Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 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.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  Hebrews 11, verses 13-14.

I’m a wanderer.   I learned it as a kid.   We first moved in 1969, when I was three, moving from Bloomington to Minneapolis, Minnesota.   That isn’t very far, but it’s a quantum leap for a family from the suburbs.  I went two years to an old elementary school before they tore it down in 1974.   That year, I spent a year in private school in east Minneapolis.   1975-1976 saw me attend two different third grade classes, one in Iowa and the other in Pennsylvania.  From 1976 to 1978 we lived in Pennsylvania, 1978-1980 in Oklahoma, 1980-1983 back in Iowa, and 1983-1985 in southern Indiana, which I refer to now as ‘home.’  After that, I joined the Air Force, and spent 1985 in Texas, then 1986-1989 in Texas, Maryland, and TDY (on temporary duty) around the world.   From 1989 to 1992, I lived in Italy (living in two different towns during that stay).   From 1992 until 2004, I lived in Colorado, residing in six different places in twelve years.  2004-2005 found me in Montana, then 2005 back in Colorado before moving to Texas.   Since 2005, I have lived full time in Texas, but have traveled all over the country (and the planet), and have lived in three different houses in two towns.  After fifty years of wandering, I’m finally in a home I’ve always dreamed of.   Wouldn’t you know that even my time here may be short, in jeopardy, and that there could be more wandering just up ahead.

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking for a country of my own.

I wish I could say that my story is one of deep public faith, but it isn’t.  In fact, more times than I care to admit, my faith has wandered too and has been weak with my practice of it weaker.  I’ve been rightfully accused of being a hypocrite, and Billy Joel could have once described me as “a man with so much tension and far too many sins to mention.”  I’ve tried, but in following Jesus, trying isn’t enough.   You have to “do” to be believeable to other people, and sometimes what I’ve done has been quite opposite of what I believe.

You know what?  I’m in good company.   Abraham was a wanderer and God did wonderful things through Him.   Jacob was a deceitful wanderer and God led him to live an amazing life.  Moses, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus Himself were all wanderers who did incredible, great things in the lead-up to the time of their Messiah.  After Jesus, all twelve of His disciples wandered, going from place to place to spread the Good News of the friend-Savior they knew.  Some of them were murdered for it; only one lived into old age.

I bet all those people were looking for a country of their own.   I wonder, then, if the country mentioned by the writer of Hebrews isn’t actually the nation of Heaven.   Shakespeare called death “the undiscovered country.”  Hamlet lamented that his life was all sorrow and he longed to journey into the undiscovered country of what lay beyond.   Don’t we all, yet here and now are all we know.   This is where we make our bones, discover what it means to live.   And the longer any of us live – and wander – the more we find that the only real meaning in the fallen world is found in Jesus Christ.  In Christ there is no more wandering.   In Christ, the discovery is amazement and it is continuous.   In Jesus Christ there is fulfillment of all of life’s desires, answers to every question, and peace to settle all restlessness.   In Christ, we no longer need to wander.

Christ is the undiscovered country I wish to explore, yet isn’t it wonderful to be able to do so now, as best we can, in this place that’s rife with both life and imperfection?  Until my prayers are answered and I meet Him face to face, I guess I’ll continue to wander, awaiting my endless time in the country of my own that I know in hope is only a short time away.

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

My Lord and Savior, abide with me as I wander here.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 April 2017

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:  “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.  Hebrews 10, verses 15-18.

There is so much to unpack here.   These verses quote Jeremiah 31, and if you haven’t read the words of that lamenting prophet, next time you are in a place of need, read Jeremiah.   He, too, knew desperate soul-crushing hurt yet clung to God no matter what befell him (and he lived in terrible times).

Perhaps the best thing that Jeremiah recorded was that quote: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”   In remembering our lawless acts no more, God blots out the consequences of our sins and sees us perfectly through Jesus.   When Jeremiah was alive, men did not know of a man named Jesus; it was hundreds of years before Christ.  Instead, the time after Jesus is what Jeremiah was talking about in chapter 31, specifically the time when Jesus was no longer physically present as a man yet would always be omnipresent as Spirit.   He would live in our souls and reason with us through our intellects.

You and I are living in that time now.   When you say you believe in Jesus, you’re lining up with Jeremiah.   You’re choosing sides, and you’re acknowledging that you desire for Jesus Christ to live in your soul, reason with your mind, and work through your hands.   When you choose sides and choose Jesus, you’re acknowledging that all your wrongs have been forgiven.   Everything that you’ve ever done in sin is forgiven, washed away.   No longer do you need some stranger priest to sacrifice an animal in your stead so that you might make atonement for what you’ve done.

