Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 August 2017

 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Hebrews 11, verses 32-34.

Where are there great heroes today?   Gideon, who led when nobody else would.  Barak, the warrior who answered God’s call to rally troops and defeated the Canaanite, Sisera.   Samson, the self-centered leader in the days of the Judges, who rejected his selfishness to rally the power of God in his death and, in doing so. slew the Philistines.   Jephthah, the great Israelite leader who conquered the Ammonites yet made a foolish vow, then considered his word to God to be more important than any other word he had ever spoken.

Here in our day, is President Trump a hero?   Hardly, especially since (as one of my relatives pointed out) so many of our countrymen consider him to be a boor, a scoundrel, and “an incomparable cheat.”  How about his predecessor, President Obama?   Hardly again, especially since so many more of our countrymen consider him to be weak, of poor beliefs, and an enemy of liberty.  The leaders of our major churches live in luxury and opulence.   The gulf between the richest and poorest in our country, in our world, keeps growing ever wider.   We all want to believe we are special in God’s eyes yet we, myself included, look across the room and see people of different beliefs, different colors, different places in this world and we consider them aliens.  How must our God feel about us?

Where are the people whose weakness God turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle through the Lord and routed foreign armies?   Where are the men and women of honor and valor who walk the walk and talk the talk for Jesus today?

You saw a few of them on the news this weekend.   They were friends, relatives, first responders working beyond exhaustion to retrieve strangers from the floodwaters in Houston.   They were the pastors in Africa who walk miles between villages on Sunday afternoon just to share a few minutes of Christian worship with people hungry to know more about Jesus.   They’re people who smile at you when you meet them in the streets, mothers who raise their children (and new puppies) while husbands and fathers are deployed overseas.   They are nurses in hospitals, grandparents raising grand-babies, the people who hold open doors.  Ordinary people live extraordinary lives and, very often, just by doing so are heroic in small ways that matter.

Yesterday in church, the sermon text was on the fruit of the spirit.   From Galatians 5, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   The heroes of the Bible listed above knew these things, knew them centuries before Paul recorded them in his epistle.   The heroes mentioned in our world today know them, too.   Whether any of them, or us, know it or not, they are evidence of God for only from God’s Spirit are these things possible.  Apart from the Savior, they’re just niceties, ways to get along for a short time in a hostile world of hopelessness and futility.  Abiding in the Savior, they’re evidence of His presence.   And they’re the makings of heroes.  When we consider how people of faith live out these good things from God, we can be sure that our God feels only love for us since it is His love that binds all those other things together.

I don’t consider myself a hero.   More often than not, I mess up these words and mess up the message I’m trying to convey.   I offend people who are trying to understand where I’m coming from, and I don’t represent the God of our Fathers in the good way He deserves.   Maybe I’m describing you.  I know I’m describing me.  Yet perhaps there’s someone, somewhere who looks at you differently.   Perhaps there’s someone who see’s through our warts, who looks past our sins and failings, who doesn’t tolerate our cruel words but loves us enough to look past them.  There’s someone like that for all of us; His name is Jesus.   If we see our blessings, we get to see how others live out the fruit of His Spirit and they are heroes whether they do good deeds or not.  A few days ago, I wrote things that offended someone close to me.  For that, I apologize, especially since she’s a hero in my eyes.  I pray that she, and you, would know a hero today.

For further reading:  Galatians 5:22-23, Judges 4-8, 1 Samuel 15:1, 13-20, 2 Samuel 8:1-3, Daniel 6:22, Daniel 3:19-27, Exodus 18:4, 2 Kings 20:7.

Lord, I praise You for the fruit of Your Spirit that lives out in the heroes of today.   They’re my brothers and sisters, and I look up to them because when I see good things they say and do, I’m looking at You in their eyes.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 July 2017

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.  Hebrews 11, verse 7.

Even unbelievers know the story of Noah.  The account of Noah and the great flood is perhaps more famously known than even many stories about Jesus.  God made a number of covenants with mankind, and the one he made with Noah was the second.   God first ‘covenanted’ with man through Adam.   The covenant with Adam consisted of blessings before and after the fall.   In Eden, God promised to bless mankind; after Eden, God promised to curse the ground because of mankind while sending a redeemer to redeem mankind.   Noah lived under that covenant, awaiting that redeemer…until the day God confided to him that He was going to wipe out all living things because of man’s sin.   That’s when Noah’s faith had to kick in.  So what exactly did Noah do by faith?

He built the ark.  Some scholars think it took almost 100 years to build the ark.   Up until the mid-1800s, Noah’s Ark, a craft of Biblical ‘legend,’ was considered to have been the largest ship ever made.   Noah, his 3 sons, and their families worked for decades to build the ark that would protect living creatures from extinction.   They did it based on a promise made by an unseen God.  I get frustrated if it takes me longer than a few days to complete a project on my farm.   Imagine how I would feel working on something, full time, for an entire century.   Morning, noon, and evening, for days, weeks, months, and years…then decades.   Imagine how Noah’s neighbors must have ridiculed him for what he was doing, all the more so when he answered “because God said so” when they asked him why he was building this thing out in the middle of nowhere.

He built the ark out of fear.  Noah built the ark because God told him to, and Noah walked with God.   He knew God and pursued God’s heart.  To do that, like his ancestor Enoch, Noah feared God and respected Him.   He understood his place as a man yet also his place as God’s cherished creation.   A thousand or more years before Moses recorded Genesis, Noah listened to stories told by his ancestors about the Father’s indescribable power and love.   Yes, Noah built the ark out of fear:   a healthy fear born in love.

