Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, Good Friday, 30 March 2018.

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.  1 Thessalonians 3:13 (NIV).

Since it’s Good Friday, before you remember that “it is finished,” I’m going to lay some bad news on you that you probably won’t want to hear.

You aren’t good enough.

You, me, Pope Francis, Roseanne Barr, David Hogg, Franklin Graham, anyone else you can think of:   on our own we are damned.   Not just damned dirty dogs, damned dirty sinners, damned old curmudgeons, but really damned.   Eternally separated from God forever.  On our own, we have thought, said, and done things that put an abyss between the love of Jesus that declared “it is finished” and where we’re standing now.

When we try to do good things for other people because people are inherently good, we’re damned.   When we feel remorse for things we’ve done because that’s what you should feel, we’re damned.   When…when…when:  the list goes on.  We cherish self-reliance, and against the face of a hostile world, those behaviors seem good.   They bring out the best in us.   But on their own, they’re the path to eternal damnation.   You and I are still in one place and Jesus, the Light of the world and eternal love, is in another.   Accept it:  without Jesus, you’re damned, stuck.  Whatever hell is, whether it’s fire, pain, torture, or even just permanent emotional distress, it’s the best you can hope for.   Reject the love of Jesus and that’s your present and your future.  You aren’t good enough.

Face it, damned friend, you need help.

Good Friday is all about that help.   Good Friday is the reason Paul confidently gave this benediction to friends he knew would understand it.  Good Friday is the reason he knew, and we can know, that we can be blameless and holy in the presence of God.  Without Good Friday, we’re damned in front of God, and it’s a fearful thing to stand there in that condition.  With Good Friday, all is forgiven; everything.   My cheating and lying, your rebellion and hatred, the judgmentalism we thrust on strangers, the anger and the murder and the adultery and the idolatry are ALL forgiven.   None of them will earn us the reward of hell.   Because of Good Friday Jesus said, “it is finished.”   His death is the defining moment in all of human history, and it makes the difference in this world and the next.   Forever.

You and I are never good enough on our own.   We desperately need God to intervene in our lives and make things right.   On the cross, Jesus did just that.   He, who really is good enough, did it today, on Good Friday.   On its own, Friday is just another day.   What Jesus did made you, and this holiday, more than good enough.

For further reading:   1 Thessalonians 4:1.

Lord, thanks for Your death, for Your life, for Your forgiveness.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 April 2017

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.  Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’”  Hebrews 10, verses 5-7

A happy day after Easter to you.   Here in east Texas, it’s pouring rain.   I’m thankful that the rain held off until today because yesterday it would have drowned out everyone’s Easter plans.   On the homestead north of Paris, after church my wife cooked a great dinner while I went outside to do some overdue yard work.   I cut down some nuisance bushes and thinned out plants all around the property, and it gave me time to think about a thought God had put on my brain during church.

Think about Easter Saturday.   Maundy Thursday we understand.  Good Friday we understand.   Easter Sunday:   we get it, and even the days between Easter and Pentecost, when we observe God imparting His Spirit to us so that we can live life as Jesus’ eyes and ears.   Historically we know what happened on those days.   Ecclesiastically we comprehend the meaning of their events.  What about that in-between day?   Who ever thinks about Easter Saturday?

Have you ever really noodled the idea that God provided everything on Easter Saturday?   On Friday, we humans, His ‘very good’ creation, publicly and desperately murdered God who lived among us as a man.   We didn’t just murder Him:   we brutalized Him physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally in the worst ways possible.   If you haven’t watched “The Passion of the Christ,” I urge you to do so because it is as close as you’ll get to actually watching Jesus being crucified.   Me thinks the real thing was even worse.

He who bore that torture had only come to do His Father’s will.   The man Jesus lived perfectly to do that perfect will, then died perfectly on a gruesome torture tree to do that same holy will.  He came to atone for all the things He never did wrong because we, as a people, simply didn’t ‘get it.’   Animal sacrifices, burnt grain offerings, good works, even clean living didn’t atone for sins.   They still don’t and never will.  Yet people clung/cling to them as if doing so will please God and bring us closer to Him.   Perhaps it’s just another way we try to be God instead of living our lives to reflect Him.   Jesus understood all that and yet He still chose the nails so we wouldn’t have to take them.

