Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 October 2016

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  Hebrews 2, verse 18.

Consider Jesus’ last night on earth, before He was even crucified.   There He was, in the Garden of Gethsemene, and He was tempted.   He was hurting, He was afraid, He was dreading what He knew had to happen, and He was tempted to put it all aside.  Jesus had the benefit of being fully God and fully man at the same time and He KNEW what was in store for Him.   He already knew how it felt to be rejected by God Himself.   He already knew what the nails felt like, how it felt like burning agony to heave your body up on your nailed feet just to take a breath.   He already knew what was going to happen when His soul was ripped apart from His body.   A fully man Jesus knew, understood and FELT the temptation to simply wave it away; to plant the thought in someone’s head “I won’t do this.”

A fully man Jesus thought about the fact that He could do it.

And then He didn’t do it.   He remained sinless.

You see, being tempted isn’t a sin.   Repeat that to yourself:  being tempted isn’t a sin.   Don’t let some slick preacher, overeager elder, or controlling spouse tell you that it is because they’re wrong.   Their motivation might even be a sin itself.  Giving into temptation is a sin, but simply being tempted to sin isn’t a sin itself.  If being tempted is a sin, then Jesus was sinful because Jesus was tempted.   He was tempted at various times throughout His life, not just on that last day.   Remember when the devil himself personally tempted Jesus at least three times.   Jesus was at His lowest physical and even spiritual energy levels.   That was when Satan, coward that he is, tried to move Him over to the dark side.   He stood up to it but He endured it.

Consider that Jesus walked among men for over 30 years, watching men take pleasure in things He didn’t, wouldn’t do.   Sex, comfort, wealth, luxury:  all these and more can be had for just the slightest of indiscretions.  Jesus walked with humans, saw what humans do, and He was tempted to do the same.   Have you ever seriously contemplated the unfathomable resolve that it took for Him to just say “no” all those thousands of times?

It caused Him to suffer.  Have you ever wanted something or wanted to do something so bad that it hurt?   Or have you done something, even something small, and then felt tremendous regret after?   Regret can be real suffering but so, too, can be the righteous abstention from sin.  Guys in a locker room might joke about how it feels to get blocked when you really want to have sex, but consider that Jesus never did.   He never even allowed Himself to think the lustful thoughts that we can have without anyone else even knowing.   Containing your road rage can build up into unreleased feelings that vent themselves in other ways.   Jesus never even allowed Himself to entertain that kind of unrighteous anger.   The suffering was real; it wasn’t some Facebook meme.  It was real, it really hurt Him, it truly happened.   You get the picture.

Yet for Jesus to be the merciful, faithful high priest who could stand in His Father’s presence, full of Their Holy Spirit, and offer Himself as atonement for all those sins He never did, well, there was simply no other way.   He had to live a sinless life; He had to willfully abstain from even thinking about the small sins that we would overlook.  Jesus couldn’t cross the line even once or there would have been no perfect sacrifice to satisfy our perfect God’s righteous will.  When you truly consider what Jesus did for sinful folks like you and I, the depth of the love you find there is immeasurable.

For more reading:   Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21, John 18, Luke 22-23, Mark 14:34-38, Matthew 26:36-46, Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13.

Lord Jesus, too often I’ve sinned, failed You, failed others, and failed to keep Your holy commands.   Forgive me for my sins.   Thank You for living the sinless life I haven’t.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 February 2016

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Mark 14, verses 43-45.

There are a few ways to look at Judas.   You could look at him as one cold fish.   That makes sense because it would take a really cold soul for someone to kiss you and betray you, knowing you’re going to face some kind of persecution.   You could look at him in pity, wondering if his voice didn’t crack when he said “rabbi” (meaning ‘teacher’) to Jesus.   You could think of him as someone naïve, swept up in something bigger than himself, as if there was some unfulfilled part of him that had looked for Jesus do say or do something that didn’t happen.

When you boil it down, does it really matter how we view Judas? We’re no better. Judas spent years learning from and praising Jesus, then at the very last of his life, using his words and actions to send Jesus to His death.   Don’t we do the same?

