Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 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.  Hebrews 11, verses 13.

Today’s verse is a powerful conviction of the human race and an even more powerful demonstration of the grace of God.   It’s kryptonite to the world thinking of itself as Superman.  It’s a grace bomb.

Up until now, the writer of Hebrews has mentioned Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham as paragons of faith.   They were men who lived out what God asked them to do.   They weren’t better than anyone else in their day; they weren’t better than you or me.   They simply did a better job at putting all their faith in God.  He said then they believed.  They had faith that, if God said so, it would be so no matter what.  No matter what it cost them (even their lives), no matter what had to happen in the world, no matter anything, if God promised something, it would be so.   His word is more reliable than anything else.  I’ll ask you to back up a bit and consider the unspoken implications of what the verse is really saying.

Faith in God is worth dying for because when you have faith in God you’re a stranger in this strange land.

God created this place to be perfect.   It was perfect for a time, though we don’t really know how long Adam and Eve lived in Eden.  God created Adam and Eve to be perfect and they were for a time, existing in harmony with God and the nature He created.   In the Garden there was perfection and there was even evil.   Yet Adam and Eve lived perfectly with evil present until they accepted evil’s lying proposition.  After that, they (and we) embraced evil in corrupting the perfection of what God had created.   As a result, they (and we) fell out of harmony with God and the perfection He intended for us.

Sin, evil, corruption, sickness, deterioration, death:   those weren’t what the world was created for.   They are the abnormalities that have overtaken the world and made the normal perfection for which it was created abnormal.  We have become abnormal in a world that considers things truly abnormal to be normal.  The way around all this dysfunction, this frustration of God’s good plan, is faith in Him.   Putting our faith in God, in His Son, Jesus, changes the equation of abnormality back into one of true normality.   Disharmony becomes harmony again.

And to have that harmony in full again, unless Jesus returns, we have to die for it.   Loving Jesus fully means being willing to die for Him.  After all, He died for us.

The world of hate that we inherited from Adam and Eve’s idolatrous rebellion thinks itself to be above God.   The men cited here in Hebrews saw past that.   They didn’t have the benefit of the knowledge of Jesus for Jesus wouldn’t be incarnate for thousands of years.   Yet they still put their faith in this unseen God, trusting that He would redeem them from the hatred of sin.  They put their faith in Him doing what they couldn’t.   They hoped He would redeem them in this life, but trusted He would keep His promise whether in this life or the next.

My friend, Bill Brimer, likes to talk about ‘grace bombs.’   This is a big one.   It dropped right in front of you and exploded in your face.   Blew you away, in fact, with it’s power of love.  The ‘you’ that revels in the sensuality of our world is paled by the ‘you’ who is better than all that.   You’re better than all that because God re-made you to be better.   He remade you by redeeming you even when you and I distrusted Him.  His grace overcame our grudges.  He exploded his grace in your face by being His Word, by giving His word, by keeping His word, by being Himself for us.   All we have to do is believe because He does everything else and He does it because of love.   He proved it to these biblical forbearers.   He does it still.   BOOM.   Take that, wannabe Superman.

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

Lord, thank You for exploding Your grace in my face, for all You have done and do today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 November 2016

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  Hebrews 3, verse 13.

When is Today?

Ok, let’s not get TOO metaphysical here, but if you think about it, life is lived in one-second increments.   Sure, we can dissect time into even smaller increments.   But for the sake of discussion, let’s agree that one second is as small as we’ll go.  Knowing that, one second ago you were born, and in one second you’ll die.  In fact, one second ago, Adam and Eve were standing buck naked in the Garden admiring a piece of fruit.   And one second from now Jesus will be coming back on the clouds.

There are 60 seconds in one minute, 3,600 seconds in one hour, and there are 86,400 seconds on one day.   Today there will be 86,400 seconds from midnight to midnight, just like there were yesterday and, God-willing, just like there will be tomorrow.  Yet today is all we know, all we have, and we have it one second at a time.   Every person on this planet has that same increment of time, even Donald and Hillary.  Right here, right now is all we know, so that’s live it up!   Yet at risk of being vulgar, let’s do so within a few rules of discretion.

First off, let’s take the advice of the verse and encourage one another.   A friend of mine pastors a church in Carlsbad, CA.   Years ago, he told me that Barnabas, Paul’s companion, was one of his role models because Barnabas focused his ministry on encouraging others.   That’s a wonderful thing.   If you think about it, it’s one of the best of all things.  When we encourage each other, we show faith in each other.   We empathize, we love, we share, we support.   We get to be Jesus for someone who needs Him there and then.   Right now, today, this very second.

