Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 December 2017

Grace be with you all.  Hebrews 13, verse 25.

Once again, we find ourselves at the end.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ve seen the ending of Hebrews, Mark, The Ten Commandments, Ruth, 1/2/3 John, James, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   That’s a lot of real estate to cover.   Thank you so much, my friend, for reading, sharing, learning, and hopefully hearing the voice of God inside you through these thoughts.

Yet it’s time to finish up this section.   After this, there are other things I’d like to cover.   Next week, we’ll spend the rest of the Christmas season talking about Santa Claus and giving.   After that, I believe God is leading me to walk through the “five T’s” of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; we’ll be walking with the Apostle Paul, so get ready to get real; Paul has that effect.

Until then, grace be with you all.   Grace:  that’s a concept I haven’t given nearly enough thought to even though my mom and grand-daughter are both named Grace.  I used to think of grace as a quiet thing, like sunny meadows and warm tea.  But that’s only part of what it is.  My friend, Bill Brimer, however, calls the book of Ephesians “a grace bomb.”  It’s an explosion of God’s grace in your face.   An overpowering force of enormous power that can undo physical reality.  Ephesians spends much of it’s time explaining God’s grace as a living, vital thing instead of just a pastoral quality.

Boom.

Have you ever really thought about what grace means to you?   My Random House dictionary defines grace as “a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor shown in granting a delay or immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor or love of God, the influence or spirit of God operating in man; moral strength.”   All those meanings (and more) for such a small word.   And to think they could all blow up in your face with the peace of a rural pasture.  In the context of talking about Jesus, grace means all those things, and all of them at once.

We don’t deserve it, but Jesus richly blesses us to live in His grace.   We’ve done everything we can think of to tick him off, to merit His wrath, but, instead, He likes us, wants to be with us, runs to us where we are in the middle of our dysfunctions.   If I listed here even a fraction of the sins I’ve done against Jesus, I wouldn’t list much before you’d see I don’t deserve His grace.   I don’t even deserve air, food, water, and my beating heart.   News flash:  neither you you.   We’re damn dirty sinners.

But we have so much more than air, food, water and life.   We have love, friends, jobs, possessions, liberty, opportunity.   We have each other.   We have seven billion people here to live, thrive and survive with, and we GET TO tell them that this Jesus blesses us all in His grace.   That He wants them to know Him, too.   That’s grace.   When I deserve punishment, Jesus wants love for me.  When I deserve scorn, He lives in my heart.   When I merit revenge, He urges peace.   When I deserved to die, He ran to the cross for me and took my place.   Boom!

When the writer of Hebrews had only a few words left to say, he said that he desired for God’s magnificent grace bomb to explode in the lives of his readers.   “Grace be with you all” is more than just a benediction:   it’s a challenge.   It’s a powerful this-I-know-to-be-true amen.   It’s a quiet prayer but also an artillery-packed lock and load on the front line.  Grace is the quiet strength of Christ from the cross giving you peace.   And grace is the raw edge of God’s knife in your hand, cutting away the scar tissue of sin to cure the flesh below.   When there was nothing else to say to his friends, the writer affirmed God’s presence in their lives and called on them to realize all God does for undeserving people while sharing His saving love with those who don’t know about Him.

I’m not worthy to argue with wisdom like that.   I’ll simply accept it as a gift of love from our God.  Grace in your face, indeed.   Back in the race for us now.  Lace up your boots, pick up your gun, and let’s march.

Until next time, grace be with you all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 13:25

Lord thank You for Your grace, for how You love and provide for me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2016

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2, verse 4.

Segueing off an earlier post, Jesus doesn’t need the signs, wonders, and various miracles…but we do.  John 4:48 records Jesus saying, “unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.”   Indeed, while wandering in the desert before Sinai, the Israelites repeatedly asked for reassuring miracles.   It seems they, like we, too easily forgot the wonder of how God delivered them out of slavery while ignoring the daily miracles that accompany just living.   Wonders with the staff, ten plagues, the Red Sea, water from the rock, manna and quail:   what miracles?   Never mind the birth of a new baby, the miracle of healing from sickness, and so many other things that happened so often they simply didn’t notice them.  Yet that didn’t make them any less miraculous.