No matter how we view Judas, one lesson we could draw from today’s verses is irony. As I mentioned, Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends.   He was a man who gave up everything to follow Jesus, then somehow saw the real cost of following Him as too high to pay. For whatever reason, Judas sold out Jesus, then found out that it was actually he himself who was sold out. How ironic.

Then there is the fact that Judas wasn’t actually in the garden of Gethsemene with the other apostles all night.   When Jesus told Peter that he would betray Him, Judas wasn’t around.   It turns out that Judas Iscariot, whom we think of as Christ’s betrayer, wasn’t actually first at all.   Sure, we could debate this, but I suspect that debate would lead us to this point, namely that, as participants in eternity, we all originally betrayed Jesus with our sins…just like Peter and Judas. How ironic indeed.

Finally, consider the irony of those ways in which we might view Judas.   You could look at Judas and think you’re simply looking in the mirror.   Awhile back, I mentioned that I felt sorry for him, and I do.   Judas let sin take control and it took him to dark places from which he couldn’t recover; I’ve done that. He did sorrowful things that left him pathetic and abandoned. Don’t we each sometimes feel abandoned?   If our Savior was willing to die for us and everyone who lived thousands of years before we were even born, aren’t we also original sinners? The betraying sins of Adam and Eve might be just as timely today for us, in the one-second-here-and-now of our lives, as anything we have ever done.   In that light, when I look in the mirror, Judas Iscariot stares back at me.

Much to think about indeed.

Lord and Savior, I pray forgive me for my sins and my betrayals of You.

Read Mark 14, verses 43-52.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 19 February 2016

Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14, verses 41-42.

If you drive through the American South, you see all kinds of religious billboards.   Many of them implore you to know Jesus as soon as possible because we don’t know when He’s coming back.   I used to see one south of Savanna, Oklahoma that said “watch and pray for we know not what hour the Son of God will return.” There are others that quote dire verses of Scripture announcing hellfire for those who reject Jesus’ open invitation to free salvation. There are still more that have sayings like “Talk with me before it’s too late.   Sincerely, God.” Announcing God’s impending judgment on us isn’t necessarily regional; I suppose signs like these are everywhere. I’ve simply noticed more of them here in the Bible Belt.

Guess what?   They’re all true. Today’s verses prove it.

It’s before sunrise on the morning of Good Friday. Jesus is exhausted while His Disciples have had fitful intermittent rest on the cold Gethsemene ground. After imploring them to keep watch for sin, Jesus returns to them a third time and brings them up short.   The night is over; no more rest; no more interruptions. It’s time to get up because there’s work ahead today. It’s going to be the hardest day of your lives.

“Today I’m going to die.”

The Son of Man was delivered into the hands of sinners.   Make no mistake about it:   the temple guards who seized Jesus were sinners indeed.   They were players in a staged drama predicted since the fall of man.   These ‘innocent’ actors were only doing the bidding of their priestly overseers.   The overseers were only doing the bidding of the chief priests.   The chief priests had only initiated this arrest because Judas Iscariot came to them with news they wanted to hear.   Judas Iscariot only betrayed Jesus to the priests because he was a sinful twisted man.  He was sinful and twisted because he listened to Satan.   Satan was evil because he reveled in sin.

So do I; so do you.   We’re thick with sin and no better than Judas or the guards.   The Bible tells us so.   Jesus said so.   All those billboards scream out the fact. Here’s the good news.

Jesus faced His betrayer. The verses and chapters of Mark after this all describe the story of how He faced His betrayer, how He loved Him anyway, and then how He went to His death as an innocent lamb to slaughter. He did this because the Disciples slept instead of kept watch for sinful temptation.   He did it because Judas Iscariot, the chief priests and those temple guards were dead in their sins if He didn’t.   He did it because all the sins I’ve done today and every day of my life demand more of a penalty than I can pay.   He did it because the same thing can be said about you and everyone we know.

