Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 2 October 2018

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 1 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).

Imagine if God called an atheist to preach the Gospel.  Or if He called Louis Farrakhan (or an Iranian mullah) to preach reconciliation with the Jews. Imagine if a Alec Baldwin went on the Tonight Show to preach for reconciliation in the name of Jesus.

That’s Paul.   Think of the worst possible persecutor, the very harshest, the meanest guy you could meet and it was Paul.   He relished what he did for a living:   killing followers of “the Way.”   He was a zealous follower of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and lived in His temple in Jerusalem.   That is, until a roadside meeting with that one true God shut, then opened, Paul’s eyes.   The persecutor became the persecuted, and every time that happened, he doubled down on it.   He gave thanks to Jesus for picking him, the most unworthy of servants, to become zealous for His message and carry it to places unknown.

Today’s verse changes direction from the last few.  Keep in mind that this change of direction happens right after Paul warns Timothy to avoid false teachers and properly invoke God’s law.  Paul has used the first part of his letter to remind Timothy that not everyone is for him…or Him.   Now he begins a section of different instruction, outlining God’s grace and how it is a unique gift from the King to preach the faith to people who need to hear it.

Not everyone is called to that calling.   I’ve never really felt it, other than the daily urge to write these word.  I can’t do much but I can do this.  Some pastors tell me that they innately knew they should become pastors.   One told me it was like God slamming shut every other door in his life until he walked through the ministry one.   Another seemed to relish being a pastor instead of “just a pig farmer’s son” (as if that’s something to be ashamed of…it isn’t).

No matter, to minister to others in the name of Jesus is a calling that I think each of us gets in our own ways.   Some get it to be a full time job.   Jesus molds our lives in unique ways.   Have you ever thought that there are 7.2 billion ministers for Jesus alive right now?   It’s true.   Yet not all know it, or Him.   So it’s up to us to use the gifts He gives us and the good fruits of His Spirit that are kindness, understanding, and love to help others along their way to Him.  Imagine if God called an atheist to preach.   Better yet, imagine how He’s calling you.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:13, Acts 9:15, 1 Timothy 1:13

Lord Jesus, all my praise to You for putting Your love on my heart to follow and preach You in my own way.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 November 2017

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Hebrews 13, verse 12.

Yesterday I mentioned that Jesus was killed, buried, and rose outside the city walls of Jerusalem.  That happened to fulfill Scriptural prophecy.   Being criminally punished outside the city was a common practice in ancient days for a number of reasons.   It dishonored the accused and it accorded them unique, public status to be despised.  It sent a message to the public:   don’t mess with the authorities.   Burying bodies outside the city limits also was a health issue; it still is.   Indeed, removing decomposing corpses from the places where we live is still our practice today; it’s why cemeteries are usually found at or outside the original boundaries of most towns.   But most of all, it happened because God used the lowest among us to perform the highest function.

It gave God “street cred.”  We give great honor, glory, and social status to the pretty things.   That’s the foundation of street credibility.  It’s all about being perceived as “legit,” about being respected, about being able to walk the walk and talk the talk.  On the streets, honor and status are (supposedly) earned, and glory is taken.   In the way Jesus died, He earned real street cred.

So did His house.  The Jewish Temple was one of the great marvels of antiquity.   The Second Temple, renovated by Herod, rivaled any building in Rome, Thebes, Athens, or Babylon for its beauty, architectural wonder, and impact.  The original Temple of Solomon had been the actual “house of God:”   the place where His presence physically resided.   Its location was on the very spot where Abraham had bound Isaac, where Jacob had his famous dream, and where David purchased the threshing floor.  Tradition held that it was even the spot where God first touched earth after creation.   Solomon’s First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians but was rebuilt as the Second Temple by Zerubabbel.   This Second Temple, however, lacked God’s presence as well as many of the original artifacts (like the Ark of the Covenant) that traced their origin back to Moses.  Those have been lost to the ages.  Still, the Second Temple stood for nearly 600 years, and had been greatly renovated and expanded by Herod the Great just before the time of Jesus.  You would have been able to see it for miles around as it was the tallest building in the city and stood at the top of Mount Moriah (later called Mount Zion).  It’s massive size, glistening gold, and snow white stone would have made it shine brilliantly in both sun and night.