Those things weren’t enough for the Israelites to remember that God was always with them and always all-powerful.   No, they always wanted more.   So do we.   We’re always looking for proof, more razzle dazzle.   We say it’s because we’re skeptical but maybe it’s just old fashioned idolatry.   “I know better than you, Lord.   You’ll have to prove it to me again.”   What does God do?   “Ok, Mr. Texas Hold ‘Em.   Call.”  God brings it, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ones.   You can explain it away to nature or chance how just the right amount of money sometimes shows up right when you need it.   Or a storm de-intensifies when it wasn’t supposed to.   Or how your friend seemed to get better and the doctors can’t explain it.  Maybe nature, or maybe it’s God testifying by signs, wonders, and various miracles.

The Apostle Paul reminds us, too, that we all have different gifts (1 Cor 12).   Some people actually can use the power of God to work what we could consider to be miracles.  According to this verse in Hebrews (and referencing the one in Ephesians 1), this is according to God’s Spirit.   It is God who gives us the power (talent, inspiration, ability) to perform such miracles as microsurgery, a green thumb, empathy for strangers, mathematical brilliance, or even multi-tasking.   Some folks may think that these are just the results of preparation or blind luck.   We know differently.

We know that God works through us in ways we don’t always see.  I’ve come to disagree with those who say God is disinterested in our lives, that He simply created the world then walked away to watch it spin on its axis.   That doesn’t account for the miracle of life, or the changes in nature every season, or a thousand other ways we could list if we only stopped to notice.  Indeed, a look out of my office door at the woods where my house lies shows an intricate, vastly complex and beautiful nature unfolding in infinite ways every single morning.   And that’s just on a few acres here in North Texas.   It’s a miracle to behold nature; it’s a miracle to contemplate life.

And it’s all a gift from God, a gift that testifies to His nature and His goodness.   He shares with us the talents best suited to us.   Perhaps these are abilities that He has that He knows we would enjoy and be able to use to help others.  I can’t perform neurosurgery but I do know how to bake sugar cookies.   I can’t explain how a tree grows but I do know how to plant and nurture one.   I don’t understand why catfish and codfish taste different (and great) but I do know how to catch and fry them.   God didn’t give to me the talents He gave to you, but I do believe He gave each of us some way we can use to live in better service to His Kingdom.   Everyone has something valuable to contribute, some more than others and some less.   All of them are valuable.

And, again, it’s all a gift from Him.   He doesn’t need us to do anything to make Him more God.   But He does continually want to share with us and give to us because that’s a part of His loving nature.   Think about it long enough and I bet you’ll see how that’s the greatest miracle of all.

For more reading:   Mark 16:20, John 4:48, 1 Corinthians 12:4, Ephesians 1:5.

Lord I praise You for the miracles You share, the ways in which You give to us to build us up and enrich our lives.   Help me to use the talents You give me in service to You and others.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2016

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  Hebrews 2, verses 2 and 3.

What does that mean?  It sort of seems like two different thoughts ‘smushed’ together.

My NIV concordance says that “the message spoken through angels” references God giving the Commandments to Moses at Sinai.  Some reading from Deuteronomy tells that “myriads of angels” accompanied God in giving Him praise when He revealed His law to Moses (who then shared it with the world).  A little online research corroborates that opinion.  What about the rest of the verses?

Yesterday at church the theme was “good enough.”   Pastor Mark talked about how we, as people, constantly strive to prove we’re good enough.   Every religion on earth is a choice between following Jesus or not.   If you aren’t following Jesus, then you’re doing something, anything, to prove you’re good enough.   Good enough for Allah, good enough to reach nirvana, good enough to prove your worth, good enough to make up for things you’ve done, just good enough:   that’s the point of all faiths other than following Jesus.  You’re either a following Christian or you aren’t.

I don’t say this to denigrate other faiths.   It’s just a fact.   If your faith isn’t put in Jesus, you aren’t putting your faith in the only one who can save you from your sins.  You’re striving to do something, most likely to prove you’re good enough to rise above the wrongs you’ve done.   And be real:   everyone does something wrong.   Wrong equals sin.   We all sin; we’re all thick with sin.  There’s nothing we can do to undo the consequences of those sins, both against other people and, as believers, against the righteous justice of God.   If you aren’t following Jesus, you’re doing something to overcome those sins.  THAT point segues directly into verse 3, where the verse talks about salvation.

Only Jesus has atoned for your sins.   Only Jesus can save me, you, or anyone from the eternal consequences of our sins.  God is perfect and just and righteous and all love.   He made us to love us and for us to live in perfect harmony with that love for all time.   Yet, to maintain that just, righteous, perfect love, God can’t tolerate our sins.   He gave us the free will to follow completely or sin.   Being a loving parent, He allows us to choose what we do, including the consequences.  But to maintain His perfection He can’t allow our constant imperfections to taint Him.   If He did, He wouldn’t be perfect, He wouldn’t be God.  That can’t be allowed, and let’s keep it real:   we wouldn’t really want it.