And still, on the day when Jesus’ body lay cold and dead in the Arimathean’s tomb, God again provided.   Air, water, food, shelter, love, friendship, vocation:   for everyone living on planet Earth that day God still showed up.   Just as He had every single day since He spoke life into being, God provided all that people needed to get through the time between midnights.  The Roman soldiers who flogged Jesus then nailed Him to that cross?   Alive and thriving.   The Sanhedrin that had cajoled a death sentence?   Alive and kicking with hot food in their bellies.   The crowds who cheered and cried as Jesus agonized along the Via Dolorosa?   Alive, breathing, going on about their business.  God.  Still.   Provided, and He provided to those who deserved it least.  Can we even begin to comprehend that kind of love?  In the whole story of Easter and the miracle God provided through it, perhaps that’s the most overlooked miracle of all.  God showed up when we least deserved it.

Like He’s showing up now in the miracle of rain pouring down outside my office door.   It’s filling up my pond, the same pond I wasn’t sure would ever fill again.  Nature really is a miracle, you know.   Watching trees bud and bring forth leaves.   Fish swimming in the pond and young chicks just hatched growing feathers in just a few short weeks.  The sun that warms us and brings weather to nourish and rejuvenate the planet.   These are all daily miracles we see.   They’re all ways God still provides.   If you try to count all the ways God provides for you in just one day, you won’t get anything else done.   That’s a miracle, too.   In the days when we deserve it least, God still provides everything we need.   And after living, dying, and then rising on that day we commemorated just yesterday, He still lives on in our hearts, minds and hands, still saying “here I am” as both identification and proclamation.   That’s the biggest miracle of all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 1:6, Hebrews 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, Ezra 6:2, Jeremiah 36:2, Psalm 40:6-8, Matthew 26:39, .

My risen Lord, thank You for providing for me when I’ve so not deserved it.   Thank you for life, air, food, shelter, and love.   Thank You for dying for me, then living for me.   Teach me ways to live for You today and every day.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 April 2017, Maundy Thursday

Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Hebrews 10, verses 2-4.

Today is Maundy Thursday 2017.   Today is the reason why animal sacrifices became unnecessary.  Today we commemorate God giving Himself up so that they would no longer be necessary.   That sacrifice we commemorate tomorrow, on Good Friday. But for now, today is a sad day of celebratory mourning, a time when we remember Jesus instituting the miracle of communion and forgiveness while facing the spiritual torment of Gethsemene, then Golgotha tomorrow.

As part of my own remembrance, yesterday I watched “The Passion of the Christ.”   I try to do this every year during Holy Week because it keeps my faith edgy.   The movie is so graphic and rightfully so since it portrays the most graphic murder ever perpetrated on a man.  I kept it on the TV in my office while I worked, and glanced over at it throughout the afternoon.  The more I watch the movie, though, the more I reach the same conclusion.

I feel sorry for Judas.

I’ve written this before but I feel sorry for Judas Iscariot.   He brought his woes on himself.   Nobody forced Him to betray the Son of Man but Judas did it willingly, even enthusiastically.  I know:  he was a greedy, selfish, sinful, detestable bastard.   Conniving, evil, deceitful; sounds like many of my friends and fellow sinners, actually.  No, I’m not equivocating because I’ve never sold out the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver.   My sins are my own and they have denied Jesus as surely as did Judas, Peter, or any of His other best friends who abandoned Him in His most desperate hours.

Yet I feel sorry for Judas because he is pathetic.

When Judas absorbed the guilt of his sins, he forgot all about Jesus.   Maybe it was that he couldn’t bring himself to even think about Jesus or what he had done to his friend and savior.   Perhaps the guilt was too crushing and he simply gave in to the worst temptation.   It’s possible that Judas didn’t understand the new covenant that Jesus had just explained to him in that Passover supper that first Maundy Thursday evening.  Or how it would supersede those sacrifices that dated back to the days of Noah or before.

