Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  Hebrews 11, verses 13.

Today’s verse is a powerful conviction of the human race and an even more powerful demonstration of the grace of God.   It’s kryptonite to the world thinking of itself as Superman.  It’s a grace bomb.

Up until now, the writer of Hebrews has mentioned Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham as paragons of faith.   They were men who lived out what God asked them to do.   They weren’t better than anyone else in their day; they weren’t better than you or me.   They simply did a better job at putting all their faith in God.  He said then they believed.  They had faith that, if God said so, it would be so no matter what.  No matter what it cost them (even their lives), no matter what had to happen in the world, no matter anything, if God promised something, it would be so.   His word is more reliable than anything else.  I’ll ask you to back up a bit and consider the unspoken implications of what the verse is really saying.

Faith in God is worth dying for because when you have faith in God you’re a stranger in this strange land.

God created this place to be perfect.   It was perfect for a time, though we don’t really know how long Adam and Eve lived in Eden.  God created Adam and Eve to be perfect and they were for a time, existing in harmony with God and the nature He created.   In the Garden there was perfection and there was even evil.   Yet Adam and Eve lived perfectly with evil present until they accepted evil’s lying proposition.  After that, they (and we) embraced evil in corrupting the perfection of what God had created.   As a result, they (and we) fell out of harmony with God and the perfection He intended for us.

Sin, evil, corruption, sickness, deterioration, death:   those weren’t what the world was created for.   They are the abnormalities that have overtaken the world and made the normal perfection for which it was created abnormal.  We have become abnormal in a world that considers things truly abnormal to be normal.  The way around all this dysfunction, this frustration of God’s good plan, is faith in Him.   Putting our faith in God, in His Son, Jesus, changes the equation of abnormality back into one of true normality.   Disharmony becomes harmony again.

And to have that harmony in full again, unless Jesus returns, we have to die for it.   Loving Jesus fully means being willing to die for Him.  After all, He died for us.

The world of hate that we inherited from Adam and Eve’s idolatrous rebellion thinks itself to be above God.   The men cited here in Hebrews saw past that.   They didn’t have the benefit of the knowledge of Jesus for Jesus wouldn’t be incarnate for thousands of years.   Yet they still put their faith in this unseen God, trusting that He would redeem them from the hatred of sin.  They put their faith in Him doing what they couldn’t.   They hoped He would redeem them in this life, but trusted He would keep His promise whether in this life or the next.

My friend, Bill Brimer, likes to talk about ‘grace bombs.’   This is a big one.   It dropped right in front of you and exploded in your face.   Blew you away, in fact, with it’s power of love.  The ‘you’ that revels in the sensuality of our world is paled by the ‘you’ who is better than all that.   You’re better than all that because God re-made you to be better.   He remade you by redeeming you even when you and I distrusted Him.  His grace overcame our grudges.  He exploded his grace in your face by being His Word, by giving His word, by keeping His word, by being Himself for us.   All we have to do is believe because He does everything else and He does it because of love.   He proved it to these biblical forbearers.   He does it still.   BOOM.   Take that, wannabe Superman.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

Lord, thank You for exploding Your grace in my face, for all You have done and do today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 July 2017

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For in just a little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.”  Hebrews 10, verses 35-37.

Persevering is tough; duh.

I’m entering the third week with a new job, and it’s a true blessin.   In reality, all work is a blessing, but it’s even more noticeable when you get the rare opportunity to go back to a place where you were successful before.   Both my wife and I were out of work for just over a month yet that’s ending.   As mentioned, I’m starting my third week.   As of this morning, my wife is also starting a new job.   God has been so good in so many ways, and at the (hopeful) end of unemployment, I’ll confess that it was only through persevering in God that we were able to make it through.   Because we did persevere in Him, He’s rewarding us with new opportunities.   Not because of our perseverance, but because of His grace.   All we did was trust Him.  Yet I’ll admit it was tough.

Living can indeed be tough.  Just this morning I saw a picture on Pinterest of a Revolutionary War veteran.   Yes, you read that right:  a photograph of a veteran of the American Revolution.   In fact, he was the last veteran.   The photo was taken in the 1860s of a man named Daniel Bakeman, who died as the last veteran of the American Revolution on April 5, 1869.   If you search on the internet, you can find pictures of other Revolution veterans as well.   By the time photography was invented, they were already very old men.  Yet it amazes me to see a picture, not a painting, of someone who actually fought in the American Revolution in the 1700s.   It’s a connection to exactly what such people looked like instead of a representation of them.  Such men lived long lives of perseverance and reaped the reward of living in a free land they had helped to build.

It’s a tough thing to persevere, to push yourself forward in faith even when things tell you not to.   God never promises us that things will be rosy when we believe in Him.   Indeed, He promises we’ll be persecuted because we’re siding with Him.   When we say we believe, we’re saying that we reject the world which rejects Him.   That’s most of humanity, and most of humanity doesn’t take kindly to having a Christian finger stuck in its eye.   Yet that’s what we do.   We do it by saying “I believe” when logic tells us not to.   We do it by thanking God for both the good and the bad.   We do it by trusting Him to live out His will in our lives no matter what happens because we know He will bless us through it.

We do it because verses like 35-37 tell us to.   Because they point us back to the truth that faith in Jesus is rewarded personally by Jesus.   It isn’t rewarded with a new job; it isn’t rewarded with long life after a long war.   Faith in Jesus doesn’t make you wealthy, or prosperous, or worldly, or famous.   All of those things may or may not happen to you, but if they do, they’re blessings from Jesus and not the singular consequence of His grace.

You know where this is going.

Faith in Jesus results in Jesus in your life.   Jesus in your life results in forgiveness of the guilt of your sins.   It results in you being made right again with God:  something you and I can’t accomplish on our own.   Jesus in your life results in you being rewarded with living forever.   In a little while, He’ll keep that promise to make it true in physical fact.   Right now, He’s already kept it because He’s already done the work to make it happen and you’re already a part of His eternity now.   For the rest of your life here, you can live knowing the Creator of the universe personally knows, loves, and wants you for His family.   When this life is over, you get to be with Him forever and see Him face to face.  In the mean time, He promises to abide with us as we struggle when life gets tough.

Would you rather have peace now and later or a new job and a long life?

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:3, James 4:12, James 5:11, 2 Peter 1:6, Hebrews 6:15, Hebrews 9:15.  Matthew 11:3, Revelation 22:20.

Lord, You bless me in so many ways.  Thank You for Your gifts of peace and rewards.

 

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.