Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2017.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12, verse 14.

Here’s another tall order:   live in peace and be holy.  How does that fit in with America’s NFL controversy this week?   Or our political discourse in general since the start of this century?   How well are we living in peace with our enemies and even our allies?   Is there peace in Detroit or St. Louis?   Is there peace at your table on Thanksgiving?   And are you and your spouse at peace (if you’re married)?

Let’s get this out there:   peace is NOT the absence of conflict.   Don’t think that just because we don’t have conflict that we’re at peace.   Yes, I mean that.  Sure, not shooting each other in war is indeed “peaceful” yet there’s all too often no real peace in that.   It’s a good thing to not have someone shooting you, attacking you, berating you, and that condition is indeed conducive to overall peace.  But it isn’t real peace.   There isn’t peace along the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula:   there is only a cessation of hostilities that has lasted since 1953.  There isn’t peace in Sudan.   There isn’t peace in Ukraine.   There isn’t peace in Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, or most of America’s inner cities.

You can only have peace if the Holy Spirit is working within you.   The bumper sticker meme “no Jesus no peace.   Know Jesus know peace” is spot on true.   The only real peace you can know in this world is when you open up your heart and let Jesus crowd out all the rest of the noise.  Sure, there are some true believing folks in all the areas listed above (even in North Korea) but without God’s Holy Spirit in control, the peace we will know is uneasy, tenuous.

That isn’t easy to do.   I have a schedule to keep.   There are Facebook posts that require my brilliance.   My wife and kids aren’t doing what I want them to do.  That guy who passed me on the right was a real jerk!  DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE TIME FOR PEACE?  Actually, Dave, if the truth is told, you don’t have time to NOT have peace.   Without the peace of Jesus, you got nuthin.

You’ve got nothing without Jesus because, without Jesus, the second half of verse 14 is also impossible.   I’m not holy; you aren’t holy.   Neither Franklin Graham nor Pope Francis (nor even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are holy.   We’re all dirty sinners on our own.  Without Jesus, we still own our sins; owning our sins, we are unholy.   Without Jesus we still own the consequences of our sins.  What’s more, without Jesus you won’t see the Lord.   You won’t see heaven.   You won’t be there.

Don’t get mad at me for pointing that out:   it’s what verse 14 says.  Without knowing Jesus we can’t be holy and if we’re unholy we won’t be going to heaven.   The ONLY cure for that is to put your faith in Christ.  And the way to do that is to say “I believe” and then start walking the walk.  Read your Bible.  Pray constantly.   Be with other believers and be built up by your fellowship with Jesus and each other.   Tithe from a giving heart.   And, most of all, practice what you preach by starting to live your life in ways the Lord has told us to.  Once again, that’s a tall order.   It means giving up the porn, holding your tongue, confessing your dark secrets to the unseen God, and changing the way you act with other people.   Pick your pet sin:  you and I GET TO give up these things and follow Jesus closer so that His holiness can be imputed to us and we may stand with Him in paradise.   These are simply the practices of a follower of Jesus.  If my tone seems preachy, I apologize.

I have no illusion that everyone turning to Jesus would immediately solve the world’s problems.  Perhaps we would still have conflicts, arguments, and hurt.   Or, perhaps we wouldn’t.   Si Robertson once said “it ain’t gun control we need.   It’s sin control.”   Right on brother.  If we all embraced Jesus more and did what He asked, perhaps we’d have more control over those temptations that lure us in.   If we all did better and walking the walk and talking the talk, perhaps the world’s problems would indeed be solved.   Sin control looks a lot like Jesus.

For further reading:  Romans 14:19, Romans 6:22, Matthew 5:8.

Lord, thank You for giving us Your righteousness, for making us holy.   Help us to believe in You more, to practice our faith.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 August 2017

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  Hebrews 11, verses 35-38.

Read through these verses again and you get a, well, Biblical feeling about them (pun intended).   Then read through them again and consider that, somewhere in the world today, there are people who are being mistreated, persecuted, and tortured for believing in Jesus just like these church forebears thousands of years ago.