Whatever happened, Judas snapped and killed himself.   He was cold and dead before Jesus was even nailed to the cross that Good Friday.  I feel sorry for him, have pity on him, and I honestly hope something in him turned back before the life snuffed out of his body.   It isn’t up to me, but I hope there’s a place in heaven for Judas.   If there isn’t a place for people who do things as supremely reprehensible as what Judas did, then there isn’t a place for any of us.   The key is belief.   Judas lost his belief, his faith, in Jesus if he ever really had it in the first place.

He lived in a time when people still fully believed that animal sacrifices atoned for human sins.   The whole purpose of the Jewish temple was to worship Yahweh, the almighty I AM.   Integral to that worship was the Mosaic sacrificial system where doves, lambs, and bulls were slaughtered and brought to the altar.   There was even an annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, which is still commemorated by Jews today) in which the high priest took that animal blood and sprinkled it on the articles in the Most Holy Place.   By the time of Jesus and Judas, the Ark of the Covenant (God’s mercy seat) was long gone from the temple, having disappeared hundreds of years before.   Yet the Temple still contained a Most Holy Place – a Holy of Holies – where worshippers thought God was still present.  Once a year, the priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled animal blood.

And it did nothing.  Yes, I said that.   It did nothing.   Even from the start of sacrifices it was only faith in God that would bring atonement.   Only God could fully atone for man’s sins because imperfect man could not.   The sacrifices were an expression of that faith, not the actual atonement.  Thus, when Jesus died, He and only He fully atoned as a true sacrifice for the terrible sins of His most cherished creation, man.

This was the world in which Judas lived and from which he committed suicide.   Even as a disciple closely walking with the incarnate God for years, he never made the connection between Jesus and sacrifice.  I feel sorry for him.   “The Passion of the Christ” shows him to be mentally anguished up to the end, tortured by demons, tortured by his sins.   The Bible doesn’t insist that people who commit suicide are damned, though it does paint suicide as a sin.   If Judas felt such terrible anguish that he couldn’t go on, I sincerely hope that, in his final seconds here, he found comfort in repentance and a place in paradise beyond.   That isn’t up to us:  it’s up to God.   Someday, hopefully many years from now, we’ll learn what happened.

For further reading:  Hebrews 9:9.

Lord, I praise You in mourning and celebration for the sacrifice You gave of Yourself.   Have mercy on Judas and others, and .

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 March 2016

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.  In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.  It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. Mark 15, verses 40-47.

It seems a bit anti-climactic to talk about things that happened on Good Friday when today is the Monday after Easter, yet please indulge me a bit while we do.   It’s good news.

Awhile back, my pastor friend, Mark, exhorted our congregation to be “Easter people.”   Yesterday, during Easter service, he reiterated this theme in a slightly different way.   We should be people who live joyfully knowing that God Immanuel, Jesus our Savior, kept His promise and rose from His murdered death.   He was killed, embalmed, and put in a grave on Friday.   On Sunday morning, Jesus was back in action, just as He said He would be.  It means He is exactly who He said He is, and that our believing in Him means we’re eternally set free from the overwhelming guilt over our doing unholy things.   I can let them go; you can let them go.   God doesn’t see our sins any more.   He sees us perfect because He looks at us through the window of Jesus and His perfect life and death.

The Good Friday lesson to remember is that we get to lay our sins in the grave.   Jesus took them away.   They are dead; they have died, gone away, and are no more for us.   Yes, notice the dedication and devotion with which Jesus’ followers still pursued and believed in Him even as He died.   They loved Him; they did right by Him even after He was gone and their hopes apparently crushed.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that, with Him, all our sins are dead forever. We no longer have to be burdened by them.   We are part of eternity here and now, and because of what He did, we GET TO start fresh.   To truly repent, to change, to adjust, to make amends, and best of all to forgive.   To forgive and then move forward knowing that, no matter what tough things the world has in store for us, we’re Easter people who know that we can’t ever be truly destroyed.

