Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 October 2017

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12, verses 22-24.

One of my favorite Christian songs is “Days of Elijah.”   There’s a particularly good version of it by Twila Paris that’s not saccharin, not too rock & roll, not too corny.   It’s just uplifting, and one of the verses in the song says “out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.”  Look up the geography of Jerusalem and you see that Zion is the hill on which the first and second temple’s were built.   It was literally God’s home address on terra firma.  It’s where the Temple was located, where King David reigned and is buried, where the Last Supper was held, and it’s not far from Calvary.   In contemporary usage, Zion refers to the land of Israel itself, and to the cause of establishing the modern nation of Israel.  Yet in days of old it was where God lived.

That’s a lot to draw from just a few verses.  Then again, Jerusalem has been ground zero for most of human history, and Zion is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem.   There’s a lot to consider with it.

The writer of Hebrews invoked Zion to symbolize heaven made possible by Jesus.   It is the new heaven, the new dwelling place of the living God.   You and I get to go there, to worship in His true temple, to make our home with Him (to tabernacle with Him).   Where Sinai symbolizes our need for Jesus before heaven, Zion symbolizes our heaven with Jesus both here in this world and in the next.  Sinai was a place of power and fear:   Zion is a place where the greatest power in the universe – God’s love – took root and grew.   Sinai was law:  Zion is love.   Sinai was remote:   Zion is connection.

I can hear Twila singing about “righteousness being restored.”

Read, too, about Abel.   The writer recalls Abel, invoking that the sacrifice of Christ means more than the sacrifice of Abel (both the blood of the animal Abel sacrificed as well as his own as the victim of history’s first murder).  Abel gave a representation of divine blood in a sacrifice about his personal faith; Jesus actually gave His own blood as the faith sacrifice for all persons.

Read, too (again) about the firstborn.   Recall the story of Esau and Jacob (or, for that matter, Cain and Abel, or any of the first-born sons of the patriarchs).   Jesus makes us all as if we are first-born.   We ALL get to inherit the best of the family.   We all get to be treated as special because of what Jesus did in dying on that rugged cross.

“These are the days of Elijah declaring the word of the Lord.”   Elijah declared God’s word to an unbelieving world.   You and I get to do the same, thousands of years after Elijah, thousands of years after the Word of the Lord Himself.

Finally, there is the new covenant.   We’ve discussed how a covenant is more than just a contract or an agreement.   It’s a blood oath, a God-affirming vow made in faith and justice.  God had made covenants with humanity all through the age of the patriarchs yet all of them were made to point us to our need for His redemption.   When Jesus came, He delivered that redemption and made it possible for men to speak directly with God.   He restored balance by making the perfect atonement.   He made a path for us to spend both now and eternity in God’s presence.  The Old Testament covenants pointed us to our need for God, yet the covenant made by Jesus points us to God in our lives.  God has always judged all people yet now we get to see His judgment more clearly, more as an act of loving justice instead of punishing vengeance.   We get to see that God’s holy law from Sinai was made perfect by His holy sacrifice from Zion.   That the covenant Jesus made by Zion is one to which we can still be bound today.

Go download Twila’s song.   I guarantee you’ll like it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 24:23, Revelation 14:1, Galatians 4:26, Exodus 4:22, Revelation 20:12, Genesis 18:25, Psalm 94:2, Philippians 3:12,Galatians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:2, Genesis 4:20, Hebrews 11:4.

Lord, thank You for so many messages in so few words.   In these days of Elijah, help me to declare Your Words to those around me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 March 2017

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!.  Hebrews 9, verse 14.

You know what I’m looking forward to most in heaven?   A clean conscience.  In heaven, there won’t be guilt, or tears, or angst, or sorrow over things we’ve done, said or thought.   There simply won’t be a place or time for them when living eternally in the presence of the Triune God.   Knowing Him fully will crowd all that out.

Until then, there’s faith.

Ah faith.   Please understand, I’m not bad-mouthing faith because it’s faith in Jesus that imparts into us His salvation.   Yet I must confess I find it tedious and a cop-out for Christians (like me) to constantly use “well, in heaven…” as our fall-back position.   I’m thankful Jesus secured eternity for me, but what about now?   I desperately need His help now to get through every day here.   Temptation lurks in every minute, and my conscience bothers me about things I’ve done here on the Third Rock.   Perhaps my faith is weaker than I know because, all too often, my conscience zings me about sins long ago forgiven, even forgotten.

