Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 30 January 2019

The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.  1 Timothy 5:24-25 (NIV).

There are sinful things you did years ago that only later became known.   In verse 24, Paul (obviously) refers to sin, and his message that ‘the wheel in the sky keeps on turning’ is true; thank you Journey.  God does indeed see what we do, and if we reject Him, eventually the sins of our past will come back to haunt us.  Yet that need not always have negative connotations.  Sometimes (actually, most times) God uses the outcomes of our sins to shape a better future.

I know a health information system called “XCelys.”   It was called “Diamond” before that.   Diamond, like a few other systems, is used by health insurance companies to process health information and medical claims.  The last time I worked with it was 2005, when I unwillingly left a health plan in Montana (I was let go).  After that, I learned other systems like MetaVance, Facets, QNXT, EasyCap, and a few others.  Yet in 2016 I found myself working in a call center in Paris, Texas, far from any health insurance company, using Xcelys, the old Diamond, and teaching long-forgotten aspects of it to strangers so they could better perform their jobs.

The job from which I was let go had come to me as the outcome of a chain of events that started with things I did in New England.   Families were devastated, friends alienated, and vocations affected just to name a few.  I worked to put those sins in the past and “move on;” don’t we all?  Yet Jesus had other plans in mind.  Good things resulted, including where I am today.  I have a second career (maybe third) working for a company called HealthEdge, and my family is thriving.  For this I’m thankful.   It’s all God.

We catch on the ‘hidden sins’ message in verse 24, yet it’s just as important to remember the verse 25 message that our Savior uses our hidden good works as well.  Perhaps those good works came as a result of our sins.   In my own life, God has woven my long road through the sins I embraced and on to better ways of living; I bet you could say something similar.  No matter what we do, God sees it and is using it for His work and our benefit.  Our lives journey along paths that are connected to both sin and good times, yet wherever we find ourselves, God has us there for His good purpose.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 3:8, 1 Timothy 6:1.

Lord Jesus, all praise to You for Your plans in our lives.   I’m sorry for my past sins, thank You that You used them to do better, and ask You to guide me today.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 May 2018

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 (NIV).

Another thought on darkness and falling asleep.

Several people close to me are currently struggling with faith.   They believe, or did believe at some points in their lives, but they’re being attacked right now and are struggling.   One is sick with a chronic disease, marital difficulties, and unbelieving family members surrounding her.   Another is worried about her daughter, burned out by things in life, and wondering where God is in all this.   Another is mad at his church, which over-used his talents and abused his generosity.   They’re ripe for attack by Satan, and he’s doing a top job of constantly buffeting their emotions.  They’re tired.

Then there is me.   I’m unemployed again.   While my prospects for finding a job are good, it’s still a fact that I’m out of work for the third time in two years.   It makes me question so many things, and I feel inadequate, scared.   I feel sure I haven’t done things to label myself as a troublemaker, but to be honest, when your work ends, you find it difficult to feel fully sure about many things.   I feel vulnerable and apprehensive of where to go next.   Lump me in with those who are being attacked by the evil one.  I’m sleepy.

Sometimes on a faith-walk, we fall asleep.   The world tires us out and we let ourselves become distracted.  Satan uses those distractions to twist understanding, trying to yank us away from Jesus.   He knows he can’t yank Jesus away from us, but he can pull us away from Him by working to shift our focus.  We fall asleep to Jesus but remain too awake in the world.  When that happens, sin ensues.  I’m betting that anyone who realizes they’re being attacked by Satan could tell you similar stories.

The good news in all this is the Good News.   Jesus lived, died, and lives again to redeem sinners like me and my family and friends and you.   When we let ourselves fall asleep to faith and fall into sin’s grasp, He’s there to remind us that He is the better way.   That we’re forgiven and that it’s time to wake up to His light.   His light is daytime, and it’s warm, embracing, cleansing, loving.  It’s another chance.  Everything that needed to be done to set me right with God – and be at peace in this world – He has already done.

Struggles will happen; we’re sinful by nature, and sin will be in our lives as long as we have a pulse.   Just remember that, at any time, it’s time to wake up to the light.

For further reading:  Romans 13:11, Matthew 25:13, Acts 24:25, Acts 2:15, Romans 13:13, 2 Peter 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

Lord, wake me up today.   It’s time to rise for You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 April 2018

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.   1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (NIV).

