the millions of sins you’ll commit in your life, your Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace will shine on you in grace and mercy, covering over the darkness of sin and erasing it with the warm love of light.

He does it even now.   Yes, I am emotionally struggling this season, perhaps more so than at any other holiday time in my life.   Right now it seems even harder than when my parents died (and they each died during the fall-times leading up to Christmas).   Yet I know it’s true that Jesus is still with me, still guiding me even when I feel like my emotions are overtaking me.   Sometimes “Lord help me” is enough to remind me that He actually is helping.   He’s with me, shining His light on me even when I’m too focused on the dark struggles to see it.

For more reading:   Psalm 33:13-15, Proverbs 5:21, Jeremiah 16:17, Daniel 2:22, Jonah 1:3.

Father God and Son and Spirit, I pray for Your help in these days.   Shine Your love-light on me and let me be a lens through which You can shine it into others as well.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 July 2015

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Mark 9, verse 20.

In the face of real human tragedy, suffering, terror, and the uncertainty of a world spinning out of control, evil always surrenders to Jesus Christ.   It always has; it always will.   At the end of time, the love of Jesus will triumph and grow, while the pity of evil will be consigned to be banished forever.

Buzz, Tom, Mark, and Eric.   Those are the names of four men close to me who have battled cancer in the last few years.   Two of them lost the battle; one is in the ICU right now, fighting; one is in chronic treatment.   Cancer is evil; there’s no other way to adequately describe it.   Statistically speaking, more folks are dying of cancer today, probably because other diseases have been eradicated or are under control.   But when it comes, it comes with insidious evil.   Yet don’t forget this key point: cancer is subject to Jesus, and if Jesus wants to confront your cancer, your cancer loses.

Nuclear deal with Iran. Our nation has negotiated deal with the devil because the devil in Iran has said, over and over, that they want to acquire nuclear weapons to use them against America and America’s allies.   I don’t know what our leaders are thinking, assuming that there are rational people in control in Iran but the fact is there aren’t.   They’re fanatics and they want to destroy us.   And they may get that chance…but let’s not forget something critical:   against Jesus, nuclear weapons, fanatical Muslims, and lame-brained agreements that aren’t worth the paper they’re signed on are powerless and futile.

Changing dynamics in America. In case you haven’t noticed, of late, American society has gone through some pretty hefty social upheavals.   The government has reached farther into peoples’ lives than any time since the 1930s.   Gay marriage has been legalized, and racial tensions are at highs not seen in forty years.   Compared to Jesus these are meaningless and don’t matter one single bit.

Depression that comes and goes. I’ve battled depression all my life.   Maybe it stems from trying to please an overbearing mother and a disinterested father.   Perhaps I’m trying to work past my own insecurities. It could be that depression really is just a neuro-chemical imbalance; I honestly don’t know.   And I honestly could care less because it doesn’t matter.   Jesus is stronger than my depression.   In fact, His love and His hope are the only real cure for it.

None of this should be surprising. The boy who was demon possessed was brought to Jesus. Before Jesus could even speak to it, the demon threw the boy into convulsions.   It could see that Jesus was more powerful than anything it could conjure. The best that our worldly troubles can do is cancer, war, upheaval, and hurt; the best evil could do to the boy was to torture him from within.   Yet those evil troubles are powerless against Jesus and they know it.   It shouldn’t surprise us when evil plagues us; evil preys on us when we’re weak.   And it shouldn’t, then, surprise us how evil cowers in terror when exposed to the love, hope and peace of Jesus.

Lord Jesus, You are stronger than anything.   You are stronger than the evils that plague me.   Work in my life to overcome them, and help me work for You to help others overcome theirs.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.