Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 November 2017

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”  Hebrews 13, verse 6.

This verse actually goes hand-in-hand with verse 5; as you’ll remember, that verse concludes with “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  God will never forsake us and never abandon us no matter what we’ve done.   Even if we lead a life of despicable sin, He will work until our very last moment to turn our hearts back to Him.  When we realize that, we GET TO shed even our worst fears.

Knowing that gave Jesus the courage to hang in agony on the cross.   Knowing that let all His disciples save one to go to their deaths as martyrs.   Knowing that has allowed missionaries for two thousand years to go into the field, turn their worlds upside down, and even risk death for the sake of being “there” and being able to say “do you know this Jesus?”   Knowing that enables you to stand and say “I believe” even when pressures of friends, family, and the world challenge you to deny it.

The world, the devil, and other people can kill your body but nobody can extinguish your soul.   That’s the ultimate truth of faith, namely that eternity really does matter most.

Have you considered that, if you’re consigned to hell, you’re alive?   You aren’t annihilated.   You’re conscious there of what’s happening and you know it forever.   The “life” one leads in hell isn’t the living for which we’re intended.   Indeed, it’s the full consequence of the sins we embrace in this life that separate us from the heart of God.  It is the ultimate separation from the love that makes life worth living.  Misery, anguish, sorrow, pain, torture:  they exist from the inside out for all who walk through hell’s gate.  Hell isn’t a place to which God sentences us:   it’s the place we choose while we’re here by continually rejecting Him.

Here on the Third Rock, each of us lives as a sentient body for only so long and then we enter eternity.   During our time here, God continuously provides for us life, food, water, air, shelter, and love.  He does it until our very last heartbeat.   It’s up to us what we do with those things He gives to us.   Do we only consume them, or do we consume and share them?   Are we only existing or are we existing and thanking God that we are?   Can we get by with what we have or can we get by and then use our time, talents, and treasures to share with others as God shares?   What will you believe and then what will you do about that?

When we turn to God, He begins His work in us.  For us, it starts with “I believe”, realizing that Jesus has already done everything needed for that to happen.  The path to hell is changed into a guaranteed entrance into heaven.   He takes up residence in our hearts and begins to work from the inside out.   He helps us in all we think, say, and do.   No we don’t always get it right, and sometimes we do terribly wrong.   That doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.   It means we’ve chosen something else.   Yet even in the middle of those choices, God’s Spirit is still within us and beckons us to choose differently.   We get to choose life even when we’ve previously chosen death.  To turn from the heart-attitude that caused us to sin and let Him scour it out.   He helps us and flourishes in us.   When that happens, we can’t help but share it, we can’t help but want to follow and do His better will.

When that happens, we begin to realize that nothing can extinguish His love inside us, and nothing can take it away, and nothing can overcome it.  Satan and his world may kill us for it but that won’t stop it.   In the next life, God’s love comes to full miraculous fruition.   Can you imagine, then, what even a hint of His love could do here and now?

The robbers next to Jesus on Calvary both heaped insults and scorn on Him as they hung there dying.   Yet sometime during that day, one of them realized his sin and appealed to Christ for mercy.  In that very moment, Jesus promised the man eternity in paradise; you can have confidence that he’s there now.   Even in those moments of physical torture, God filled up this man’s heart and gave him the courage to die and then truly live.   There are stories of mercy even in the Holocaust of World War II.   There is the story of the girl at Columbine who stood up for her faith and was summarily murdered for it.   Just this past weekend, 26 believers were slaughtered by a lunatic who had gleefully abandoned God.  Those people are more alive now in heaven than they ever were here; I feel pity for the killer who is probably alive some place else.  All of these are manifestations of God’s promise to always help us and quench our fears.   When He is with us, there’s no need to ever be afraid of anything the world thinks it can do.

For further reading:  Psalm 118:6-7, Matthew 13:50, Revelation 20:14-15.

My saving Lord, thank You so much for always being with me.   Thank You for inspiring courage in me.  Thank You for always working Your will in my life.   Help me to better live out Your wonderful will today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 February 2016

The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. Mark 14, verses 46-52.

Bible scholars think the young naked man was John Mark: the same Mark whose book we’ve been examining.   If it isn’t him, then why include this strange and, frankly, inappropriate passage in the narrative?   No matter, I think John Mark’s reaction would be the same one that each of us would have had if we had been present when Jesus was arrested?

“You think I’d go running naked into the night after the church security tried to arrest me?” Yep. I’m saying exactly that.   Don’t worry or feign modesty because I’m right there beside you, streaking towards Jerusalem.

Think about it.   We’ve been following Jesus for awhile.   We aren’t part of His close inner circle, but we’ve been following Him long enough to put our faith in Him, to know that He’s got big things planned.   Just what those ‘big things’ are we can’t really say, but we want to be around when they happen.   You see, He’s been preaching truth and love and endurance and facing up to your problems.   Nobody we know of has ever spoken like this, and based on what we know from what we’ve seen and heard, we agree that He is the Christ:   the Holy One of God promised since the time of our ancient forefathers.   He has finally come, at long last, to restore our nation in more ways than one. We adore Him and believe He knows us fully.

