Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 May 2017

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10, verses 19-22.

Before moving on, let’s talk about “a sincere heart.” It’s mentioned there in the verses above and it bears some extra pondering.  The verse talks about being active, about doing something:  drawing near to God…but under two conditions.   One, that we have a sincere heart and, two, that we are blessed with the full assurance (of forgiveness) that faith brings.

There’s an old country song, a Clint Black song, “Something That We Do.”   It’s a love song, of course; a sonnet from Black to his wife.   One lyric stands out to me: “love isn’t something that we have, it’s something that we do.”   I like sappy old songs, so naturally I like this one.   Yet let’s apply that lyric to these verses.

Love isn’t just something that we have it’s something that we do. We have to DO something to demonstrate love to God.   It’s not something that He requires us to do, or needs us to do to satisfy a command.   It isn’t even something that He asks of us.   Let’s keep it real:   God doesn’t NEED us to do anything for Him.   He’s God and we aren’t.  Instead, if we are to be near God, and if we are to be blessed by His presence, then we have to ‘draw near.’   We have to do the physical action of reading His word, praying with Him, confessing to Him, talking with Him.   Those are things we do that we’re motivated to do because of His love.   That love is both what He does and what He is.   It’s very much a ‘both/and’ kind of thing.

And with what do we draw near?   You know:  that sincere heart.   According to dictionary.com, the most common meanings for ‘sincere’ are “free of deceit, hypocrisy, or falseness; earnest, genuine; real; pure; unmixed; unadulterated.”   We GET TO have a sincere heart because of the love that is something He does.   He makes us new.   He makes us righteous.   He takes away our sins, our guilt, our shame, our anxiety and, in return, He makes our hearts sincere.   He does that because that’s genuine and real.   God operates exclusively in the realm of genuine and real.   There is nothing disingenuous or unreal about Him.  Accordingly, He makes us whole to draw near to Him so that He can be earnest, pure, free of deceit, and unadulterated with us.  And when God does that, He is blessing us beyond measure, giving us the full assurance of His forgiveness and His constant presence in our lives.

He does it from the inside out.   It’s the heart that God remakes.   It’s what’s dearest inside of us, closest to what we really believe and really feel, where God moves.   God operates on us to make our hearts blameless and sincere again, like they were before we clouded them up with the insincerity of sin.  Like a little baby’s heart; like my little granddaughter, Kaleigh Grace’s heart.  She seems so uncompromised by sin, so pure starting out.   Yet deep inside even that precious little girl lies the nature of rebellion.   You hear it in desperate crying and a refusal to be comforted easily.  Already, even at only four days old, she desperately needs the love of a sincere God to be something that He does.   That’s much better than an old country song.

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Leviticus 16:2, Ephesians 2:18, Hebrews 9:8.

My Lord, thank You for blessing me by being in my life. Thank You for loving me in a way that I couldn’t do myself.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 May 2017

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10, verses 19-22.

Here’s the medicine for when we get down.   Yesterday, I mentioned that I’ve been down a lot lately.  Today’s verses talk about how, as renewed believers in Jesus, we can stand in front of God Himself and be guiltless, clean, sinless.  Sometimes, in really dark moments, it’s hard to see past that darkness and realize that there is real light shining on you, trying to break through.  The darkness tries to overcome the light but it can’t.   It can’t because it was Jesus’ mission in coming here to live, die, and live again to make it possible for us to stand before God the Father and be blameless.   When we clothe ourselves in Jesus’ righteousness, we are washed clean from our guilty conscience bothering us and our sins impurifying our souls.   Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that concept, but we have to keep reminding ourselves of it.   Even when we’re being clouded by the darkness, it’s true.   It’s God’s grace and it’s something critical to know.

On a wholly different level, these are also words I want my granddaughter to know.   My first granddaughter, Emma Marie, was born back in January.   Today, May 4, on “Star Wars Day,” comes my second granddaughter, Kaleigh Grace, who will be born later this morning.  By all indications, she’s a healthy girl, and my prayer is that she and her mom both continue in good health.

