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.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 17 February 2016

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14, verses 37-38.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak:” no more helpful words were spoken that early Good Friday morning.

Notice how Jesus poses the question to Peter (and, in turn, James and John) that both accuses of slacking but also speaks to their conscience.   Jesus doesn’t slam the Disciples.   Instead, He states a fact – I really need your help – while speaking to the better angels of their nature.   Then Jesus “goes there,” reminding them – and us – of a few key things about humanity.

Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation.   God made each of us with the inborn ability to watch, to be alert, to be cognizant, mindful, attentive, and active in our lives.   God Immanuel tells us to watch around us because the fallen world of sin is the world we live in.   He calls us to be in that world, to hold fast to faith in Him but live in that sinful world with other sinful people like ourselves.   Why does Jesus tell us to watch?   So that we don’t fall into temptation, of course.   Jesus understood temptation; He was fully man while still being fully God.   Yet when Satan tempted Him in the desert, Jesus was literally starving to death.   He was at His physical and emotional lowest and that’s when Satan pressed for advantage.   Jesus was telling His friends that the best way to resist temptation is to watch out for it.

The spirit is willing; words of hope.   Jesus knew the depth of the human spirit; He knew that it was for love that God created each one of us with a spirit.   And He knew that He, in His Spirit, would return to the world after He had ascended home.   When that happened, the Spirit of God would move the spirit of man to faith, to accept this resurrected Lord as the only Savior of mankind.   He knew this would be possible, that it would happen, because Jesus knew that the spirits of men are willing, that we crave God and innately seek God even as we deny Him.

Yet we deny God because the flesh is weak. Even when we watch, even when our spirit is willing, man’s flesh is weak.   We want the sin.   We want the praise, the power, the glory.   All the stuff of comfort?   Want it.   All the adulation and fame and adoration of other men?   We crave them. We want and crave those things because we forget that our flesh is weak.   We’re sinful from birth, weak in the flesh and tempted to seek comfort in the flesh instead of comfort from the Cross.

Jesus ‘got’ all of that, and I marvel at how He spoke with instead of speaking to these men who, being men, fell asleep when they should have been standing watch for Him. Peter and the others should have been keeping guard, attending their friend.   Instead, they did what we would do.   Thank God for His patience with them and us.

Lord Jesus, You are kind, wise and patient with us. Thank You for these blessed qualities, for teaching me about myself.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 January 2015

 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. Mark 3, verses 23-26.

If you’re a student of history, you’ll note that these verses in Mark 3 were quoted by Abraham Lincoln.   He used them in a famous speech, given in his acceptance of his party’s nomination for an Illinois Senate seat in 1858. Lincoln quoted the verses and put them in the context of the Union at that time. “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free,” said Mr. Lincoln.   Lincoln had spoken eloquently before, and already had something of a growing national reputation when he gave the ‘house divided’ speech. Isn’t it fascinating – and telling – that some of the Great Orator’s most famous words quoted Jesus of Nazareth? That reminds me of a story that Jesus told.   It certainly reminded Lincoln, whose religious affiliation and belief set we have debated since the day he died, but who, in fact, was a well-versed and largely self-taught scholar of the Bible.

The story that Jesus told was one He told in refuting the Pharisees who were, once again, goading Him.   They had said He was possessed by the devil.   Isn’t ironic that, when someone challenges something which we hold dear, we find it very easy to go personal, to attack them for who they are instead of just what they are saying?   That’s what the Pharisees did to Jesus.   They tried to hit Him where He hurt. Yet instead of simply smiting them or hurting them – as Satan surely would have done– Jesus reasons with them, appealing to their minds and their hearts with logic that stands the test of time.

At least that’s what Abraham Lincoln thought. And did.

Isn’t it true for us as well? How often do we read stories of people who said God told them to do outrageous or terrible things?   Had they been more steeped in the Scriptures, could they not have seen how God does not ask us to do things that are contrary to His nature? It would be natural for Satan to delude us into thinking that the person with whom we have an affair is actually who God put in our lives forever, yet tell me just when has God considered adultery to be a good thing?   And maybe a jury would understand why one man killed another in a ‘justifiable’ way, but just when has Jesus endorsed murder?

