Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2017

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12, verse 11.

A few more thoughts about this verse before moving on from it.  Life ‘hurts so good’ and we endure pain that can discipline us.  Pain can either break us or make us; talk about a cliché yet it’s true.  Pain made my parents and it disciplined their path home.

I’m going through a tough time right now.  I don’t want to share details at the moment but it’s a time of dread, anxiety, and uncertainty.  It seems like God is disciplining me for things I’ve done, almost like it’s punishment.   Bad decisions, risky gambles, and poor choices seem to be coming home to roost, and I’ve felt more down in the last few days than I’ve felt in years.  I take heart, however, in words like verse 11, knowing that God’s discipline is given to me in order to build discipline.   In this season of change, He’s changing things in my life to prepare for something else, something good.   When I think of it that way then things don’t seem so bleak.  When I think about the pain of these days, I think there’s something better just up ahead.

I think about my dad.   I’ve said before that I grew up thinking my dad was less than he was.  It was only when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer that I saw just how iron-strong he really was.   It wasn’t just Dad’s strength:   it was God’s strength in him.  Dad endured disfiguring surgeries, painful radiation, and sickening, weakening chemotherapy.  He had always been a handsome man, but the cancer treatment robbed him of his looks.   Dad loved to sing and listen to music, but the treatment made both unpleasant.   And even his hobby, watching movies, seemed to be badly affected because it was tough for him to sit still for long periods of time with his body trying in vain to heal.   Or even to see.  But I never heard him complain about it, not even once.   The week before he died, we were talking and he said “I don’t want this but I’ve got it.   I know where I’m going and I know it’ll be ok.”   Is that the expression of a man resigned to a death-fate, or is it the faith of a dying man expressing knowledge that God is in control?   I will always know it was the latter.

And I think about my mom.   By her choice, she spent the last year of her life in assisted living, moving to Texas to live in care and to be near some of her grand-kids.  Quite honestly though, I spent much of that year mad at her.   It had fallen to me to clean out her house and renovate it for sale:   a monumental task.   My wife and sister helped a lot, and my son and son in law helped with the move, but most of the physical, financial, and emotional work was mine.   In the last week of her life, Mom called me several times per day, asking me to come over to her new place and do things, check on things.   In-between her calls and my work, I felt frazzled and exhausted.  On the night she fell ill, her heart started racing and wouldn’t slow down.   I took her to the hospital and they admitted her.   Even though I knew inside that something was happening, I took it for granted that she would recover because she always had.   A few hours later, she had a massive heart attack and was put on life support.   A few hours after that, she briefly regained consciousness.   Confused at first, she quickly understood what was happening and spent her last few waking moments saying goodbyes, giving forgiveness and praise to people who needed it, and even telling a few jokes.   She died a few hours later.   I will always know she went home to heaven because she had expressed to me over many years her faith in God.   In her last moments, she was accepting and ready.

Please excuse all the times I’ve referred to myself in this missive.   I wanted you to know how these good people passed from this life to the next.   They did it with Godly dignity and realistic courage.  Mom died quickly; Dad lingered for months.   Both of them knew the pain of debilitation, and the pain of worry over how to meet their human responsibilities.  Yet the real love of God was stronger for both of them, and when it mattered most, the pain paled in comparison.  I don’t like the things that are happening in my life now, but when equipped with the God-loving faith my parents taught me, I know that the pain is only temporary.   That what I believe is stronger, and that the things of this world, in God’s good time, will pass.

For further reading:  Isaiah 32:17, James 3:17-18, Romans 5:3-5.

My Lord, abide with me and all who hurt.   Love us and forgive us and help us to do the work You set before us.  Help us to trust you more.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 23 August 2017

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.  Hebrews 11, verse 29.

If pop culture wrote the Bible, this verse might say, “by faith they all survived the eclipse of 2017.”  Did you see the eclipse in America this week?  From all the media hype, one might have thought the world was ending.   From what really happened, it was a cool astrophysical yawn.  As are all such things, in fact.  They’re predicted by mathematics (itself a wondrously baffling knowledge gift from God).  Any astronomer who didn’t want to be on TV could have told you that, barring a miracle, the moon would pass between the Sun and the Earth without incident.   Animals (like reporters) would get a little freaked out by the mid-day darkness, but most everything would hum along just fine, which is what happened.  Eclipses happen about every 18 months or so someplace across the Earth.   This one was unique because it would be visible by the easily sensitive US media.  Unusual but, in reality, no big deal.

Unlike crossing the Red Sea, which wasn’t witnessed by the network news.   Four thousand or more years after it happened, we’re still talking about it (but the media isn’t).   We’re still talking about it because Moses, who wrote the book of Exodus, recorded for us what happened.