Yet the stark truth of birth is that this beautiful little girl is being born into a world of death. She is being born into a world corrupted by the sins of her parents, her family, and billions of strangers both now and in the past.   Crime is real.  Death is real.  Hate is real.   War, plagues, famine, genocide, pain and suffering on unimaginable scales are all real.   This is the world into which we bring another precious soul today.  That can get you down…if you let it.

And you do indeed let it get you down if you forget that God’s grace is the reason for hope. Jesus Christ has cleansed our guilty consciences and washed our bodies clean with pure water.  No matter what things, good and bad, that Kaleigh Grace does in this world, she will always have a beautiful Savior who loves her, lived and died for her, and rose from death for her.   He will always see her as His very good creation, and His beloved bride.

I want my new granddaughter to know these truths.   It can be a hard, tough world.  I hope and pray that the life which begins today is long and happy.  I pray she knows she’s loved right from her first moment.  Yet there will be hard days, awful times, things that happen around her and even to her that will work to bring her down.   In those times, I pray she knows the real truth.   That tough times never last.   That even in the tough times, a Savior who loves her is right there with her to give her guidance and comfort.   That He loves her because of what He did and that she doesn’t ever have to do anything to prove herself to Him or try to make Him love her more.   That believing in Him now matters both now and forever.   And that she’s part of eternity, of forever, now because that matters most.

Kaleigh Grace will be named, in part, for my mom, Grace Terry. Mom died a few years ago but lives on with her Savior forever because of His grace…that grace in which a new little girl will be born.   Even when the world gets her down, God’s grace will always be present.

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Leviticus 16:2, Ephesians 2:18, Hebrews 9:8.

Lord Jesus, bless Kaleigh as she begins her journey with You today. I thank You for making her, loving her, providing for her, and guiding her all through her life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 December 2016

Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.  Hebrews 5, verse 8.

Suffering teaches you obedience.  When you lose your job, you immediately look for ways to both gain new employment and reduce expenses until you do.   When you are in physical pain, you surrender your abilities to do certain things until that pain is relieved.   When you lose something, make a bad choice, are in danger, commit a secret wrong, or do any other kind of thing that produces suffering, you immediately know it.   You react to the thing that causes you to suffer.   In short, you obey whatever is made necessary to alleviate the suffering.

Suffering is one of God’s means of grace.  Huh?   God imparts His grace through suffering?   You bet He does.   Consider Romans 5:  “not only so but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.   And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  God uses our suffering as a way to both tear us down and build us up.   He teaches us lessons that, in a non-suffering state, we might not absorb in meaningful ways.  In doing this, He teaches us to endure the bad for the outcome that can be good.  In that endurance, we receive character and hope.  I’d submit, as well, that the hope of which Romans 5 speaks isn’t a wish, either.   It’s a sure promise of God’s blessing.

And when you’re suffering, it’s ok to cry out.   It’s ok to cry, scream, hurt, vent, anguish.   Jesus did.   He vented righteous anger against wrongdoing in His ministry.   And, in true agony on the cross, He cried and screamed in pain.  We have all heard how people who are depressed or suicidal will find ways to cry out for help.  The message from Scripture is “you should!”   It’s a healthy thing to let the world know you’re in pain.   Maybe the world will help.

Or maybe not.   In Jesus’ case, you know the scoop.   We’ve already seen how Jesus ‘got to’ do the things He did, how He is a priest forever like the legendary Melchizidek.   Wrapped up in that is the fact that Jesus ‘got to’ die on the cross.  He genuinely suffered a torturous death that you and I can only imagine.  He who was fully man and fully God at the same time got to endure the physical mutilation of scourging and crucifixion as well as the emotional torture of rejection.   And as if that wasn’t enough (and it wasn’t), in a mystery we don’t fully understand, He who was fully man and fully God at all times got to endure the spiritual abandonment of the Father while at the same time remaining fully part of Him.  He did it alone, and together, and because we couldn’t.

Whether we like it or not, we also ‘get to’ endure our suffering, allowing that which could defeat us to, instead, transform us by stripping away some traits while replacing them with others.  Yet God doesn’t abandon us even when we find it hard to see Him.   You know this deep inside.   Don’t let suffering rob you of that knowledge.