My judgmentalism; my impatience; my adulteries; my foul language; my lying; my hatred; my idolatry; you name a pet sin:   I haven’t done some of these in years yet the fact that I did them, or even that things were done to me, still greatly bothers me.   Occasionally, the burden wells up from my soul and I feel real despair.

It’s a taste of what Jesus must have felt hanging there on the cross.   For the first time in His life, His eternal life, He set aside the dignity and self-control He lived and allowed sin to overwhelm Him.   Things He hadn’t done:   Jesus allowed all that guilt, angst, loathing, and insecurity to flood Him and take Him.   Indeed, only a few hours before, He had been on His knees in the garden, sweating rivulets of blood so great was his overwhelming sorrow at the knowledge of what He must do.  Now that sorrow truly overwhelmed Him as He not only felt my guilt but took on Himself the penalty for it.   He who could not die was killed by it, killed for us.

I don’t deserve that.   I’ve never done anything in my life to deserve such a thing from anyone, let alone my Creator and Savior.  My whole history has been one of sin, from my first cry on that day in 1966 until just now.   I’m guilty as hell for all of it and I should be.

…Except that I shouldn’t be.   Not any more.   Dealing in “should” is a chancy proposition because “should” is so subjective.   Here’s one instance where should is actually quite sure.  I shouldn’t be guilty anymore because, in Jesus, I’m not guilty.   I’m not guilty by reason of substitutionary sacrifice.   I’m made not guilty by Jesus hanging there on the cross and taking my guilt on Himself.   I’m made not guilty by Him saying “I’ve got this.   Go and sin no more.”   And I’m made not guilty by the very last words He offered us while He was here: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”   That’s hope for right now.   Right now, in whatever I am going through, Jesus is with me, in me, seeing through me, acting through me.   He’s down for my struggle right now, and it’s His Spirit that gives me the courage to turn back temptation and turn away from causing myself more hurt.

Every time my conscience bothers me, I get to remind myself that Jesus offered Himself as a living sacrifice so that my conscience is cleansed from acts that lead to spiritual death.   My judgmentalism:   judged not guilty any more.  My impatience:   forgiven by God’s patience.  My adulteries:   made innocent again by the intimate soul of my Savior and true friend.   My foul language:  cleaned up and turned for a better purpose.   His purpose.   His mission.   I get to live the rest of my life as a worker in His fields, using the talents He gave me for the mission He has me on to meet, greet, and welcome others with the Gospel.   And when it get’s tough, the Jesus living through me is a whole lot tougher.

Yesterday, the pastor at church here in Paris shared a quote.   To paraphrase, it isn’t faith in Jesus that unites us as believers.   It isn’t church, or what we do, or even following the Bible.   The Gospel of Jesus is what unites us as believers.   It is the good news of His salvation that unites us and forgives us and gives us the promise of real hope.   Without the gospel, there is no good news or redemption.   With it, there are only unlimited possibilities for God’s real good here and always.  That’s hope for here and now to use throughout the rest of our lives.   And it’s hope to live past our numbered days here to start a life forever that will have no number or end.  On that our hearts and our conscience can always be clear.

For further reading:  1 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 5:2, Psalm 51:2, Psalm 65:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Zechariah 13:1, Hebrews, 10:2.

My Lord and my God, all praise and thanks to You for cleaning my conscience, for forgiving my sins when I don’t deserve it, for loving me when I’ve been unlovable.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 February 2017

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.  Hebrews 8, verse 1-2

This is the main point of everything, not just a few verses in the Bible.   You may not want to hear it, but the high priest of heaven – Jesus of Nazareth – is the main point of everything in your life.

We went to two different church services yesterday.   My wife and I attended our home church in Frisco to help set up communion and then to attend worship.   Later, (along with our daughters, their families, and my in-laws) we also attended a church in Prosper where we sat in on a telecast with David Jeremiah, well-known Christian author and minister.   Dr. Jeremiah’s sermon topic was the gospel and how our society is diluting it.   Our society is constantly trying to water down the powerful message that God redeemed us so we could live and love with Him forever.   We of the world constantly try to shift away from that because that message takes away from the focus on us.   We aren’t the creator:  we’re the created.  We aren’t the center of all things:   God is.

In other words, he talked about how Jesus was the main point of everything.