You and I read about that on the Internet, but it’s true.   In Sudan, people are tortured for being Christian, for denying anyone but Allah.   In Iran, you can be executed for being a Christian.   Ditto in North Korea (or any communist country for all that matter).   In Cuba you can still be thrown in prison for saying you believe in Jesus (but, then again, Cuba is still a communist dictatorship).   Same in the People’s Republic of China (also still a communist dictatorship).   In Saudi Arabia, if you’re a Christian (or any non-Muslim for all that matter), you can be punished with instant death for trying to enter the holy mosque near the Kaaba.

Being tortured and dying for what you believe goes a long way back.   But look at the benefits.   Indeed, consider ONLY the benefits of believing.  Jesus or the world?   Jesus wins.

Only Jesus can bring you back from death because only He has done that.   Only Jesus can give you true peace inside, true calmness of your Spirit.  That’s here and not, not just some day.  Only Jesus can steel your spine to face down agonizing death because only in Jesus can you have full assurance that physical death is only a tiny passage into eternal life.

That’s not to say that living your faith is rosy or even easy.  I wonder if that’s not a disappointment for many folks who say they believe.   They are looking for something that takes away the hurt, the difficulty, even the pain of things that happen in life and when Christianity doesn’t instantly do that, they walk away disappointed.  Who knows when we got away from the idea that following Jesus could be tough?  Somewhere along the way, (especially) we in America began to serve up a Christianity that was light and easy, an egg-white omelette of faith if you will.

That isn’t the faith Jesus advertised.   He said that, if we wanted to follow Him, we would have to take up our cross and walk with Him daily.   That means we would, every day of our lives, have to stand against the world, against our nature, against even those who love us but don’t love Him.   That means we would have to carry our instrument of death with us everywhere we go until, at the end of all things, we are nailed to it.    When Jesus taught from the Scriptures, he taught from the accounts of the Old Testament heroes who died for their faith but died IN their faith.  For them, there was no death at all, but only that passage to something far better in paradise.  Death in the service of the Lord was an honor, maybe even a duty, but not a burden.

They understood that the God of their fathers was loving, just and true.   That He kept His promises.   That He was all He said He was.   They understood that, even in a century-long life, time here on earth is short.   The men and women of ancient days who died for Christ in their faith seemed to know something we have misplaced.

Here’s the hard part:  what are you willing to do to get it back?

For further reading:  1 Kings 17:22-23, 2 Kings:4:36-37, Jeremiah 20:2, genesis 39:20, 1 Kings 19:10, Jeremiah 26:23, 1 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 18:4, Luke 9:23.

My Lord, forgive me when I fail You.  Thank You for the blessings of enduring hardship in service to You, in faith in You.   Let my sufferings be a good witness to others and strengthen them.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 May 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.”  Hebrews 10, verses 15-16.

I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. That thought blows my mind.   Does it apply to everyone?

Do you think Kim Jong Un has a conscience?   This is the man who tortures nearly 300,000 of his countrymen simply for the act of thinking for themselves.   He just ordered the assassination of his half-brother in Malaysia.   He seems bent on provoking war with the West, provoking a resumption of the vicious civil war his grandfather began nearly 70 years ago.   Do you think he has a conscience?   Do you think that his conscience is inured?   He was educated in Switzerland, so it’s reasonable to assume he was exposed to Christianity at some point in his life.   Do you think he rejected it?

Or there was Sayyid Qtub.   You might never have heard of him.   He, too, was educated in the West, and he, too, was exposed to Christianity during his time in America (several years, in fact).   Sayyid Qtub was the original Islamist fundamentalist, a man who grew to hate all that the West stands for and who began to challenge the Arab governments in Egypt in the 1960s.   He founded the anti-American Muslim Brotherhood and was executed by the Egyptians in 1966.   One of his acolytes was a man named Zawahiri, who later worked with a man named Bin Laden to form Al Qaeda.   Do you think they had consciences?

Do you think God wrote His laws on their hearts and wrote them on their minds?

Has He written them on yours?

You know the answer, and it’ll make you uncomfortable to admit that, yes, these people did (or do) know God.   God loved Sayyid Qtub, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Osama Bin Laden enough that He sent His only son to die for them.   He does it for everyone, even those who commit great sins.   Just yesterday, I was at a gymnastics facility here in Paris, talking with a woman there (while waiting for my grandson to complete his gym lesson).   We were talking about the man in Dallas who had just shot the paramedic (and who was later found dead, a suicide, in a nearby home).   The woman’s young daughter quipped into our conversation that “Mommy, Jesus died for that man, too.”   She’s right.   He did.   Jesus died for that lunatic who murdered an innocent first responder and then murdered himself.