You know the account.   Pharaoh finally obeyed God’s command to free Israel from slavery.   Yet Pharaoh also soon developed a royal case of buyer’s remorse.   He summoned his army and they set out to chase the departing Israelites.   When the Israelites found themselves bounded on one side by the approaching Egyptian host and on the other by the unmovable Red Sea, God delivered a miracle.   He moved the Sea, cleared a path, and dried up the ground.   Israel quickly hurried through, followed in close pursuit by the Egyptians.   When the last Israelite was clear of the ocean, God closed up the Sea over the Egyptian Army and drowned them.

All because of faith.

Faith?   I thought it was because of God!   Of course it was because of God, but the reason the Israelites made it through and the Egyptians died was that Israel had faith in God.  They believed God would deliver them and He did.   The Egyptians, despite four hundred years of exposure to the faith of the Israelites, had no faith in God.   So God turned them over to the consequences of their unbelief and they drowned.   Would they have lived if they had faith?   Who knows; ask the Lord.   I like to think that, if God saved Israel because of its faith, He would have saved anyone else who believed.

Can you imagine hurrying through the walled up Red Sea?   Walls of sheer, rushing water held back by, it would have seemed, nothing.   The noise, the spray, the terror of walking through such power on display:  if you didn’t believe in God when you stepped down onto that path, you would have definitely believed on the other side.   Perhaps there never was before or never has been since such a muscular display of God’s raw power.  Perhaps, that is, until that first Easter Sunday.  But that wouldn’t come for most of another two millennia.  We know about Jesus’ resurrection and the power of God displayed in it, the power of God over death.   All Israel got to see His power on display over war, specifically that army which designed to bring war and death upon them had death brought on itself instead.  The best made plans of the unbelieving Pharaoh were, once again, made to not be so.

Just like it wasn’t to be this week that the world would end because the moon traveled between us and the Sun.   Out here in East Texas, it got dark during the peak time.   I made a pinhole viewer and saw the obscured sun through that pinhole.   I also saw the crescent shapes outlined in tree leaf shadows on the ground.   Stupid me, I forgot to look through a welding helmet.   But I and so many others had faith that this was just a natural phenomena, a display of God’s power of astronomy, gravity, and interplanetary motion.  Come to Texas in 2024 for the next one.   I hope we don’t have to view it while on the run from armed charioteers.

For further reading:  Exodus 14:21-31.

Lord God, thank You for the miracle You did in saving the Israelites at the Red Sea.   Thank You for preserving this story of faith for us here today.

 

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.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 July 2017

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  Hebrews 11, verses 5-6.

Do you know the story of Enoch?   Outside of the Bible, to our society today, he’s pretty irrelevant.  From Genesis 5:  “When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.  After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”   So let’s recap.   Compared to the others in the line from Adam to Noah, Enoch didn’t live very long (only365 years) and he had kids when he was a “young” man of 65.   Enoch was the father of Methuselah (who is recorded as having lived 969 years:  longer than any other human in history).   He had other unnamed children.   And Enoch “walked with God.”

In the rest of the narrative, that phrase matters.   None of the other men or women in the narrative (from Adam to Noah) are said to have “walked with God.”  My Concordia Bible reminds that “walking with God” is different from merely living.   Seth, the child of promise after Cain murdered Abel, isn’t said to have walked with God.   Not long-lived Methuselah, and not his son, Lamech, who became the father of Noah.  Only Noah is said to have also ‘walked with God’ and that was long after Enoch.

It wasn’t for not knowing God.   Genesis 4 says that, around the time of Seth, men began to call on the name of the Lord.  This means that men and women knew God and knew they depended on God.   Adam and Eve had known God perfectly and had rejected Him.   Their son, Abel, had known and understood God, but had been killed by his envious brother.   Cain knew God face to face and flaunted Him.   Cain’s brother, Seth, and then Seth’s children and children’s children all knew God and started to call on Him for things He would do and provide.  Yet they didn’t walk with God.   Only Enoch did that.

We can’t know for certain how many people were on the Earth in those days.   A website, https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/how-was-the-world-populated/, mathematically postulates that the pre-flood world population could have been massive by the time of the flood; at least as much as the 6 billion people alive now.  That makes for a great many people who knew God, or at least knew of Him, yet the Bible says only Enoch walked with God.   Enoch believed in God, put his faith in God, trusted God all through his 365 years. Enoch lived to seek God, to know God more.  Not until King David many centuries later is there a person mentioned in the Bible who sought God’s heart this way.  At the end of His life, Enoch didn’t die.   Like Elijah the prophet, God simply took Enoch.   One second he was here and the next second he wasn’t.  That’s a rare gift from a graceful God since the Bible records it happened to only one other person.