Most of all, death itself is destroyed. God didn’t create death, but He allowed it as the consequences of our free will to choose things other than Him.  Death is the absence of God because God is life.   Death is un-love because, the opposite of death is God, who is all love.   God didn’t create us to die:   He created us to live in harmony with Him, our loving, Holy, and just creator.  When our ancestors (and later we) chose differently, God respected our choices knowing that our choices carried the penalty of death.   God hates death so He Himself, Jesus, the God-man, came, lived, and died to destroy death.   He died on Good Friday to restore balance to mankind’s destiny, then He began a new destiny for us on Easter Sunday by rising, living, and moving forward in a world that could finally see Him for who He was and is.  Jesus hated death; He hates it still.   So He offered Himself as the cure for the common death.   On the Monday after Good Friday and the Easter to which it gave way, this is the best news of all.

Risen Lord Jesus, bless You for all You did in dying and living for us.   I’m so thankful for all You’ve done!

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.  

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, Good Friday, 25 March 2016

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15, verse 39.

Today is Good Friday.   I recently saw a BC comic strip that beleaguered why the day on which Jesus was murdered was called “Good Friday.”   One character couldn’t see the good in that. Another of the characters responded (to the effect) ‘if you were going to die on that day and he volunteered to take your place, how would you feel?’   “Good,” replied the first man…to which the second walked away saying, “have a nice day.”

The centurion understood why it was called Good Friday.   If you consider the simple enormity of what God Himself did for you and me, you’ll understand it as well.

Take me.   Yesterday I attended a Seder at my church here in Texas.   It’s a concept that my wife and I had been doing for most of a decade that we introduced to our church in North Texas. At another Seder in the same place exactly seven years ago, I first met the woman with whom, later that year, I would stray.   I guess she and her husband had been attending our church for awhile but I really never noticed them until she came up and effusively thanked me for sponsoring the event.   Her personal life was a disaster; mine was struggling. Over the next few months we became friends, then more, then all hell broke loose. When it was over, we had destroyed two families, so many people were hurt, and I haven’t hosted a Seder meal since.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on that yesterday and last evening.   Sure, it was awkward, but the woman moved somewhere else long ago, so I’m thankful it wasn’t more awkward.   My wife had left me, but we eventually reconciled and came back stronger.   My kids were distraught and despised me for what I’d done to their mom and our family, but we’ve built back as we’ve grown into something wonderful.   I lost a great many friends who didn’t want to have anything to do with a cheating dirty dog like I was, but I’ve made many more since. I was caught cheating red-handed, but I was able to really repent of that and change. My sins were public, destructive, and cut to the heart of what it means to be a Christian, but since then I’ve served in other ways as a church leader, as a struggling believer, and even in sharing this blog, these words.

It’s all because of Good Friday.   It’s all because of the sacrifice that the centurion witnessed.   It’s all because of the thing done for us that the comic strip described.

It’s contrary to human nature to forgive, but that’s what Jesus’ death means for us.   It’s unusual that people will be able to move past the moment when you egregiously hurt or offend them, but that’s one thing that Jesus’ death means for us.   It’s impossible for any of us perfectly atone for the unholy sins that we enthusiastically do and escape the holy wrath of a holy Father, but that’s what Jesus’ death means for us.

It’s all because Jesus died that we can stand before, with, and beside God, the Three in One, and live forever.   It’s all because of what happened on Good Friday…because Good Friday gave way to Easter Sunday.

Thank You my Lord Jesus for dying on the cross for me.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.  

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 24 March

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15, verses 33-38.

Extraordinary:   that’s the only word that can adequately describe these events.   These things happened all within such a short period of time – within the hour of Jesus’ death – that it’s simply extraordinary.

Notice how the hard-hearted stayed hard-hearted until the very end.   Apparently they weren’t moved by the raw emotion of watching an innocent man die.   Granted, the chief priests didn’t believe Jesus was innocent at all.   They wanted Him dead.   Yet it’s a gruesome, awful thing to watch someone, even someone you despise, being tortured and then crucified.   From these words (as well as corroborating & amplifying words from the other three gospels), it doesn’t seem to have phased them.