Those things would be contrary to God’s holy nature, meaning that, if He thought, said, or did things that are contrary, His house would be divided against itself and could no longer stand.   That means something for us, especially when we are trying to determine what God is saying to us in everyday events.   Would God ask us to do things that are contrary to Him?   Would He put us in positions where our only choice is something sinful?   You know the answer. So did Abraham Lincoln.   So did Jesus.

Lord, let me follow only Your will, testing temptation by comparing it to Your words and Your will in my life.   Praise be to You for Your mercy and teaching.

Read Mark 3, verses 23-30.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 8 October 2014

Just then a man in their synagogue, who was possessed by an impure spirit, cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”– Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. – Mark 1, verses 23-26.

The demon called out to Jesus; did you see that?   It wasn’t that Jesus called out the demon.   No, it was the other way around.   The demon recognized Jesus for who He was and proclaimed it. That matters.   It’s a small thing to overlook, but it matters.

It matters because evil always surrenders to good. Darkness ALWAYS surrenders to light.   In a pitch black room, a flickering candle always gives light and becomes the focus.   In a world of hatred, murder, abuse, and death, kind acts of the heart always mean more than all the suffering Satan can pile on.   The demon in the synagogue recognized that. When it recognized the Light of the World, it squealed.   It could not ignore the light; it could not ignore the loving compulsion of the Son of God.

What did Jesus do? He didn’t freak out.   He didn’t yell and scream.   He didn’t try to rationalize or diminish it:   Jesus faced the evil.   The Son of Man confronted the evil and didn’t back down.   Then he calmly but forcefully commanded it to be gone.   And it was so.

Tell me:   what’s the difference for us?   I’m not saying this to be flippant or trite.   What’s the difference?   Sure, you and I aren’t Jesus.  We aren’t God Immanuel; we don’t have the kind of power He does.   But you’d be wrong if you honestly believed that.

We have Him.   Therefore we have that kind of power. Don’t believe me?   Face down your temptations today. Whatever pet sin is tempting you right now – spending, drugs, stealing, screwing around on your spouse, lies, deception, whatever – face it down and say “no more.”   It’s not a Pollyanna approach.   This is real life.

In the real world, this is how real people overcome the real evil that plagues them.   First we face it, then we overcome it. To truly overcome evil, we only need Jesus.   We need His love and His light to shine down the darkness that constantly tries to overcome us.   To say no to our temptations; to put our sins behind us; to truly repent and move forward; to help other people meet Jesus; to live our lives to help others do the same.

One by one, evil by evil, we overcome evil when we believe in Jesus and turn our battles over to Him.   We ask Him for His strength, His power, His forgiveness, His love, His presence to help us fight.   When we stand, we stand wearing the armor of His light, and evil will surrender. Yes, it may fight back and it may fight fiercely; it’s evil.   Yet it will always surrender immediately or in time. Sometimes those battles are minute by minute; sometimes they’re tough.   Some of them might threaten to take everything we have.   For Jesus, everything isn’t much of a price to pay.   Don’t forget: He already paid it.

He already paid it because He knew that evil must surrender to good.   It always has.   It always will.

Lord Jesus, thank You for fighting for me.   Stand with me – stand for me – to overcome the evil that threatens me.

Read Mark 1, verses 22-26 again

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 1 October 2014

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. – Mark 1, verses 12-13

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,” not ‘after Jesus was baptized’ or ‘when Jesus was done eating that afternoon, or ‘later that week.’   It happened at once, immediately after Jesus’ baptism.   When Jesus was walking out of the water and the crowd around Him was amazed at hearing the voice of The Father speaking to Jesus, Jesus felt the Holy Spirit – His Spirit – urge Him to depart and walk deeper into the desert.

Important things can’t wait.

If you do that today, you’re called impulsive.   One time, my wife and I were going through a tough time.  Personally, financially, emotionally, spiritually, even in our friendships, everything was tough.   One day in late October, we were watching a Tennessee football game on TV when I said “would you like to move to Tennessee and start over?”   Never pose such a question to a desperate woman unless you really, really mean it.   I did and she was.   By late December we were in Tennessee; by later in December we were on our way back home to Colorado because we couldn’t find an affordable place to live.

