Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 May 2017

Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10, verse 17.

Jesus is talking about wiping the slate clean. That’s a concept we, in our so-called modern world, desperately want.

I’ve been depressed lately.   Really, truly, deeply depressed.   It’s likely a delayed reaction to too many big things happening in my life too quickly.   Job loss, new job; anger over losing the old job, frustration with learning the new one; 2 new grandkids in four months; 2 kids living at home in the same six month period; financial woes; running into the city almost every weekend; missing my old travel job and the control I thought I had over my life; an ever-growing list of chores here on the farm   Guilt over past sins that just doesn’t seem to go away; feeling inadequate in everything I do, that no matter what I do it’s never enough or never good enough for my wife or my family or my team.   Feeling overwhelmed even by small things.

That’s all been me over the last few months, actually more like the last year since I went on the bench in my previous job.   I feel so frustrated over so many things, and I feel powerless to actually do anything substantial to change them.   Yes, it’s a lie because God gives us the power to make changes where we are now.   He is always with me; He is always actively involved even when it seems like Satan’s attacks are making progress in bringing me down.   I know all that is true:   I simply still feel so down over all of it and more.

Some of what bothers me isn’t my fault; I’m innocent of much, maybe even most of it.   Yet if I’m going to be truly honest, all of the things that plague me stem from some kind of sin, either mine or someone else’s.   All dysfunction and strife in the world stems from some kind of sin, either now or in the distant past, even sins that aren’t our own.  The Bible says that all creation is frustrated by man’s sin.   Taking that thought to its logical end, when Adam and Eve first fell, their sin set into motion violence, disease, weather patterns, disasters, and other ‘natural’ phenomena that affect us today.   If you think that’s possible, then perhaps it’s possible for the sins of 7 billion souls alive now affect this planet still.

I know, wacky stuff.   It’s kind of a stretch; it’s kind of crazy to think about it…even if it’s true.  The goodness of God with us in Eden kept sin away, but man’s embrace of sin unleashed these terrors into a place never intended to know them.

Here’s some good news, then.   Jesus will remember our sins no more.   When Jesus moved His Spirit into my heart, He ended the residency of sin.   He drove it out and away.   He wiped the slate clean and in His mind’s eye, they don’t even exist anymore.  He did that in me here and now.   Later, when Jesus returns to renew this corrupted planet, He will remember our sins and lawless acts no more.   He will remake nature; He will wipe out crime; He will change everything we know about living in this place. And in doing so, He will make it so that the things that plague us will never plague us again.   It will be as if they had never happened.

When I get down, I cling to remembering this.   Sure, I do the things to try to beat back the darkness.   I make realistic lists of things to do and work to get them done, then pat myself on the back for doing so.   I remind myself that I’m doing my best.   I remember that the past no longer exists, and the future hasn’t yet happened.   But most of all, I remember that Christ is in my heart and hurts when I hurt.  That He hurt more than I could know for pains like I feel these days.  That He died to make my hurt a thing of the past, and that His death means my sins and lawless acts are remembered no more.

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

My Lord, abide with me when I get depressed.   Help me through the dark days, and comfort me with knowing You don’t hold my sins and acts against me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 March 2017

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!.  Hebrews 9, verse 14.

You know what I’m looking forward to most in heaven?   A clean conscience.  In heaven, there won’t be guilt, or tears, or angst, or sorrow over things we’ve done, said or thought.   There simply won’t be a place or time for them when living eternally in the presence of the Triune God.   Knowing Him fully will crowd all that out.

Until then, there’s faith.

Ah faith.   Please understand, I’m not bad-mouthing faith because it’s faith in Jesus that imparts into us His salvation.   Yet I must confess I find it tedious and a cop-out for Christians (like me) to constantly use “well, in heaven…” as our fall-back position.   I’m thankful Jesus secured eternity for me, but what about now?   I desperately need His help now to get through every day here.   Temptation lurks in every minute, and my conscience bothers me about things I’ve done here on the Third Rock.   Perhaps my faith is weaker than I know because, all too often, my conscience zings me about sins long ago forgiven, even forgotten.