Notice that some acknowledged who Jesus was before He died, that He had the power to call for Elijah. There were some in the crowd who recognized the possibility that this Jesus may actually be divine, that He might just be who He said He was after all.   Were they mocking Jesus in saying what they did?   Perhaps, especially given the words about the sponge and “let Elijah get him down.” Yet don’t overlook the bare fact that, for the first time in this whole process, someone took a step back and said “hmmmm.”

Notice, too, that, at the same time Jesus died, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple was torn.   It signifies that there was no longer a veil separating God’s presence with God’s people.   They had seen Him face to face, and He had done all that was necessary for sinful people to stand in His holy presence without being destroyed by that holiness. The people there on Calvary didn’t know about what happened to the veil until after the fact, but it served as yet another physical proof that Jesus was indeed God Immanuel:   God With Us who they just had murdered.

Finally, notice the overwhelming, simple faith of the centurion.   He was a military officer; think Army colonel.   And he was a pagan, an unbeliever, a soldier doing his duty for the Roman Empire.   And he was the first believer after Jesus died. This non-Jew, this Gentile, this man outside of God’s promised holy nation, was the first man who looked up in regret at the job he had just performed and acknowledged, “this man was the Son of God.”   As he stood beside the cross, looking up at the bloody, wounded, dead body of Jesus of Nazareth, the centurion confessed what his heart and mind agreed.   He was the first convert after the crucifixion:   the first of billions.

It’s extraordinary.

Lord Jesus, I’m moved to tears by the story of Your death.   Thank You for dying for the sins I deserve to die for.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.  

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 March 2016

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.  Mark 15, verses 21.

How often are you made to do something you really don’t want to do?

Consider Simon from Cyrene.   He’s not native to Jerusalem; he’s visiting there.   One Friday morning, when the city is full, he is caught on a street that would come to be known as the Via Dolorosa.  Perhaps he’s minding his business; perhaps he’s there with family.   We don’t particularly know why he was there; we really don’t know much about him other than that he was from Cyrene, which is in northern Africa.   All we know is that he was Shanghai’d into helping Jesus walk to His death.

Back to here and now. If I haven’t said it before, I don’t like batting cleanup.   If you’re not a baseball fan, to bat cleanup is to be the fourth hitter in a lineup.   Three guys get on base, so the manager sends a hitter to bat who can hit them home.   In a way it’s an honor; in another way it’s a burden.

At work, I have a penchant for working in positions where, very often, my role is to finish the work done by others.   To be honest, it aggravates me.  I don’t like having to come in part way through an effort and be stuck with someone else’s choices.  Yet the irony of this is that batting cleanup is my specialty.   I’ve developed skills, abilities, and intuition that allow me to apply myself in going in and bringing order to chaos, and successful completion to endangered crisis.  This is just a niche in which I’ve carved out experience.

Do you think Simon of Cyrene probably had experience carrying crosses?   I’m betting not.   But he was forced into a situation where he had to bat cleanup.  He probably didn’t go to Jerusalem that Friday morning thinking “I’m gonna help a man die today” but that’s the way it turned out.  The Romans saw that Jesus was exhausted, that He couldn’t walk another step while carrying that heavy cross.   The cross was probably between 100 and 200 lbs, and remember that Jesus had been awake since Thursday morning and had spent the last few hours being viciously tortured.   He was in agony, made even more agonizing knowing that the pain was only beginning.   No Roman soldier would be forced to carry that cross, so they pulled Simon out of the crowd and forced him at sword-point to help the King of the Jews.

Sort of makes my complaining about work seem pretty trivial, doesn’t it.   I mean, if my cross to bear is the ability to swoop in, help someone be successful, and get paid handsomely for it, tell me where is there any cross to bear?

You know the answer.   No, as always, this isn’t a guilt trip for you.   It’s simply to help you ask yourself:   how often are you asked to do things you don’t want to do?   Then, how much of a burden are they?   Are they pulled-out-of-a-crowd-and-forced-to-carry-a-cross-for-a-convicted-innocent-felon burdensome?   Are they the burdens of Jesus?   You and I aren’t God and can’t be God, but we can change our lives to live as He asks us.   What are you prepared to do?

Lord, take my burdens.   Forgive me my shallowness and my sins, and help me to change to better live as You would ask me to.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.