Then let’s focus on just now.   Yes, it’s a good thing to mourn and let go of things that mattered to us.   And, yes, it’s a good thing to plan for tomorrow.   But let’s keep our eyes on the fact that it’s this very second today when we’re living.   The people in our lives now are in them for reasons, sometimes transient, sometimes permanent.  But whether it’s the folks beside us in the checkout line, the annoying person in the cube beside you, that spouse who thrives on quality time, or just the face you see in the mirror, focus on living life fully with, for, and about the people God has in our lives right now.   They’re there for a reason.   They need our encouragement, our attention, and each second of our time.   It’s what Jesus would do.  Today.

Finally, let’s do these things being mindful that sin is deceitful.   Sin’s WHOLE purpose is deceit.  From that time, one second ago in Eden, sin has always sought to deceive us by lying to us.   Every sin we choose is a combination of that lie, idolatry, and something else.   That whatever else we’re doing only compounds the deceit.  In a world hardened by the harshness of that deceit, let’s be mindful that whenever we choose deceit we’re choosing to harden ourselves just a little bit more.  Choosing to accept anything other than Jesus puts a shell on the softness of our hearts.   Accepting the lie that something other than Jesus is just as good as Him puts layers on that shell.   And then whatever other action we’re doing in our sins just deepens it.  Right now there’s a better way.

Let’s live life by turning from one sin at a time.   Let’s replace the sin with hearts and eyes on Jesus, focusing on where we are now by seeing through His eyes.  One second at a time today.   Not just yesterday, maybe not tomorrow, but definitely in the here and now of today.  Today is now.

For more reading:   Hebrews 10:24-25, Jeremiah 17:9, Ephesians 4:22.

Lord God, I praise You for today and thank You for another day here on Planet Earth.   Guide and bless me through it.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 October 2016

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  Hebrews 2, verses 14-15.

How does the devil hold the power of death over you?

Another observation of the men’s retreat I attended last weekend.   The speaker, Chad Bird, made a point I had never considered before:   man’s sin went from zero to sixty in a moment.   Think about it.   The first sin recorded for us was disobedience.   Adam and Eve disobeyed God.   They made idols out of themselves and failed to trust God (who had proven His trustworthiness at all times to them).   Then they blamed each other, then they blamed God.  To us, that seems pretty innocuous.  Yet, to God, it spoke of a chasm in the human heart.

But if disobedience seems simple, the next sin recorded in Genesis wasn’t.   If you aren’t familiar with the story, Adam and Eve sin, so God provides for them but expels them from the paradise on earth that was Eden.  After awhile, they make love and have a child in the usual way; that child is Cain.   Later, they have Abel.   Remember that, just after the fall of man, God promises Adam and Eve that He will send a deliverer to them.   Since Cain was the first person given to them, isn’t it possible that they thought Cain might be that deliverer?   He was the first born child (indeed, the first child born in all humanity), and while first born children sometimes get the hardest treatment, they’re also the first born.   In the ancient world especially, that carried connotations of birthright, favored treatment, and being set apart as special.

If you consider all that, then isn’t it likely that Cain was brought up knowing it?   Maybe he was a little spoiled?  It isn’t a logical stretch to understand that Cain had a problem with ego, and that ego problem manifested itself in pride.   Cain and his brother became farmers, and when both of them decided to bring fruits of their labor to God, Cain’s pride burned into resentment.   His brother, Abel, selected the best of his sheep herd, then slaughtered it in sacrifice to God.   Cain, on the other hand, simply selected some nice crops and said “good enough” for his sacrifice.  Result:   God looked with favor on Abel’s offering and with scorn on Cain’s.  It wasn’t the produce:   it was the heart.

Result from that:  chasm and chaos.  Cain murdered his brother.   Sin 1:  disobedience.   Sin 2:  murder.  Zero to sixty in the space of a few verses.

Flash forward to our so called modern day.  Your flesh and mine aren’t any different from Cain’s (or Adam’s or Eve’s).   We suffer the same emotions and temptations they did.   While they never had the internet or indoor plumbing or supermarkets like we do, we have never enjoyed face to face relations with the Almighty the way they did (nor the simplicity of life lived at its most basic level).  Satan isn’t very original.   Jesus said he is the father of liars, that he has been a liar from the time of creation.  Lies and deception are still Satan’s primary weapons against us…because they’re effective!   They drove wedges between Adam & Eve & Cain & Abel and their God; they drive wedges into our relationships today.   All our sins today start with the casual idolatry of Satan’s lies and how we choose to believe them.   Disobedience, murder, cheating, adultery, stealing; pick your pet sin:   they’re all based on simple tricks that Satan has used for centuries.   We’re tempted and we fall time and time again.  As a result, we die to God with every disobedience.   Die enough and it’ll become permanent.