Let’s hone in on ideas that are key to understanding sexuality.   It is God’s will that we be made holy.   It is God’s will that we avoid sexual sins.   It is God’s will that we each learn to control our biological sexuality.  It is God’s will that we continue to know Him in this way.   God wills that we use sex in Godly ways.

Re-read the verses, then please re-read my take on them because these verses put the world at our feet.   I’ll go further:  they make our mastery of any addiction possible.   What God wills in this world cannot be denied.

I’ve said it before:   I worshipped sex.   It’s part of the reason why I spent so much time in affairs.   It was immaturity and sin.   I put sex on a pedestal, mistakenly judging it as the ultimate expression of love in a relationship.   Over time, I came to see it as just something you do when you’re with someone.   I bought into the cheap grace of our society and turned a blind eye to the damage my selfish views did to other people.   My wife paid for it.   My kids paid for it.   My friends, my church, my co-workers, even ‘the other women’ paid for my selfishness.

And that’s part of the sin delusion, you see.   It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus.   I didn’t, we didn’t pay for my selfishness:   Jesus did.   He paid for ALL of it, including the guilt, the nagging regrets, and the emotional regurgitation every time my pet sins nag at my psyche.

The key to getting back on the straight and narrow was Jesus.   Without understanding that He and only He had done EVERYTHING I ever needed to change, I would still be mired in my immaturity and adultery.   And let’s be clear:   being in line with Jesus opens you to more of Satan’s attacks.   He still tempts, he still tries.  You need to resist in Christ.

Paul was teaching his friends that God willed for them to be sexually faithful, sexually pure, and humanly capable of mastering the same biological and emotional drives that face us now.  It was God’s will, God’s plan, God’s determination that His people not be plagued by these attacks, that they revere Him in sex.  If you’re suffering, then there’s hope for you.   The first step in your recovery is going to Jesus and submitting to Him taking control.   What Jesus wills for you won’t be denied.  Without taking that step, you’re stuck.

For further reading:   1 Thessalonians 4:6.

Lord Jesus, empower Yourself through me to control my sexuality.   Help me to worship You through this gift.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 15 March 2017

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  Hebrews 9, verse 12.

Blood again.   This verse continues the ones from earlier in chapter 9, the ones that talk about how blood is needed for the sacrifice.  How do I put this?   I don’t understand why all this happened.   Logically speaking, I don’t understand the connection between Jesus’ blood and eternal salvation.  I really don’t.  He who could not die died.   He who could not sin took on all sin.   He who could do no wrong became wrong incarnate, through and through.   He who was completely innocent became completely guilty.  Why was blood required to make all that happened?   Yes, I know the history of it, the ties to animal sacrifices, the ancient Hebrew rituals commanded by God.   I understand the symbolism, and the physiological connection of blood and life.  I get all that.   I simply don’t understand WHY.  It’s lost on me.

That’s ok.   Love is illogical.  Love defies reason, logic, and process.   It’s simply the divine gift and there may be no fully explaining it in ways we’d understand this side of eternity.  The way out of this self-manufactured conundrum is to understand that I don’t need to understand it completely.   You don’t need to understand it completely.   It’s just fine that the finer points of ecclesiastical doctrine and Divine intention remain unknown when you get down to brass tacks.

Hint:   they were unknown to the high priest.   He could tell you, second by second, how to do everything he was doing and the history of it going all the way back to the first priest to enter the Most Holy Place.   I assume that would be Aaron, somewhere in the desert of Sinai, walking gingerly into God’s dwelling among men.  But the why?   Why did God require blood?   Why blood alone would make atonement?   I’m betting it was lost on him too.   I imagine that, if you had a long discussion with Aaron, his bottom line response would end up being “because God said so.”

That’s the ticket!   That’s the reason.   It’s reason enough.

It’s reason enough to know that God commanded it.  If you truly submit to God, you don’t need reason beyond that.  What’s more, it’s enough to know that God made it so for Jesus’ blood to be the only true sacrifice that would ever be needed to gain eternal salvation of mankind.   He who didn’t need to shed His own blood gave all of it up willingly, from the heart, from His soul.   He who was without sin and didn’t deserve to die, who hadn’t earned the death penalty for sin, willingly died for people who wouldn’t be willing to die for Him.   Why?   Because God said so.