Just like He died for You.   You whose sins may be relatively tame compared to Kim Jong Un, Osama Bin Laden, or a crazed killer.  Re-read verses 15 and 16 and tell me if they say “only white people” or “The Holy Spirit testifies to Southern Baptists about this.”   It doesn’t say “This pertains only to the Catholics” or “AME Methodists know this better than anyone else.”   No, those verses say that Jesus’ Holy Spirit testifies to US, all of us, each of us, you and me.   They say that God wrote His holy laws into our hearts and minds.   They are natural law, beyond human education and not caused or inspired by human thought.   They are God bequeathed into us, innately part of us.   They are branded onto our very existence.

So do I think those horrible people, whoever they are, whoever WE are, know about God without being taught about Him?   Yes, yes I do.   I believe that God writes Himself into our DNA, whoever we are, and that our deepest yearnings in whatever culture from which we emanate are to know God more.   To learn about Him, to seek Him, to build on what He put into us and to find meaning in this life through Him.   Some reject this; let’s be honest:   most people reject this.   Yet it doesn’t make the truth less true that God loved us first and wants us first to love Him before we know or love anything else.   His Spirit speaks to us through the conscience, and we each have a conscience even if we dull it.  He loved us enough to die for us no matter what terrible things we do to each other in our lives.  He wants everyone to know this so that everyone might turn from our evil ways to embrace His Way.  Even Sayyid Qtub, the Dallas killer, and Kim Jong Un.

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

Lord Jesus, thank You for being bigger than me, more patient than me, more loving than me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 March 2017

But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.  Hebrews 8, verse 6.

Super.   It’s Monday and that’s just super; uber rah rah already.

Let’s talk supersessionism.  Up until this morning, I hadn’t even heard of that word, but some online research about this verse brought it up.  In a nutshell, it’s the concept of the new covenant superseding the old covenant.  Islam has a similar tenet, namely in how Islam says it supersedes every other faith (sort of like arguing with a kid and they say “no, you are” over and over until they finally say “no you are infinity”).  But the long and short of it is that, when you come to faith in Jesus, you begin to understand how Jesus superseded any and all prior covenants with His redemption of mankind.  That doesn’t invalidate those earlier covenants; God still promises unconditionally.   But, legally speaking, all the conditions of them are complete with the resurrection of Christ.

So, another thing that happened this morning was that, yet again, I was grousing about church hymns.   I like all kinds of music but am turning into a curmudgeon about hymns.   Yesterday, as is the wont of many music leaders, the leader at our church in Paris changed the words to a beloved hymn.   He isn’t the only one to do this; Chris Tomlin and other Christian musicians frequently do this in their new music, altering the lyrics to beloved songs.  The bottom line is that it irritates me.   It annoys me, especially if said altered song is one dear to me (as this one was.   We sang it at my dad’s funeral).

Let’s be clear about this:   this is a first world problem.   Compared to North Korean missiles, hunger in Africa, and non-existent anthropogenic climate change, this is a problem that only a spoiled first worlder such as myself could air.  Yet air it I did and found that, not surprisingly, some agreed with me and some didn’t.  A pastor friend of mine reminded me that pastors will sometimes do this to reinforce the message they’re communicating that week; that’s true.   And, quite honestly, if it gives constructive praise to God – which it did – then even if a few feathers are ruffled it can be a good thing; that’s true as well.

What’s the point?   Do newly doctored songs replace the old ones (I hope not).   No, the point is that we’re free to debate this.   We can talk, agree to disagree, and still be in unity as believers & friends.  That freedom is ONLY possible because Jesus superseded all previous covenants that His Father had made with men.  The covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David were loving efforts by God to bring man into unity with Him.   Not surprisingly, mankind messed them up.   We NEED a covenant from Jesus, the God-man, to restore full balance between ourselves and our God.  We need Him to redeem us; we need Him to make us righteous in front of a Father who can tolerate only righteousness; we need Him to make us clean again and take away the consequences of our sins.  Just like we need air and water, we need Jesus.