By the time Jesus arrived, the Temple had become the focal point of the Middle East.  It was the focus of Jewish life, the singular place to which Jews made annual pilgrimage.  Jesus Himself would spend much time in the Temple as the building represented God’s promise to His people and His continuing magnificence.    As mentioned, it was the most prominent building in the city, more visible and ostentatious than any of the city’s palaces or government buildings.  Great glory and honor was accorded to being in the Temple and especially to those who worked there and maintained the religion there.

For Jesus to have worshipped and taught in the Temple gave credence to His status as Messiah.   In our time, it would have meant He earned that ‘street cred.’  All through His life, Christ honored the practices and traditions of God’s people, including honoring the Temple.  Repeatedly during His ministry Christ taught at the Temple and challenged the political and ecclesiastical authority of the men who ran it.  Immediately after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple and cleared out the merchants who had set up shop.  He did this to cleanse out God’s home.

And when the conspirators of the Jewish Sanhedrin determined to murder Him, they wanted to do so in a way that would both reinforce their status and power AND consign him to the lowest place in society.   That meant Jesus would die outside the city.   He would be tried inside Jerusalem, but when it came to His actually killing, that was to take place away from the honored Temple Mount.  Christ was crucified on Golgotha, which ancient tradition (even then) held was the burial spot of Adam, the original man; how ironic is that?  How ironic it was, too, that, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil on the Holy of Holies was miraculously torn asunder.

What’s the point in all this history?   It’s a sign for us.  It’s interesting that God used human history to give His story honor and credibility but getting wrapped around the archaeology of it misses the central point.   It’s not where God performed His salvation of us but WHAT He did that matters.  The focal point of all human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   It’s the real street cred.  That happened in the places we’ve discussed and was made credible to humanity by the fact that it happened where it did.  Yet it is the resurrection itself – God’s saving atonement of our sins – that matters and not the place where God did it. We study the history of the location to help us better understand the context of the time and place for the life of Jesus.   Yet it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that is the ultimate street cred on which we all can and should depend.

For further reading:  John 19:17, Ephesians 5:26, Romans 3:25.

Lord, thank You for using these places and events in history to point to Your Son.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 April 2017, Maundy Thursday

Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Hebrews 10, verses 2-4.

Today is Maundy Thursday 2017.   Today is the reason why animal sacrifices became unnecessary.  Today we commemorate God giving Himself up so that they would no longer be necessary.   That sacrifice we commemorate tomorrow, on Good Friday. But for now, today is a sad day of celebratory mourning, a time when we remember Jesus instituting the miracle of communion and forgiveness while facing the spiritual torment of Gethsemene, then Golgotha tomorrow.

As part of my own remembrance, yesterday I watched “The Passion of the Christ.”   I try to do this every year during Holy Week because it keeps my faith edgy.   The movie is so graphic and rightfully so since it portrays the most graphic murder ever perpetrated on a man.  I kept it on the TV in my office while I worked, and glanced over at it throughout the afternoon.  The more I watch the movie, though, the more I reach the same conclusion.

I feel sorry for Judas.

I’ve written this before but I feel sorry for Judas Iscariot.   He brought his woes on himself.   Nobody forced Him to betray the Son of Man but Judas did it willingly, even enthusiastically.  I know:  he was a greedy, selfish, sinful, detestable bastard.   Conniving, evil, deceitful; sounds like many of my friends and fellow sinners, actually.  No, I’m not equivocating because I’ve never sold out the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver.   My sins are my own and they have denied Jesus as surely as did Judas, Peter, or any of His other best friends who abandoned Him in His most desperate hours.

Yet I feel sorry for Judas because he is pathetic.

When Judas absorbed the guilt of his sins, he forgot all about Jesus.   Maybe it was that he couldn’t bring himself to even think about Jesus or what he had done to his friend and savior.   Perhaps the guilt was too crushing and he simply gave in to the worst temptation.   It’s possible that Judas didn’t understand the new covenant that Jesus had just explained to him in that Passover supper that first Maundy Thursday evening.  Or how it would supersede those sacrifices that dated back to the days of Noah or before.