Knowing God isn’t enough.   Instead of simply knowing of Him, which even un-believers do, we need to believe in Him, to put our faith and trust in Him.  We NEED to do as Enoch did.  Instead of simply saying “I believe in God” because “In God We Trust” is on our money, we need to believe in God in such a way that we let Him become a truly intimate partner in our lives.   We involve ourselves with Him.  We talk with Him.   We plan with Him.   We cry, obsess, think, scream, laugh, and do everything with Him.   Like Enoch, we learn to walk with God.   We our faith in God and this pleases Him because we do so from the heart.

Maybe it was easier for Enoch.   Maybe God walked and talked with Enoch the way He had with his ancestors Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel.   Or maybe not; Scripture doesn’t say and, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters to us is walking with God.

For further reading:  Genesis 5:21-24, Hebrews 7:19.

Lord, I pray, let me walk with You today.   Walk with me today that I might know You more and model my day in Your way.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 July 2017

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.  Hebrews 11, verses 4.

Yesterday we explored how faith is truth.   Today let’s talk about the first person in the Word who is remembered for believing that.

Read the story of Abel in Genesis 4.   We don’t know much about Abel beyond his birth, his vocation, and his death.   He was the second-born child to Adam and Eve.  Abel was a shepherd, and he loved the Lord.   He proved His love for the Lord by offering the best of his possessions as a sacrifice.

Stop and consider that.   In a time when humanity was only beginning, before communities, before commerce, before money, before crime, and even before most families, Abel saw fit to offer worship to God by sacrificing the best of his flock of sheep (“the fat portions” from “the firstborn”).   He recognized that the only thing he could offer in worship to his creator was all he had.   He gave the best and he gave it from his heart.

Then he gave his life for that.   His brother, Cain, murdered him for it.  In truth, Cain murdered Abel because of Cain’s own sin. Idolatry, greed, rage, and envy took hold in the older brother so much that they consumed him and planted the idea of murder in Cain’s heart.   Whatever his motivation, Cain killed his brother because his brother had done what he, Cain, had not.

Thousands of years later, when we talk about this story, we don’t just talk about Cain:   we talk about “Cain and Abel.”   We use their account as the ultimate story of how sin can divide loved ones.    Cain lived a long life after he murdered his brother.  God put a mark on Cain so that everyone would know who he was and would shy away from him.  We know he became the father of a tribe, the builder of cities, and a ‘great’ man known for his actions.   We don’t know how he died; he may have died as an old man, or even when the flood drowned everything other than the beings on the ark.

Yet it was Abel who we remember.  The writer of Hebrews commends Abel – not Adam, Eve, Cain, or Seth the younger brother Abel never met – as being righteous.   He does so because Abel demonstrated faith in God that God would accept the blood of his sacrifice as fitting.   Indeed, God, who still walked the earth with people even then, regarded Abel’s gift as good while rejecting Cain’s as not.   You and I can identify with Cain, who may have thought he was giving God his best when all he was doing was giving God what he wanted.   Cain gave God leftovers:  Abel gave God his best and his all.

Many billions of people later, do we do any different than Cain?   Do you or I give our very best to God every day?  Most obviously, do we do so in our tithes and offerings?   More to the point, do we give God our best in our work, in how we live with our families, in how we relate to other people?   Do we put God first in our thoughts and ask Him to be involved in everything we think, say, or do?   Abel did and it cost him his life.

Are you prepared to go that far?   Abel was.

For further reading:  Genesis 4:4, 1 John 3:12, Hebrews 12:24.

My Lord, thank You for the story of Abel.   May I be as willing as he was to give my all to you, to dedicate the best in my life only to you.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 July 2017

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is see was not made out of what was visible.  Hebrews 11, verses 3.

Let’s start at the beginning; God and the writer of Hebrews did.  Faith is understanding and understanding comes from faith.  God formed something from nothing.  God formed things by commanding it to happen, by speaking.  We can know this is true because of having faith in Him and His Word.   When we do that, we understand a little of God’s will in our lives.

That’s it.   Any questions?

This all matters because, if you don’t have faith in Jesus, that’s it.  As Madeline might have said “that’s all there is.   There is no more.”   Reject Jesus and at the moment you meet Him face to face, you learn you’re out of time to say “I believe.”  Embrace Him now and you don’t ever have to worry about Him saying “away from me.”  Fear and coercion:   should we believe in Jesus out of fear?   Not at all.  We should believe in Jesus because what He says is true and reliable.

You can believe whatever you about how the world came to be, but if you believe anything but Divine Creation, know this:   creation by God isn’t disproven.   If you’re honest about science, you end up admitting that science and creation are mutually exclusive.   While most non-creation stories regularly present evidence contradicting others, the creation account is whole and not refuted by anything in it.   Hebrews 11 affirms that by confirming how our faith in God creating everything is a reassurance of this.   We can believe in God’s account of what He did because He doesn’t give us any reason or evidence to disprove Him.   When He says “trust me,” He proves Himself worthy of our trust.

