Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2017.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12, verse 14.

Here’s another tall order:   live in peace and be holy.  How does that fit in with America’s NFL controversy this week?   Or our political discourse in general since the start of this century?   How well are we living in peace with our enemies and even our allies?   Is there peace in Detroit or St. Louis?   Is there peace at your table on Thanksgiving?   And are you and your spouse at peace (if you’re married)?

Let’s get this out there:   peace is NOT the absence of conflict.   Don’t think that just because we don’t have conflict that we’re at peace.   Yes, I mean that.  Sure, not shooting each other in war is indeed “peaceful” yet there’s all too often no real peace in that.   It’s a good thing to not have someone shooting you, attacking you, berating you, and that condition is indeed conducive to overall peace.  But it isn’t real peace.   There isn’t peace along the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula:   there is only a cessation of hostilities that has lasted since 1953.  There isn’t peace in Sudan.   There isn’t peace in Ukraine.   There isn’t peace in Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, or most of America’s inner cities.

You can only have peace if the Holy Spirit is working within you.   The bumper sticker meme “no Jesus no peace.   Know Jesus know peace” is spot on true.   The only real peace you can know in this world is when you open up your heart and let Jesus crowd out all the rest of the noise.  Sure, there are some true believing folks in all the areas listed above (even in North Korea) but without God’s Holy Spirit in control, the peace we will know is uneasy, tenuous.

That isn’t easy to do.   I have a schedule to keep.   There are Facebook posts that require my brilliance.   My wife and kids aren’t doing what I want them to do.  That guy who passed me on the right was a real jerk!  DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE TIME FOR PEACE?  Actually, Dave, if the truth is told, you don’t have time to NOT have peace.   Without the peace of Jesus, you got nuthin.

You’ve got nothing without Jesus because, without Jesus, the second half of verse 14 is also impossible.   I’m not holy; you aren’t holy.   Neither Franklin Graham nor Pope Francis (nor even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are holy.   We’re all dirty sinners on our own.  Without Jesus, we still own our sins; owning our sins, we are unholy.   Without Jesus we still own the consequences of our sins.  What’s more, without Jesus you won’t see the Lord.   You won’t see heaven.   You won’t be there.

Don’t get mad at me for pointing that out:   it’s what verse 14 says.  Without knowing Jesus we can’t be holy and if we’re unholy we won’t be going to heaven.   The ONLY cure for that is to put your faith in Christ.  And the way to do that is to say “I believe” and then start walking the walk.  Read your Bible.  Pray constantly.   Be with other believers and be built up by your fellowship with Jesus and each other.   Tithe from a giving heart.   And, most of all, practice what you preach by starting to live your life in ways the Lord has told us to.  Once again, that’s a tall order.   It means giving up the porn, holding your tongue, confessing your dark secrets to the unseen God, and changing the way you act with other people.   Pick your pet sin:  you and I GET TO give up these things and follow Jesus closer so that His holiness can be imputed to us and we may stand with Him in paradise.   These are simply the practices of a follower of Jesus.  If my tone seems preachy, I apologize.

I have no illusion that everyone turning to Jesus would immediately solve the world’s problems.  Perhaps we would still have conflicts, arguments, and hurt.   Or, perhaps we wouldn’t.   Si Robertson once said “it ain’t gun control we need.   It’s sin control.”   Right on brother.  If we all embraced Jesus more and did what He asked, perhaps we’d have more control over those temptations that lure us in.   If we all did better and walking the walk and talking the talk, perhaps the world’s problems would indeed be solved.   Sin control looks a lot like Jesus.

For further reading:  Romans 14:19, Romans 6:22, Matthew 5:8.

Lord, thank You for giving us Your righteousness, for making us holy.   Help us to believe in You more, to practice our faith.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

These are the same verses from yesterday, but I’ve added in the last sentence in verse 2.   It’s one of the most famous, most quoted verses in the entire Bible.  To get the full effect, you really need the previous words.  “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Read that to yourself over and over a few times, and try to let it sink in.

