Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 29 March 2019

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.   2 Timothy 1:13 (NIV).

Sound teaching lasts a lifetime.   When you consider that we humans were made to live forever, sound teaching can therefore last forever.   The oldest of the Bible’s books are Job and those of the Pentateuch, each of them between 3400 and 3500 years old.  The newest of the Bible are nearly 2000 years old.  That you and I are still discussing them today seems to verify that they’re sound teaching, especially since it is the Bible that gave rise to the monastic culture (that preserved ancient knowledge during the Dark Ages), the Reformation and Renaissance, and even western democracy.

That’s sound teaching.   It has lasted for centuries, even millienia.   Paul understood that.   He had had a very personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ, who set him on an informed path of evangelical mission.   People won’t do those kinds of things without believing in them, and the fact that so much constructive good happened because of it seems to also verify the sound teachings of Christ.   Sure, you can sell your soul to Satan, believe in the magical paganism of Wicca, or follow Mohammed into jihad.  In the end, those teachings lead to separation from the God of our fathers, to the second death.

There is a better way.

There is a better way that Paul exhorted Timothy (and us) to follow.  Keep true to the teachings of Jesus.   You’re only human and you’re going to screw up; so will your friends and congregants.   And when you do, run right back to Jesus and confess your failings.   Receive His forgiveness, soak up His Spirit and His strength, and begin again (and again and again).   Talk about it with everyone you can.  Live it out.  Run this good race set before you and preach Christ crucified in all you say and do.   Go all in on this faith because it’s the only faith that matters, and the only one that will save your immortal soul.   There will be hardship and suffering, but remain true to Christ and you will wear a crown of peace in this life, then a thankful crown of reward from Him in the next.

THAT is a better way.

And it all stems from learning that sound teaching.   We teach our kids morals, basic math, language skills, and how to get along with each other at a young age; we spend years doing it.  Generations past did those same things using God’s Word as the foundation.   It isn’t that they knew something we don’t:  they simply did better than we’re doing.  As long as God permits day and night, there is still time to turn to that better way.   How about we start now?

For further reading:   Romans 8:9, 2 Timothy 14.

Lord Jesus, YOU are the better way.    Forgive me my sins.   Thank You for today in which to proclaim You.   Guide me today.

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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, 26 January 2017

And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared:  “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Hebrews 7, verses 15-17.

It’s another verse affirming the supremacy of Jesus.   We’ve already established that a pedigree matters to people.   It doesn’t matter to God, but we need to know that our leaders are ‘legit.’  Here’s more proof of that.  Those words “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” are directly quoted from Psalm 110 and from the earlier Hebrews verses.  This means that, in first century Judea, when Hebrews was written, the psalm was already hundreds of years old, dating back centuries to the time of King David.   The original readers of Hebrews would have recognized this already ancient verse and ascribed power and meaning to it.   How much more so should we.

We’ve already spoken about how Jesus wasn’t a Levite, so for Him to be the ‘priest forever’ meant that He would have to have been declared so by God.   Jesus fulfilled all the priestly requirements, including the ones in line with the example of Melchizedek.  Going back to our first century timeline, up to that point, who else had appeared who was like Jesus?   Did John the Baptist do the things Jesus did?   No.   Did the Maccabeans?   Nope.   The Jewish Sanhedrin?   Nope again.   In fact, in all of antiquity, who else could lay claim to even being able to preach the words, perform the miracles, die the cruel death after living a sinless life, and demonstrate the Father’s true character the way Jesus did?   You know the answer.  In the twenty centuries since the life of Christ, has anyone else done these things?   Again, you know the answer.

So who else but Jesus would appear?   Are you looking for someone else?   Do you seriously expect someone else to appear who would do what Jesus did?   Even discounting Christ’s divinity, do you seriously, truly expect another person will appear in all of history who will be able to satisfy the requirements of a go-between with God and man the way Jesus did?   Over three hundred Biblical prophecies were completed in Jesus Christ.   The odds of anyone else being able to do that are astronomical, physically impossible.   Could anyone else do what Jesus did?

