Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 22 May 2017

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Hebrews 10, verses 26-27.

This verse occurs right after exhorting believers to spur others on to love and good deeds and to continue worshiping.  The context is to persevere in the faith.   You can’t persevere or succeed in anything if you only give half your heart to it.  You also can’t persevere if you aren’t aware of boundaries, of white lines in which to stay between.  So when you consider that the book of Hebrews encourages believers to persevere, then reminds us that the consequences for being a half-hearted believer can be dire, then you see that God is interested in a whole person.  You can see that God’s grace is boundless while any absence of it would be a hard boundary indeed.  If we only give half of ourselves to Him, we shouldn’t expect He’ll be happy.   Indeed, as these verses say, half-hearted believers should expect punishment.   That doesn’t mean God will punish us; He is a God of love, mercy, and grace, which He shows abundantly.   Instead, we should not take for granted or expect the love, mercy and grace, but expect their opposites in a world focused on them.

Yesterday’s sermon topic was “de-cluttering.”  Pastor Mark talked about ways to de-clutter our spiritual lives so as to remove impediments that block our focus on God.   We put that clutter in the way, and clutter isn’t even always bad.   Family time, hard work, supporting others, church work, even a daily Christian blog can all be great things and great expressions of faith.   They can also clutter up one’s life and make it difficult to focus on what’s most important.   Without knowing how it happens, Mary can easily go all Martha (in fact, in another place in Scripture, apart from that famous dinner, she did).

How many things have I put on my plate because they’re the right thing to do?  Too many to list here.  Worse, how many pet sins have I held onto that make it difficult to even focus on those right things?   I know deep inside that I shouldn’t do this.  I was saved long ago, even before the time I can remember, and yet I still keep on choosing the wrong over the right.   Slip of a tongue, moments of anger, being judgmental, looks and thought of selfish lust:   pick a sin and paint me guilty.   I’ll return the favor because, chances are, you’re guilty too.

Better yet, let’s change our behavior.   Part of repenting is turning away from the wrongdoing, so let’s do that here and now.   What I just said, about painting you guilty?   I’m putting down the paint brush.   I’ll confess my sins to Jesus and leave them with Him.   His Word (in these verses) says there are BAAAAD consequences for folks who  choose the sins over Him.  I don’t want to be one of those people because there’s a better way.  Giving half my heart to God and half my heart to the world is wearying and unproductive for either.  My are just clutter waiting to be swept away.   Time to get out the broom and start sweeping.  Your sins are your own too; I’m hoping you’ll want to sweep them away, too.   I can’t do that for you but Jesus can, and He will.   What I can do is be your friend and your brother.  I’ll help you through what you’re going through and help you stay between the lines with me.   Together, we’ll each do our part to persevere in the faith.

For further reading:  Exodus 21:14, Numbers 15:30, Hebrews 5:2, 2 Peter 2:20, 1 Timothy 2:4, Isaiah 26:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Hebrews 9:27, Luke 10:38-42.

Lord, help my unbelief.  I need Your help to persevere, to succeed in whatever You have me do.   I can’t do anything without You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 May 2017

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10, verses 24-25.

I’m building a collection of rocks around the base of the cross we built by my pond.   At our old house, I had built a similar collection of stones from all around the world.   California, Florida, China, Uganda:   wherever I went, I picked up a rock.  They were put in a special planter built for just that purpose, but when we moved I left the rocks there.   Now, I’m building a new collection and it already has rocks from Walt Disney World, the Gulf Coast, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and places all over Texas.   I even have an old chunk of amethyst my Mom had acquired (I believe) at a rock quarry in Arkansas way back when I was a kid.

Somehow it seems neat to me to gather stones from all over the world to place them there at the foot of the cross.   That cross was almost the first project we did when we moved into this house last year.   The day after we took possession, my son, son-in-law, and I cut down a tree in our woods, fashioned it into a cross, bolted and roped it together, and then installed it in concrete.   A few months later, I wrapped it in solar lights so that it lights up at night.   When you drive by our house at night, you can see the cross, reflected off the pond.   It’s our own kind of witness to our friends and neighbors.