In the end, putting your faith in Him is all that matters.   When you and I stand before Him at the end of this life, before we embark on what’s after, our faith will be shown.   Whatever we believe (or disbelieve) will be exposed and we’ll embrace the consequences of it.   Believe and enter His rest.   Disbelieve and you get what you put your faith in, namely an eternity away from His rest.   That would be hell.   In fact, it is.

You don’t get to take what you keep in scrapbooks.   You don’t get to take the pretty house in the country.   You don’t get to take your money, your grandma’s recipe for pumpkin pie, or a really great bottle of 21 year old scotch.   You get to appear before God equipped only with your faith, either in Him or something else.   If He who constantly proves Himself true by all He’s done, says, and does today promises eternal reward for faith in Him, why would anyone believe differently?   And if He promises eternal punishment for the idolatry of anything else, isn’t that believable as well?

Who do you trust?

Just this last week I learned that an old friend has entered hospice.   Our families were once good friends but we fell away from each other when my family left the church hers pastored.  I thought a lot about her yesterday as I was doing yard work and thinking about what to write here.  Then I re-read verse 3 and the words fell into place.   My friend is dying.   By this time next week, she’ll probably be gone.   She’ll leave a husband and six grown kids who will learn that they never stop missing a wife and mom.  Please pray for all of them this week as they’re going through the agony of watching a loved one die.   Pray for strength, peace, and healing tears for all of them.  Yet pray in celebration, too, for my friend because she’s going to heaven to be granted her eternal rest.  All her life she’s believed in Jesus and now she’ll get to know in full how her belief was true all along.  She trusted Him, so she’ll live with Him forever.

Believe in it.

For further reading:  Genesis 1:1-5

My Savior, I pray in praise to You for the honesty and truth of all You are and say.   I believe in You.   Give comfort to those who are in peril, and confront those who disbelieve.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 July 2017

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.  Hebrews 11, verses 1-2

Hebrews 11 spends an entire chapter illustrating the faith of our forefathers.   Forty verses are used to explain deeds of the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament.   It starts in Genesis and walks through the books of the prophets.  Not every person who stood up for God is mentioned, but some of the more prominent ones are.   Over the next few days, we’ll join in by giving a 50000 foot overview of why their faith is commendable.

Let’s start by examining that statement “faith is commendable.”   Why is faith commendable?  Why would people spend most of 10000 years lauding Enoch, Abraham, and dozens of others?   The simple answer is that they said and did commendable things rooted in their faith in God.   But that faith itself:   what’s so special about that?   Have you ever really considered what faith is?

Verse 1 says faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Noodle that concept.  If you have faith in Jesus, you can be 1000 percent confident that things you have heard about all your life are 1000 percent true.   You don’t have to see heaven to know it’s real.   You don’t have to see Jesus face to face to have Him actively participate in your life.   You don’t have to see His peace to live in it.   You can be as sure as your soul that He and all He promised are true.   All that’s needed is to believe it.   All that’s needed is to have faith in Him.

That’s a tall order in today’s skeptical world, isn’t it?  We’ve hardened our hearts to believing in only what we see or touch.  What’s more, thanks to things like “Star Wars” and the Sixties, we trust our feelings more than our faith…”Luke, reach out with your feelings.”   “If it feels good it must be right.”   Horse hockey.  Feelings are deceptive.   They’re a barometer, not the air itself.   They’re a gauge, not a substance.   Somehow, many of us have lost sight of those facts and turned our lives over to trusting our feelings instead of trusting our God.  If we can’t know it or feel it, we find it hard to accept.  Is it any wonder our society is plagued by so many fundamental problems?

So along comes a book like Hebrews that tells us to trust our faith and not our feelings, and then it gives examples of people who did and how they were blessed for it.  Hebrews tells us that faith is the substance, not the measure.   Faith is the conduit through which God reassures us of His promises.   Faith is the glue with which we’re bound to Jesus forever.  It’s a reality, not a feeling.  When we trust Him, it becomes the means by which God brings glory to Himself and blesses us in doing.   When we put our faith in Jesus, He clothes us in the blood of His sacrifice.  It covers all our wrong-doings, atones for the harm they inflicted, and sets things right with the Father.   God sees us through His Son and sees a redeemed child who is once again made perfect to stand in His presence.

All through faith.   All through faith proven by the words and deeds of people mentioned in the book of Hebrews.   Come back next time and let’s meet them together.

For further reading:  Hebrews 11

Lord, I pray for You to increase my faith in You.   Thanks for the stories of people who lived in faith before my time.   Thanks for increasing their faith and helping us to know about it.