Because God said so and predicted the need for it going all the way back to the fall of man.  Before He even spoke to Eve or Adam about their sin, He cursed Satan the tempter and laid out the penalty that Satan would pay.   “Cursed are you…He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”   Sin would be separate from God, intolerable and cursed.  There would be blood – and there weren’t even animal sacrifices yet; there wouldn’t be for hundreds of years – and it would forever vanquish sin.  It would then forever re-establish communion between men and their creator.  But it would require blood, first to represent and teach, then to actually do all that was necessary.

Why?   Because even way back in Eden, just before God expelled men from that paradise, God said so.   And then, because God shed His own blood to restore that communion between His favored beings and Himself, He, Jesus His Son, was fully able to re-enter heaven and present full atonement for all of mankind’s sin.   From Eve and Adam all the way down to Dave Terry, you, and everyone else here on Earth, Jesus entered the Most Holy Place of the presence of God and presented Himself in our place.   Nothing more is required; nothing more is necessary.   Indeed, nothing more could ever make it better or more complete.   Indeed, pursuing more would itself be an act of vain sin.   Best to turn away from that.

We don’t need to understand God’s motivation beyond knowing that He did it and that He loves us.   When all reason and logic fail, these will endure.  When you consider God’s ‘why’ in that light, ‘because He said so’ isn’t some response to a petulant child.  In that light, it’s the greatest gift He could ever give.

For further reading:  Leviticus 16:6, Hebrews 10:4, Hebrews 10:24-28, Genesis 3:14-15.

Lord, thank You for Your sacrifice of Your blood, for how You love us that much.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 November 2016

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4, verse 15.

One of the qualities I love most about my Savior is that He’s like me.   He has been tempted in every way and yet He overcame those temptations.   I haven’t; I’ve fallen; I’ve been tempted and I have given in over and over and over again.   Yet I’m like Him and He’s like me.  He had real flesh, real skin, real blood, real pain, real joy.   Jesus spent most of His life working as a carpenter’s son (or some kind of tradesman) in Nazareth.   Do you think He ever whacked His thumb with a hammer?   I’m betting He did and I’m betting it hurt just as much as when you or I do it.   It isn’t a sin to yell “ow!” when something hurts you.  When Jesus saw a pretty woman, I’m betting He said to Himself “she’s beautiful” and He meant it.   When Jesus was sad, say when Joseph died or something bad happened to someone He knew, He was genuinely sad.   Sure, He knew that person’s fate and He understood the real differences between the temporal pleasure of life here and the eternal peace of living forever in heaven.   Yet He also really, truly grieved when people endured things like suffering, death and sorrow.  And have you ever considered that Jesus probably laughed at jokes, too?

These are all things with which you and I can identify.   They mean Jesus is like us in every way as a human being.   How amazing is it that He put off His God qualities to experience life the same way we do.   He creates life, then comes to live one just like ours in every way save one:   He never sinned.   The small and big things we think, say and do that trip us up in front of His Spirit and His Father:   Jesus never once did them.   Over and over throughout history He had commanded humanity to “be perfect.”   Have you ever considered how this actually means we could be?   Yes, that perfection eludes us because of sin and our sinful nature, yet Jesus Himself commanded us to be perfect.   He commanded us to do something He knows we can do…yet we don’t.   We don’t because we choose not to.   We choose sin, even when it doesn’t seem very fair.  And yet He still put off that eternal God quality of His and chose to come here to live as one of us anyway.   I like to think that there’s a mountaintop someplace where I could sit and comprehend that very idea for the rest of my life here.

Yet all that navel-gazing can’t walk away from a very simple, stark fact that (literally) makes all of the difference in the world.  Part of that “He’s like me” quality is what is mentioned in 2 Corinthians.  In being fully man and fully tempted, God Almighty took all those sins that Jesus resisted and put them on Him anyway.   Think about it:   the man spent His entire life resisting even the smallest temptation and yet God stuck Him with the sins anyway.   Jesus didn’t deserve it.   He kept the Divine command perfectly and yet the Divine punished Him anyway.   Why?   You know why:  because it had to happen if humanity would have any hope, any eternal promise, of standing blameless in front of its Creator.

