Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 May 2017

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10, verses 19-22.

Here’s the medicine for when we get down.   Yesterday, I mentioned that I’ve been down a lot lately.  Today’s verses talk about how, as renewed believers in Jesus, we can stand in front of God Himself and be guiltless, clean, sinless.  Sometimes, in really dark moments, it’s hard to see past that darkness and realize that there is real light shining on you, trying to break through.  The darkness tries to overcome the light but it can’t.   It can’t because it was Jesus’ mission in coming here to live, die, and live again to make it possible for us to stand before God the Father and be blameless.   When we clothe ourselves in Jesus’ righteousness, we are washed clean from our guilty conscience bothering us and our sins impurifying our souls.   Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that concept, but we have to keep reminding ourselves of it.   Even when we’re being clouded by the darkness, it’s true.   It’s God’s grace and it’s something critical to know.

On a wholly different level, these are also words I want my granddaughter to know.   My first granddaughter, Emma Marie, was born back in January.   Today, May 4, on “Star Wars Day,” comes my second granddaughter, Kaleigh Grace, who will be born later this morning.  By all indications, she’s a healthy girl, and my prayer is that she and her mom both continue in good health.

Yet the stark truth of birth is that this beautiful little girl is being born into a world of death. She is being born into a world corrupted by the sins of her parents, her family, and billions of strangers both now and in the past.   Crime is real.  Death is real.  Hate is real.   War, plagues, famine, genocide, pain and suffering on unimaginable scales are all real.   This is the world into which we bring another precious soul today.  That can get you down…if you let it.

And you do indeed let it get you down if you forget that God’s grace is the reason for hope. Jesus Christ has cleansed our guilty consciences and washed our bodies clean with pure water.  No matter what things, good and bad, that Kaleigh Grace does in this world, she will always have a beautiful Savior who loves her, lived and died for her, and rose from death for her.   He will always see her as His very good creation, and His beloved bride.

I want my new granddaughter to know these truths.   It can be a hard, tough world.  I hope and pray that the life which begins today is long and happy.  I pray she knows she’s loved right from her first moment.  Yet there will be hard days, awful times, things that happen around her and even to her that will work to bring her down.   In those times, I pray she knows the real truth.   That tough times never last.   That even in the tough times, a Savior who loves her is right there with her to give her guidance and comfort.   That He loves her because of what He did and that she doesn’t ever have to do anything to prove herself to Him or try to make Him love her more.   That believing in Him now matters both now and forever.   And that she’s part of eternity, of forever, now because that matters most.

Kaleigh Grace will be named, in part, for my mom, Grace Terry. Mom died a few years ago but lives on with her Savior forever because of His grace…that grace in which a new little girl will be born.   Even when the world gets her down, God’s grace will always be present.

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Leviticus 16:2, Ephesians 2:18, Hebrews 9:8.

Lord Jesus, bless Kaleigh as she begins her journey with You today. I thank You for making her, loving her, providing for her, and guiding her all through her life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 December 2016

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Hebrews 5, verses 11-14.

Yesterday we discussed how we, as people, are slow to learn.   Today, let’s put that in context of the Hebrews author’s warnings against falling away.  And about Jedi Knights.

In 1 Corinthians 3:2, the Apostle Paul uses an analogy similar to that above, talking about how he ‘fed’ the ‘children’ under his tutelage milk and not solid food.   He did this because they were not ready for solid food as their faith and understanding of it had not yet matured.   That analogy is quite similar to today’s verses.  You can see why, for many years, people thought Hebrews had also been written by Paul, though contemporary opinions today now differ.  If nothing else, we can surmise that the author of Hebrews was familiar with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians or, at least, familiar with what could have been a popular saying.   What does all this have to do with falling away from the faith?

Think about it:  resisting temptation is a difficult thing.   It is a characteristic of maturity, of being able to discern the consequences of choosing right over wrong.  A child, one still developing and able to only digest simple ideas, doesn’t fully know how to do this because they haven’t yet fully acquired those skills.   Time, training, experience, and a ‘diet’ designed to foster those things are the only ways to acquire the wisdom that comes with age.   If man does not live by bread alone, then the ‘bread’ food on which we are fed by God corresponds to our level of maturity.   Thinking that way, then it’s easy to understand how those new to the faith are fed on milk while solid food comes with time.   Thinking further, things like resisting the temptation to sin, fully repenting of our sins, and fully submitting to God’s active will in our lives can more easily be seen as matters into which we grow mature.

So much for the judgy analysis.   Let’s tone it down a little. Just this morning, I was watching a Star Wars movie; Revenge of the Sith, one of the pre-quel movies that sci-fi purists constantly pan.   If you think about it, all seven of the Star Wars movies are morality plays.  The interwoven storylines about Jedi, Sith, galactic warfare tactics, and the rise, fall, and rise of empires revolve around some pretty basic ideas.   Choose good over evil and good prevails.   Choose evil over good and the opposite occurs.  In the movies, the Jedi are trained over many years to embrace the patient ways of good, to learn how to channel the Force for use in serving the greater good.   They start on milk and graduate to steak and potatoes.

Me thinks that Anakin Skywalker, for all his Darth Vaderness, never progressed beyond spiritual milk.  Neither has George Lucas, for what it matters.

Over time, when we’re immature, we become impatient.   Impatience can be a natural reaction to negative stress, yet when we focus on it beyond a moment, it can become a choice, a way of reacting.  Impatient people are generally immature in some way.  They become intolerant of the pace of things and determine to change that pace.   Not unlike the believers of Hebrews times, we who are impatient today reject the deliberate life of righteousness and choose the impatient impetuousness of unrighteousness.   It takes time to be still and learn about God.   It takes time to learn the ways of righteousness, submission, and faith.   When we are impatient, we fall away from those ways and the choices of evil can become alluring.