What does this have to do with verses 24 and 25?   To be honest, I’m not sure it has anything to do with it.  Then again..

…Then again, maybe it has everything to do with it.  My rock collection is like a collection of people, coming together to worship and make the cross of the Lord look better.  The longer we live here, the more it matters to give glory to God.  There are rocks of different shapes, different composition, different colors.   All together, they’re a mosaic.   They’re a strong base that gives the structure both foundation and beauty.

They’re like a church.   We started going to our home church, Waters Edge Frisco, in 2006, when it was still worshiping in a school.   Eleven years, several pastors, a discordant split, and hundreds of members later, I hardly recognize the place for all the new faces and new directions in which it’s moving.   That’s a good thing.   The people of God are the church, not some building or even some congregation.   We’re supposed to move in the world, yet we’re also called to come together to give glory to God.  When we do, it’s a refreshing thing to see a fresh, new mosaic of people calling that place home while others from the past have gone on to color their new homes with the purpose and freshness then once brought to ours.   That, too, is a good thing, for the body of God is alive.

We go to church to be the church, and the more I grow in faith, the more I value my time with my fellow believers.   We’re like those stones around the cross, bringing purpose, beauty, and strength to worship our God.   The more I grow in my faith, though, the more I see that the worship isn’t about our purpose, beauty or strength.   We get those things from God Himself.   They aren’t ours alone.   They aren’t even ours to give.   They’re qualities given to people to share in God’s greater mission.   All the more as we see the days of the end approaching, it’s a good thing to come together as groups and gather around the cross to simply worship He who was once nailed to it.   In doing so, we encourage each other and build each other up.

When we give glory to Jesus, He shines that glory out over us like the Sun warming the land.

It’s my hope to one day build that rock collection so big that it overtakes the cross.   I’ll have to expand around it at that point.   It’s my hope that friends, family and, better yet, strangers, will look at the collection and ask how it came to be, and what it means.   It’s my hope that, in a pile of rocks, they’ll see a unique glimpse of the Savior.

For further reading:  Titus 2:14, Acts 2:43, Hebrews 3:13, 1 Corinthians 3:13.

Lord, may I be Your rock in a wonderful collection of other stones.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 May 2017

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Hebrews 10, verse 24

I’m a project manager.  I manage a team of people working on a project to remove Social Security numbers from older peoples’ Medicare ID cards.  Because I work remotely, I’ve never physically met most of the people on my team (though I do know some from previous jobs).  It’s tough to get to know people you don’t see face to face, and that makes. even more sense because I’m the new kid on the block.  On a work team, you’re drawn together by the commonality of your tasks and the fact that you’re employed for the same reason by the same people.  Yet in a virtual work environment, you never see your co-workers or team members in person.  Unless you know your co-workers from previous interaction, you don’t have common ground.   That makes motivating a team difficult.

So Hebrews 10, verse 24 is perhaps some of the best project management advice ever written, especially for virtual teams.

“Let us consider” is a call to friendly action.   Notice that it doesn’t say “do this” or “you will.”   It isn’t directive in nature and yet it places the reader in a position as if they had been directed.   “Let us consider” are three words that are swung as a velvet hammer.   They don’t force you to do anything yet place the burden of inaction squarely on you and you alone.   They ask you to do something without commanding you to do something.   They appeal to your reason and your sense of belonging.  That shouldn’t be surprising because that’s usually how Jesus operates.

“Spur” (according to dictionary.com) means “anything that goads, impels, or urges, as to action, speed, or achievement.”  The King James version of Hebrews uses the word “provoke” but no matter what version is used to translate the word, the intention is clearly to convince others to move.   A manager spends most of his time doing just this.   A good manager will do it in such a way as to inspire you to act on your own to do your part in a larger mission.   As managers, we spend most of our time spurring people forward to support the tasks we oversee.   As followers of Jesus, we should be spending most of our time doing the same thing, and the task with which we’re charged is sharing the Gospel.