That need could only be satisfied by Jesus making us truly free.   In fact, the more you study Scripture, the more you begin to see that faith in Jesus is the only foundation for true liberty.   Our Founders knew this, even as not all of them were practicing Christians.  Freedom through legalism isn’t freedom at all.   No government or contract really makes you free.   If anything, governments and legal contracts are supposed to protect one’s freedom even as they more frequently limit it.  Being bound by the constraints of a human contract limits your ability to say or do what you do.  Thus, when people implemented the old covenants, the result was legalism.   When you do that, you get the Pharisees (or American academia).

Enter Jesus who, as the verse reminds us, mediates a new covenant between ourselves and our God.  The former covenants, misunderstood by we humans, had been twisted to be constraining.   Jesus makes a new covenant that removes those constraints by simply asking us to believe He is God, and He takes care of everything else.   Life?  Done; it’s yours.   Provisions for living?  Done; they’re yours.   Forgiveness of all your sins and the guilt that dog-piles on with them?   Done; yours again.   All we do is believe.   From there, Jesus takes the load and leads us now in His better way.  The goal of life isn’t to toe the line:   the goal of life becomes loving others to help them with their burdens in life.

All because Jesus’ covenant of life superseded all those before it in the ultimate act of supersessionism.   That includes curmudgeon grousing about church music.  Pretty super after all.

For further reading:  Luke 22:20, Galatians 3:20.

My Lord, I praise You for superseding the old covenants that blessed all my ancestors (and even me).   Thank You for making it possible to walk and talk with you and my brothers and sisters.

 

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 Mark, 22 December 2014

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Mark 3, verses 1-2.

“Looking for a reason to accuse:”   smack dab in the middle of the beginning of this chapter is a huge statement; it’s one that plagues everything we do today.

Take North Korea:   the headlines this week are full of how the North Korean government has supposedly hacked into Sony’s Hollywood systems and caused the US political aisle) are quick to find fault with the other side, either for Sony’s irresponsible movie-making concept or the US government’s lackluster response to a cyber act of war.

And then there’s the issue of Cuba, where the president of the United States has drastically modified the US’ generations-old policy towards that island dictatorship.   Some have said that our embargo has only hurt the Cuban people; others have countered that it is only the fault of the Castro dictators that the Cuban people live in misery.

Or how about the murders of police officers; the killings of young black men; a bankrupt US government managed by two political parties that shadow box themselves into intransigent positions; Ford versus GM; Mormons versus Baptists; Bush versus Clinton; war on Christmas versus the rights of believers to enjoy the holiday: it seems like our entire lives are lately consumed with people – meaning us – looking for reasons to accuse each other. Sometimes those accusations are substantiated, even justified; sometimes it is propaganda.   Yet especially now we, as a society, seem to be waiting to be offended so that we can look for reasons to accuse ‘the other guy.’

If you’re a Christian, don’t stop reading now because you think you’re doing alright.   You’ve done it too, even if you’re living a ‘good life.’ If you don’t believe me, then tell me about the relatives you don’t get along with. Or the kid who bullied you once and how you hated them for it. Tell me about all the times you envied X, Y or Z, then tell me you haven’t looked for reasons to accuse someone of something.   I’m guilty of it a dozen times a day, maybe more.   My sins are scarlet, just like yours. Welcome to our world, my friend.

Let me remind you that Jesus once said that, if the world hates us, it is because it hated Him first. In doing so, they unjustly accused Him.

The folks who wanted to accuse Jesus were watching Him to see if He would do something we, of today, would generally think to be good. They wanted to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath again, an infraction of their legalistic religious practices. They WANTED to see Him do something so they could have a reason to accuse Him and drive a wedge between Jesus and His growing movement of followers.

Since Christmas is this week, I truly hope you will have a very merry one, and that your holiday will be full of love, hope, and good memories.   Yet I implore you to take this memory with you today and ponder what you intend to do about it:   you and I are the Pharisees sometimes, waiting to accuse others of things they may or may not have done.   Waiting to pig-pile on Jesus instead of being Jesus for them.

Lord, please forgive me for failing You by accusing others.

Read ahead in Mark 3, verses 1-6