My judgmentalism; my impatience; my adulteries; my foul language; my lying; my hatred; my idolatry; you name a pet sin:   I haven’t done some of these in years yet the fact that I did them, or even that things were done to me, still greatly bothers me.   Occasionally, the burden wells up from my soul and I feel real despair.

It’s a taste of what Jesus must have felt hanging there on the cross.   For the first time in His life, His eternal life, He set aside the dignity and self-control He lived and allowed sin to overwhelm Him.   Things He hadn’t done:   Jesus allowed all that guilt, angst, loathing, and insecurity to flood Him and take Him.   Indeed, only a few hours before, He had been on His knees in the garden, sweating rivulets of blood so great was his overwhelming sorrow at the knowledge of what He must do.  Now that sorrow truly overwhelmed Him as He not only felt my guilt but took on Himself the penalty for it.   He who could not die was killed by it, killed for us.

I don’t deserve that.   I’ve never done anything in my life to deserve such a thing from anyone, let alone my Creator and Savior.  My whole history has been one of sin, from my first cry on that day in 1966 until just now.   I’m guilty as hell for all of it and I should be.

…Except that I shouldn’t be.   Not any more.   Dealing in “should” is a chancy proposition because “should” is so subjective.   Here’s one instance where should is actually quite sure.  I shouldn’t be guilty anymore because, in Jesus, I’m not guilty.   I’m not guilty by reason of substitutionary sacrifice.   I’m made not guilty by Jesus hanging there on the cross and taking my guilt on Himself.   I’m made not guilty by Him saying “I’ve got this.   Go and sin no more.”   And I’m made not guilty by the very last words He offered us while He was here: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”   That’s hope for right now.   Right now, in whatever I am going through, Jesus is with me, in me, seeing through me, acting through me.   He’s down for my struggle right now, and it’s His Spirit that gives me the courage to turn back temptation and turn away from causing myself more hurt.

Every time my conscience bothers me, I get to remind myself that Jesus offered Himself as a living sacrifice so that my conscience is cleansed from acts that lead to spiritual death.   My judgmentalism:   judged not guilty any more.  My impatience:   forgiven by God’s patience.  My adulteries:   made innocent again by the intimate soul of my Savior and true friend.   My foul language:  cleaned up and turned for a better purpose.   His purpose.   His mission.   I get to live the rest of my life as a worker in His fields, using the talents He gave me for the mission He has me on to meet, greet, and welcome others with the Gospel.   And when it get’s tough, the Jesus living through me is a whole lot tougher.

Yesterday, the pastor at church here in Paris shared a quote.   To paraphrase, it isn’t faith in Jesus that unites us as believers.   It isn’t church, or what we do, or even following the Bible.   The Gospel of Jesus is what unites us as believers.   It is the good news of His salvation that unites us and forgives us and gives us the promise of real hope.   Without the gospel, there is no good news or redemption.   With it, there are only unlimited possibilities for God’s real good here and always.  That’s hope for here and now to use throughout the rest of our lives.   And it’s hope to live past our numbered days here to start a life forever that will have no number or end.  On that our hearts and our conscience can always be clear.

For further reading:  1 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 5:2, Psalm 51:2, Psalm 65:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Zechariah 13:1, Hebrews, 10:2.

My Lord and my God, all praise and thanks to You for cleaning my conscience, for forgiving my sins when I don’t deserve it, for loving me when I’ve been unlovable.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 19 February 2016

Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14, verses 41-42.

If you drive through the American South, you see all kinds of religious billboards.   Many of them implore you to know Jesus as soon as possible because we don’t know when He’s coming back.   I used to see one south of Savanna, Oklahoma that said “watch and pray for we know not what hour the Son of God will return.” There are others that quote dire verses of Scripture announcing hellfire for those who reject Jesus’ open invitation to free salvation. There are still more that have sayings like “Talk with me before it’s too late.   Sincerely, God.” Announcing God’s impending judgment on us isn’t necessarily regional; I suppose signs like these are everywhere. I’ve simply noticed more of them here in the Bible Belt.

