Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 December 2017

Grace be with you all.  Hebrews 13, verse 25.

Once again, we find ourselves at the end.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ve seen the ending of Hebrews, Mark, The Ten Commandments, Ruth, 1/2/3 John, James, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   That’s a lot of real estate to cover.   Thank you so much, my friend, for reading, sharing, learning, and hopefully hearing the voice of God inside you through these thoughts.

Yet it’s time to finish up this section.   After this, there are other things I’d like to cover.   Next week, we’ll spend the rest of the Christmas season talking about Santa Claus and giving.   After that, I believe God is leading me to walk through the “five T’s” of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; we’ll be walking with the Apostle Paul, so get ready to get real; Paul has that effect.

Until then, grace be with you all.   Grace:  that’s a concept I haven’t given nearly enough thought to even though my mom and grand-daughter are both named Grace.  I used to think of grace as a quiet thing, like sunny meadows and warm tea.  But that’s only part of what it is.  My friend, Bill Brimer, however, calls the book of Ephesians “a grace bomb.”  It’s an explosion of God’s grace in your face.   An overpowering force of enormous power that can undo physical reality.  Ephesians spends much of it’s time explaining God’s grace as a living, vital thing instead of just a pastoral quality.

Boom.

Have you ever really thought about what grace means to you?   My Random House dictionary defines grace as “a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor shown in granting a delay or immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor or love of God, the influence or spirit of God operating in man; moral strength.”   All those meanings (and more) for such a small word.   And to think they could all blow up in your face with the peace of a rural pasture.  In the context of talking about Jesus, grace means all those things, and all of them at once.

We don’t deserve it, but Jesus richly blesses us to live in His grace.   We’ve done everything we can think of to tick him off, to merit His wrath, but, instead, He likes us, wants to be with us, runs to us where we are in the middle of our dysfunctions.   If I listed here even a fraction of the sins I’ve done against Jesus, I wouldn’t list much before you’d see I don’t deserve His grace.   I don’t even deserve air, food, water, and my beating heart.   News flash:  neither you you.   We’re damn dirty sinners.

But we have so much more than air, food, water and life.   We have love, friends, jobs, possessions, liberty, opportunity.   We have each other.   We have seven billion people here to live, thrive and survive with, and we GET TO tell them that this Jesus blesses us all in His grace.   That He wants them to know Him, too.   That’s grace.   When I deserve punishment, Jesus wants love for me.  When I deserve scorn, He lives in my heart.   When I merit revenge, He urges peace.   When I deserved to die, He ran to the cross for me and took my place.   Boom!

When the writer of Hebrews had only a few words left to say, he said that he desired for God’s magnificent grace bomb to explode in the lives of his readers.   “Grace be with you all” is more than just a benediction:   it’s a challenge.   It’s a powerful this-I-know-to-be-true amen.   It’s a quiet prayer but also an artillery-packed lock and load on the front line.  Grace is the quiet strength of Christ from the cross giving you peace.   And grace is the raw edge of God’s knife in your hand, cutting away the scar tissue of sin to cure the flesh below.   When there was nothing else to say to his friends, the writer affirmed God’s presence in their lives and called on them to realize all God does for undeserving people while sharing His saving love with those who don’t know about Him.

I’m not worthy to argue with wisdom like that.   I’ll simply accept it as a gift of love from our God.  Grace in your face, indeed.   Back in the race for us now.  Lace up your boots, pick up your gun, and let’s march.

Until next time, grace be with you all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 13:25

Lord thank You for Your grace, for how You love and provide for me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 August 2017

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.  Hebrews 11, verse 31.

God likes hookers.   God loves whores.

Yes, I said that.   God loves prostitutes, murderers, thieves, liars, adulterers, cheaters, haters, and Democrats.   Excepting that last category, God loves all those kinds of people who flagrantly violate the Ten Commandments He gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.   And, yes, God loves Democrats, too, (and Republicans, Libertarians, Antifa thugs, and KKK neo-Nazi punks who really need to get a clue).