I am not perfect and I’m not just or righteous on my own.   I can’t atone for myself.  I can make some amends for the wrongs I’ve done to God and other people, but in truth I can’t atone for everything.   As an absolute, if I can’t atone for everything then I really can’t atone for everything.   I’m not God.  Neither are you.  We can’t save ourselves from the punishment we deserve:   damnation and separation from God.

Jesus did.

He did and He did it as fully man and fully God all at the same time.   It’s a mystery, THE mystery of the ages, how Jesus lived, died, and atoned for all sins.   He took on Himself the eternal damnation that even the least of my sins deserves and He made it right.   He made unclean man right and righteous again so that we can again live in the harmony with God that God originally intended.   The truly good news of all history is how He saved us from the eternal consequences our sins deserve.   All of Scripture is God testifying through men how He did this.   Those twelve men who Jesus taught during His ministry here inspired dozens, then hundreds, then millions of others to share this good news with others.   The Bible does this.   Pastors, ministries, whole lifetimes do this.   Even our words here together do this.   It’s all because of what Jesus did those thousands of years ago.   On my own, I’m not good enough.   Jesus is and with Him, He made me good enough.

What do two verses really mean?   As it turns out, quite a lot.

For more reading:   Deuteronomy 33:2, Romans 11:22.

Lord Jesus, I follow You.   Thank You for saving me, for forgiving me, for doing what I can’t.   Help me to live in ways to share this message with the world.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Before moving off verse 3, let’s talk about that “purification for sins” part.

This was the whole purpose of Christ’s life.   His life wasn’t just a great morality lesson.   He didn’t come here to be just a teacher, wise man, prophet, or all around good guy (like George of the Jungle). Jesus of Nazareth came here and died to provide the purification for sins.   As a result, everything changed.

On a Tuesday after a holiday weekend, does that blow your mind?

Dictionary.com defines “purification” as “to make pure; free from anything that debases, pollutes, adulterates, or contaminates; to free from foreign, extraneous, or objectionable elements; to free from guilt or evil; to clear or purge (usually followed by of or from); to make clean for ceremonial or ritual use.”

You and I: we’re impure.   Mother Theresa: impure.   Pope Francis and Billy (or Franklin) Graham:   impure.   The Dalai Lama, Orthodox patriarchs, your saintly grandmother, a newborn baby not five minutes old, the best person you can think of:   all impure.   All of us, every human ever born of man, are impure.   We’re thick with sin, tainted irrevocably with it.   And what is sin?   Going back to dictionary.com, sin is “transgression of divine law; any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle; any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense.”

Whether it is by a single thought of selfishness or the murder of a hundred people, we have sinned against God, against Jesus.   We have transgressed against Him by willful and deliberate violation of His principles.   We’re guilty of great fault and offense against the pure love that is Him.   Every time we choose anything but God or what is of Him, we sin.   We become guilty and impure whether it’s in thought, action, or both. There’s no getting away from that fact.   It’s part of who we are as people.

God didn’t make us to be sinful; our ancestors chose it and tainted us.   We each choose it willfully whether we’re children or adults.   Don’t agree?   Have you ever had a “no” argument with a toddler?   How about any kind of argument with anyone else?   Ever wondered lustily what your neighbor looks like in the shower? Knowingly fudged your taxes or driven over the speed limit?   Ever told a white lie?   No matter the human consequences, these and so many more are sins against God.   They’re unholy impurities in us that are an affront to the pure, just love that only He offers.

God tells us to be Holy but we don’t listen; in truth, we can’t on our own.   He tells us to be holy because He is holy and He created us to be in union with Him.   We can’t be in full union with Him as long as we’re unholy.   Our sins make us unholy because each one of them is a subtle (or loud) rebellion against Him.   It’s a chasm we can’t bridge on our own.

Enter Jesus.   Enter Jesus the one and only Savior who came here to bridge the chasm and purify us from our sins.   He willingly lived and died an agonizing death bearing the spiritual consequences of every sin humanity ever undertook. Fully God and fully man, He who could not die willingly died a hero’s death on that cross so that He could restore balance to creation. He did it while still preserving our ability to be made holy and to live in free will, choosing to love Him rather than being compelled to. He takes away the eternal damnation consequence of those sins.   He makes it possible for us to be in union with God again by clothing us in His righteousness and imputing it to us as our own.   In doing that, He makes it possible for the holy Majesty who is God the just Father to not see the millions of sins I’ve done in my life. Instead, He sees only Jesus’ pure perfection.   My impurities no longer keep distance between us.