Then, last night, I didn’t watch the Oscars.   I usually don’t, so this year was no exception.   Chances are you’ve already heard about the major errors that happened  when Warren Beatty presented the Best Picture award.   Perhaps Clyde Barrow actually grabbed the envelope and stormed onstage, or maybe someone rushed the action, or perhaps there was some kind of mix-up we’ll never know about; internet conspiracy theorists are already going wild about it.   But no matter what happened, someone actually did hand that envelope to Jack Reed.   Can you imagine how it must feel to be the person who handed Beatty the wrong envelope?  They probably want to drop off the planet today.

That person needs to know that Jesus is the main point of everything.   Jesus is bigger than the Academy Awards.

Or there is someone my pastor friend, Patrick, is following on Twitter.   @SarahTaras tweeted just today “If Jesus’ end game had been moralism, no one would have wanted him dead.  The gospel is not a safe message.   Not then.   Not now.”   Powerful statement there, don’t you think?  I completely agree with her point, though.  The gospel is a radically unsafe message.   It directly challenges all the wisdom of this world in full frontal assault.  That makes it unsafe, threatening, dangerous to the world.   If you believe in the gospel, then you, too, are unsafe, dangerous and threatening.

All that is so because Jesus is the main point of the gospel.   Jesus is the main point of everything.   He is the center of the good news of salvation.   He is the center of real peace after a comedy of errors broadcast live across the globe.   He is the main point of all Christian ministry.  We each rebel and struggle with that idea because the sin in us spurs us on to want to be supreme.   We each want to be the top dog, all the while not realizing that Jesus is the main point of all creation.  He gives life because He is life.   He gives love because He is love.   God has provided everything that we have, think, or know of, and has put His Son Jesus over all of it.   That puts Him smack dab in the middle.

And He’s there whether we believe in Him or not, whether we forget or focus on Him.   He was at both Water’s Edge and Prestonwood yesterday.   He was on stage with Warren Beatty when old Warren announced the wrong film.   He’s with my friend and the woman on Twitter.   He’s reading these words through your eyes.   We each easily forget that Jesus is the center of all things but that only makes it even more urgent for us to regroup and remember who’s in charge.

Lord Jesus, You are the middle of everything.  You are God, You are love, You are the focus of my life.   Abide with me and forgive me, I pray, when I mess up.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 November 2015

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Mark 13, verse 10.

Awhile back, my pastor friend, Mark, was talking about the end.   He mentioned that he DOESN’T think we are nearing the end of time because the Gospel of Jesus – the good news that Jesus is God and forgives all sin and died as God’s only perfect atoning sacrifice specifically to redeem us – hasn’t been preached to all nations.   Despite all the new media, instant worldwide communications, and efforts to preach Jesus to billions of people in every language we know, he contends that the gospel still hasn’t been preached to all nations.   There could be (and likely are) hundreds of millions of our fellow humans who haven’t heard about Jesus, who haven’t been given the introduction to Him.

I agree with Mark.

Now, I won’t speak for my friend but I will say I don’t think he’s a millenialist, a believer in the Rapture and Tim LaHaye/”Left Behind” kind of apocalypse.   I think my friend is a typical Lutheran, stressing “be ready now” because we’re part of eternity now. No matter how much we debate how the world will end, Jesus promised it would end and that He would return to bring about eternity.

Yet, here and now, on this earth, believers in Jesus are already sealed as part of His eternity, already a part of heaven. We’re finishing our time here and, yes, determining post-terra firma implications to our eternity by what we say, believe and confess.   But Jesus has already done everything necessary to make possible and guarantee our eternal destiny.   He promised that we would be with Him, that God would accept us believing sinners on behalf of His sacrifice, because of His grace and love. No matter whether or not there’s a Rapture and all that follows, the best lesson we can teach about “the end” is “be ready for it now.”   “Don’t wait; believe and follow Jesus now and be ready if He returns now, millennially or otherwise.”

Keep in mind where this verse is said.   It’s said at the temple just days, even hours, before Jesus will be arrested and unjustly murdered.   The verse itself comes right between other verses that talk about the end times, about watching for signs and standing up for Jesus despite being persecuted.   That matters.

It matters because, here, Jesus is reminding us why He came, why He matters.   He is the good news; Jesus is the reason for the Gospel. Preaching and sharing Him with the world is why He came.   He wants that to be done because He loves ALL people of all races and nationalities and colors.   Jesus wants all men and women to be in communion with Him forever and He was reminding His followers that, before the end of time is brought about, He wants all people to be given the opportunity to follow Him.   So, smack-dab in the middle of telling His friends that they need to watch out and look for signs that (He said) will point to the end of time, Jesus reminds them that the purpose of time is to allow us to share Him with each other.   To bring more believers into Jesus’ eternity.