Yesterday we talked about Franklin Graham and his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse.   Neither Franklin Graham nor anyone in Samaritan’s Purse set aside pure joy to endure pure torture for you or anyone else.   We talked about volunteers and first responders fighting fires and rebuilding after hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes.   None of them ever set aside joy, endured the cross, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father.  Your neighbors haven’t done this.  Barack Obama never did this and can’t; ditto Donald Trump.   Neither can Brad Pitt, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Benny Hinn, Miss America 2017, nor your saintly little old lady grandma.

Jesus did.   He didn’t just do it willingly:   He did it lovingly, fully, without hesitation.   It’s the theme of the entire Bible and the central event in all of human history.   Everything that every is or was or will be hinges on Jesus dying on the cross, then rising to live forever.

The creator of all things, the most powerful being imaginable, who created everything simply by speaking; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (as both Isaiah and Handel called Him):   He, the omnipotent and omniscient God willingly, enthusiastically let sinners He created nail Him to the most humiliating device of torture ever devised in hell.   He did it with gusto.   Jesus not only took the worst mankind could throw at Him:   He ASKED for it.  He ran the race of life fully, to its end, to show us where we were going.

He did so because Barack, Donald, Brad, Francis and the rest of us can’t.   We simply can’t.   We aren’t Him; we aren’t God.  He is.   We desperately needed Him to do it, too.  All too often, we don’t throw off those entangling sins.   Too often, the race seems like too much for us.

Yet there He is in the race, running ahead of us, drawing our gaze, our focus.  He’s in there to pace us, to give us someone to run toward.  He beckons us to persevere, to endure because He endured much tougher things than our day to day lives.   Notice that Jesus doesn’t take us out of the race.   He doesn’t pluck us from the middle of the world, removing us from our sins.  No, Jesus stays with us to give us a reason to push forward.   The reason is Him, sitting as equal with His Father in heaven, beckoning us to persevere, to run the race day by day.  With Him there is peace now and a meaningful forever.  In Him is the victory; in Him is the goal of running the race.   All of human history prepared for His coming, and when He came, all of history after Him was set on a different path.  No empire could prevent His resurrection; no ideology can refute it, deny it, or withstand it.  Every Christmas, memes and cards say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   That’s true, but don’t bottle that up until the Holidays.   Jesus is the reason you run your race today.   He’s there in every step, not just every December.

Get up and get back in your race.   Your goal is dead ahead.   For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   He did it so you could run your race.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I lift up Your Name to praise You for running my race with me.   Abide with me, push me forward, and help me to finish in Your strength.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

Last time we talked about the Alamo.   Today let’s talk about rebuilding.   You saw the stories over the weekend:  Hurricane Irma smacked the Caribbean and Florida.   A number of people lost their lives, millions of people had their lives impacted (many destroyed), and billions of dollars will be needed to build back.

On Sunday morning, I saw a Tweet about Samaritan’s Purse.   Threading a short time between two hurricanes, Samaritan’s Purse landed an airplane full of supplies and volunteers in St Martin.   Irma laid waste to the island late last week; Jose threatened to do so soon after.  Fortunately, Hurricane Jose turned north instead of passing over the island.  Yet the volunteers from Franklin Graham’s Christian charity didn’t know that would happen when they landed.    Thinking they would have only a short time, the afflicted islanders worked quickly with the frightened volunteers to distribute tons of water, medical supplies, and critically needed food.

In the weeks since Hurricane Harvey, thousands of volunteers have been working behind the scenes to clean up and restore normalcy to the lives of the millions of people affected by that storm.   In the days since the earthquake in Mexico killed 90 people, volunteers and neighbors have been working to bring in food and help to total strangers.   In battling fires in Montana and California, thousands of firefighters have been working around the clock to put out fires so that the lives and livelihoods of total strangers aren’t destroyed.  Every day, ordinary people in ordinary neighborhoods commit their lives to others’ needs so that kids can grow, grandparents can endure, and families can succeed.

They’re all running with perseverance the race marked out for them because many of them, maybe most of them, have their eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.   More than that, Jesus is the ONLY real comfort for those who have been savaged by these acts of a fallen nature.