Guess what?   They’re all true. Today’s verses prove it.

It’s before sunrise on the morning of Good Friday. Jesus is exhausted while His Disciples have had fitful intermittent rest on the cold Gethsemene ground. After imploring them to keep watch for sin, Jesus returns to them a third time and brings them up short.   The night is over; no more rest; no more interruptions. It’s time to get up because there’s work ahead today. It’s going to be the hardest day of your lives.

“Today I’m going to die.”

The Son of Man was delivered into the hands of sinners.   Make no mistake about it:   the temple guards who seized Jesus were sinners indeed.   They were players in a staged drama predicted since the fall of man.   These ‘innocent’ actors were only doing the bidding of their priestly overseers.   The overseers were only doing the bidding of the chief priests.   The chief priests had only initiated this arrest because Judas Iscariot came to them with news they wanted to hear.   Judas Iscariot only betrayed Jesus to the priests because he was a sinful twisted man.  He was sinful and twisted because he listened to Satan.   Satan was evil because he reveled in sin.

So do I; so do you.   We’re thick with sin and no better than Judas or the guards.   The Bible tells us so.   Jesus said so.   All those billboards scream out the fact. Here’s the good news.

Jesus faced His betrayer. The verses and chapters of Mark after this all describe the story of how He faced His betrayer, how He loved Him anyway, and then how He went to His death as an innocent lamb to slaughter. He did this because the Disciples slept instead of kept watch for sinful temptation.   He did it because Judas Iscariot, the chief priests and those temple guards were dead in their sins if He didn’t.   He did it because all the sins I’ve done today and every day of my life demand more of a penalty than I can pay.   He did it because the same thing can be said about you and everyone we know.

Will you face down your betrayer today?   Will you face your sins and own up to them, then face Jesus and repent of them?   Bibles and billboards remind us how it’s imperative that we do so.

Lord Jesus, I’m sinful through and through.   Thank You for Your holy sacrifice, for facing your betrayer, for dying for us.

Read Mark 14, verses 43-52.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 26 August 2015

You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Mark 10, verse 17-21.

Is this you?   Do you try to justify yourself to the God who made you?   I do.   In fact, I don’t have to go very long in the day before I have an arm’s length list of my sins in small print.   Most days I post updates to this blog by 7 AM and, even by that early time, my laundry list of sins is long, storied and ugly even if they’re only in my head. My reaction when I think about them?   “Well that’s not so bad.”

Actually, it is.

You see, when talking with the man in these verses, Jesus didn’t even list all the Commandments (which the Jews prided themselves on keeping).   He listed just a few to whet the man’s appetite. He listed some of the more heinous ones, the ones that you could easily keep in public and private both.   Don’t kill, don’t screw around, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, and don’t forget to honor Mom and Dad.   These are the easy ones.   If they’re the white lines on our road of how to live our lives, then it’s fairly easy to stay in-between them.   The man thought that’s all Jesus was saying and, in thinking it, confessed how Jesus had talked right over his head.   “Teacher, I do those things.   Look at how good I am for doing them!”

Not so much, pal.

I say that because I’m that man, because I’ve been him.   And so have you. No, you might not like my saying that but it doesn’t make it any less true.   I look at my sins and think they aren’t so bad compared to other people.   My ego isn’t as big as Donald Trump’s (or Hillary Clinton’s for all that it matters).   I haven’t screwed around like a rock star.   I don’t steal by padding my expense reports.   I don’t lie and when I do it’s only white lies.   “Look at how freaking wonderful I am!”

Did you notice how Jesus’ teaching went right over my head as well?   I hope it didn’t sail over yours. “Dave, I’m not talking about the specifics of your sins.   I’m talking about your intent with them.   It’s your heart, not your hands.”

Totally missed it.