And we are to spur one another TOWARD love and good deeds.   Sure, we are to comport ourselves in love and righteousness.   Jesus gave us both of those things and we’re to use them in living our lives.   Yet when we manage and lead others, we are to inspire them in the direction of love and good deeds.   We aren’t supposed to do other peoples’ love and good deeds for them.  Helicopter parents beware:   you aren’t responsible for living your kids’ lives.   Your job is to inspire them by parenting them, teaching them, preparing them.

Helicopter managers beware as well:   you’re responsible for the efforts of your team, but it isn’t your job to do their work for them.   It’s your job to spur them toward doing it.   It’s our job to serve a greater good by helping those around us serve it as well.  May I suggest that, whether you have Jesus followers on your team or not, some practical advice on why, even how, to do that is found first and foremost in the Bible (and not in the PM Body of Knowledge?)?

Best of all, we get to do these things while relying on the foundation of faith in Jesus’ true good news.   Love and good deeds are both the reason and the by-product of living in Jesus’ presence where love and good deeds become standard operating procedure.  In working with them we find it’s the journey and not the destination that matters most.

I don’t know whether my team-members are believers or not.   In today’s super-sensitive work climate, it’s almost taboo to discuss matters of faith.   Yet whether they’re believers or not, more often than not I find myself asking “what should I do” of my Savior when I have even the slightest question about work.   I’m learning to entreat Him into my routines, involving my faith more and more as a practical tool for managing my work team.   There is no downside to that.

For further reading:  Titus 2:14.

Lord, be involved in my work.   Lead me and teach me so I may lead and inspire others.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 16 May 2017

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10, verse 23.

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that I recently started a new job.   My previous company laid me off in December.   Now, I’m 50 and have been working in one capacity or another since I was 16.  This wasn’t the first time I’d been rolled off an account or even laid off a job.   Yet this has been the first time that my confidence has been rattled to the core.  I started a new job 3 months ago and, by all measures, it’s going very well (I’m leading a great team of really talented people).  Yet I’ve become ultra-sensitive to perfectionism, working to try to get things just right even as I know that isn’t a sustainable goal.   For the first time in my life, I’ve encountered anxiety, even panic attacks.   Couple that with some pretty heavy depression, a bunch of other stressors, and it’s a tough combination to live with.  I’ve come to dread  every time someone from my new job calls or e-mails, wondering if this is the message where the ax falls on my neck again.  50 is a tough time in life to be having to start over.

It’s as if I have forgotten how to hold unswervingly to the hope I profess in Christ.   Except that my faith is still solid. All through this, I’ve known deep inside that God was still real.  I’ve almost instinctively known that Jesus is with me, and that whatever I’m feeling, He’s beside me to help me.   That’s proof of Hebrews 10, verse 23.   And yet I’ve still been hurting.

Earlier, I was talking with my atheist friend who, once again, chided me for believing in “space fairies.”   I replied to him that it’d be better if he got to know the One he calls “space fairy” now, in thanks and admiration, instead of later in fear and dread because he will come to know Him whether he calls Him names or not.   Again, this is something I know inside of me because I believe what God has said through His Word and through His nature & history.   Yet in a world of doubt, anger, and hurt, is it any wonder that people like atheists would reject faith they can’t see, even if the One they reject is faithful and bears real hope?

Perhaps it’s natural to occasionally question one’s faith, even as the God in whom we have faith doesn’t question us.   He is always present, always the same, always diligent, always loving.   He’s God; He can’t be any other way.   We aren’t God; we can’t be God and shouldn’t try (after all, there really are no true atheists…).  I can only speak for myself in saying that I truly believe in all God says He is and that I don’t doubt that He’s saved me.   Yet I still question where He is and His purposes when things like this job loss come to me.   I didn’t deserve it, but it happened.   It has wreaked a lot of changes, some good and many not, in my family’s life, and I question “why”.