No matter what you believe about how the world will end, that’s a great first principle to always keep in mind.

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your words about eternity. Thank You for using me to share You with folks who might not know You.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 October 2014

News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee – Mark 1, verse 28.

News travels fast. I live in Frisco, Texas where the big story this week is Ebola. On the day the first Ebola patient in America died (in Dallas, which is only a few miles away), a second possible patient was found here in my town.   Within minutes of the story hitting the electronic universe, it was everywhere.   Some were panicking; some (like me) were curious; some were blasé. Thankfully, the man’s Ebola test came back negative. News travels fast.

Think about it.   When we learn something important, most people want to share it. Whether it’s good news or bad news, we have something to say and we want to say it.   After taking the summer off, I could honestly not wait to come back to this blog and write about Jesus.   I was excited and refreshed, having prayed and contemplated what I would say to you, and what you might think or say in return.   Some folks receive these words by email, some on Facebook, some on Twitter, some on the blog.   In all, it travels to about four thousand people per day on five continents, all through the modern-day miracle of internet technology.

Word gets around, you know.

It did in Galilee during the time of Jesus. I like to think that, even though those people didn’t have social media, they could quickly spread news by just word of mouth.   You know the cynicism about “a lie can run around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”   Let’s get real:   that’s true.   Yet let’s keep it real by admitting that good news travels fast as well.   It’s dependent on God’s grace (through opportunities for communication) and the person who is communicating.

That’s how, in only a few short years, news about an obscure, small-town rabbi with powerful teaching spread quickly. It happened by word of mouth, by one person talking with another. It happened because people talked about what He said and did.   His following grew in spite of a dictatorial government oppressing the people of Judea, and in spite of the vicious opposition by those in the power structure (who cooperated with the occupying dictators). Jesus’ following grew exponentially because people talked about Him.   They were amazed that someone was in their midst who was saying and doing the things Jesus did. Someone who appeared to fulfill the prophecies they had been reading for so many centuries.

Because He did.

And when He did, news about it spread quickly, first throughout Galilee, then throughout all of the known world. Because news travels fast when people talk.

So let me ask you this:   if you know that the Son of God came here, lived and died and rose from death to pay for all the junk you’ve ever done, what are you going to do with that news?   Mind you, my friend, I’m not saying this to guilt you:   I’m honestly asking you.   You and I have this real good news, this Gospel of Jesus, and it’s true.   It’s news.   What are we going to do with it?   What are you prepared to do?

Lord, thank You for living and dying to pay a price I can’t. Help me to share news about You in all I do and say today.

Read John 4, verses 1-3, and Luke 4, verse 37.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 5 May 2014

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  “You shall have no other gods beforeme.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

 “You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  Exodus 20, verses 1 through 17.

The Ten Commandments.   Today, do we still need them?   If we do, what do they mean?  Why would a loving God tell us so many things not to do?  Why all the strict rules?

Perhaps if there are questions like this then the subject is still relevant.  Here in twenty first century America, when we think of the Ten Commandments, many of us think of the Cecil B. DeMille movie.   Up until I really started diving into God’s Word, that’s what I thought of.  I thought of the cheesy acting, the blue-eyed Charlton Heston as Moses, and the fiery finger in the clouds etching out tables of stone for Moses to smash at the bottom of the mountain.

Or there’s the parody from Mel Brooks in “History of the World, Part I.”  15, not ten until an untimely accident changes history.  It’s bawdy humor, but funny.

There’s so much more.

So for the next few weeks, we’re going to walk through the Ten Commandments and some things that you may or may not have thought about them.  I must admit:  this idea isn’t original.   It was inspired by my friends, Mark Schaefer and Anthony Celia, who used the Ten Commandments as a vehicle for prayer and confession at our church.   Their good idea got me to thinking that there is so much more to the Ten Commandments than what we may have thought for so long.   They aren’t a set of rules and boundaries, and yet they are.   More than that, they’re an expression of love from a God who gave his favored people what they needed instead of just what they wanted.  Where they wanted gold, food, and conquest, he gave them codes to live by so that they might rely on His love and providence more.   From that, everything else could flow.

We’re no different.

It’s more than a cheesy movie.   So much more.  Come back tomorrow and let’s dive in together.  We’re ready for our close up now, Mr. DeMille…but that’s a different movie.

Lord, write your Commandments on my heart, then open they eyes of my heart that I might love You more because of them.

 

Read Exodus chapters 1 through 19.