Astounding.

Much of the book of Hebrews – including today’s verse – is also spent describing Jesus as a great high priest.  The priests of antiquity weren’t any better than the priests or pastors of today.   They’re flawed sinful men just like anyone else, yet they’re chosen to minister to God’s people.   It must be hard to be a pastor; I am friends with many priests and pastors and I admire their tenacity in trying so hard to live more moral lives than average guys like me.   They do it to uphold the highest standard of representing God.   Yet they’re still just men.   They fail and fall like anyone else.   Pastors and priests need a savior too.

And they have one:   the truest high priest of all.   Jesus came to not just lead His church but to actively minister to it.   To care for it, to build it up, to rebuke it when necessary and to spread His love through it to people who desperately search for real love and real meaning.  That truest priest of all was fully God and fully man all at the same time in a mystery we can only slightly comprehend.  Yet, way back when, He was down in the dirt with people who couldn’t pull themselves out of it.   Majestic, holy and Lord of all today, He still is.   Our Savior high priest is still right here with us, in the toughest of struggles and the highest of highs.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:17-18, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Lord Jesus, all praise be to You for being our Savior, for being man and God, and for all the love You spread in Your ministry here and from eternity.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 October 2016

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  Hebrews 2, verse 18.

Consider Jesus’ last night on earth, before He was even crucified.   There He was, in the Garden of Gethsemene, and He was tempted.   He was hurting, He was afraid, He was dreading what He knew had to happen, and He was tempted to put it all aside.  Jesus had the benefit of being fully God and fully man at the same time and He KNEW what was in store for Him.   He already knew how it felt to be rejected by God Himself.   He already knew what the nails felt like, how it felt like burning agony to heave your body up on your nailed feet just to take a breath.   He already knew what was going to happen when His soul was ripped apart from His body.   A fully man Jesus knew, understood and FELT the temptation to simply wave it away; to plant the thought in someone’s head “I won’t do this.”

A fully man Jesus thought about the fact that He could do it.

And then He didn’t do it.   He remained sinless.

You see, being tempted isn’t a sin.   Repeat that to yourself:  being tempted isn’t a sin.   Don’t let some slick preacher, overeager elder, or controlling spouse tell you that it is because they’re wrong.   Their motivation might even be a sin itself.  Giving into temptation is a sin, but simply being tempted to sin isn’t a sin itself.  If being tempted is a sin, then Jesus was sinful because Jesus was tempted.   He was tempted at various times throughout His life, not just on that last day.   Remember when the devil himself personally tempted Jesus at least three times.   Jesus was at His lowest physical and even spiritual energy levels.   That was when Satan, coward that he is, tried to move Him over to the dark side.   He stood up to it but He endured it.

Consider that Jesus walked among men for over 30 years, watching men take pleasure in things He didn’t, wouldn’t do.   Sex, comfort, wealth, luxury:  all these and more can be had for just the slightest of indiscretions.  Jesus walked with humans, saw what humans do, and He was tempted to do the same.   Have you ever seriously contemplated the unfathomable resolve that it took for Him to just say “no” all those thousands of times?

It caused Him to suffer.  Have you ever wanted something or wanted to do something so bad that it hurt?   Or have you done something, even something small, and then felt tremendous regret after?   Regret can be real suffering but so, too, can be the righteous abstention from sin.  Guys in a locker room might joke about how it feels to get blocked when you really want to have sex, but consider that Jesus never did.   He never even allowed Himself to think the lustful thoughts that we can have without anyone else even knowing.   Containing your road rage can build up into unreleased feelings that vent themselves in other ways.   Jesus never even allowed Himself to entertain that kind of unrighteous anger.   The suffering was real; it wasn’t some Facebook meme.  It was real, it really hurt Him, it truly happened.   You get the picture.

Yet for Jesus to be the merciful, faithful high priest who could stand in His Father’s presence, full of Their Holy Spirit, and offer Himself as atonement for all those sins He never did, well, there was simply no other way.   He had to live a sinless life; He had to willfully abstain from even thinking about the small sins that we would overlook.  Jesus couldn’t cross the line even once or there would have been no perfect sacrifice to satisfy our perfect God’s righteous will.  When you truly consider what Jesus did for sinful folks like you and I, the depth of the love you find there is immeasurable.