The writer of Hebrews spent the entire previous chapter citing acts of faith that the ancient heroes of the Bible performed.  He then takes that testimony about those men and calls them ‘witnesses’ to our ability to throw off all that hinders and the sins that entangle us.   After all, they did.   Don’t go off thinking that Moses, Jacob, Gideon and the rest were supermen.   They weren’t.   They were people, sinners in need of a God who could redeem them from the things they had taken into themselves.  Yet they had something in common with those folks from Samaritan’s Purse and those ordinary people everywhere:   faith in God.

Faith in God makes the difference between living an ordinary life where sin entangles and an extraordinary life as an ordinary person throwing off that same entangling sin.   Today is the day after the storm caused so much pain; today starts rebuilding.  Today is also 9/11, the commemoration of a wholly different kind of pain and anguish; today commemorates building back.   Who will you trust to help you run your race?   In whom will you put your faith?

You don’t HAVE TO believe in Jesus.   You really don’t.   It’s a choice and this is a free country.   Most of the world doesn’t believe in Jesus; most of the world thinks this Christian faith is a waste of time, foolish even, given that people have only so much time alive here on the third rock.  Why would they ‘waste’ that on some unseen ancient legend?  Yet if you want to live a life of meaning, you can’t do it alone.   Occasionally you need the help of others.   And, when the chips are really down, you find you need a Savior, someone who can help in ways that relief workers, governments and charities can’t.   You need help to get back into the race.  You need someone to save you from yourself and the terrible choices that we, dearly beloved, make when we gather to get through this thing we call “life.”   Even Prince knew that.

So does Franklin Graham, who has dedicated his life to advancing the Gospel of Jesus.  He does it by helping strangers.   I pray that your life isn’t afflicted today, that you know Jesus without pain or suffering.   But when you do encounter pain, I pray that you reach up to grab Christ’s helping hand.   He’ll get you back on your feet to finish the race set before you.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

My Lord Jesus, I believe in You and You alone.   Only You have saved me.  Only You are Savior.  Help me run my race today with confidence, perseverance, and grace.   And thank You for the hearts of servants serving You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 April 2017

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Hebrews 9, verse 24.

There is a line from “The Shack” that I continue to ponder.   When Mack (the protagonist) is talking with “Papa” (the Father character), they talk about Jesus and how He died on the cross.   Mack says he doesn’t understand how the Father could abandon the Son.  Papa reveals to Mack that he (Mack) truly doesn’t understand, but not how he thinks.   “I was with him there all along,” says Papa.   On its face, that statement seems to be contrary to much Christian doctrine which states that Jesus died a full and human death and that God the Father turned His holy face from His Son.   Who knows if the statement is true, either that the Father abandoned the Son, or that the Father was with the Son even through death.   Only they know, and we are only left to believe.

But think about that for a second, then consider verse 24.   When Jesus died, He did something that nobody else could do; this you know.  Jesus, being fully God and holy and having lived a life without sin, took ALL sin on Himself and wiped it out.   He erased the consequences of it from ever touching sinners who believe in Him.   When He did that, He took on that sin yet remained holy and perfect.   It’s a mystery, perhaps the greatest mystery of all time.  How could God actually do this?   When you figure that out, call me.   Better yet, call me, Franklin Graham, the Pope, and the Dalai Lama.   Come to Paris and I’ll buy you all dinner.  Invite Bill Young, the author of “The Shack,” too.

Yet there’s something undeniable about it all.   Jesus died the death we deserve and then entered God’s holy presence again.   He who had given up being in His Father’s presence for a time re-entered it fully, righteously, and having made all things new again.  He didn’t need to go to the Temple and offer a sacrifice for sins:   He had been the sacrifice.   That Temple, and before it the desert tabernacle, had been made to represent the Holy Temple in heaven where God resides in person.  Now came back Jesus to the original Temple – the presence of God – and He had been made all sin yet made all pure on our behalf to stand in His Father’s presence again and proclaim “Abba, we did it!”

I don’t know if the Father abandoned the Son during the time He forsook Him.   I don’t know (and neither does your pastor) whether or not the Father was there in Spirit or in person, and I don’t know exactly how the miracle was fully completed.  Like the transaction of actually requiring blood, I don’t fully understand the mystery.  In the end, I also don’t know if that really even matters.   To me, it seems like a fine point of theology ripe for navel gazing.