Most of all, you aren’t guilty any more.   You’ve been declared ‘not guilty’ and you are permanently not guilty.  Jesus took ALL of your guilt and negated the need for you to carry it around.   This is perhaps my toughest sin; it’s the one I all too frequently commit.   Years ago I laid the guilt of my sins at the cross, yet I seem to constantly walk back there every now and then and pick up the writhing, nasty sack that contains that guilt.   I throw it over my shoulder and walk away.   With each step it feels heavier, smells worse, threatens more.  All the while, it feels like Jesus is looking at me from His cross, staring down at me, imploring me to put the bag down again and walk away from it.  It’s like He’s saying to me “I’m forgiving all that.   It doesn’t define you any more.   I define you now.   You can put it down.”

Years of faith, years of study, years of therapy, years of prayer confirm this truth to me, that Jesus fully, freely declares me not guilty of even the worst things I’ve ever done.   Yet I still commit the sin of trying to carry around that guilt again and again, long after he’s forgiven it.   It lures me back, welling up feelings of remorse, inadequacy, hurt.  The harsh truth is that it is a sin to keep picking it up.   It’s a form of idolatry, and it’s like saying to Jesus “I don’t believe You really can do this.”

He forgives that sin too.   That’s the point where my head is blown.   I’m completely befuddled at how He does that, how He forgives me when I mess up the first time, then how He reminds me that He’s forgiven those later sins too.   It’s because of His sacrifice that He reminds me of how He loves me, how He’s forgiven me, how He’s written that love on my heart and in my mind.   How that divine love defines me now.

We’re living in the time when that is the norm.  It has been the norm for over two thousand years since the days when Jesus walked the earth.   These days, He still walks it, but does so through the feet of a billion believing souls.   We are living in the time Jeremiah prophesied, and before the time when Jesus will return to walk again on His own feet.  The same feet the Romans nailed to the cross…the same cross where we daily lay down our sins and work to walk away from them knowing all the work we really need has already been completed.   Somewhere in my head I hear that song from “Frozen,” trilling me to ‘let it go.’   How I wish it felt that easy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7m, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I constantly relive, re-carry the guilt of all the sins You’ve forgiven.   You did it completely, fully.   Help my unbelief.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 March 2017

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:  “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.  Hebrews 8, verses 7-12.

It’s like God was saying “folks, you just don’t get it.   In fact, that is what He was saying, and doing, and is why He kept instituting new covenants to benefit mankind until, finally, one could be instituted that would be eternally complete.   Keep this thought at hand:   this was for our benefit, not His.   This was to prepare us, NOT because God had to practice to get it right.   All throughout human history, since the fall in Eden, God has been reaching out, preparing us for the ways and the time when He would restore a clear path to Himself again.   In Eden, Adam and Eve were without sin.   They lived in full harmony with God, seeing Him face to face, talking with Him one on one.   It’s how God designed people to live.

Enter sin.   Enter the serpent.   Enter falling into temptation.   Enter the divide.   Millenia later, we’re still in that divide.   Many thousands of years after Adam, 4500 years after Abraham, 4000 years after Moses and even 2000 years after Jesus, mankind is still in the divide between himself and his God Almighty.   You and I can disagree with that, and we can rail against the fact of it.   We don’t like it when people confront us with ugly truths, but they’re still truths.   We’re full of sin and unable on our own to walk with God.   It’s true for you.   It’s true for me.  It’s true for your saintly mom, Billy (and Franklin) Graham, Pope Francis (and Pope Benedict), the heroes fighting for freedom in Afghanistan, and even my minister friend, Raymond, in Africa who does practical Godly ministry better than anyone else I know.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus built the bridge.   Jesus serves as the path between sinful men and our perfect God.  Jesus forgives all our sins and teaches us how to turn from them.   And He clothes us in Himself so that, when the perfect Father sees us, He sees us through the prism of His perfect Son.   Without Jesus, God (who sees everything) sees an unholy person who can’t be in His presence because His holy presence requires holiness.   Without Jesus, sins aren’t forgiven.   Without Jesus, the old covenants of Moses and David still hammer us with unachievable law, requirements that we still misunderstand and can never fully comply with.   Without Jesus, there is no path to God.  Mohammed can’t get you there.   Buddha and years of navel-gazing can’t get you there.   Paiute, chanting to Mother Gaia, praying to your ancestors, and a thousand Hindu gods can’t get you to God.  Only Jesus.