Just five days ago, we walked in the glorious procession behind Him as He entered Jerusalem like an arriving King.   Yet He didn’t lead military columns or come in to vanquish the local government.   Instead, He went to the Temple and did what we’ve wanted to do for a long time:   clean it out; it’s sort of like what we wish He would do to Congress.   Anyway, ever since then, He has been teaching, and dining with close friends, and He’s been different; passionate, insightful, wise and kind, but different.   If Jesus is the Christ we’ve been waiting for, then things aren’t going down the way we always thought they would.

Now come these armed guards, sent by the temple priests, and they’ve arrested Jesus.   They’ve tied Him up and are frog-walking Him away.   They’ve beaten some of His Disciples, and a swordfight broke out.   When the guards came for you and me, we didn’t put up much of a fight because we were confused, addled, scared.   Instead, we struggled to break free and then get away but lost our clothes.   Where they’ve taken Jesus, we don’t know.   All we know is that something bad is going down and it’s going down quick.

So on that chilly Judean Good Friday morning, if I were in Gethsemene at all, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I was running away with John Mark.   Naked, exposed and very afraid.

Lord, forgive my naked fear. Forgive me for not standing by You, for running away when You needed me most.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 June 2015

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.). Mark 9, verses-5-6.

Let’s talk about terror again, about feeling terrified.   And let’s do so without getting all judgy or preachy about it.   You and I can say, from the vantage point of hindsight and so-called ‘modern’ thinking, how small the disciples were; how they should have been elated instead of scared to see what they were seeing in Jesus’ transfiguration. Of course we would be wrong.   We’d be wrong because we’re terrified all the time and in some ways that may not be a bad thing.

Here is a partial list of things that I, as a 48 year old man, still give me pause and fear: spiders, being alone in the dark, losing my family, burning to death.   Wake me out of a sound sleep at 3 AM with loud sounds and you’ll have me completely terrified in an instant.   This kind of terror isn’t what one would feel if confronted by ISIS, or the kind that a politician would feel when he realizes the press is no longer interested in him.   Instead, it’s simply feeling startled, intimidated by the sudden ferocity of having one’s senses assaulted by matters out of your control.

Is this irrational?   Absolutely it is, and I freely embrace that; some would say I embrace irrationality too freely anyway. No matter, I think it was the sheer irrationality of the transfiguration that had Peter, James and John terrified when they saw what was happening before them. I can’t blame them.   Their senses would have been overloaded. Their intellects would have been challenged by past and present, eternal and earthly, all crashing together in an observation of what God’s world really looks like when time and the ephemeral no longer matter.   They must have quickly realized that this man they knew as friend and teacher really was the all-powerful God of all the earth.   Can you imagine how that would have made them feel?

And yet, these were the same all too human men who would return to humanity in all too human ways.   When it ended, they would return to their friends, sworn to secrecy until the time was appointed to tell others. John would see Jesus die and rise, and provider for Jesus’ mother for the rest of her life.   Peter would deny he even knew Jesus before knowing the worst of despair and then the heights of forgiven elation. James would one day die a martyr’s death.

Thus, maybe it’s unfair if we look down on the three apostles for feeling terrified and frightened to see Jesus as He really was.   If Jesus suddenly appeared to me, I doubt I would react any different than the Apostles did if, indeed, I reacted so well as they.

Lord, forgive me my fears, strengthen my faith, and thank You for any way in which You reveal Yourself.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 24 February 2015

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. Mark 5, verses 14-17.

I’m afraid of what I don’t understand.   When I’m confronted with something sudden, something unexpected, or something I don’t understand, I fall back to fear. This past weekend’s episode of “The Walking Dead” was about fear of the unknown.   The group of survivors was presented with a chance to be safe, to be accepted into an unknown group of secure fellow survivors.   The leader (Rick’s) reaction?   He was immediately wary, afraid, cautious, even afraid.   That’s me. When I’m presented with the unknown, I’m immediately wary.   In other words, afraid.

How about you?   I’m no different from the folks who came up on the man from the tombs who was, suddenly, in his right mind for the first time in a long time.   How about you?   Would you feel any different?   You know the answer.

And, in our defense, wariness is not always a bad thing.   It’s a natural, God-given defense against things that could (or might not) harm us.   Until we know more, like Rick in “The Walking Dead,” it’s a healthy thing to be wary.   Even to be afraid.   But that’s where the fear needs to end.   We recently talked about this, about how Jesus is bigger than our fears and how, through Him, we can completely master every fear.

