Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

Last time we talked about the Alamo.   Today let’s talk about rebuilding.   You saw the stories over the weekend:  Hurricane Irma smacked the Caribbean and Florida.   A number of people lost their lives, millions of people had their lives impacted (many destroyed), and billions of dollars will be needed to build back.

On Sunday morning, I saw a Tweet about Samaritan’s Purse.   Threading a short time between two hurricanes, Samaritan’s Purse landed an airplane full of supplies and volunteers in St Martin.   Irma laid waste to the island late last week; Jose threatened to do so soon after.  Fortunately, Hurricane Jose turned north instead of passing over the island.  Yet the volunteers from Franklin Graham’s Christian charity didn’t know that would happen when they landed.    Thinking they would have only a short time, the afflicted islanders worked quickly with the frightened volunteers to distribute tons of water, medical supplies, and critically needed food.

In the weeks since Hurricane Harvey, thousands of volunteers have been working behind the scenes to clean up and restore normalcy to the lives of the millions of people affected by that storm.   In the days since the earthquake in Mexico killed 90 people, volunteers and neighbors have been working to bring in food and help to total strangers.   In battling fires in Montana and California, thousands of firefighters have been working around the clock to put out fires so that the lives and livelihoods of total strangers aren’t destroyed.  Every day, ordinary people in ordinary neighborhoods commit their lives to others’ needs so that kids can grow, grandparents can endure, and families can succeed.

They’re all running with perseverance the race marked out for them because many of them, maybe most of them, have their eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.   More than that, Jesus is the ONLY real comfort for those who have been savaged by these acts of a fallen nature.

The writer of Hebrews spent the entire previous chapter citing acts of faith that the ancient heroes of the Bible performed.  He then takes that testimony about those men and calls them ‘witnesses’ to our ability to throw off all that hinders and the sins that entangle us.   After all, they did.   Don’t go off thinking that Moses, Jacob, Gideon and the rest were supermen.   They weren’t.   They were people, sinners in need of a God who could redeem them from the things they had taken into themselves.  Yet they had something in common with those folks from Samaritan’s Purse and those ordinary people everywhere:   faith in God.

Faith in God makes the difference between living an ordinary life where sin entangles and an extraordinary life as an ordinary person throwing off that same entangling sin.   Today is the day after the storm caused so much pain; today starts rebuilding.  Today is also 9/11, the commemoration of a wholly different kind of pain and anguish; today commemorates building back.   Who will you trust to help you run your race?   In whom will you put your faith?

You don’t HAVE TO believe in Jesus.   You really don’t.   It’s a choice and this is a free country.   Most of the world doesn’t believe in Jesus; most of the world thinks this Christian faith is a waste of time, foolish even, given that people have only so much time alive here on the third rock.  Why would they ‘waste’ that on some unseen ancient legend?  Yet if you want to live a life of meaning, you can’t do it alone.   Occasionally you need the help of others.   And, when the chips are really down, you find you need a Savior, someone who can help in ways that relief workers, governments and charities can’t.   You need help to get back into the race.  You need someone to save you from yourself and the terrible choices that we, dearly beloved, make when we gather to get through this thing we call “life.”   Even Prince knew that.

So does Franklin Graham, who has dedicated his life to advancing the Gospel of Jesus.  He does it by helping strangers.   I pray that your life isn’t afflicted today, that you know Jesus without pain or suffering.   But when you do encounter pain, I pray that you reach up to grab Christ’s helping hand.   He’ll get you back on your feet to finish the race set before you.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

My Lord Jesus, I believe in You and You alone.   Only You have saved me.  Only You are Savior.  Help me run my race today with confidence, perseverance, and grace.   And thank You for the hearts of servants serving You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 March 2016

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Mark 16, verses 6-7.

God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves.   This week after Easter, that’s good to remember.   That can be difficult as the church year goes on because it’s a few weeks until Pentecost, then a long, long span until the next big event, which is Advent in December.

Really?   Yep.   I mean, who besides those wrapped up in ‘churchy stuff’ follows that kind of thing these days?   You’d be surprised:   there are millions who do. Such things still matter; very much, in fact. And during the summer, when the sun is shining and there are fun things to do, it becomes so easy for us to let our faith in Jesus get stale.   Today, when the feeling of being with a bunch of like-minded believers is fresh, it’s easy to feel great about God.   In a few months, that feeling will wane and it’ll be easier to slip into the groove of “it’s all about me.”

Before that happens, notice that the first person to tell humanity about the resurrection isn’t a person at all.   It’s an angel; it’s a supernatural being.   The first person to speak to humanity was supernatural (God Himself).   The first person to speak to Mary when she learned she would be a mother was supernatural, the angel Gabriel (who had also spoken to the prophet Daniel centuries before).   And the first person to speak to believers after Jesus resurrected was another angel, this one unidentified.

What was the believers’ reaction?   Fear.   Sure, it’s understandable that these humble, mild women would be afraid.   It was, after all, an extraordinary thing.   Don’t forget that the other men and women who had been closest to Jesus were in hiding, afraid of what the Sanhedrin might do.   If the priests were bold enough to take out Jesus, it wouldn’t be a stretch for them to take out Jesus’ inner circle. Indeed, it was a courageous thing for these women to even show their faces yet they did so early in the morning, before the rest of the city was stirring.   Is it surprising that they would be afraid when confronted by the angel?

But that fear is telling.   It’s our reaction today.   9/11 attacks? We were afraid.   The (almost weekly) terrorist homicide, random shooting, or heinous crime in Chicago?   Fear.   Truly polarizing candidates trying to prey on our fears of what ‘the other guy’ will do to the Republic?   They get away with it because we let those fears seem real.   It’s almost as if fear is wired into our psyches.

Hence, God reaches out to us to grab our attention.   He does this because we can’t. We’re paralyzed by our fears; we’re paralyzed by our sins.   When faith is stale, God shakes us up.   In the past, He used the supernatural to crash into our so-called natural world.   Many – myself included – say He still does so today.   He does it to do what we can’t, to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.   Namely, to save us…like He did on Easter Sunday.   Millions of people desperately need it.

Lord, thank You for doing what I can’t, for saving me, for giving me so much better than I deserve.

Read Mark 16, verses 9-20.