Buddha didn’t do that.   The Dalai Lama can’t do that.   Neither Billy Graham nor your pastor can do it. No imam, holy man, or shaman can do it.   Nothing any of us can think, say or do can do that.   But Jesus did.

Now does that blow your mind?

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I’m in awe of Your purifying, righteous love.   Thank You for doing for me what I didn’t deserve and could not do.   Thank You for purifying me of my guilt and restoring Your true love to my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Where do you start with that?   How about at the beginning, especially since that dovetails on the ‘beginning’ theme from the last blog entry?

First off, we don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews.   Some old Bibles list Paul as the author, but more recent scholarship has disproven that.   According to my Concordia NIV translation, the author might have been Paul’s companion, Barnabas.   Or it might also have been Apollos (Paul’s contemporary) or Bartholomew, one of the other disciples.   In truth, we just don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.

Piecing together the ‘news’ from Hebrews and comparing it to the other New Testament books shows that the book was written to Jewish converts who were familiar with both the Pentateuch and the Talmud; this too is from Concordia.   The new believers were also familiar with the events of First Century Judea (in the rise of the Christian faith). The writer apparently penned the book to encourage & teach believers in the new churches that grew in the Mediterranean region.

Finally, Concordia also says that the book is a practical guide to practical faith. As we walk through Hebrews, you’ll probably notice that the author talks about what faith means, tying it to events and people throughout Biblical history.   This was practical knowledge that the Jewish converts in the early church could use. If you read it, you’ll probably find the same thing.

What does all this have to do with verse 3?   When you consider that all of Scripture is God’s word – God’s very thoughts and words transcribed by men who were divinely inspired by Him – you get to remember that these words are things God Himself is saying.   They are thoughts that come from Jesus’ heart. When you read them, you’re getting a communication directly from God through Jesus’ Spirit.

Hold onto that thought, then merge it with the knowledge that those words truly represent who God is. In absorbing them, you take part in His goodness.   You see how He is above, over, around, and through all things.   This universe He created (just by speaking) is something He created as an expression of His love, of His nature. What’s more, He created it all, then hand-made humans like you and I to take part in it.   To oversee and tend to it; to help it grow and flourish. God is still over all creation, keeping it alive and in place through His powerful love, but He made human beings to be his partners in tending to it.   He’s the source of life…we are His keepers of it.

This isn’t some esoteric theory; it’s not a speculation with millions of years of holes between transition points.   This is God’s fact, the very essence of nature. In the days of the Bible, people would have been more open to this concept even as other pagan beliefs about the origin of the world would have been present (just as evolution is in our day). God plainly stated in Genesis “this is what happened.   This is how it all went down.” He spoke plainly so people could understand plainly how God still held things together in Himself even in their day.   He hadn’t deserted His people.   If anything, He took their Creator-creation relationship to a new level.

The writer of Hebrews uses that fact to transition us through the idea that this same God, this same Jesus who is God and was present in creation, is the same Jesus who had just recently walked the earth.   Who showed His divine nature and died for all sins.   Who rose to heaven on His human death and is there now, fully present and fully alive, at the same time His Spirit is fully here, fully then and now, fully present and fully alive.   Fully inspiring all we think, do and say in the same way He did for the Hebrews of first century Judea. Indeed, for all people of all times.   That’s practical knowledge we can use to live.

Where do you start with that?   Perhaps the better question would be “how would it end?”   Soon we get to see that there is no ending to it, and that’s the biggest miracle blessing of all

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, You are the magnificent Creator of all that I know.   I believe in You, that You are present now and forever, that You’re over and through nature, and that You made this place to be an expression of Your beautiful being.   Thank You for all these blessings!

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 1 April 2016

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. Mark 16, verses 15-20.

It’s ironic that today is April Fool’s Day.   It’s a day when people play pranks on you, hopefully all in good fun.   It’s a day when you might have to ask yourself what you believe about what you’re being told. And it’s the day I change up how I’m writing this blog.