So did the rich man on the road to Jerusalem. He may have started out to either meet or trap Jesus; either interpretation holds water.   But the longer he walked with Jesus, the more he revealed that his intention wasn’t just to get along and learn.   Yet Jesus threw him several lifelines – just like He does to you and I every day – and the man (just like us) didn’t see, didn’t understand, or didn’t care about them.   His reaction was no better than that of other Pharisees:   “see, Lord, I’m not as bad as those sinners over there.”

He was and is and so am I and so are you.   How amazing is it, then, that this Jesus loves us anyway and sees past our conceited wrongs enough to still clothe us in His own righteousness?

Lord, forgive my many sins, both ones I remember and the ones I’ve selfishly forgotten.   Teach me Your better way today.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 August 2015

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” Mark 10, verse 17-21.

Do you grasp the enormity of what Jesus is saying to the man?

This stranger runs up to Jesus while Jesus is walking to Jerusalem.   Jesus is walking to Jerusalem knowing He will meet adulation and crowds who will, five days hence, watch Him be murdered. This man doesn’t know any of that.   He has heard about Jesus and wants to meet Him.   Perhaps the man is full of himself and wants a little of Jesus’ fame to rub off on him.   Perhaps the man is a spy from the Sanhedrin, sent out to size up Jesus before He gets to the city walls.   Perhaps the man is genuinely curious, confused in life and looking for a meaningful existence.

In truth, we don’t know.   All we know about the man (at this point) is that he ran up to Jesus and assumed a position of worship. The man then tells Jesus He is “good.”   Jesus’ reply:   He doesn’t say He isn’t good.   He simply reminds the man of the depth of his words, that if He’s saying Jesus is a ‘good teacher’ then he is insinuating that Jesus the Good Teacher is God because “no one is good, except God alone.”

Enormous.   That definitely falls into the “get more than you bargained for” category.

How do you think the man felt when Jesus said this to him?   Do you think he was bewildered, shocked to be called out and called back?  Based on later verses, we learn that the man is wealthy and conceited; it’s likely that he is trying to test Jesus for some unknown purpose not the least of which is pride. Jesus knows all this and yet He doesn’t smite the proud man.   Instead, He offers the man every chance to come clean and have a genuine relationship. “You say I’m God. Tell me:   what do you REALLY believe?”   Can you imagine Jesus’ penetrative stare?

I don’t know about you, but that’s daunting for me.   All too often, I try to hide my sins from God, thinking that if I do x, y or z, Jesus won’t know about it; ludicrous. When I read verses like these where Jesus makes Himself known obliquely yet boldly, I’m reminded that He does the same thing to me every day.   He is always beckoning me in His word, my conscience, my schedule and a thousand ways every day to come to Him with everything. Instead of smacking me down, which I deserve, Jesus blows my mind by letting me come to the conclusion that He is who He says He is and He’s made it ok for me to come to Him.

That’s one of the things Jesus did for the man in these verses.   He tipped His hand just a little in order to let the man know that He was in the game to win, specifically to win the man’s soul.   He does the same thing for you and me.

Lord, I believe You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.   You are Him and You are good.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 13 August 2015

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Mark 9 verse 50.

This verse gives credence to the verses yesterday and the analysis of them that God is refining us by salting us with fire.

Tell me:   have you ever lost your way?

I’ll admit:   from time to time, I feel like I have.   We all go through up’s and down’s; times when we just can’t seem to get motivated, or when we feel our game is off.   On a long-term project, it sometimes feels like you’re fighting against a crowd that never gives up while you never make real progress.   When following politics, it seems like the other side is always winning, that your side always seems to fold just when they fail to realize they’re actually holding all the cards.   In your marriage, there are times when you feel you just really don’t connect, that you just don’t understand each other and have seemingly grown apart.

Have you ever considered that maybe these times are actually a gift from God?

Huh?

I mean it. The up’s and down’s can actually be a blessing because it’s in the down times when we get to assess what’s really important.   A good coach will say attitude is everything, and that’s true.   Yet even with a healthy attitude most of the time, the best of us still get in a slump (especially if you’re a Chicago Cubs fan). In those slump times, we get to ask ourselves if we’re salty, if we still have our mojo, if we’re still on track.   And when we find we aren’t, there is always the North Star of the Gospel to help us find our way back.