You know one place you could lump all those people together?   Answer:  a church.  Churches are spiritual hospitals, places for sick twisted freaks to go to get better, to receive medicine, to give of themselves to someone who doesn’t deserve all their disease but wants to take it anyway.   More than that, worship is the time to commune with the God who loves us despite everything we do to piss Him off.   He loves everyone, even the neo-Nazis, Democrats, and those other bad actors.

Know how we can know that?   Rahab.   Rahab was a hooker living in Jericho.   She had heard about this God; Jehovah, Yahweh, IAM; she had heard about Him through the grapevine and she believed He was real.  She had heard the stories about this massive nation that God had brought out of slavery in Egypt.   When Joshua sent spies into Jericho to scope it out, Rahab hid them because she respected God and wanted to know more of Him.   She who had earned her living in sin on her back wanted to turn from how that made her feel and live.   She didn’t want to die; she didn’t want to be killed when Israel took the town.   So she hid the Israelite spies in her home and made them promise they would spare her and hers when they overran Jericho.

And that’s what happened.   Rahab the prostitute, Rahab the damn dirty sinner whore believed in a God she had only heard about as a rumor.   When presented with facts of His existence (the Israelites), she immediately believed.  She believed out of fear but then she believed out of hope.   She understood that this God unknown to her had proven Himself to be all He said He was through keeping His word.   Rahab wanted to live and she believed God was the only way she could.   She was right.   And she was a hooker.  She was considered the worst of sinners.

How about you?   Are you a prostitute?   Do you whore yourself out for nothing?  How many whores will you see in church on Sunday morning?   Look around.   There’ll be quite a few even if they make their livings wearing a suit and tie.  Or if they have the perfect family and the perfect blonde hair.  I wonder how many of us have the faith that Rahab had.  Not to be Dave the Downer but I’m betting there are few.   Just this week, an astounding thing happened to me.  I found a woman lying in the middle of the road.   This was a four-lane road very early in the morning, and she was passed out, lying up against a concrete barrier.  She was uninjured despite lying down in the middle of a highway.   The policeman and I surmised she was high on some kind of drug.  To make the story short, I called the police, an ambulance came to take her for a check-out, and it appears the woman would be just fine.

Yet do you know what amazed me?   While I was waiting beside her on the road, protecting this stranger from harm, probably a dozen cars whizzed by.   Any one of them could have run over both of us; we could easily have been killed.   Yet any one of them could have stopped to help, even just to investigate, and none of them did.  Remember Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan?   Well, I’m no good Samaritan and I’m not worth the dust on Jesus’ feet.   I’m just a guy who found someone who needed help.

But those other people who kept driving after seeing this woman flat on the road?   It looks like they aren’t even hookers with a heart like Rahab.   Maybe they were frightened themselves.  Maybe they couldn’t stop for some other reason.   Or maybe they just didn’t give a damn.  Whores.   At least Rahab believed and then put her nascent belief into action.   She didn’t have to help, but she wanted to because she wanted to live.   She wanted the hope of this God.

And she received it.   Remember:  God loves hookers, too.

For further reading:  Joshua 2:1, Joshua 9:14, Joshua 6:22-25, Luke 10: 25-37, James 2:25.

Lord, help me to have the faith of Rahab the prostitute.   And bless & forgive those who can’t or won’t help others in time of need.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 August 2017

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.  Hebrews 11, verse 30.

After yesterday’s entry, let’s fast forward a few generations.   In the space of a few months, Moses went from a shepherd, to renegade troublemaker, to general and judge, to leader of a nation.   In the space of a few months, Moses followed God through the Red Sea, then led the Israelites into the desert of Sinai (likely in today’s Saudi Arabia).   Not long after, Moses disappears onto Mount Sinai (to receive the Ten Commandments), the Israelites rebel, Moses loses his temper, and God punishes Israel for its disobedience by making them wander in the deserts of Midian for forty years until all the rebels died out.  When that generation is gone, Moses dies and Joshua, Moses’ lieutenant, takes over as leader.   God then commands the Israelites to march around the Canaanite city of Jericho for six days, praising God each time and blowing their trumpets behind the Ark of the Covenant (minus Indiana Jones).  On the seventh day, they marched around Jericho seven times, and on the seventh time, they screamed out in praise of God that God had delivered Jericho to them.