It fits because Jesus’ charge to His Disciples – and thus to us – is to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”   That’s a charge we shouldn’t take lightly.   In fact, it’s what we should be doing in every moment of our lives.   Should we be talking about Jesus in everything we do?   Yes, actually we should; it’s what He commanded and asked us to do.   Practically speaking, if we do everything as unto the Lord (see Colossians 3 and Ephesians 6 for more), then every time we use our abilities, live out our Godly passions, or speak well with our neighbor, we’re preaching Jesus.   We’re preaching that He saved us for such a time as this (see Esther for that one). Be the church, not just in the church building.   Live Jesus by living as He would. Six years (and several books ago) I undertook that task with this blog and now I’m going to re-tool it to do that same thing but in a slightly different way.   After a few weeks away to regroup, let’s re-convene here to talk through more practically proverbial items to help us each live Jesus a little more in these daily wars we fight called “life.”

Yet remember this:   it’s not about me.   It really isn’t. Jesus sent those 12 men, I don’t know how many women, and dozens of other followers out into the world to talk about God, God’s love, God’s justice, God’s mercy, and God’s peace in a world that needed all of them.   The world still does and (like the song says) ‘we are the world.’   If we are the world and our task is to talk about Jesus, then in being part of this world, it can’t be about us.   It shouldn’t be.   In truth, where would the fun be if it were about me?   Focus on me and you’ll find a chubby middle-aged consultant who’s simply doing his best to get by.   Just me and I’m just those things. Just Jesus and me and Katie bar the door.

And if you read those verses again, you’ll see they’re all about Jesus.   I know that some folks use them to justify picking up snakes and drinking poison.   Brother, like Jesus said, “do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Yet in all we do, dangerous and timid alike, we get to talk about the risen Lord, the forgiving God, my brother and my friend, Jesus, and He who spoke all things into creation.   It’s not a ‘have-to’ kind of task.   We get to do this.   We get to do this until He comes back in the same way He left.   I’m not too worried about what that’ll look like or when it’ll happen.   I’ll be content just to know that it will.

That’s what makes it easy to walk away a little, change things up, and go into the world to talk about Jesus. I’ll be gone for a few weeks, then crash back into your electronic mailbox.   What that’ll look like, I don’t know.   It may or may not be a practical proverbial; a name change might happen.   One of my new projects is called “manage God’s way;” we’ll see next month. Until then, follow Jesus, do your best, rock on, and love generously. Really.   No foolin’ about it.

Lord Jesus, thank You for the opportunities to live out my faith in You.   Thank You for friends, readers, fellow believers, and fellow life-warriors.

Read something from your Bible daily.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 31 March 2016

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.  Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. Mark 16, verses 9-14.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most eye-witnessed events in antiquity.   More people gave corroborating eyewitness accounts of seeing Him alive after He was dead than people who witnessed the assassination of Julius Caesar, William Wallace’s victory at Stirling, the driving of the Golden Spike, or even the attack on Pearl Harbor.   Legends don’t have that kind of evidence.   Legends aren’t spoken of by multiple unconnected sources within a generation, but the death and resurrection of Christ was.

All too often people couch their unbelief (or dis-belief) in Jesus by saying “there’s no proof” yet I hope you’ll see that this just isn’t the case.   There are more post-resurrection accounts of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there are of the ancient kings of England, yet nobody disputes there were kings before the Anglo Saxon invasion.   In the four gospels there are more corroborating proofs of the life, death, and post-death life of Jesus than there are descriptions of Abraham Lincoln’s mother.   In the words of those who saw Him up close, there is more convincing evidence of the real existence of Jesus the Christ than there is existing evidence that proves who shot JFK.

Yet we don’t doubt any of these things while so many people doubt Jesus. What more proof do you need?

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, according to my study Bible, the earliest versions of Mark don’t contain these last few verses.   They may indeed have been added later, and they may (or may not) have been added by John Mark himself.   Like so much else in the world, we don’t know. If this bothers you, perhaps ask yourself why.   And consider this:   Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence most likely didn’t say “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Lincoln’s first draft of the Gettysburg Address may not have said “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Over a thousand years ago, at the council of Nicea, it was decided by scholars of the day that (today’s) ending of Mark fit with the rest of the book.   That’s good enough for me.

Yet when you boil down the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the proof isn’t the majesty and beauty of it.   The proof is that, by faith, you receive the miracle of His redemption.   For that no proof is needed.   It’s proof enough of itself.   Legal evidence is impeachable and potentially corrupt. Jesus isn’t.  He proved it so.

Lord Jesus, I believe in You because You are who You say You are.   Nothing more is needed.

Read Mark 16, verses 9-20.