Buddha didn’t.  Mohammed didn’t and never could.  Martin Luther King and Billy Graham (or Billy Sunday) didn’t.  Neither did any of the old Communist dictators (including the still above room temperature Raul Castro and the boy-tyrant Kim Jong Un), Martin Luther, Pope John Paul II, the Apostle Peter, Torquemada, any US president including George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, Timothy Leary, Elon Musk, or Buddy Holly even before the day the music died.

The fact is there is no other man who has or might appear who has become a priest like Melchizedek.   There is no other priest whose lineage is eternal, and to whom a great stranger would tithe a tenth of his possessions.   There is nobody else throughout all of time who could have said, done, and lived the way the man from Nazareth did.  There is only Jesus.   In all of human history, only Jesus of Nazareth satisfies all the things that the author of Hebrews says about a true intermediary between God and man.   Science, logic, history, and faith prove there simply is no other way.

For further reading:   Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6.

Lord, only You.   Only You could be the Savior of mankind.   I believe in only You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 December 2016

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Hebrews 6, verses 4-6.

Something else that needs to be said, and this is going to be harsh.

“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”   We do it every day.   It’s why He chose the cross; it’s why, every day, He chooses it again and again when you and I, selfish bastards that we are, keep stabbing him with those Roman nails.   We do it with our sins, small and large, even the ones we don’t think amount to much.   Have you begun to realize all the effects of your God-damned sins?   Yes, I said that.   Your sins and mine:   they’re cause for God to damn us to eternal punishment.   Personally, I think that punishment starts here and now and only gets worse as we go.   God damn us for all of our sins.

Enough of the profanity.   I hope you don’t mind it too much…it’s for effect and I’m hoping that it makes you think, maybe even a little angry.  You should be righteously angry at sin; angry enough to do something about it.   Jesus did.   And yet we keep taking up that hammer and ramming those nails back into His hands and feet.

Every single time you and I fail we nail Jesus back to that cross.   He suffered mortal agony the first time around, and then He suffered spiritual agony being ripped apart from His Divine being (so as to suffer and redeem us) while still being inevitably matched to Him as well.   Then He rose three days later, making death and suffering moot forever.  And yet every minute since, whenever someone has done, said or thought anything contrary to Him, it’s like we have nailed Him back onto that cross.

Here in the first-world, we persecute those who believe in Jesus.   You’ve done it; so have I.   Huh?   You bet you have.   Ever been afraid to speak up and say you’re a believer?   Ever been ashamed of your faith because the ‘cool kids’ didn’t seem to be ashamed of themselves?   Ever felt even the slightest bit sanctimonious when you did speak up, not realizing your proud sanctimony is a disgrace to Him who loves us unselfishly?  Every single time we do things like these, even the tiniest thing, we are disgracing Jesus again.   We are joining in with the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who spit on Him, screamed at Him, hated Him.  You and I already know it’s un-cool to be a believer in Hollywood or even on social media.   That’s persecution my friend, even if it’s soft-boiled.

And REAL persecution?   You know, the kind that gets you killed for being a believer?   It’s happening in every Muslim country on the planet.   It’s happening on steroids in places controlled by ISIS and Boko Haram.   It’s still happening in communist strongholds like Cuba, and China, and North Korea.   Don’t fool yourself:   when you and I sin, we’re joining in the execution squads in Iran who torture you, then stand you up against the wall simply for saying “I believe in Jesus and not Mohammed.”

Like I said, God damn us for our sins.   He can, He will, He doesn’t want to, but He must if we don’t repent of them.   God is holy and must be holy.   Our very lives depend on it.  If He isn’t, even for an iota of a second, then this whole universe comes apart.   The places where the spiritual and physical intertwine would become explosion points of sin if there is no holy and just Lord God Almighty to bind them together.