Which He had.  On that seventh march, the walls of Jericho that had protected it for decades, maybe even centuries, tumbled down and the Israelites took the city.   Jericho had been a military, economic and political threat to Israel.   More than that, they were a city full of pagan’s who gave the collective Canaanite finger to the great I AM.   I AM brought justice and the threat was removed.

Great story, eh?

It is great, and it’s history, not just a story.   It really happened.   Excavations at Jericho confirm a cataclysmic destruction of an ancient city there:   an account that lines up with the book of Joshua.  All if it happened because the Israelites believed that God would deliver the city to them.   If it doesn’t make much sense to you, then you’re probably in good company.   The story seems illogical to us today because we focus on the improbability of it.   Marching around the city, blowing trumpets, no conventional military attack to achieve a military objective:   it all seems preposterous.

Thee focus of the story isn’t on the unconventional (though effective) military tactics.  The focus of the story is on the faith the people had that God would do what He said He would do.  God had told Joshua to lead his people to do these things and then the city walls would collapse so Israel could take the city.  That’s exactly what happened.  Imagine the curiosity, then anxiety, then terror felt by the pagan ‘haters’ who lived in Jericho as they watched this foreign army surround their city.   Imagine watching thousands of these marchers, coming back day after day.   How would you have felt?   Would you have laughed at first but, by the end of that sixth day, been thankful for the stone walls that kept the invaders out?   And how would you have felt when the walls came down?

What is Jesus saying with the account of what the Israelites did after Jericho fell?   If you don’t know, they killed every living thing there.  How can God be merciful in that?   Before you get all judgy, remember that God asks for faith, invites us to faith, proves the worth of faith.   Jericho had heard about these Israelites.   They knew what had happened since the time of Abraham.  They knew and ignored it.   More than ignoring it, they flaunted God.   How could God spare them?  Friend, it isn’t our place to judge God but to heed Him and obey His Word.

Tell me, my friend:   what walls have you built that need to come down?   Have you walled off parts of your heart?   Have you walled off your emotions, your feelings, your past, your dreams?   More than this, have you walled out God from your life, thinking there’s no way He could love you, forgive you, want you?   Do you hate yourself and your life this much?

Perhaps its time to march around your heart a few times and then blow the horns.   The purpose of the account of Jericho is, for you, to do what God asks of you and open your heart to change.  Watch what happens when God keeps His word.

For further reading:  Joshua 6: 12-20.

Lord, thank You for what happened at Jericho.   Thank You for the faith of the Israelites, and for the promises You make.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 August 2017

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mis-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.  Hebrews 11, verses 24-26.

Moses isn’t Charlton Heston.   Remember “The Ten Commandments?”   Cecil B. DeMille’s last picture, which is one of the most famous movies of all time?   It’s a tradition in America to show it every year around Easter, and it’s one of the movies I don’t (yet) have on DVD (or should I do Blu-Ray?   Get all 2010…).   Here’s a true confession:   most of what I know about Moses, I learned from watching Charlton Heston.   He was manly, gutsy, stoic; if you wanted a statue of Moses, you’d want it to look like Chuck Heston.  But Moses isn’t (as my father called him) “the blue eyed Jew.”  Or Christian Bale (in the not-as-good re-telling from a few years ago).  The movie took a great many liberties with Biblical history, so much so that, when I actually read through Exodus through Deuteronomy, I felt let down.   Only after doing further study did I feel impressed, again, by the story of this great man.   The mis-understanding was mine, not Moses’.