He had faith that God hadn’t forgotten him during the long days on the ark.   Noah and his family lived on the ark, floating on the world-wide ocean, for nearly a year.   Imagine how it must have felt hearing things crash up against the side of the ark.   Think of how they must have felt to hear the muffled screams of people pounding to get in as the rains poured and the waters rose.  Think about the somber loneliness when those screams stopped.  I can’t imagine taking care of dozens, maybe hundreds of kinds of animals for all that time.   Perhaps the eight people on the ark kept so busy that they didn’t have much time to think about it, but I imagine there must have been times on the ark when they wondered if God had forgotten about them.   Noah probably clung desperately to his faith because that faith of 500 years had persisted through a century of building, and a year on the waters, and all through everything that happened afterward.

After the flood, when God caused the waters to recede and it was safe to leave the ark, God covenanted with Noah to never again destroy the world in a flood.  God made Noah the heir of righteousness so that, through him, the world would eventually know redemption.  Noah had faith that God would use all this to change things for the better.  And that’s exactly what happened, even as it would take many generations before Noah’s descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, would come to make it so. These days, in America, the rainbow has been co-opted by the gay rights community as their ‘pride flag.’  Yet even this serves God’s purpose for He gave rainbows to the world as a reminder of his ancient promise to Noah:  to love and sustain us and never again destroy the world in the way He had once done.  What mankind would twist for his own ungodly devices our God is still overseeing for His better purposes.   Perhaps that’s part of what kept Noah going all those years ago.   Even unbelievers can understand that.

For further reading:  Genesis 6:13-22, 1 Peter 3:20, Genesis 6:9, Ezekiel 14:14-20, Romans 9:30.

My patient Lord, thank You for the life and account of Noah.   Thank You for the rainbow reminder of Your love.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 December 2016

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Hebrews 5, verses 5-6.

First let’s discuss the Son and Father:  there is nobody else in all of human history who can hold that title other than Jesus Christ.   Christ is the only Son of God the Father while still being one with the Father.  He could have taken on the glory of accepting God’s calling to be an ordained high priest of the Jewish faith, but He didn’t.   He could have assumed God’s glory for Himself, but He didn’t.   If He had done these things, He wouldn’t have been the perfect Christ who satisfied the hundreds of Old Testament Biblical prophecies about the Christ.   And yet Jesus did become the ultimate priest, the ultimate pastor and Good Shepherd of God’s flock that is the church.   It is only Jesus who intercedes for us with the glorious Father, who demands perfection to satisfy His just holiness.   It is only Jesus who sacrificed Himself so that something could be done that had never been done before and couldn’t have been done since.   Only Jesus could atone for all of humanity’s wrongdoings; nobody before or since has so satisfied all the requirements of being the penultimate and perfect Passover lamb.

And then there’s Melchizedek.   Verse 6 quotes Psalm 110, which says “you are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizidek.”  Perhaps ancient Jewish discussions focused a lot on Melchizidek, who is a minor, almost obscure figure in the early part of Genesis.   But he was important.  Melchizedek is the “king of Salem” who came out to meet Abraham and to whom Abraham gave a tenth of all he owned (providing precedence for our practice of ten percent tithing).   Historically, almost nothing else is known of him though it’s interesting to note that “king of Salem” likely means that Melchizedek was the ruler or high priest of Salem.   That location was, according to some scholars, what became Jerusalem.  How fascinating is it, then, in knowing this considering the later importance of Jerusalem to the stories of King David, King Jesus, and even in our world today.

Some Bible scholars say that Melchizidek may have been a pre-incarnate Jesus, come to reside for a short time with His people but, as the author of Hebrews notes, “a priest forever” (and the only priest forever).  Other Bible scholars think Melchizekek may actually have been Shem, the son of Noah.   Shem had been on the Ark with Noah and the rest of their family, and is regarded as the father of the line of Semites (“Semite” being derived from the name Shem).   Shem was the son whom Noah blessed after Noah’s post-Flood sin of drunkenness.  He lived an extraordinarily long life both before and after the flood; after the flood he and so many others bore many children to repopulate a lonely and empty earth.  If you flow out the timeline, you find that there is a short period of overlap in the lives of Shem and Abraham, so the theory becomes possible, maybe even plausible.  That about exhausts my non-internet-researched knowledge of the topic; if more is to be known, we’ll have to consult Google, Bible scholars, or both.

In a few chapters we’ll talk more about Melchizidek; much of Chapter 7 is about him.  Whether he was the pre-incarnate Jesus or Shem or someone else altogether, if we navel-gaze about who he was we miss the point of what he represents in this verse (and in Psalm 110).   Melchizidek was the example of an ultimate high priest, one who would be able to intercede for man on man’s behalf.   Pastors do this.   They are men of character who both minister to us in ways we need, and pray to God on our behalf, which we also very much need.   The priesthood was and is a necessary function to human existence even when we don’t hold it in regard.   Pastors and priests, other than Joel Osteen, don’t make much money.   We hold them in high esteem yet we insist that the most effective of them live in near poverty.  Like God Himself, when times are good most of us don’t seem to want our pastors around, but when we fall on hard times we want them there immediately.   Whether he was Jesus, Shem or someone else, this is the kind of person Melchizidek must have been.   He must have been a deeply spiritual man who sought God’s will and God’s wisdom.   He must have been a man of impeccable character.  Melchizidek is a man from whom we can learn much even if we actually know very little about him.

Hold on to these thoughts…we’ll need them in a little while.

For more reading:   Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 7:1-22, Psalm 110:4.

Lord Jesus, thank You for the life of Melchizidek, and for the example He set in how You want Your priests and pastors to live here.   Indeed, Lord, for how You desire all of us to live.