Will you face down your betrayer today?   Will you face your sins and own up to them, then face Jesus and repent of them?   Bibles and billboards remind us how it’s imperative that we do so.

Lord Jesus, I’m sinful through and through.   Thank You for Your holy sacrifice, for facing your betrayer, for dying for us.

Read Mark 14, verses 43-52.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 18 February 2016

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Mark 14, verses 39-40.

The spirit is indeed willing and the flesh is indeed weak.   Knowing that, we can easily relate to the sleepy Apostles.

Let’s cut a little slack to the Apostles because, well, after all, they’re human.   They were tired.   No, they were exhausted.   These verses occurred very early in the morning, perhaps around 2 or 3 AM. After tramping all around Jerusalem on Thursday, then the last supper, then some incredibly wrenching personal time with Jesus, they were exhausted.

“I would have done better.   I would have stayed up.”

Sure you would, pal.   Don’t forget there wasn’t a Denny’s open at that time.   Around AD33 you couldn’t run to the local QT to get a cup of fresh coffee.   You and I might have wanted to stay awake and keep watch, but in the end, after chatting with our mates, we probably would have quietly sat down and nodded off…just like they did. It’s all the more real when you think that they weren’t sitting there in North Face jackets with thermal sleeping bags.   No, on a cold Judean night in the springtime (think 40-50 degrees), they sat on the hard ground, perhaps against stone walls, wearing thin robes, skirts or tunics and sandals.   I’m thinking they didn’t stretch out to relax.   I’m betting they huddled together to keep warm.

Then they were alarmed when Jesus came back and He was disappointed in them.   They didn’t know what to say.

Now, I’ll confess how I’m getting old by saying that I don’t see how young people can sleep so much.   My kids, they can sleep for hours, sometimes 8-12 hours at a stretch. I don’t think I could count on one hand how many times I’ve slept that long in my entire life and I’m nearly 50. Try waking up one of my kids when they’re asleep and you’ll get a disoriented, probably crabby hot mess. Ask them a question and you’ll likely get a vacant response.   Should it be surprising, then, if that’s the same response Jesus got from His sleeping disciples?   And they hadn’t even been asleep for 10 hours.

Yes, they should have kept a better watch; so should we.   Could they have eased Jesus’ anxiety over what was happening?   Perhaps; we’ll never know. Jesus wanted them to keep watch with Him just like He wants us to keep watch with Him every day of our lives.   He upbraided them to watch out and resist temptation because He knew that their best defense against a Satan on offense was to watch and be ready when sin tempts. He’ll do that same thing for you and I, speaking to our hearts, speaking to us through conscience.  When we are tempted, He’ll speak to us in ways that appeal to our hearts.   “Don’t do it.”   “You shouldn’t.”   “Stop now.” Those are good things to know because we will each find ourselves in moments of temptation every single day.   It’s a fair bet to assume that, like the Apostles, we won’t know what to say when that happens.

Lord Jesus, abide with me.   Remind me to avoid temptation and help me to resist.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 February 2016

 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba,Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14, verses 35-36.

I’m a big fan of the Kendrick Brothers and their movies. “War Room, Courageous, Fireproof” and others:   they’re excellent, openly Christian movies dealing with hard topics in realistic, faithful ways.   One of their earlier movies was called “Facing the Giants” and I believe that today’s verses express the theme of that movie.

“I’ll praise you, Lord, in the good and the bad.”

Now, let’s keep it real: that’s tough.   I mean, it’s probably the toughest thing in the world to do.   It’s easier to forgive your worst enemy on the hardest day of your life than it is to truly, honestly, gratefully praise God when those worst times happen.   And happen they do; we both know this to be true. Just when things couldn’t get any worse…they do.   Just when you think you have had enough…something else happens.   Just when you’re feeling the most overwhelmed…the world really closes in.