Me thinks, too, that these are the ways of the Force.   Note to Star Wars fans:   don’t navel-gaze too long at this idea but also don’t miss these overtones in the movies.   The way of God is the way of righteousness, and the way of righteousness takes patience and time.   Sort of like learning to be a Jedi.

For further reading:   Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 6:1, 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 3:2, 1 Corinthians 14:20, 1 Peter 2:2, Isaiah 7:15, Psalm 46:10

Lord Jesus, I pray You to feed me the food I need.   Feed me milk in my impatient times, and I pray for more substance when You see I am ready for it.   Thy will be done, Lord.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 26 March 2015

 They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. Mark 6, verses 12-13.

This is the other half of the story we talked about the other day.   The other day, we talked about how Jesus empowered His disciples to go out and do these things.   Now comes the proof that they did them.   They went.   They acted.   They forgave and healed.   They ‘brought it.’   They ‘did;’ they didn’t just ‘try.’

That matters.   It matters because we can’t just talk.   We have to do something about it. Talking is good preparation but if we’re talking about doing and not actually doing, then we may just be accomplishing nothing. It’s not that God needs our works.   He doesn’t.   God doesn’t need us to do anything to earn the favor He already gave us through His Son being murdered for all the wrongs we’ve done.   Instead – and here’s the shocker – we need it.   We need other people to bring the message of Jesus to us. When we know about the Good News, we NEED to share it with other people, to pass it on down the line because other people need it too.   In all this, actions really do speak louder than words (even though it is the Word putting itself into practice through our actions).

It’s like work.   You can talk about work or you can do work.   I’m helping to lead a team of 20+ people who are executing a project.   They’re executing a project we planned for nearly 2 years, one that we began and had to table last year (thanks to politicians).   For many weeks and months, those of us acting as project caretakers talked about doing things.   We planned, organized, discussed, met, and rehearsed; that was all we could do at the time and it was preparation for things to come.   Now the leadership team has hired the people and I’m helping to manage their work.   In just a matter of a few weeks, their hard work has taken us from 5% complete to almost 30% complete.   They did it by DOING, by putting into practice the things we had planned for them and then empowered them to do.   I couldn’t be prouder to be part of a group than I am to be part of this one.

“Do or do not.   There is no try.”   Yoda said that in The Empire Strikes Back.   And Yoda was a Jedi master (as well as just a movie character). Jesus is real, and really asks us to do for Him, to commit through Him in whatever we do because, when we do that, we can do anything. The Disciples found that out.

Whether we knew it or not, in those movies, Yoda channeled Jesus. Jesus is the original Yoda, the original “do, not try” man.   And Jesus’ message is “do through Me.   There is no trying in Me.   There is doing.   I want you to do through Me.” That’s what He told Peter, John and the rest to do, and that’s what they did. They did it in the mighty name of King Jesus who can do anything.   Through Him, so can we.

Lord, help me to do for You, not just to try.

Read Mark 6, verses 14-29.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 6 January 2015

 Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.  Mark 3, verses 11-12.

Now that’s a superpower I wish I could have.  Do kids ever ask you that question:   what superpower do you wish you could have?   Every now and then my son will ask it; usually the conversation turns into joking or bathroom humor when that happens.  Here, however, I’m being serious.   I wish I had the superpower to make impure spirits fall down before me and cry out for mercy.

News flash, sports fans:  I have it.   So do you.

The whole Jesus thing – the “ask whatever you want in my name and it’ll be given to you” thing – is real.  It’s true.  It really is a super-power.   You can use it now.

Our world demands to be taken at face value, that is, at realism.   We are constantly implored to reject the supernatural as being impossible or illogical.  God is dead; Jesus is a myth; faith is a crutch for the weak; religion is an opiate for the masses:  our pessimistic (and Leninist) human nature tells us these things.  Yet isn’t it fascinating that the biggest movies of our time are stories about the supernatural, or super-heroes, or super-powered fantasies.  Why, it’s only the beginning of 2015 and already some smart folks are prognosticating that the biggest movies of this coming year will be about the super-heroic Avengers, Ant Man, and the next installment of the super-infused Star Wars saga.

We crave the ability to make evil cower, to put the demons that haunt us at bay and make them submit.   It’s something that we aren’t able to do on our own because of our own human failings, so we yearn to be better than we are, to have super-human abilities like Superman, Iron Man, Batman, Darth Vader and the like.  How disappointing it is to always find that life isn’t a movie or a comic book.

Yet how wonderful it can be to learn that such power is within us, that such abilities are at our fingertips when we walk the walk of Christ.  I’m not the Son of God; neither are you; let’s not get the big head and think more of ourselves than we are.   Yet the Son of God truly does promise us that what we ask for in His name will be given to us, including the power to make demons cry out in submission to His Name:   just like what happened here in Mark.

Don’t believe me?  Confess your skepticism to the woman who has faced down the demons of her past to finally quiet them.   Tell it to the alcoholic who pushes away the drink instead of swallowing the poison one last time.   Tell it to the man who is tempted to cheat just one more time and then quit, but quits now instead and does something better.   Tell it to the person who prays to God for strength and to whom is given the opportunity to be strong.   All of them – all of us – face down our demons day by day, and with the power of Christ in our voice and in our veins, we battle, persevere, and emerge victorious.   Just like Jesus did and just like He taught us.   That is a super-power I am thankful to already have.

Lord, strengthen me with Your strength, and be my sword, shield, and will in my daily battle.

Re-read Mark 3, verses 7-12.