Bill Young is on to something, namely that it doesn’t matter how God accomplished our redemption.   Yes, I said that.   It doesn’t matter how God did it, but it does matter THAT He did it.  It isn’t for us to fully understand the mechanism through which God made right what we could not.  It doesn’t matter whether the Father was present throughout the Son’s passion or whether He turned His holy face away.  What matters is that, however it happened, God accomplished our salvation.   We know it required blood – meaning it required submitting life to God – and we know that it required the full submission of a sacrifice.   And we know that Jesus gave both of those, taking all our filth onto His pristine Spirit to make us righteous again.   He did this for our benefit, and He then ascended back into heaven to regain His place at the Father’s side.

When He did that, Jesus re-entered the heaven to which we aspire.   It was the same place He had left years before when He became incarnate here on the Third Rock…and yet it wasn’t.   Something had changed.   It wasn’t less perfect; it wasn’t even more perfect, as if that were possible.   Instead, the fact of man’s condition had changed because of what He Himself had done.   When that happened, the representation of heaven was no longer needed because He who would live through each of us could fully reside once again in the true heaven where perfection remained perfect.    And He did it for us, to intercede for us when we couldn’t.

For further reading:  Hebrews 8:2, Hebrews 4:14, Romans 8:34.

Lord, You are magnificent, worthy of all praise, and fully perfect in every way.   Thank You for all You have done!

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 23 January 2017

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? Hebrews 7, verse 11.

Ah, a question for the ages.   If God gave us what He said we needed, why did He have to give us something else?   If God said the original priests could atone for sins, why Jesus?   You know the answer.   I’m betting you simply don’t want to admit it.

It’s not you:  it’s me.   It’s not me:  it’s you.   It’s us.   It’s in us.   It’s something that controls us.  It’s our sins.   Chucka, chucka, chucka.   Big deal; we already know that, right?  Actually, it is sort of a big deal, and that really stinks yet it’s the first of all first principles.

Your pastor is a sinful man.  All pastors are sinful men.   MLK Day was one week ago and most Americans regard Martin Luther King as having been a great man, an upright and moral man who said and did great things that needed to be said and done.   Obscured in history is the fact that he was also a sinner.   Time has revealed that he had at least one extramarital affair during his ministry; he may have had many.   Being familiar with that particular sin myself, perhaps the best I should say is “good men sometimes do bad things, too.”  Remember Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker?   Good men who brought many people to real faith but who also lived double lives of hypocrisy like MLK and me and you.

Next time you see your pastor, remember that he’s a sinner too.   He or she doesn’t have a special dispensation for sin, pope or no pope (and neither does the pope).  Pastors don’t have some special divine exemption from their sins.   They struggle with them just like everyone else.   Some struggle with them while they’re in active ministry for the Lord.  Indeed, in today’s ministry, you’ll meet men and women of the cloth who are right now dealing personally with their adultery, homosexuality, alcoholism, theft, dishonesty and even murder.  Just like you and me.   Just like Jimmy and MLK.   Just like the author of Hebrews.

And just like all those priests of Levi.   God Himself chose Levi’s, then Aaron’s, descendants to be His personal representatives.   Before Levi even knew his children and grandchildren, God knew them and had already chosen them to carry His Good News to people who needed it.   God knew they would be sinful, that some would resent their calling, that all of them would do some things (maybe many things) in their lives that were abhorrent to Him…and He chose them anyway.   He chose them anyway because He needed human messengers to share news about Him until He could finish making all things right.

He could only finish that work with someone who was without sin.   When the time was just right, God gave us Jesus to finish the job once and for all.  Only one person has ever lived who was without sin.   That’s just and only Jesus.   Only Jesus lived a perfect life, one not tainted with the stink of sin.   Only Jesus has ever lived that life, then heroically, willingly given it up to God’s holy purposes, in order that other people might live forever.  MLK didn’t do that; no pope has ever done that.   No televangelist could do that, and neither could you or I.   But Jesus did.

