Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 February 2017

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Hebrews 7, verse 26.

You NEED a holy high priest to intercede for you whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not.   You need it just like you need air, water, food and shelter.   Here endeth the sermon.

Now for the example.  A friend of mine has recently lost both of her parents.   I completely empathize with her because both of my parents are gone as well.   Her mom got sick and quickly died late last year.   Not long after, I talked with her and she said that she didn’t think her dad, who was also in failing health, would last long.   Her parents’ marriage had been close, Godly, and long, and my friend simply didn’t see how her dad would want to live long without his wife.   Turns out she was right as her dad died just this week.   Did he will himself to die or did the maladies of old age simply overtake him?   Perhaps it was a little bit of both.   The culprit in his passing really doesn’t matter, though, because the man and woman are both home with the Lord now, off on a new adventure that will last all eternity.   They’ll get to spend it with each other, with Jesus, and with millions of others who believed and were saved.

Here’s the kicker:   my friend doesn’t believe any of this.   She’s not an atheist:   she’s an unbeliever, one who doesn’t know but is apprehensive of taking the step that says “I believe.”  She and I have talked many times about this very thing, and several times I’ve held out hope – as I do especially now – that she would be brought to faith.   I see God’s Holy Spirit at work in her life, calling out to her to give up her pride and just embrace Him, yet she doesn’t.   If good can come out of grieving (and it usually does), then I hope and pray this good comes out of hers.   Heaven would be a much better place with my friend in it.

My friend doesn’t realize that she needs Jesus.   She needs Him as a holy high priest, one who is blameless, pure, set apart from we sinners, and exalted from the heaven where her parents now thrive.  A “need” is a necessity arising from circumstances.   My friend (and me, and you, and everyone here on the Third Rock) needs Jesus to be her personal high priest because the circumstances of her life include rebelling against His holy command to be perfect.   She hasn’t loved fully.   She’s done things that are wrong.   She’s willfully and sometimes gleefully dived deep into dark sins to which none of us should aspire.   Those things weigh her down, making temporal existence seem overpoweringly dreadful when it need not be so.  When we don’t realize our physical and spiritual need for Jesus, our lives are empty.   Life without Jesus is merely existence.

News flash, friend reader:   I could have just described you.   I DID just describe me, as well as my mourning friend.   Every single one of us sets ourselves apart from Jesus every time we sin against Him.   And every thought or deed that is not of Him is sin.   How can we abide by His command to be perfect?   It’s not that tough.   It starts by submitting to Him, believing in Him, giving ourselves over to Him, damn the world and the cost.   Yes, in giving ourselves over to Jesus, we damn, we condemn, our actions to be taken away from us.   We’re taken out of this world and begin to set foot, here and now, in a new world, a new existence where those things we condemn are separated away from us.   They’re taken away from us because Jesus Himself took them away.   I’ve described you, friend sinner, and I’ve described me, a sinner like you.

Like my friend.   Please keep her and her family in your prayers.   Pray that she would come to faith in the Savior who aches now to ease her pain, take away her burdens, and prepare her, too, to one day join her parents with Him in that new world of which they’re now forever citizens.

Lord Jesus, be with my friend and her family as they grieve.   Reach out, use me to reach out, to help her by being a friend and Your ambassador.  Touch her life and I pray she and all like her would come to You in faith.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 February 2017

 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Hebrews 7, verses 23-25.

“Save completely.”   Those are some BOLD words.   Before we move off these verses, let’s explore them a little.

Do you remember “Titanic?”   You know, Kate and Leo in post-pubescent ardor aboard the ocean liner doomed to kiss an iceberg.   Near the end, Kate promises to never let go of Leo (and then she immediately lets go of his frozen dead body).   Then, years later, the older Kate recollects that “he saved me in every way a person can be saved.”   Later that night, she throws the Heart of the Ocean down to the sunken ship and then passes away herself.   Kate thought Leo (actually it was Rose thought Jack) had saved her beyond simply keeping her out of the cold water.  But she was wrong.   Her heart shouldn’t have been in the ocean, or in some cheeky necklace.

And since today is Valentine’s Day, I wonder how many of us look to our significant others to save us when we can’t save ourselves?   A pastor friend of mine today lamented the increasing use of the word “partner” to supplant “spouse, wife or husband” as the dominant word used to describe committed relationships.  I agree with his lament:   “partner” isn’t “spouse, wife or husband.”   “Partner” is a poor substitute for the person ordained by God for you in a covenant relationship with them.

News flash, however:  your partner, or whatever you call them (please don’t say “bae”) can’t save you.   For that matter, neither can your wife or husband, or my pastor friend, or me.   In fact, you can’t save yourself, even, except for one tiny action that makes all the difference in the world.

You can say “I believe in Jesus.”   Sure, add on the rest of the religious language if it makes you happy but you really don’t have to do anything beyond giving your confession.   Jesus has already saved you.   He has already done EVERYTHING needed to save you from the eternal penalty for the things you’ve done to rebel against Him.   He and only He has done this because nobody else could or can.   And He and only He can do it completely.   Jesus doesn’t just pull you out of the freezing North Atlantic after your ship goes down.   Jesus doesn’t just promise to love, honor and cherish you even when you’re ugly crying.   Jesus doesn’t just do whatever you can think up to prove to you that He loves you more than just on February 14th.   Once and literally for all, He made saving us whole, finished, containing all that was needed to make salvation a done deal.  He did it through His heroic death at Calvary.