Thank God that He is the cure for the common damnation.   The cure for damnation is Jesus.   Every time we do the difficult, mature thing and turn from our sins, it’s like witnessing Jesus rise from death again.   We’re the women at the garden tomb, clinging fast to our risen Lord.   We’re the blind man who can see again because He healed us.   We’re Peter, restored to faith after denying Him three times.   If our sins nail Him to that cross every time, then our repentance and re-acceptance of His gift of true salvation is being restored into His resurrection.   Damnation becomes simply a road we didn’t follow when we step back onto the path of following Jesus.   Then and only then do we grasp how He was ready for us all along.   The salvation wasn’t undone by our rebellion even as our rebellion renounced our acceptance of His salvation.

For further reading:   Luke 2:14, Philippians 3:12-14, Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 9:14, John 3:25, Acts 6:6, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:24, Acts 18:21.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for all You did in saving us.   I’m truly sorry for the sins I’ve done that nailed You to the cross.   I’m truly sorry that I’ve kept on doing them.   Live in me and strengthen me to turn from my awful sins and to follow only You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 December 2016

…and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.  Hebrews 5, verse 9.

What does “made perfect” mean?   Is it referring to Jesus being immaculate of His Father’s Spirit and the woman Mary?   Is it the work-filled nature of His ministry here?   Is it how he endured temptations and trials here to make a perfectly-lived human life?  Does this refer to how He endured the terrible suffering of crucifixion without falling into any kind of sin, even the seemingly irresistible sins of thought?

Answer:   yes.   See, that was easy!

Make no mistake:   Jesus the Christ is eternal.   He has always been and always will be.   Though born of a human here, He was not created before that.   Being God, He simply is, and was, and is to come.   Jesus wasn’t ‘made’ whether it’s made perfect or made anything else.   Yet, for our understanding, we need to consider how He lived that perfect life here and, in doing so, made something that had never been made before.   That perfect life He lived here:   that’s indeed one thing that the author is referring to.

What’s more, that perfect life was made for something else that mattered even more:   perfect salvation.   God used Jesus’ perfect existence as the only way to reconcile a rebellious humanity to Himself.   He required perfection; He required blood of atonement; He required willing sacrifice of everything to His perfect will.   No ‘very good’ person ever had or ever has since; only Jesus could do it.   In willingly submitting to God’s will to atone for all sins, Jesus made perfect salvation for all mankind.

Think about that.   Perfection done for you.  It’s for eternity.   It is for you and me and everyone we know and everyone who has lived.  That perfect salvation was all that’s required for all of us to spend forever with Jesus in communion with Him.   We get to share in His graceful blessing of joy, peace, happiness, and even work all because He did all the work that was necessary in living, in making, a perfectly lived life.   We get to do this here and now, then for eternity later.  Only Jesus could offer Himself perfectly as the exactly perfect sacrifice necessary to do away with the consequence of sin that is eternal death.   Only Jesus did it; only Jesus offers the path to eternity today.   Mohammed doesn’t; Buddha doesn’t; Shintoism doesn’t; the Kardashians don’t.   Neither does Donald Trump, a brand new pickup truck, the Democrat or Republican Party, or Chunky Monkey ice cream.   Only Jesus.

Have you ever made something that is so good that you’re busting your buttons that you’re so pleased with it?   Have you ever felt proud of things you’ve done, or said, or written, or even thought?   Have you ever felt joy at times in your life, or maybe joy with family and friends?   I imagine that’s how God must feel all the time when He considers all Jesus did.   I imagine it’s how He must feel when He welcomes a believer into eternity and sees that redeemed believer through the prism of Jesus.