However, make no mistake about it:   no movie star I know of – not even Charlton Heston – would choose to give up Hollywood to be treated like a slave.  Moses was brought up in the palace of Pharaoh.   He was treated like a grandson, even a son, even though he was the known child of Hebrew slaves.   His mother, Pharaoh’s daughter, lavished him in luxury.  She raised him to educate him, to teach him how to rule a nation, master a court, prepare for royalty.  Born a pauper, Moses grew up into a prince, a prince of Egypt:   the heir apparent to rule wealthiest, most splendid and powerful nation on Earth.  It wouldn’t have been unprecedented for a Hebrew, a foreigner, to rule as the power behind a throne.   After all, Joseph had done so.

Yet when Moses came to a crossroads in his life, he unwittingly chose God.   One day, he saw an Egyptian mistreat a Hebrew and he killed the Egyptian.   Long before God forbade it, Pharaoh forbade killing as a way to preserve order in society.   Moses hid the body, until the next day.  He saw two Hebrew men fighting and, when questioning one of them, learned that his crime had become known.   The brave prince of Egypt turned quickly into a coward on the run.   He fled Egypt and didn’t return for forty years.

During that time, Moses went from prince back to pauper.   He became a shepherd in what is possibly now western Saudi Arabia.  He actively shunned his past, perhaps out of fear, but perhaps out of humility.  Moses fled Egypt at about age forty and he lived in the desert another forty years.   He raised a family, worked from his in-laws, and disappeared from public life.   What did he do during that time?  What did he think?   What visions filled his dreams?  Surely Moses must have used much of that time to wonder why his life had gone off track.   I wonder if he had a crisis of faith, perhaps wrestling with faith for the first time in his life.  Eventually, he accepted that his life wasn’t off track but had, instead, traveled on to a different one.  He who had been born no ordinary child now lived the most ordinary, unrecognized of lives and what had it all been for?

But God recognized him, and Moses chose to accept the invitation.  He saw the burning bush on the mountain and hiked up to see it.   From then on, all history changed.   Moses definitely did.   God shook Moses out of his navel-gazing rural complacence and called him to the task God had prepared for him (and prepared him for).  He knew that the generation which had wanted him called to Egyptian justice was dead, but that the mission God had called him to perform might also get him killed.   Yet He went.   After some grumbling and stalling (in front of God Himself; can you imagine?), Moses went.   And then everything changed.

All because Moses looked heavenward.  All because Moses believed.   Charlton Heston couldn’t have done any better.

For further reading:  Acts 7:22, Exodus 2:10-Luke 14:33, Hebrews 10:35, 1 Kings 4:30, Isaiah 19:11.

Lord, thank You for the example of Moses.   Thank You for guiding Him, and for delivering Him from the slavery to his past while You delivered Your people from the injustice of real slavery.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2016

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  Hebrews 2, verses 2 and 3.

What does that mean?  It sort of seems like two different thoughts ‘smushed’ together.

My NIV concordance says that “the message spoken through angels” references God giving the Commandments to Moses at Sinai.  Some reading from Deuteronomy tells that “myriads of angels” accompanied God in giving Him praise when He revealed His law to Moses (who then shared it with the world).  A little online research corroborates that opinion.  What about the rest of the verses?

Yesterday at church the theme was “good enough.”   Pastor Mark talked about how we, as people, constantly strive to prove we’re good enough.   Every religion on earth is a choice between following Jesus or not.   If you aren’t following Jesus, then you’re doing something, anything, to prove you’re good enough.   Good enough for Allah, good enough to reach nirvana, good enough to prove your worth, good enough to make up for things you’ve done, just good enough:   that’s the point of all faiths other than following Jesus.  You’re either a following Christian or you aren’t.