Perhaps the best answer is still the one God gave to Job, namely that He’s God and I’m not and I should just be comforted by knowing that.   Way back in the book of Job – probably the oldest book in the Bible – God upheld the hope of His faithful servant who, like me, questioned when bad things happened without rejecting his belief in his Maker.   It’s ok to be sincere about saying “Lord, this really sucks right now.”   It’s ok to be sincere about feeling bad when things make you feel bad.   It’s ok to be sincere in saying “I don’t want this.”  Vent those feelings and share those thoughts; that’s good, even Godly.   And then let them go and come back into His fold, remembering that He gives real hope for here and now, not just forever.  He who promised it is faithful in all things and at all times.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:1, 1 Cor 1:9.

Lord, it’s been really tough lately and I’ve been hurting, questioning why these things have happened. I believe in You, though, and I know in my heart that You are with me.   Uphold me now and continue to give me the courage to face each new day.  Thanks for what You do and who You are.

 

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, 3 May 2017

Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10, verse 17.

Jesus is talking about wiping the slate clean. That’s a concept we, in our so-called modern world, desperately want.

I’ve been depressed lately.   Really, truly, deeply depressed.   It’s likely a delayed reaction to too many big things happening in my life too quickly.   Job loss, new job; anger over losing the old job, frustration with learning the new one; 2 new grandkids in four months; 2 kids living at home in the same six month period; financial woes; running into the city almost every weekend; missing my old travel job and the control I thought I had over my life; an ever-growing list of chores here on the farm   Guilt over past sins that just doesn’t seem to go away; feeling inadequate in everything I do, that no matter what I do it’s never enough or never good enough for my wife or my family or my team.   Feeling overwhelmed even by small things.

That’s all been me over the last few months, actually more like the last year since I went on the bench in my previous job.   I feel so frustrated over so many things, and I feel powerless to actually do anything substantial to change them.   Yes, it’s a lie because God gives us the power to make changes where we are now.   He is always with me; He is always actively involved even when it seems like Satan’s attacks are making progress in bringing me down.   I know all that is true:   I simply still feel so down over all of it and more.

Some of what bothers me isn’t my fault; I’m innocent of much, maybe even most of it.   Yet if I’m going to be truly honest, all of the things that plague me stem from some kind of sin, either mine or someone else’s.   All dysfunction and strife in the world stems from some kind of sin, either now or in the distant past, even sins that aren’t our own.  The Bible says that all creation is frustrated by man’s sin.   Taking that thought to its logical end, when Adam and Eve first fell, their sin set into motion violence, disease, weather patterns, disasters, and other ‘natural’ phenomena that affect us today.   If you think that’s possible, then perhaps it’s possible for the sins of 7 billion souls alive now affect this planet still.

I know, wacky stuff.   It’s kind of a stretch; it’s kind of crazy to think about it…even if it’s true.  The goodness of God with us in Eden kept sin away, but man’s embrace of sin unleashed these terrors into a place never intended to know them.

Here’s some good news, then.   Jesus will remember our sins no more.   When Jesus moved His Spirit into my heart, He ended the residency of sin.   He drove it out and away.   He wiped the slate clean and in His mind’s eye, they don’t even exist anymore.  He did that in me here and now.   Later, when Jesus returns to renew this corrupted planet, He will remember our sins and lawless acts no more.   He will remake nature; He will wipe out crime; He will change everything we know about living in this place. And in doing so, He will make it so that the things that plague us will never plague us again.   It will be as if they had never happened.

When I get down, I cling to remembering this.   Sure, I do the things to try to beat back the darkness.   I make realistic lists of things to do and work to get them done, then pat myself on the back for doing so.   I remind myself that I’m doing my best.   I remember that the past no longer exists, and the future hasn’t yet happened.   But most of all, I remember that Christ is in my heart and hurts when I hurt.  That He hurt more than I could know for pains like I feel these days.  That He died to make my hurt a thing of the past, and that His death means my sins and lawless acts are remembered no more.

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

My Lord, abide with me when I get depressed.   Help me through the dark days, and comfort me with knowing You don’t hold my sins and acts against me.