Whatever happened, Judas snapped and killed himself.   He was cold and dead before Jesus was even nailed to the cross that Good Friday.  I feel sorry for him, have pity on him, and I honestly hope something in him turned back before the life snuffed out of his body.   It isn’t up to me, but I hope there’s a place in heaven for Judas.   If there isn’t a place for people who do things as supremely reprehensible as what Judas did, then there isn’t a place for any of us.   The key is belief.   Judas lost his belief, his faith, in Jesus if he ever really had it in the first place.

He lived in a time when people still fully believed that animal sacrifices atoned for human sins.   The whole purpose of the Jewish temple was to worship Yahweh, the almighty I AM.   Integral to that worship was the Mosaic sacrificial system where doves, lambs, and bulls were slaughtered and brought to the altar.   There was even an annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, which is still commemorated by Jews today) in which the high priest took that animal blood and sprinkled it on the articles in the Most Holy Place.   By the time of Jesus and Judas, the Ark of the Covenant (God’s mercy seat) was long gone from the temple, having disappeared hundreds of years before.   Yet the Temple still contained a Most Holy Place – a Holy of Holies – where worshippers thought God was still present.  Once a year, the priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled animal blood.

And it did nothing.  Yes, I said that.   It did nothing.   Even from the start of sacrifices it was only faith in God that would bring atonement.   Only God could fully atone for man’s sins because imperfect man could not.   The sacrifices were an expression of that faith, not the actual atonement.  Thus, when Jesus died, He and only He fully atoned as a true sacrifice for the terrible sins of His most cherished creation, man.

This was the world in which Judas lived and from which he committed suicide.   Even as a disciple closely walking with the incarnate God for years, he never made the connection between Jesus and sacrifice.  I feel sorry for him.   “The Passion of the Christ” shows him to be mentally anguished up to the end, tortured by demons, tortured by his sins.   The Bible doesn’t insist that people who commit suicide are damned, though it does paint suicide as a sin.   If Judas felt such terrible anguish that he couldn’t go on, I sincerely hope that, in his final seconds here, he found comfort in repentance and a place in paradise beyond.   That isn’t up to us:  it’s up to God.   Someday, hopefully many years from now, we’ll learn what happened.

For further reading:  Hebrews 9:9.

Lord, I praise You in mourning and celebration for the sacrifice You gave of Yourself.   Have mercy on Judas and others, and .

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 March 2017

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. Hebrews 9, verses 1-5.

Here is more information on the ancient tabernacle.   It’s nice to know; it’s good to know; it’s great to know since it is a representation of the place in which God approached man.   It’s valid history that can increase your understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus; thank you Chad Bird for that bit of teaching.  Understanding the tabernacle and what was done there can greatly increase your perception of the beauty of God.

It’s also irrelevant.

Yes, irrelevant.   There’s nothing today that requires you to build your worship life around the kind of worship that the ancient Israelites conducted in the desert 4000 years ago.  YOU are God’s tabernacle now.  Believe in Jesus and you are the place where God Himself comes to dwell with men.   You, me, and millions like us.  He built His church on our hearts.   He lives, works, breathes, sees, feels actively through you.   God will not be bound by the confines of a tent, temple, or sanctuary.   Instead, He constructs His temple in you and lives as His church through you.   You’re the successor to God’s tabernacle.

Now, that’s not to say that tradition is a bad thing; it isn’t.  If you think about it, many modern churches are still set up in a similar, though not identical, pattern.  Medieval cathedrals were, for the most part, built to reflect the shape of a cross.  Most of today’s churches have a place for the masses to sit or stand, an area down front with an altar that is segregated from where the congregation, well, congregates.   That isn’t much different from the tabernacle, which was segregated into sections for man’s protection and man’s benefit.

In truth, this side of heaven, we won’t fully understand all the implications of just why God determined that His tabernacle must have the dimensions it did.   Or how He fully occupies our hearts with His presence.   It’s a vision of heaven given for our understanding even as we don’t fully see what it will look like there.  Here on the Third Rock, it’s our lot to simply accept it as just the way it is.  If you think about it, that’s the foundation of faith.   “Put your trust in me,” says God.  “I’ve told you all you need to know.   Some of it you won’t understand, just trust me anyway.”   Religion teaches us to be skeptical of this, but that doesn’t change the basic fact and premise of it:   trust God anyway.  Trust God because He came to you, entered your life, became not just your Savior, but your partner, your friend, your guide, your observer.   When you choose to do what He asks, you benefit.   When you choose otherwise, He is there to remind you that He is there and working to turn things around for you.   Whatever you choose, God is with you.   Immanuel ‘immanueling’ with you as an active participant in your life.