This is true because God instituted the new covenant that He promised in the verses above (much of which are quoted from the prophet Jeremiah).   What men couldn’t make right through our insufficient means and petty pagan religions God made right through the selfless sacrifice of Himself in His Son.   We didn’t ‘get that’ when it happened.  Far too many of us still don’t today.

For further reading:  Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Exodus 19:4, 5, 20: 1-17, Romans 11:27, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ezekiel 11:20, Zechariah 8:8, Isaiah 54:13, John 6:45, Luke 22:20.

Lord God, I praise You for making things right, for Your selfless sacrifice that purchased salvation for all of us.   Thank You more than I can say.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 1 November 2016

That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’  So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” Hebrews 3, verses 10-11

This morning my daily online devotion was from Jeremiah 7:28.   “Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction.   Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.’”  I’m NOT getting into politics here.   And yet, any assessment of our current political situation, especially this 2016 presidential election, brings to mind Hebrews 3, verses 10-11 AND that verse from Jeremiah.  Indeed, it’s more than our politics.   At the risk of saying “back in the day” or “in the good old days,” I’ll say both and sum up what seems to be a common complaint here in the U S of A:  things aren’t what they used to be.  And God is watching.

You know why:   sin.  To paraphrase Si Robertson, we don’t have just any problem.   We have a Jesus problem.  Our problem comes from our not focusing on Jesus, following Jesus, obeying Jesus, loving like Jesus, learning from Jesus, living more like Jesus and like He asked (and commanded) us to do.  The root of that is sin.

Have I tired you out yet?

Sorry, friend, but the truth is the truth.   I’m not a fire and brimstone kind of guy.   I’ve always thought the hellfire-is-coming-so-get-right-with-God approach isn’t for me.   I don’t like other sinners, especially hypocritical pastors, harping to me about my sins.  I know my sins and they bother me greatly; get off my back already!  I mean, Luke 4:23 and Matthew 7:5, please!   I don’t need that kind of aggravation in my life…I get it!

And did you catch how many times the letter “I” was used to talk about me in that last paragraph?   Yes, there’s a reason.   It’s part of the problem.  Perhaps the problem starts with me, with the man in the mirror as Michael Jackson would have said.   Perhaps the good old days became the bad day today because people like me and you screwed up.   I have spent so much time in my life ignoring what Jesus says to me and running after everything else that I’ve done my share to define deviancy down for all of us.

Defining deviancy down:   that’s a Daniel P. Moynihan term.   He coined it to describe how society changes its definition of ‘deviancy’ to accept widespread behavior that previous generations would have condemned so as to avoid, shall we say, rocking the boat.  Yet in today’s verses (and those just prior to it), the author of Hebrews reminds us that defining deviancy down is a fool’s game because God holds us accountable when we stray from His path.  He is just and He is interested in our lives.   He’s paying attention, and still we choose the sins over the Son.  Our ancestors did it, specifically the Israelites of antiquity.

And we’re doing the same thing today.

God had delivered the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt and still, on a few months removed from that deliverance, the Israelites started back to ways that would have made the Egyptians pious.  Idolatry, greed, hatred and malice and anger, sexual sins of all kinds, stealing:  you name it, they did it.

Welcome to America 2016.

God has provided for His people – ALL His people – every day of their/our lives.  If you woke this morning and are reading this now, God has provided for you.   If you have food, air, water, a job, friends, a place to live, and even just a heartbeat, God has provided for you.  Sure, some days seem worse than others; got skin, got sin.   Yet they’re worse to us NOT because God hasn’t provided more but almost always because of human choices.

Welcome back to America 2016.

Most of all, Jesus – God Himself- came here and gave every one of us a free path to eternal life, to living forever in redeemed peace, unending grace, and beautiful lives of perfect worship.   We get to live in harmony with our maker, get renewed perfect bodies, and we get to live as mankind was intended to live.   Even more, before any of that wonderful life even commences we get to let go of our hurt and guilt here and now, and we get to live lives in peace, learning to make amends where we’ve done wrong and learning to live in peace with people just like us.  All we have to do is believe and He does the rest.  And yet we all do everything we can to reject that, to turn from it, embracing the definition of deviancy down while rejecting the divine call of Jesus.

This is America 2016.

Be advised:  is it any wonder that, eventually, God would wash His hands of us?   He’s done it before.   With a heavy heart, I’m betting He would do it again.

For more reading:   Jeremiah 7:28, Hebrews 4:3-5, Deuteronomy 1:34-35, Psalm 95:7-11, Luke 4:23, Matthew 7:5.

Lord, I believe in You.   I’m truly sorry for my sins, for the times I’ve embraced the things of the world instead of You and Your love.   Forgive me, I pray, and renew me to do better, to follow You and You alone.