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, 6 March 2017

But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.  Hebrews 8, verse 6.

Super.   It’s Monday and that’s just super; uber rah rah already.

Let’s talk supersessionism.  Up until this morning, I hadn’t even heard of that word, but some online research about this verse brought it up.  In a nutshell, it’s the concept of the new covenant superseding the old covenant.  Islam has a similar tenet, namely in how Islam says it supersedes every other faith (sort of like arguing with a kid and they say “no, you are” over and over until they finally say “no you are infinity”).  But the long and short of it is that, when you come to faith in Jesus, you begin to understand how Jesus superseded any and all prior covenants with His redemption of mankind.  That doesn’t invalidate those earlier covenants; God still promises unconditionally.   But, legally speaking, all the conditions of them are complete with the resurrection of Christ.

So, another thing that happened this morning was that, yet again, I was grousing about church hymns.   I like all kinds of music but am turning into a curmudgeon about hymns.   Yesterday, as is the wont of many music leaders, the leader at our church in Paris changed the words to a beloved hymn.   He isn’t the only one to do this; Chris Tomlin and other Christian musicians frequently do this in their new music, altering the lyrics to beloved songs.  The bottom line is that it irritates me.   It annoys me, especially if said altered song is one dear to me (as this one was.   We sang it at my dad’s funeral).

Let’s be clear about this:   this is a first world problem.   Compared to North Korean missiles, hunger in Africa, and non-existent anthropogenic climate change, this is a problem that only a spoiled first worlder such as myself could air.  Yet air it I did and found that, not surprisingly, some agreed with me and some didn’t.  A pastor friend of mine reminded me that pastors will sometimes do this to reinforce the message they’re communicating that week; that’s true.   And, quite honestly, if it gives constructive praise to God – which it did – then even if a few feathers are ruffled it can be a good thing; that’s true as well.

What’s the point?   Do newly doctored songs replace the old ones (I hope not).   No, the point is that we’re free to debate this.   We can talk, agree to disagree, and still be in unity as believers & friends.  That freedom is ONLY possible because Jesus superseded all previous covenants that His Father had made with men.  The covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David were loving efforts by God to bring man into unity with Him.   Not surprisingly, mankind messed them up.   We NEED a covenant from Jesus, the God-man, to restore full balance between ourselves and our God.  We need Him to redeem us; we need Him to make us righteous in front of a Father who can tolerate only righteousness; we need Him to make us clean again and take away the consequences of our sins.  Just like we need air and water, we need Jesus.

That need could only be satisfied by Jesus making us truly free.   In fact, the more you study Scripture, the more you begin to see that faith in Jesus is the only foundation for true liberty.   Our Founders knew this, even as not all of them were practicing Christians.  Freedom through legalism isn’t freedom at all.   No government or contract really makes you free.   If anything, governments and legal contracts are supposed to protect one’s freedom even as they more frequently limit it.  Being bound by the constraints of a human contract limits your ability to say or do what you do.  Thus, when people implemented the old covenants, the result was legalism.   When you do that, you get the Pharisees (or American academia).

Enter Jesus who, as the verse reminds us, mediates a new covenant between ourselves and our God.  The former covenants, misunderstood by we humans, had been twisted to be constraining.   Jesus makes a new covenant that removes those constraints by simply asking us to believe He is God, and He takes care of everything else.   Life?  Done; it’s yours.   Provisions for living?  Done; they’re yours.   Forgiveness of all your sins and the guilt that dog-piles on with them?   Done; yours again.   All we do is believe.   From there, Jesus takes the load and leads us now in His better way.  The goal of life isn’t to toe the line:   the goal of life becomes loving others to help them with their burdens in life.

All because Jesus’ covenant of life superseded all those before it in the ultimate act of supersessionism.   That includes curmudgeon grousing about church music.  Pretty super after all.

For further reading:  Luke 22:20, Galatians 3:20.

My Lord, I praise You for superseding the old covenants that blessed all my ancestors (and even me).   Thank You for making it possible to walk and talk with you and my brothers and sisters.