In this way, God refines us.   He salts us to poison the well of our sins.   He salts us to increase our potency.   He salts us to remind us that we are His and that He yearns to live His love through us.   And He salts us to remind us that He is allowing or using our sins to do things that we couldn’t do while we were reveling in those sins. On the other side of it – and being prepared to deal with future sin – we gain clarity.   More appropriate, we are given clarity by God. We get to see how we have been salted and refined so that we might edify others through our experience.

God tells us to have faith and hold on to our saltiness.   He refines us through the bad times and implores us to hold onto our flavor even when the bland things in life try to wash it away. And in doing so, Jesus reminds us to flavor each other with His salty gospel.   We are to always work to be at peace with each other, yet the more we ‘work’ at this, the more we find that the only peace that matters is the peace of God which transcends all understanding.   Peace isn’t the absence of conflict.   Real peace is the presence of Jesus.   You’ll find it tastes salty but pleasing and full of contentment.

Lord Jesus, make me salty for You.   Refine me with Your grace, salt me with Your love, and teach me to salt others for You.

Read Mark 10, verses 1-12.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 12 August 2015

Everyone will be salted with fire. Mark 9 verse 49.

On the surface, this verse might seem difficult to understand.   Remember, Jesus said it in the context of talking about hell, punishment and consequences. Again, on the surface, the verse looks like it could be talking about divine vengeance. Would you want the creator of the Universe to personally salt you with fire?   Flavor you, sprinkle you, season you through and through, preserve you with fire?   It sounds agonizing.

And yet…

And yet I researched the verse in several place.   The most agreeable answer I found was from, of all places, yahoo.com. It said “These are some references of God cleansing us in this way… removing the dead, evil and unwanted things in our lives. I’ve always like the story of how gold and silver is purified. It is heated into a liquid. The dross and impurities then floats to the top surface and are skimmed off. You know it is pure when you can see your reflection in it. God wants to see His reflection in us.”

Wow.

Yahoo then went on to quote a number of verses to support this concept.   Look them up: Matthew 3:11, Luke 12:49, 1 Cor 3:13-15, Hebrews 12:29, and 1 Peter 1:7.   As I said, look them up; I believe they support the author’s position.

Jesus fully intends to salt us with fire to purify us from the uncleanness we embrace when we embrace our sins.   Have you ever tried to consciously turn from real temptations?   I know in my own experience how tough it is.   The rewards feel so much better than the sins, but the sins can be so tempting, so deceptively alluring and so foolishly comforting and difficult to reconcile.   In a way, resisting their temptations is refining, and it sometimes feels like evil is hurling fire against my soul.   Yet Jesus is still at work, battling for me and encouraging me to resist every time for just one more moment.

In those moments, He is refining me. Little by little, He builds up my confidence and my integrity and it is a refining thing.   Resisting the alcohol, the lies, the tobacco, the flesh, the arrogance:   living past these things sometimes feels like I’m being melted down while the slag of my sins is being skimmed away. What’s left is the spice of life, the very essence of Jesus wanting to live His life through mine.   He wants to see Himself shining through my eyes, my actions, my words because He can then reach others and build them up as well.   It’s a love thing, rescuing gold from tarnish and wreckage.

You are golden as well.   Underneath your pet sins shines pure gold, waiting to be refined.

These kinds of translations make sense in the context of this entire chapter of Mark, especially in the context of the verse that comes after this one; read up on it and we’ll chat tomorrow.   For now, let it be enough to know that God refines us every day.   If something is challenging you, if something bothers you, if something is pitted against you, if something is testing and hurting you and putting you through a wringer, take heart in knowing that, through these unpleasant tests, God Immanuel is with you, working on you, refining you to make you better than you were before.   That’s easy to understand and easy to eventually see.

Lord, forgive me, refine me, filter out the dross of my life, and remake me to shine for You.

Read Mark 9, verses 42-50.