For more reading:   Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21, John 18, Luke 22-23, Mark 14:34-38, Matthew 26:36-46, Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13.

Lord Jesus, too often I’ve sinned, failed You, failed others, and failed to keep Your holy commands.   Forgive me for my sins.   Thank You for living the sinless life I haven’t.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 October 2016

And free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  Hebrews 2, verse 15.

Does anyone remember the movie “Moonstruck?”   In it, Olympia Dukakis’ husband was cheating on her.   Throughout the movie, she kept asking everyone “why do men cheat?”   All kinds of answers ensued until she asked her prospective son-in-law.   His answer?  “Because they fear death.”

He couldn’t have been more correct.  Indeed, Hebrews 2, verse 15 says exactly that.   We sin because we are held captive by sin.   And we are held in captivity by our sins because we fear death.

All kinds of things result from this.   More sin is probably the one with which we’re most familiar.   God never does things that lead us to sin as our only option; you need a gut check if you’re in a set of choices where the best ones involve some kind of wrongdoing.  That’s because sin begets sin; wrong creates wrong.   While good can indeed result out of our wrongdoings – and thank God for grace – generally the only thing that results from bad choices is bad consequences.

Yet if you’re like me you’ve found yourself wrapped up in your sins and you feel you don’t know the way out.  You don’t see any easy way out because, whether you’ll admit it or not, you’re afraid of the ultimate punishment.  What if you died now?   You’d be dead in your sin.   What if someone finds out?   You actually might be dead meat!   What if the punishment is more than I can stand?   You may wish you were dead.

Most of all, what if I’m not good enough for God?   Ah, there is the most deceptive sin of all:   the subtle idolatry of assuming you have to do something to please God, to make yourself good enough so He will accept you.   To make yourself worthy of avoiding death.

Now would be a good time to re-read verse 15.   Key in on those first three words “and free those.”  You can’t do anything to make yourself pleasing to God.   There is absolutely nothing on this planet that you can do that will earn your way into heaven.   There is absolutely nothing you can do to make yourself worthy enough for God to love you.  What’s more, death is a consequence of sin; it was promised to us by God, face to face with our ancestors Adam and Eve.  Whether we fear it or not, death will happen as a natural response to our sinful nature.   Cue the worried moonstruck face.   If you’re an actor or a modern college snowflake, are you frightened yet?   Run for your safe space!

Is that bleak?   Not at all.   Indeed, re-read those words again –  “and free those” – and remember that Jesus freed you.   He loved, lived, died, and rose to free you from the grip that sin held over you.   Whether you remember it or not, whether you choose to put aside your guilt or not, whether you want to admit it or not Jesus and only Jesus did everything necessary for God to love you, forgive you, and welcome you into paradise.   Indeed, Jesus did everything necessary for you to let go of the self-imposed slavery to sin that you keep carrying around.

Guilt?   Let it go because it’s only you hurting yourself.   Shame?   Time to end it and move forward.   Dread of consequences?   You may indeed endure consequences but know that Jesus will be with you and will give you every bit of strength and courage to endure them in a Godly way.  Fear of death?   You don’t need it anymore because Jesus’ perfect sacrifice made it so that, when your physical life ends, you’ll enter Paradise and, with Him there, stand in front of God the Father blameless.   God won’t see your sins or your guilt or your fear.   Instead, He’ll see you through the blood of Jesus, which will clothe you perfectly and render you holy again.

For too long, we let the devil hold us in slavery to our sins.   He shrouds us in guilt, shame, anger and fear, telling us “yeah but what about X.”   He plants deceit and doubt in our hearts and tries to cloud over the bright light that is Jesus.  When you choose to believe in Jesus, all those clouds begin to evaporate.   Instead of the foggy darkness of fear we get to feel the warm liberation of love.   Talk about being genuinely moonstruck and this ain’t no movie.

For more reading:   1 Corinthians 15:50, Ephesians 6:12, John 1:14, Genesis 3:15, 1 Corinthians 15: 54-57, 2 Timothy 1:10, 1 John 3:8.

Lord Jesus, thank You for your liberating love, for freeing me from the fear of death.   Stand with me today to ward off the darkness when it tries to creep in from the boundaries of my life.