So what was it that Jesus was obeying?   You know the answer to that as well.   He obeyed God’s will.   In reality, doesn’t everything (at least indirectly) obey God’s will?   If God uses all the world’s sins in ways that result in good for His kingdom, doesn’t this mean that everything is subject to God’s will?  Of course everything is subject to God’s will, His patient and perfect will.   Believe it or not, God doesn’t will for us to suffer needlessly.   Read the verses below and understand that Jesus’ suffering as well as that of the believer can build others up while giving us the courage that’s needed to see the thing through.

Neither you nor I wants to suffer.   We hate hurting and we hate it when others around us, especially loved ones, hurt.   We weren’t made for hurting and suffering, but those are two consequences of sin in our world.   How good it is to know that God is with us through all of it.

For more reading:   Romans 5:3-5, Luke 22: 41-44, Matthew 27: 46-50, Luke 23:46, Psalm 22:24, Mark 14:36.

Lord God, transform my suffering into perseverance and let it bring glory to You and lessons for myself and others.   Help me to reject hurt and bitterness.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 November 2016

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.  Hebrews 4, verses 1-2.

This is going to sound simple, maybe even goofy, but walk with me on it.  When you hear something, when does it become of value to you?  Let’s say you hear a juicy piece of news.  Does your mind immediately begin to process it, figuring out possible meanings and implications?   Of course it does.   And if you learn something new – if your light bulb lights up – do you start to think of ways that new information means something to you, perhaps connecting the dots between it and other things?  And can your mind or your heart continue to process words long after you’ve learned them, long after their first meaning took hold?   You know the answer.

You now understand Hebrews 4, verses 1 and 2.   God’s word goes to work on us as soon as we hear it.   What’s more, it can work in different ways at different times in our lives.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 reiterates what Hebrews 4 says: “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”   Unpack that verse and you’ll find it means a few things.   One (obviously) is that Scripture is the word of God.   Two, it isn’t only a human translation (though men are scribes and interpreters of it).   Three, the word of God can do work, and four, that work happens in those who believe.

But above all, it means that the word of God you heard was something you accepted, as it is, immediately and that it started working on you immediately.  The second you’re baptized you’re identified as one of God’s chosen people.   The second you say your marriage vows you’re married.   So it is with the second you accept and believe God’s Word, whatever part of that Word you hear.   It begins to work on you that very moment, like bleach on a stained cloth, like alcohol scouring out a wound.

Tell me:  if you hear something positive and it begins to work on you immediately, do you think that negative things can do the same?   Of course they can.  This morning, folks like me (who went to bed before election results were final) woke to find out Mr. Trump was the President-Elect.   It takes time to soak in but, whether it’s soaked in or not, the moment his opponent officially conceded, Mr. Trump was indeed the President-Elect.   For many folks, that’s the worst news possible.   It’s incredibly negative, incredibly dangerous to their ideas of self and country.   Yet no matter whether they like it or not, it’s fact and it’s at work.  Be careful that it does not ruin you.

Through it all, whether the news is positive or negative, the meaning is effective now.   God saved You IMMEDIATELY from the moment you professed your faith in Him.   You did nothing to earn it, make it happen, fashion it, make it so.   All that had to be done was done by God and God alone.   All you did was believe yet the instant you did so you gained the benefit of it.   This sets you apart from those who don’t believe, who choose to not believe in Jesus.   Don’t go off thinking that faith in Jesus makes you better than anyone else because it doesn’t.   Faith, like college, makes one a better person but not better than other people.   Indeed, God wants all people to come to the faith in which you believe, especially those who reject Him in word or deed.

So let’s be thankful that God saved us, that He did all that was necessary to save us even when we were living in unbelief.  Let’s hold fast to that faith, insisting that it’s real here and now, today.   Let’s cling to it when things get tough because brother things do get tough!   And let’s live our lives, say our words, do everything that we do right now as a reflection of those words “we believe.”

For more reading:   Hebrews 12:15, 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

Lord Jesus, I believe in You!   Thank You for saving me, for giving me the promise of hope in You in whom I can believe.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 October 2016

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.  Hebrews 3, verse 1.