Why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?  Because of sin.  Because sin is blood-red serious.  I’m stained scarlet with it.   So are you.  So is your pastor, and your friends, and your newborn children and grandchildren.  Billy and Franklin Graham are sinners.  So was MLK, and Jimmy Swaggart, and so were Aaron and Levi and even Melchizedek if he was a descendant of Adam and Eve.   And all of us can be cleaned white as pure snow because of the scarlet sinless blood of Jesus of Nazareth.

For further reading:   Hebrews 8:7, Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 5:6

Lord, thank You for the holy sacrifice of Your Son, the one true priest forever. 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Before moving off verse 3, let’s talk about that “purification for sins” part.

This was the whole purpose of Christ’s life.   His life wasn’t just a great morality lesson.   He didn’t come here to be just a teacher, wise man, prophet, or all around good guy (like George of the Jungle). Jesus of Nazareth came here and died to provide the purification for sins.   As a result, everything changed.

On a Tuesday after a holiday weekend, does that blow your mind?

Dictionary.com defines “purification” as “to make pure; free from anything that debases, pollutes, adulterates, or contaminates; to free from foreign, extraneous, or objectionable elements; to free from guilt or evil; to clear or purge (usually followed by of or from); to make clean for ceremonial or ritual use.”

You and I: we’re impure.   Mother Theresa: impure.   Pope Francis and Billy (or Franklin) Graham:   impure.   The Dalai Lama, Orthodox patriarchs, your saintly grandmother, a newborn baby not five minutes old, the best person you can think of:   all impure.   All of us, every human ever born of man, are impure.   We’re thick with sin, tainted irrevocably with it.   And what is sin?   Going back to dictionary.com, sin is “transgression of divine law; any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle; any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense.”

Whether it is by a single thought of selfishness or the murder of a hundred people, we have sinned against God, against Jesus.   We have transgressed against Him by willful and deliberate violation of His principles.   We’re guilty of great fault and offense against the pure love that is Him.   Every time we choose anything but God or what is of Him, we sin.   We become guilty and impure whether it’s in thought, action, or both. There’s no getting away from that fact.   It’s part of who we are as people.

God didn’t make us to be sinful; our ancestors chose it and tainted us.   We each choose it willfully whether we’re children or adults.   Don’t agree?   Have you ever had a “no” argument with a toddler?   How about any kind of argument with anyone else?   Ever wondered lustily what your neighbor looks like in the shower? Knowingly fudged your taxes or driven over the speed limit?   Ever told a white lie?   No matter the human consequences, these and so many more are sins against God.   They’re unholy impurities in us that are an affront to the pure, just love that only He offers.

God tells us to be Holy but we don’t listen; in truth, we can’t on our own.   He tells us to be holy because He is holy and He created us to be in union with Him.   We can’t be in full union with Him as long as we’re unholy.   Our sins make us unholy because each one of them is a subtle (or loud) rebellion against Him.   It’s a chasm we can’t bridge on our own.

Enter Jesus.   Enter Jesus the one and only Savior who came here to bridge the chasm and purify us from our sins.   He willingly lived and died an agonizing death bearing the spiritual consequences of every sin humanity ever undertook. Fully God and fully man, He who could not die willingly died a hero’s death on that cross so that He could restore balance to creation. He did it while still preserving our ability to be made holy and to live in free will, choosing to love Him rather than being compelled to. He takes away the eternal damnation consequence of those sins.   He makes it possible for us to be in union with God again by clothing us in His righteousness and imputing it to us as our own.   In doing that, He makes it possible for the holy Majesty who is God the just Father to not see the millions of sins I’ve done in my life. Instead, He sees only Jesus’ pure perfection.   My impurities no longer keep distance between us.

Buddha didn’t do that.   The Dalai Lama can’t do that.   Neither Billy Graham nor your pastor can do it. No imam, holy man, or shaman can do it.   Nothing any of us can think, say or do can do that.   But Jesus did.

Now does that blow your mind?

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I’m in awe of Your purifying, righteous love.   Thank You for doing for me what I didn’t deserve and could not do.   Thank You for purifying me of my guilt and restoring Your true love to my life.