Yet the same Jesus who allows us to live in a world where we are tempted by Satan all day is the same Jesus who asks us to put our trust in Him alone because all blessings flow from Him:   the same way they did in the days of Cain and Abel.   He overcame death on Calvary, rendering spiritual death meaningless for those who would use their lives here to trust Him.  He took away the power of Satan’s cunning lies and offered mankind the better way.   Jesus made right what Adam, Eve, and Cain had taken wrong when they first trusted Satan’s deceptions.

We don’t know what happened to Cain.    He wasn’t the promised deliverer, though in reality God delivered him.   Cain absorbed the consequences of his actions, first focusing on his own selfishness but then, perhaps, later on something more.   God put a mark on him so that other people wouldn’t kill him, and that mark was really a kind of blessing because it gave Cain the opportunity to reflect and turn back to God.   Genesis tells of him building cities, and fathering other people (some good, some not).   At some point, he (obviously) died; we don’t know when.   His death meant that Satan’s power of sin resulted in punishment, namely that death.  Yet it also meant God delivered Cain and each of us from further influence by Satan.   He has no power over the dead; only God does.

For more reading:   1 Corinthians 15:50, Ephesians 6:12, John 1:14, Genesis 3:15, 1 Corinthians 15: 54-57, 2 Timothy 1:10, 1 John 3:8.

Lord, help me to resist the power of the devil in my life today.   When I am tempted, help me to choose You and Your path of peace instead of Satan’s lies and death.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 September 2016

They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.   You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.  Hebrews 1, verses 11-12.

A few days ago I shared that I believe creation is how the universe was created, how any reasonable discussion about the facts of evolution and creation will logically lead an intellectually honest person back to creation as that only logical explanation.

Now, in our best “Meatballs” moment, let’s all say this together:   “it just doesn’t matter.”

It doesn’t matter because what was created will be destroyed.   All that was created will be un-created by the same God who created it, all in His own time and by His design.   We don’t have control over that:   He does.   When He gives the word, it’ll happen.   You and I can rail against that, insisting that we, the created, should have a say in how He gains His glory, but the fact is we don’t have a say in it.   Only He does.   And when it’s said and done, He’ll still be and we can be with Him there.

Isaiah prophesied: “All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.”  Psalm 102, written years before Isaiah, says also “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.  Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

So, say it with me again:   it just doesn’t matter.   There.   We’re sounding more like Bill Murray every time.

Now remind yourself of a few things.  Consider that Isaiah’s words were a promise.   They were God-inspired and bound to happen.   Remember that the Psalm is a hymn of praise as well as a statement of obvious fact.  But most of all, remember that this section of Hebrews establishes praise for Jesus because of His supremacy over all creation.   The author of the book has already tied Jesus back to creation and Eden themselves.   Now he’s saying that Jesus will oversee the end of all He created yet, after that end, Jesus will remain.   Therein is the hope of the world.

Huh?   The world that we’re talking about dissolving, perishing, destroying, changing has hope after all that has happened?   You betcha.  Not only hope, but the PROMISE, the guarantee, of eternal life.   Hope isn’t just some wishing well or some David Copperfield trick.   It’s a promise, the expectation of a fulfilled agreement.   God gave us the hope that He would endure past all that we know and trust and that, because of this, we can be sure of living forever.   He who is eternal assures us that, because He who is all love and purity endures past time and matter, we who put our trust in Him will live with Him when time and matter cease to be.

And cease they will.   Quote me on this (even tell my atheist friend):   sometimes I think the story of creation’s beginning and end is a giant head game.   I mean, God simply IS and He’s over everything because He created and can control everything.  The ending has already been determined and advertised.  It’s a foregone conclusion that, in the end, evil will be destroyed, Satan will be destroyed, everything that was corrupted by sin will be destroyed.   When that’s done, God will reshape it into something new, perhaps something like the world of Adam and Eve.  This will all again be a paradise where Jesus will once again commune with us, face to face and God-man to man.   There won’t be the taint of sin; there won’t be any anger, violence, or separation from Him.  Those things will have ended and what will remain will be only what God has ordained:   Himself (and His perfect love) and those who have loved Him.   We’ll endure not because of anything we’ve done, but because He made it possible.

Whatever worldly things we trust now just won’t matter anymore.  Things won’t matter.   Parties and plans won’t matter.  Long trips, schedules, project plans, bills, DVR shows, Bill Murray movies, weather forecasts, blogs, iPhones, and steak & shrimp on the menu just won’t matter.   What will matter will be Jesus and holding His hand there in love throughout all eternity.

For more reading:   Isaiah 34:4, Psalm 102: 25-27.

Lord Jesus, only You matter.   Thanks for Your promise of living forever in the world You’ll make new.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 March 2016

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14, verse 72.