Please understand:   I’m not being pessimistic here; really, I’m not.   I’m stating that this is a tough old world, that the natural order of things in this fallen world is chaos.   At the heart of sin are idolatry and chaos. Indeed, I believe chaos stems from idolatry (from putting anything other than God in God’s rightful place), that idolatry creates chaos, and that the logical consequence of sin is chaos. If things seem to be getting worse and worse it is because, in fact, in many ways we might think they actually are because we live in sin.

In those times, praise God.

It’s not that we want, or desire, or crave the bad times.   God help the man who does.   Yet God also help the man who doesn’t give thanks to Him for being in those times.   It’s not a cliché to state that, when you’re down at the bottom, the only direction to go is up. In the middle of the worst trials, God is still present; God is still active.   God allows those hard times to be in our lives so that He might work all the more for our benefit, for His glory. That’s how love works.

Yes, I’ll definitely praise God for that annual bonus, for the new house we want, for the health of my kids and grandkid, for a thousand small blessings every day; more than I can even remember. We want to give praise and thanks to God during those good times because Jesus did first. Yet we also want to praise and thank Him during the bad times as well, maybe even more so.   Why?   Because Jesus did first.  There in Gethsemene, God was active, God was at work.   Jesus inferred it by talking to the Father in active language, intoning that He knew deep inside that the fact of God was at work in each of the unfolding events that Good Friday morning. Jesus didn’t want to undergo the torture of crucifixion, and He asked His Father if there were any other way.   Yet He also praised God at the same time; “not what I will but what You will.”

Even the Kendrick brothers would think the same, especially when facing our own giants. Not what I will, Lord, but what You will.   I’ll praise You either way.

Lord, I praise You today, just where I am.   Thank You.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 February 2016

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Mark 14, verses 32-34.

Jesus and His Disciples went to a rocky garden on the periphery of Jerusalem for some private time and prayer.   The eleven men with Him had lived a long day. So had Jesus, and all of them had to be physically and emotionally exhausted. When they got to the garden, Jesus then asked His three closest friends to continue on a little further.   He was overwhelmed.   You and I can grasp that feeling because, in these stressful times of economic depression, tense relations, and political upheaval, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the world around us.   Then add on personal issues, anything that hurts, bothers, or haunts you and your sense of being overwhelmed increases drastically.

Now think of Jesus at that point.   All those things were swirling around Him.   Add to them the fact that He had released Judas to go get the men who would start the process of killing Him. He knew it was happening.   Jesus knew that a criminal’s death was only a few hours away, and that in-between these early morning hours and that Good Friday afternoon, He would be beaten, flogged and tortured.   He knew the physical agony that was ahead and He knew there was no other way.   His followers would turn on Him. What’s more, He was assuming onto Himself all the sin of mankind, knowing that His Holy nature and the Holy Father and Spirit who comprise His Trinity could not abide that.   Jesus knew they would abandon Him and yet they wouldn’t.   In a mystery too deep for us to comprehend, Jesus understood the depth of the sin penalty that He would take upon Himself knowing that He would be all alone yet never alone.

He was overwhelmed with sorrow over all of it.   He was overwhelmed in ways that you and I can’t even begin to comprehend. All He asked was that His closest friends would simply be with Him. “I’m scared, guys.   Just be with me while I go through this.”   He said it knowing that Peter would soon deny even knowing Him a minimum of three times.   He said it knowing that James, John and the others would scatter when the temple guards came to seize Him.   It wasn’t much to ask and He asked it.

They failed Him.

So do I.   So do you.

All Jesus asks of us is that we let Him drive. He wants us to allow Him to bless us, to allow Him to bear our burdens, to mentor us, to surrender our control to Him so that He can teach us a better way.   He wants to teach us to stand for Him so that He can fight for us. I fail him every day at this; so do you.   Yet we have a duty to Him to stand that watch, to stand up for Him and stand against what is wrong in our world.   We don’t have this duty to work out our salvation:   we get to bear it as fidelity to our Savior. So did the Disciples.   So do I.   So do you.

Lord, please forgive then strengthen me to stand for You. Thank You for your sacrifice, for dying for me.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.