THAT was the central point of the ancient tabernacle.   It wasn’t given to Israel as a way for a vain god to steal glory.   It was given to them as a way to see how God had come to them and would always work for them, working to turn things around for them.   In my daily devotions, I’m reading through 2 Kings (having already gone through 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings).  Ancient Israel was brutal.   It was divided and lived under the thumb of many more evil tyrants than good leaders.   The time of 2 Kings was long past the years of the tabernacle in the desert.  God had long ago kept His promise to make Israel a great nation, yet Israel missed the intention of God’s promise.   He would make them great not because of political power or wealth.  No, they would be great because God would be with them.   He would live through them, work through them, demonstrate His beautiful love through them.   He gave them the tabernacle, then the Temple, then the synagogues, to reach them where they were.   Their reaction?   “Who are you, God, to talk to me?”   Isn’t it amazing how little things have changed?

For further reading:  Exodus 25, 26 and 30; Leviticus 24:5-8, Numbers 17:10.

Lord, I thank You for Your tabernacle, for coming to us through this place.   Help me to ponder it, to study it, to understand more of You through understanding it.   And help me to always sense how You are always with me and in me.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 24 March

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15, verses 33-38.

Extraordinary:   that’s the only word that can adequately describe these events.   These things happened all within such a short period of time – within the hour of Jesus’ death – that it’s simply extraordinary.

Notice how the hard-hearted stayed hard-hearted until the very end.   Apparently they weren’t moved by the raw emotion of watching an innocent man die.   Granted, the chief priests didn’t believe Jesus was innocent at all.   They wanted Him dead.   Yet it’s a gruesome, awful thing to watch someone, even someone you despise, being tortured and then crucified.   From these words (as well as corroborating & amplifying words from the other three gospels), it doesn’t seem to have phased them.

Notice that some acknowledged who Jesus was before He died, that He had the power to call for Elijah. There were some in the crowd who recognized the possibility that this Jesus may actually be divine, that He might just be who He said He was after all.   Were they mocking Jesus in saying what they did?   Perhaps, especially given the words about the sponge and “let Elijah get him down.” Yet don’t overlook the bare fact that, for the first time in this whole process, someone took a step back and said “hmmmm.”

Notice, too, that, at the same time Jesus died, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple was torn.   It signifies that there was no longer a veil separating God’s presence with God’s people.   They had seen Him face to face, and He had done all that was necessary for sinful people to stand in His holy presence without being destroyed by that holiness. The people there on Calvary didn’t know about what happened to the veil until after the fact, but it served as yet another physical proof that Jesus was indeed God Immanuel:   God With Us who they just had murdered.

Finally, notice the overwhelming, simple faith of the centurion.   He was a military officer; think Army colonel.   And he was a pagan, an unbeliever, a soldier doing his duty for the Roman Empire.   And he was the first believer after Jesus died. This non-Jew, this Gentile, this man outside of God’s promised holy nation, was the first man who looked up in regret at the job he had just performed and acknowledged, “this man was the Son of God.”   As he stood beside the cross, looking up at the bloody, wounded, dead body of Jesus of Nazareth, the centurion confessed what his heart and mind agreed.   He was the first convert after the crucifixion:   the first of billions.

It’s extraordinary.

Lord Jesus, I’m moved to tears by the story of Your death.   Thank You for dying for the sins I deserve to die for.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.  

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 20 January 2016

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” Mark 14, verses 1-2.

These verses further entrench my disgust for all things political. That’s anachronistic because I follow politics.   The silly season of American politics in which we find ourselves now has always fascinated me.   I enjoy history; I love to read about it and see places where big events happened.   Like it or not, most of those events are memorable because there were political activities or overtones involved in them.   These days especially, it’s important that we, as citizens and voters, keep up on the views of those who seek to govern us.   Not just anyone can or should be president, or in any elected office actually.

Yet fascination and civic duty not withstanding, more often than not I find myself disgusted by the politics that are played out in our lives.   So many decisions, so many actions, are dictated by the whims of the politics of those who have been put in charge.   Politics were the biggest reason why I “divorced the Air Force” and got out at 11 years active.   I was disgusted that nearly every decision I made, as a junior NCO, was politicized by (who I perceived to be) a great many unqualified people around me.   In the space of just a few years, my part of the service went from being agile and able to having to seek approval for nearly every action we took from numerous uninvolved parties in the non-combat chain of command.   Politics.