Jesus completely saves us.   He makes it physically and spiritually impossible for the devil to un-save us.   Sure, said devil can hurt and harm us, but there is nothing he can do to undo what Jesus has already done.   Nothing.   Wrap your noodle around that on this Hallmark holiday.   Your Valentine can’t save you from eternal separation from God because Jesus already did.  A warm fire, great meal, wine and chocolate, flowers and a fancy card are all great things but they don’t do diddly squat in determining who really loves you because Jesus already did that.   There is nothing you need to do and nothing you, me, or anyone else could even do to make that more complete, or more ‘saved’, or more yours because Jesus already did everything that was necessary.

I’ll take that over the Titanic any day.

For further reading:   Romans 11:4, Romans 8:34, Hebrews 13:8.

Lord Jesus, thank You for completely saving me, for loving me so fully that there is nothing I want to or could do to make it any fuller.

 

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 Mark, 30 March 2016

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Mark 16, verses 6-7.

God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves.   This week after Easter, that’s good to remember.   That can be difficult as the church year goes on because it’s a few weeks until Pentecost, then a long, long span until the next big event, which is Advent in December.

Really?   Yep.   I mean, who besides those wrapped up in ‘churchy stuff’ follows that kind of thing these days?   You’d be surprised:   there are millions who do. Such things still matter; very much, in fact. And during the summer, when the sun is shining and there are fun things to do, it becomes so easy for us to let our faith in Jesus get stale.   Today, when the feeling of being with a bunch of like-minded believers is fresh, it’s easy to feel great about God.   In a few months, that feeling will wane and it’ll be easier to slip into the groove of “it’s all about me.”

Before that happens, notice that the first person to tell humanity about the resurrection isn’t a person at all.   It’s an angel; it’s a supernatural being.   The first person to speak to humanity was supernatural (God Himself).   The first person to speak to Mary when she learned she would be a mother was supernatural, the angel Gabriel (who had also spoken to the prophet Daniel centuries before).   And the first person to speak to believers after Jesus resurrected was another angel, this one unidentified.

What was the believers’ reaction?   Fear.   Sure, it’s understandable that these humble, mild women would be afraid.   It was, after all, an extraordinary thing.   Don’t forget that the other men and women who had been closest to Jesus were in hiding, afraid of what the Sanhedrin might do.   If the priests were bold enough to take out Jesus, it wouldn’t be a stretch for them to take out Jesus’ inner circle. Indeed, it was a courageous thing for these women to even show their faces yet they did so early in the morning, before the rest of the city was stirring.   Is it surprising that they would be afraid when confronted by the angel?

But that fear is telling.   It’s our reaction today.   9/11 attacks? We were afraid.   The (almost weekly) terrorist homicide, random shooting, or heinous crime in Chicago?   Fear.   Truly polarizing candidates trying to prey on our fears of what ‘the other guy’ will do to the Republic?   They get away with it because we let those fears seem real.   It’s almost as if fear is wired into our psyches.

Hence, God reaches out to us to grab our attention.   He does this because we can’t. We’re paralyzed by our fears; we’re paralyzed by our sins.   When faith is stale, God shakes us up.   In the past, He used the supernatural to crash into our so-called natural world.   Many – myself included – say He still does so today.   He does it to do what we can’t, to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.   Namely, to save us…like He did on Easter Sunday.   Millions of people desperately need it.

Lord, thank You for doing what I can’t, for saving me, for giving me so much better than I deserve.

Read Mark 16, verses 9-20.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 16 September 2013

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  James 1, verse 22.

I’m impatient, and I don’t tolerate ‘stupid’ very well.   If there is something to be done, I prefer to get on it and get it done.  Someday, when I get to heaven, I hope to meet James and see if my hunch is right because I suspect that we have a few things in common.  Maybe that’s why I bristle at this book.   I’ve read and re-read James several time over.   On the surface, it seems very works-righteous centered.  Don’t just say you believe:  do something about it.   Work out your own salvation.   You need to prove to God that you believe in Him, because you need to prove yourself to God.  You, you, you; me, me, me.

If you stop here, you’re getting the wrong message.   That isn’t what James is saying at all.   The impatient part of me wants to cut to the chase and get busy.  I’ve got it, you see; I understand.   Now, it’s time to do something with it.   James would agree with that, right?

Probably not.

You see, James isn’t telling us to do anything to be worthy of Jesus, or curry His favor.   He isn’t saying that there’s anything we need to do to gain salvation because salvation is a free gift of Jesus, something He does for us and not the other way around.   We don’t have to earn our way into eternity.   He’s already made it possible for us to be there with 100% of the work already done.

I think one of the ways to read what James is saying is ‘don’t be a hypocrite.’  The gift of being redeemed is too good to keep silent about.  We shouldn’t say we believe but then disprove it by living unwholesome lives.   We need to talk the talk and walk the walk.   Faith and living were designed to go together, not just be a suit to wear on Sunday. We’re fooling ourselves if we think they weren’t.

Another way to interpret James is to hear a call to action.  You’ve heard the word, now go and put it into practice.   We put Jesus’ word into practice by sharing faith in Him, and the single best way to share faith is to live in such ways as prove to a watching, skeptical world that we believe.  That’s key:  the world is watching.   Our friends and family are paying attention.   Others are just as hungry for peace as you or me.  If you want folks to join the family of believers, then be welcoming by the way you live.   Live out Jesus’ words to be righteous, understanding, patient, loving and kind so that others will think to themselves “I want to be like that.”

Lord, I want to live like You would live.   Constantly teach me to follow You closely and live in better ways.

 

Do you have trouble walking the walk?

Why is that?   Are there impediments in your way?

How do these words challenge you?