It was important and we felt it couldn’t wait.   But it could.   What we couldn’t (wouldn’t, actually) see at the time was that the important matter wasn’t running away from our problems but, instead, facing them.

Jesus didn’t have sin but He did have problems.  After being baptized, he went into the desert and lived for forty days.   No food, no water, no people, no bed to sleep in, no shelter: ONLY God’s provision.   He fasted, He prayed, He cried out, He wept, He talked to Himself.   At the end of it, when Jesus was tired, very hungry, and at His most vulnerable, His biggest problem showed up. Mind you, Satan hadn’t always been a problem. At one point, Lucifer was a trusted angel, one of God’s brightest creations.   Yet those days were history.   Now, evil incarnate presented himself to the Son of Man and tempted Him at His weakest points.    Satan had important business with the Lord and it couldn’t wait.

Mark doesn’t say what happened while Jesus was being tempted; go to Matthew and Luke for that.   All he tells us is all we need to know.   The Spirit led Jesus into the desert to tempt Him; to serve as an example to us and to put Satan on notice that his defeat was pending.   Jesus was tempted by the devil himself, not by some bush-league imp or personal demon but by the original author of evil himself.   Jesus overcame all this and was then fed and nursed back to health by angels. And Jesus returned to do the most important thing of all.

It wasn’t like going to Tennessee.   There, at least we had good weather, a hotel room, and hot food to eat even if we didn’t find an home. Looking back on it, I have learned that, had we trusted in God to provide all we need, perhaps the trip to Nashville wouldn’t have been necessary.   We had lost our way.   For the good of all involved, God led us in a different direction in important things.   He can do that for you too.

Lord, lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil today.

Read about what happened in the desert in Matthew 4 and Luke 4

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 18 March 2014

And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.  Ruth 3, verse 11.

It doesn’t take much to destroy a reputation.   Ask me; I know.   I’ve built, destroyed, and re-built my reputation several times over.  Not everyone knows me well, and those who do sometimes wish they didn’t.   I work hard these days to live out my faith, but I don’t always live it well, especially if you get me talking about politics.   That hasn’t always been the case because the cliché is true:  a good reputation takes a long time to build while it takes only a few minutes to tear it down.

My grandfather (himself a man who had strong good and bad sides) used to say that you should always tell the truth because then you never have to worry about what you told someone.  Perhaps he spoke from experience.  He worked hard all his life to build a family and a business, yet in some of his weaker moments, he dove head-first into tearing that down.   It took him many years to recover from that; in some cases he never did, and he was still one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.   Yet he strived to be honest, to be no-nonsense while being just himself.   That isn’t easy.

He was a far cry from Ruth.   Since her arrival in Judea, she had worked hard to be known as a follower of God.   Ruth’s reputation was solid.  Her words and actions aligned; she lived out her faith.  That isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when you’re dealing with abject poverty as Ruth was.  She had stood by Naomi; she had worked hard.   Ruth had lived honorably and had done nothing to bring shame on herself, Naomi, or Naomi’s family.  Word gets around in a small town, even if it’s a good word.   Boaz knew about Ruth, and he understood her to be a woman of good, Godly character.   A decision to marry is hardly a ‘no brainer,’ but it’s made much easier when you know your prospective partner to be the kind of person you can admire.

Like Ruth.

Not so much me.  Or my grandfather.   Or most people, maybe even you at times.   Admit it:   we have good points, but we aren’t Ruth.  We usually work hard to develop character, and we struggle with the things that could derail it.  I can’t picture Ruth struggling with feelings of hatred, or temptations to steal, or to lie, or sleep around or shoot heroin.   But she was a sinner too, and she had her own pet temptations that we don’t know about.   She found strength to stand in her new-found God.   So can we.

Lord, I thank and praise You for giving me another day on Planet Earth to build a reputation for following You.

 

Read Ruth 3.

What are some kinks in your reputation?

Would people have a hard or easy time believing you are a good follower of Christ?

Who do you need to forgive?