My mom died two years ago today.   Two years ago this morning, my mom, Grace Terry, exited the temporal plane of this life and entered the eternal plane of heaven.   For her and my dad, who preceded her by 17 years, time no longer has meaning.  Days, years, aging, disease, seasons, changes:  these mileposts by which we measure our lives here don’t mean anything anymore to either of them.   Or to the millions of believers there with them.   Today is every moment for those in heaven because every moment is spent with Jesus.   I know it has been two years since Mom died but I’m thinking she doesn’t.   For her, it’s “Amazing Grace” (and not just because that’s her name).   You know the line:   “when we’ve been there ten thousand years…we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”

My parents were both believers and college graduates.  I learned from them the intellectual exercise of how I walk my faith walk.   I learned how skepticism, questioning, and even academic rigor can be tools with which you can learn around the edges about the richness of our Lord and Savior.   As long as you don’t make those tools your idols, they can be helpful, even Godly, gifts.   In concluding his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul said “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good.”  He was giving instructions to the church on how to deal with the physical and spiritual persecution they were undergoing.   As you’ve read, part of those instructions was to use Godly skepticism in questioning matters of faith.   God would never lead them wrong so they (and we) should use healthy questioning to determine God’s will in tough choices.

Yet, a better, deeper way to learn about Jesus is to move beyond that, to fix that intellect on Him.  The author of Hebrews says that if the Hebrew believers (and us, and the Thesssalonians) would fix our thoughts on Jesus then it would be much easier to employ that healthy questioning when the times come for us to do so.  When we don’t know what path to take, ask Jesus.   When we are troubled by things happening our lives, think about Jesus.   When we make mistakes, turn to Jesus.  Celebrations, happiness, and good times?   Focus on Jesus and thank Him, involve Him.  And when temptation, or falling, or hurt come into our lives as they regularly do, then focusing on Jesus makes it much, much easier to then ask “Lord, what should I do now?”   “Is this a good choice?”   “What do You want me to do?”

God will answer in His own way in His own time, but answer He will.   I’m betting it’ll be much sooner than later and usually in an overflow of some blessing.

Like my mom dying two years ago today.   I have a confession to make:  I haven’t cried over her.   Really haven’t.   I loved my mom, and I’m ashamed to say I spent a good part of the last year of her life busy and angry over choices she made that impacted me.   When she was gone, I was still in the thick of having to deal with her estate that I simply put all my feelings in a box and stored them away.   I’d deal with them later.  Two years on, I still haven’t, and I know some day that box will be opened and there they’ll be, fresh for dealing.  Her death snuck up on me.   She went into the hospital healthy – but quietly dying – on a Wednesday night and was gone on Friday morning.  That’s less than 36 hours, and I think, now, that it was actually a blessing.   God gave us a gift in that, for a brief hour or two, she regained consciousness and grasped what was happening, and instantly made peace with it.   All of us in the family got a chance to talk with her and say goodbye.   But it happened much sooner than I ever thought it would.   If I had known she would die so quickly, perhaps I might have let go of that anger and spent time more wisely.

Yet now I see we did use that time well.   In the last years and months we all had here, we had good visits, and we talked for hours, and we forgave and shared faith.   It wasn’t all rosy but it was all good because, through it all, in our own ways, we fixed our minds on Jesus and understood that He would somehow make everything alright.   And He did.

For more reading:   1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, Hebrews 2:11, Romans 8:28, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Corinthians 9:13.

Lord, thank You for this day, for the passage of death, the forgiveness You give, and for calling Your followers home.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 November 2015

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Mark 11, verses 29-33.

Jesus isn’t being evasive here.   If you think so, re-read the verses a few times.   I believe you’ll see that he’s actually trying to offer yet another life-line.

Consider that Jesus knows the score when He has this exchange with the chief priests.   He knows they’re trying to set Him up. He knows they’re plotting to murder Him.   He knows what’s going to happen at the end of the week, on Good Friday.   Yet, even at this late date, instead of smashing the priests into little bits of priestly mush, He offers them yet another chance to submit to His love and justice. Jesus asks them a question instead of pointing out their wrong-doing. He poses an issue to them, hoping to stir their hearts and minds one more time.