I don’t say this to denigrate other faiths.   It’s just a fact.   If your faith isn’t put in Jesus, you aren’t putting your faith in the only one who can save you from your sins.  You’re striving to do something, most likely to prove you’re good enough to rise above the wrongs you’ve done.   And be real:   everyone does something wrong.   Wrong equals sin.   We all sin; we’re all thick with sin.  There’s nothing we can do to undo the consequences of those sins, both against other people and, as believers, against the righteous justice of God.   If you aren’t following Jesus, you’re doing something to overcome those sins.  THAT point segues directly into verse 3, where the verse talks about salvation.

Only Jesus has atoned for your sins.   Only Jesus can save me, you, or anyone from the eternal consequences of our sins.  God is perfect and just and righteous and all love.   He made us to love us and for us to live in perfect harmony with that love for all time.   Yet, to maintain that just, righteous, perfect love, God can’t tolerate our sins.   He gave us the free will to follow completely or sin.   Being a loving parent, He allows us to choose what we do, including the consequences.  But to maintain His perfection He can’t allow our constant imperfections to taint Him.   If He did, He wouldn’t be perfect, He wouldn’t be God.  That can’t be allowed, and let’s keep it real:   we wouldn’t really want it.

I am not perfect and I’m not just or righteous on my own.   I can’t atone for myself.  I can make some amends for the wrongs I’ve done to God and other people, but in truth I can’t atone for everything.   As an absolute, if I can’t atone for everything then I really can’t atone for everything.   I’m not God.  Neither are you.  We can’t save ourselves from the punishment we deserve:   damnation and separation from God.

Jesus did.

He did and He did it as fully man and fully God all at the same time.   It’s a mystery, THE mystery of the ages, how Jesus lived, died, and atoned for all sins.   He took on Himself the eternal damnation that even the least of my sins deserves and He made it right.   He made unclean man right and righteous again so that we can again live in the harmony with God that God originally intended.   The truly good news of all history is how He saved us from the eternal consequences our sins deserve.   All of Scripture is God testifying through men how He did this.   Those twelve men who Jesus taught during His ministry here inspired dozens, then hundreds, then millions of others to share this good news with others.   The Bible does this.   Pastors, ministries, whole lifetimes do this.   Even our words here together do this.   It’s all because of what Jesus did those thousands of years ago.   On my own, I’m not good enough.   Jesus is and with Him, He made me good enough.

What do two verses really mean?   As it turns out, quite a lot.

For more reading:   Deuteronomy 33:2, Romans 11:22.

Lord Jesus, I follow You.   Thank You for saving me, for forgiving me, for doing what I can’t.   Help me to live in ways to share this message with the world.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 17 August 2015

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” “What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Mark 10, verses 1-4.

Did you notice the sleight of hand when it came to divorce?   The Pharisees start questioning Him.   Jesus answers with a question, and they did a little word switcheroo that tried to bait and switch the conversation.

Nothing has changed.

A few years ago, my wife and I nearly divorced; I’ve covered the reasons why many times before. Yet it was Jesus who made the difference in our lives between divorce and reconciliation.   We couldn’t have come back together without His intervention in our lives and in our marriage. I say this because, until that time, I had looked at marriage the way the Pharisees did.   We’re permitted to do this or that because of X or Y.   It’s true that, in other places in the Bible Jesus spells out conditions for divorce, but nowhere does He lay out that it’s a desirable option.   Indeed, here in Mark 10, Jesus is spelling out the exact opposite and it goes right over the heads of the hard-hearted Pharisees.

They looked at marriage the way I used to: disposable.   The Pharisees didn’t spell out the conditions for it or why a couple would divorce.   They simply looked at it as a permissible thing. Moses the lawgiver even said so…

But that wasn’t what Jesus asked them.

In fact, thus far in the chapter, Jesus hasn’t said anything at all about divorce.   Instead of outlining twelve-step program, Jesus responds with a question to make them think:   “What did Moses command you?”   He was saying “what did I say to you through Moses?” And, like I probably would have, they responded by getting bogged down in details while dodging Jesus’ question. Instead of answering the question – what did Moses COMMAND – they change the subject:   Moses PERMITTED.