Jesus was born and ‘made’ human in an unusual way that neither compromised His divinity nor took on human sin.   He spent a life working with His hands, and His heart, building a life that could be used ultimately in service to God.   All through that life, He perfectly resisted the temptations that ensnare the rest of us, knowing that even a tiny thought of sin would ruin God’s plan for perfect atonement.   And He willingly went to die in our place, knowing that, when He had finished the painful trials of agony and torture, God’s wrath would be satisfied and mankind could be at peace with Him.   All of that means “made perfect.”  All we have to do is obey…and believe.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:10.

Glory to You, my Lord and Savior, for Your perfection, the perfect life You made, and for the perfect love who is You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 5 October 2016

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.  Hebrews 2, verse 10.

One of my favorite hymns is “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”   In it, the lyrics paraphrase Hebrews 2 with the poetic lines “How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the chosen One bring many sons to glory.”

Magnificent.

Indeed, isn’t it true how so many verses in Scripture are memorable because they are poetic?   This one especially sticks with me.   “Bringing many sons and daughters to glory” inspires in me thoughts of mission, and brotherhood, and mercy.   The thought has an almost Gaelic feel to it, as if there are thousands of mournful believers moving through the fog towards a dim light in the distance.  The closer you get to the light, you see Jesus is the light, and that His arms are open, His heart of love on display, His presence evaporating the fog of sin and unbelief.

For years now, I’ve thought of my Christian walk as an active thing, a living, ongoing event.   It has seemed like a movement.   I’ve learned that we’re in a spiritual war, one in which battles are fought on a personal basis every day.  The battle manifests itself in resisting temptations, professing faith, encouraging others in the face of sin and despair.   On one side stands Satan, general of the armies of the fallen.   He uses evil to manifest itself in every dark emotion with which we can be plagued.   Lies, pain, and anguish are the carnage he leaves on the battlefield of human souls.

Yet on the other side is Jesus, meek and mild yet overwhelmingly powerful.   He is humble yet strong, quiet yet unfathomably deep, all peace yet all martial in protecting the peace, justice and love that stream from His very presence.  He only tolerates Satan because Satan allows that peace, justice and love to shine in ways that build up His cherished creation, humanity.  With a thought He could vanquish evil forever.   With depth we cannot fully understand this side of heaven, He gave Himself up as payment for all the evil we embraced and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory.

I also love that phrase “pioneer of their salvation.”   In my walk of faith, my daily war against the spirits of evil, I get to follow Jesus as a pioneer.   Your life and mine are unwritten; thank you Natasha Bedingfield.  Today isn’t fore-ordained and tomorrow isn’t here yet.   We’re writing our lives as we live them.  What we do in our lives today pioneers the ground on which we build our lives.   We get to use the free choice God gave to each of us to do with what we will.   It’s God’s hope that we’ll look to Him, to Jesus, first and always, as the pioneer who blazed a trail for us.  It wasn’t a wagon train trail through the prairie or a lonely ride across uncharted ocean.   It was living a life without sin, loving all others as He loved His Father, and then dying the death of just, noble sacrifice so that others might live forever.  Jesus and only Jesus blazed that path to God for us.   Buddha didn’t; Mohammed didn’t; L. Ron Hubbard didn’t; our ancestors didn’t.   We don’t today.   Only Jesus.

Only He, who fulfilled ancient prophecy and was incarnate a little lower than the angels, pioneered the path into paradise and, in doing so, poetically brought mankind into that glory.  He did it how?   Through suffering.   The physical torture, the spiritual agony, the abyss of separation from God:  only Jesus did those things and only He persevered in true character through them to guarantee us the promise of hope that is His salvation.  You and I can’t imagine the suffering He endured.  Not even the horrors of concentration camps or the monstrosities of ISIS in our world today can compare to the terror, agony, and pain Jesus endured for our benefit.  It’s simply beyond our compare.   Yet endure them He did and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory forever.

For more reading:   Romans 11:36, Luke 24:26, Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 7:28, Romans 5:  3-5.

Lord, I thank You and praise You for bringing us to glory, for pioneering the way into eternity.