Do you ever wonder how Adam felt after the fall?   Do you think he might have lived out the rest of his life in regret over making such a small, foolish choice that made all the difference in the world?   Adam and Eve had lived in perfect harmony with God and with each other. They had lived their lives exactly as God had intended for humanity to live: in unifying communion with Him, enjoying His glory, His creation, and His love without end. Then Adam chose sin.   He chose the thing that would separate Him from God by believing something other than God.   Do you think that Adam lived out the rest of his life regretting that moment?   Or was he too busy learning how to live in this post-sin world to give it much thought?   We’ll never know…but we know the feeling.

What about one-term presidents? George H.W. Bush, Carter, Ford, Hoover, Taft, Benjamin Harrison, Arthur, Hayes, Andrew Johnson, Buchanan, Pierce, Fillmore, Polk, Tyler, Van Buren, and both son and father John Adams:   these are the men who were one-term presidents and alive at the end of those terms.   Polk vowed to serve only one term; Tyler was dumped by his party.   The rest stood for re-election and lost.   I’ve read that Bush and Carter spent time after losing re-election in depression.   It must be a terribly hard thing to be president and be rejected by the people you’ve dedicated your life to serve. Do you think the others regretted having run and lost?

What about your sins?   Do you regret them?   I’ve done some pretty heinous things, and I honestly wish I could take them back, to un-do them and live in different ways.   I try to not live in regret but sometimes it bubbles up and overwhelms me.

Maybe this is a taste of how Peter felt.   Peter broke down and wept when the impact of his sins hit him square on in the gob.   When was the last time you genuinely wept?   Me, it was the time I watched my family drive away after my sins of infidelity finally caught up with me.

End game: let’s forget how me, you, Adam, the presidents or Peter felt. Put all those feelings aside because remember this: ‘it’s not about me.’   It’s not about me because it’s about Jesus.   We can navel-gaze all day long and try to analyze how or why we feel the way we do about things.   Strip away that navel gazing and we’ll find that it isn’t about us.   Our self-focus is just idolatry, just another way for the old Adam to choose anything but God.   How did Jesus feel when Peter proved Him right?   How did Jesus feel looking down from the cross at John and the Mary’s there knowing He was powerless (by choice) to do anything to help them or stop what was happening?   How does Jesus feel when I choose to mess up a hundred times every day? More important, how does Jesus feel now knowing that He remembers my sins no more because of His atoning sacrifice at Calvary?   THAT matters most.

Thinking about that, it doesn’t matter how we feel.   It’s about Jesus.   Anything else isn’t Him.

Lord Jesus, may every minute I live today be focused on You and only You.

Read Mark 15, verses 1-15.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 26 February 2016

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14, verses 60-62.

Words mean things, and the way, order, and even the cadence in which Jesus replies to the chief priest here matters very, very much.   Jesus deliberately said exactly what He said to state not only some powerful truths but also to offer the erring high priest yet another lifeline.

Men versus God; the age-old conflict.   Notice how the high priest talks about what men are doing. He doesn’t believe this Jesus is God, that Jesus is the Son of Man who He claims to be.   Since the days of Aaron, it had been the high priest’s life to revere God, to live his life in service to God.   Each priest had awaited and anticipated the coming of the Christ, the deliverer sent to redeem Israel from its sins. Now there came a man who said He was the Christ, who proved He was the Christ, whose followers believed He was the Christ. What does the high priest do?   He falls back on “what did these men x or y?”   Would we do the same?

I am.   That’s a powerful thing. In a way, Jesus was just answering the question in the affirmative; that’s true.   Yet this translation of the Bible says something extraordinary because, when one of the ancient Jews would answer this particular question the way Jesus did, He was (once again) proclaiming Himself to be God by taking on Himself God’s holy name.   Remember that Moses asked God what name he should use when the Israelites asked who God was and God answered “I AM.   Tell them I AM has sent you.”   In being asked if He was the promised divine Messiah, Son of God, Jesus answered not only “yes” but using I AM as His own title.   To an unbelieving priest, that would be heresy worthy of death.

You will see.   This is a promise.   Jesus knew what was happening, that this little drama was going to conclude at Calvary.   He was using what time He had now, with the authorities, to tell them what would happen.   It wasn’t just a prophecy about His resurrection. It was also a promise that they, even though they disbelieved Him, would see Him clearly revealed as who He said He is in the time to come.   It’s a promise for us as well.

Finally, “coming on the clouds,” predicting His eventual post-resurrection return.   It’s not different from how God Himself predicted Jesus’ eventual victory on the cross (now at hand in Mark) from the very instant He confronted Adam and Eve in the Garden. Jesus doesn’t give them a day; none is needed.   Instead, He tells them how to know it’s real, to understand that this is a fact and that God will reveal it in this way in His own due time.

In all of these words, Jesus spoke out of love, offering His beloved, yes the priests, a way out and the hope of salvation even as they conspired to violently end His life.

Lord, thank You for all You said and did for these people.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.