That matters because nothing much has changed.   I say this from experience because, when my marriage was dying, I was letting it die. Actually, I was trying to kill it. It was all about me, all about what I felt and didn’t feel, what I was and wasn’t getting from the relationship, my wants and not what mattered.   To me, divorce was permissible.   But when Jesus manned me up, I saw that I wasn’t giving to the relationship, that my transgressions were what broke it down, and that I needed to confess, forgive, seek forgiveness, and change. More than all that, I came to see how Jesus wants us whole in Him first and foremost above anything else, even our marriages. Once we go to Him, things can change.

I know that so many people have legitimate reasons for divorcing, but I wonder how many people truly bring themselves to put it all at the cross before pulling the trigger.   Moses permitted us to divorce; our system permits it; our code of conduct sometimes even seems to demand it.   But that isn’t what Jesus commanded. He said that what God brought together no man should pull apart.   THAT is what Moses commanded.

Lord, thank You for healing my marriage, for my wife, and for all the blessings You give my family through our marriage.

Read Mark 10, verses 1-12.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 April 2015.

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”  Mark 6, verse 37.

Think about those six words:   you give them something to eat.   They’re command, question, empowerment and charter, challenge and mystery.

As you know by now, we’re in the story of the five loaves and two fish.  It’s the one in which Jesus feeds 5000 men.   Did you know that it was just men who were counted?   If you didn’t, that means that Jesus actually fed many, many more than just 5000.   Chances are the number was between twenty and thirty thousand or more (if you include women and children).  It wasn’t the disciples who did the miracle; they punted to Jesus.   And Jesus didn’t punt:   he picked up the ball and threw a touchdown.   But enough of my football analogy.

Before Jesus went all Roger Staubach, however, He commanded, questioned, empowered, and challenged His disciples while all the while keeping up the mystery of His crazy ministry.

Time to think about it again:   Jesus commanded the twelve tired men to give thirty thousand hungry, dirty, loud strangers something to eat.   In a few verses, we learn that the disciples respond in logic (and a little whining) instead of in faith.   But in reality they did what we would do.   If my boss told me to go feed thirty thousand people, my first response to him would be an incredulous “how.”  Yet Jesus commanded them to do it anyway.   Do you wonder why?   Maybe He was commanding them that, because they had just spent time in remote areas doing healing and miracles, they should continue to rely on their faith to feed the hungry group.   He told them to have faith.   How would you or I respond to that?

In the same verse, he questioned them.   More to the point, he forced them to question themselves.   “How are we gonna do that?”   “What does He mean?”  I’m sure Peter, James, and John had some go-to defensive posture just like we would have but do you think they honestly tried to noodle what Jesus was telling them to do, or did they simply see only the natural, earthly aspects of it?   My money is on door number two.

Yet Jesus empowered them.   When He commands, He gives us all we need to do something.   He told the disciples to give the people food.   He knew what they didn’t (and what we wouldn’t either):   everything we need can be found in Jesus through faith.   Faith can produce food.   Faith can heal.   Faith can help and give hope.   Faith is our bridge to forever.   Jesus knew this, and whether the disciples knew it or not, He was giving them all they needed to finish the job.

And finally, in those same words, Jesus challenged them.   He gave them a hefty order:   feed thirty thousand strangers.   We soon learn that there are only five loaves of barley bread and a couple of puny fish.  He was testing them but, more than that, I think He was challenging them to stretch their faith, to lean on it to produce more than just some magic trick.   As we’ll see, they weren’t up to it.

But Jesus was and that’s more important.   Tell me:  does Jesus command, question, empower and challenge you with His mysterious ways?   Do you read these words and find He’s telling you things you never thought were possible?

Lord, I’m scary amazed at how You use the supernatural in the natural world.   Thank You for commanding, questioning, empowering and challenging me here today.

Read Mark 6, verses 30-44.