Has He ever done that to you?   I can’t tell you how many times in every day that it happens to me, whether it’s my petty judgmentalisms, or my arrogance and pride, or the lust in my eyes, or the anger that is all too often my go-to reaction. When those times come, I deserve to be smacked down by the Almighty, to have Him put me in my place.   That’s what a human god would do; that’s what Allah would do; that’s what people do to each other.

Instead, Jesus speaks through my conscience, through the moments in the day, and poses to me yet again the questions I need to be asked.   I know it is the voice of God because it doesn’t lead me into further sins, or into tough times without there being a light at the end of them.   The life-lines He throws to us are designed to pull us back, to tug us out of the quicksand instead of letting us choose to sink further.   It’s usually quiet, unassuming, speaking words in my conscience, trying to keep me on the straight and narrow. Do I listen?   No, not always; thanks be to God for His patience with me.

And consider this, too:   Jesus knows the score with you and me right now.   Those sins you and I want to deny we ever did?   Jesus knows about them. The junk we hold onto that we know we shouldn’t?   Jesus knows about it. The hopes and dreams that haven’t come to pass?   He knows them.   Despite all of our crap, Jesus comes to us anyway and asks us that same question:   do you believe in Me? Believing in Him isn’t carte blanche for misbehavior:   it’s carte blanche entry into eternity when we don’t deserve it.   He offered that same free pass to the chief priests yet they passed it by. We should not do the same.

Lord, help me to always listen to Your words, to follow where You guide me.   Thank You for throwing life-lines to me, your grace being the gift I don’t deserve but am so very thankful for.

Read Mark 12, verses 1-12

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 21 September 2015

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Mark 10, verses 39-40.

It’s been five years since my 25th high school reunion. Do the math and I’ve been out of school for thirty; duh.   There are times when I wish I could crawl up into a ball and go back to my hometown and just be a kid again.   I graduated from high school in a small town in southern Indiana where I had only lived for two years.   While there, I met my wife, made some life-long friends, grew up, learned about Jesus, and set myself on the path that I’m still walking today.   I thank God for every day I lived in Mitchell and the people there. Five years ago, I organized our class reunion.   Out of just over 120 graduates we had over 90 show up for the party.   That’s a pretty good number, and it was due to the hard work of everyone involved.

In those five years I’ve sometimes felt that I was going through hell.   In those five years I’ve also sometimes felt as if I was on top of a mountain and couldn’t be happier. I’d give anything to take back the bad things I’ve done, to un-hurt those I’ve hurt along the way.   But in that same time there has been so much more good.   I’m thankful for seeing my marriage rebuilt, my daughter married, my grandson being born, two of my kids graduating, and a hundred other things I could list without my smile fading a bit. And regrets?   Like Sinatra and Elvis, I have a few but, then again, too few to mention.

You see, I don’t let myself be obsessed by regret even though I’ve done things in life of which I’m ashamed and do regret. If you let yourself be defined by your sins then you miss the point of God’s grace.   What’s more, Jesus PROMISES us that life will be difficult, that there will be times of unspeakable pain on our path to eternal rest with Him. That path is part of what counts, mainly in how we use our talents, days and journey to reach other people with the message “Jesus is looking for you.”   You can’t live out that message if you wallow in ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ or regret. Verse 39 of guaranteed the Apostles that the world would extract a price in pain from each of them.   The same holds true for us.

Yet knowing that, I take great comfort in realizing that there are some things out of my control. Verse 40 says as much, stating to James and John that God is ultimately in control of everything and that He has places in mind for all of us. I need to be a good steward of my talents, time and treasure, but I don’t need to live wrapped around the axle about things over which I have no control.   God has appointed me for the life I live and He’s equipped me to live it fully, even when I mess up and always in His grace.

Happy anniversary, Class of 85.   Can’t believe it’s been 30 years but the best is still yet to come.

Lord, thank You for times to reminisce, for Your grace, for life experiences, and for today.

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.