At work we play politics, gauging what we should and shouldn’t say so as to not offend the most people on our team.   In church we structure the leadership around politically elected officers who, to be honest, can sometimes be as partisan or ineffective as any member of Congress. Ever been to a family reunion?   Ever held your tongue at the dinner table or listened to a cousin, uncle or parent rant on about something in pop culture?

Politics:   they’re through and through in our lives and they disgust a great many folks.   Today’s verses that talk about what the Jewish chief priests and elders said and did only reinforce that disgust.  If you think about it, the priests and elders did what they did for politics.   It was to hold on to their power, to preserve their political and ecclesiastical power in Jerusalem. They didn’t want to rock the boat; they didn’t want things to change unless it meant change in their favor and this itinerant rabbi from Galilee threatened a very different kind of change.   He had to be stopped.

But the priests were afraid of what the general population would do if said population found out about the politics that the ruling class was playing. There could be rioting or violence.   More likely, there would be a loss of tithing and income at the Temple. No matter what could happen, it would mean a threat to the status quo and the power base of those in charge.

All because of politics. The Son of Man was murdered because of disgusting petty power politics.

Lord I pray that you forgive me when I fail You, when I put the politics of this world above Your mission.

Read Mark 14, verses 1-11.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 October 2015

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. Mark 11, verse 18.

Let’s talk about Donald Trump.   No, I’m not endorsing Mr. Trump, nor am I going to use this time to insult or demean him.   Trump is (mostly) the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.   Yes, there is a LONG time to go until the election, so being the front-runner of anything at this point in the election cycle is largely meaningless. Instead, let’s talk about how folks are out to ‘kill’ Mr. Trump.

And ‘kill’ is not a hyperbolic word.   Many Republicans and Democrats would love to write the epitaph on Donald Trump’s public career at the earliest possible moment.   In this presidential election, it is outsiders (on both sides of the aisle) who are shaking up conventional wisdom and taking the establishment political classes to task.   In ways good and bad, unconventional candidates are saying and doing things that both threaten the power of established ‘rulers’ and engender support from a voting population that is largely disinterested and mostly disgusted. Trump, Carson, Sanders, Fiorina, even the no-name professor from Harvard, are saying things that resonate with voters in ways that seem to baffle traditional political advisors, consultants and candidates.    According to the elites, that simply can’t be allowed.

The only thing that doesn’t seem to baffle them is their perception that, if traditional politician X fails to secure the presidential nomination, the power of the establishment is threatened.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell about how Jesus was murdered for the same reason.   Yes, the reason 2016 outsider candidates are a threat to the current political establishment is exactly the same reason why the religious establishment of 1st century Judea felt threatened by the ‘insurgent ministry’ of Jesus Christ. Jesus was just busy being Jesus, being God Immanuel.   He taught love, peace, patience…and confrontation of evil. His very human existence was an existential threat to the power structure of the elites in Jerusalem (both Jewish and Roman).   He had built a huge following of passionate believers; what if those followers decided to turn on the Temple or on their Roman overseers?   At the very least there would be serious bloodshed.   Indeed, revolution was all too possible.

That couldn’t be allowed.

So Jesus had to die.   The powers-that-be didn’t want to just end Jesus’ political and ecclesiastical careers:   they wanted to end His life. If Jesus didn’t die – if the overseers couldn’t find a way to get rid of Him – then the amazed believers would see they no longer needed Temple worship…or temple taxes.   If the passionate followers decided they no longer feared death because the Jewish rabbi had taught them so, then they would no longer fear Rome.

What would happen if all of Trump’s support (or Carson’s, Fiorina’s or anyone’s) turned into active voters?   Governments only derive their powers from the consent of the governed.   What would happen if all those folks who supposedly support the political outsiders decided they didn’t need the establishment parties? Would the desire for political reform rise and succeed or fail and die?

What would happen if all of us who profess to be Christians and followers of Jesus Christ actually did what He said?   Would we have to die as well?

Lord, I want to die this life for You.

Read Mark 11, verses 12-25.