Unfortunately, we’re more like the pig-herders, who saw that something extraordinary had happened, something they couldn’t quite understand.   They had grown used to the man being crazy.   You could say they were complacent with it; you might even be able to reasonably assume they preferred it that way.   It’s the whole ‘devil you know’ thing (pun intended). When he was in his right mind – and when they saw how their livelihood – the pig herd – was destroyed to make the man whole – they didn’t know how to handle him.   Their reaction?   “Go away Jesus. Don’t go away mad.   Just go away.”

Tell me, friend reader, are we any different? You and I, we are complacent with evil in our backyards.   ‘As long as it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care what they do.’   NIMBY. You get the picture.   I mentioned yesterday how I believe evil lurks even in the suburbs.   An example of that is how a neighborhood just down the street from mine recently drove out a girls’ shelter that wanted to set up shop there.   We have a huge teen abuse and drug problem in Frisco and this shelter wanted to help for a number of reasons, not the smallest being the neighborhood’s proximity to a good school.   Instead, the residents of the neighborhood drove it out.   It’s sort of like they pleaded with Jesus for Him to leave.

Admit it:   we’re no different.   Are we the townspeople, the zombies, or the unkind neighborhood? We’re afraid of what we don’t understand and we sometimes refuse to let Jesus conquer those irrational fears.

Lord, I confess my fears to You.   Teach me to conquer them.   Fight for me.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 13 February 2015

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4, verses 35-41.

With power in Jesus, we can do anything.

You see, I’m like the disciples: it’s all about me.   Don’t you love how they try to blame Jesus for their predicament?   Nobody forced them to get into the boat; they went willingly.   The sea was an inland sea, and while the squall must have been frightening, please:   get a grip.   They could have made it through. When they discover they might be in danger, they wake up Jesus and rag on Him.   “Don’t you care what happens to US?”   “You chose US!”   “WE matter.”   What does Jesus do?   He saves them, corrects them, rebukes them, and loves them.   He isn’t afraid and asks them, not accuses them, why they are letting their petty fears get the best of them.

There’s a lesson in that:   fear nothing.   As long as we abide in Jesus’ grace, we have nothing to fear.   He even says so:   “why are you so afraid?” Jesus was with them. More importantly, Jesus had imparted faith into their lives.   Faith in God through Him.   Because of that, they need not have had any fear.   Neither should we.   Afraid of walking in the dark? Be cautious but don’t be afraid.   Afraid of the bully at school?   Be prepared but don’t be afraid.   Afraid to face your fears, or face your past, or face the music after you’ve done wrong?   Be ready, but don’t be afraid. As long as you abide in Jesus, fear will flee you and enable you to do magnificent things…

….things such as quieting a storm with simple words of faith.   I personally know men who have participated in exorcisms that have driven out demons.   I personally know people who have spoken healing over others in pain and watched that pain turn immediately to relief.   I personally have known weak people made strong in heart and body.   The commonality in all these things: faith in Jesus. It reminds me of something my pastor said last week:   we seem to forget to take Jesus at His word.   If He says we can do something through Him, He means we can do something through Him.   All things are possible through Jesus.

Yet notice He keeps it real: “SO afraid.” Jesus acknowledges human fear is a natural reaction, not a character flaw.   He sees that we immediately feel trepidation at some things because that’s a physiological reaction to stimulus. It’ a defense mechanism He made into us.   Yet He then says “trust me, not your fear.”   Get over it and get back to Me because I’m bigger than all that.

Lord, You’re bigger than my fears.   Help me to overcome them.

Read the rest of Mark 4.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 12 January 2015

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”  And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”  Mark 3, verses 20-22.

Are you afraid?   Fear:  isn’t that at the nub of what was really going on here?   Picture Jesus, being Himself – that is, unconventional, radical, caring, teaching – being invited to a friend’s house.   The folks of the town heard about the famous teacher and they crowded Him; Taylor Swift kind of crowds.   They gathered in crowds so dense, so pressing and needy, that Jesus and His friends couldn’t even sit down for a meal.  Imagine the subway at rush hour, or piling into a football stadium for the Super Bowl, or the Mall on the pay day before Christmas.   This was more crowded.  And some of the crowd seemed afraid.

His family was around him.   I take that to mean that the location of this house was either near Nazareth, where Jesus had grown up, or that His mother, brothers, or sisters traveled with Him at this time.   We don’t really know.  All we can say is what Mark does:   that they tried to shut Him down.  They tried to shut him down because they seemed afraid.   Afraid of Jesus’ words, afraid of the crowds, afraid of something:  it’s another thing we don’t know.   But they were so afraid that they felt an urgent need to corral Jesus and ‘take charge of Him.”   As if they could.   What’s more, they felt so strongly about it that they were willing to lie about it.   “He is out of His mind.”  That’s a bald lie.

It’s hardly what someone says when they love you.   “Don’t listen to Dave:   he’s crazy.”   “That guy is a loon.”  You get the picure.   Hardly loving words, especially since their words fed those of the rabbis (who also followed Jesus around), who wanted to shut up Jesus in any way possible.   ‘He is possessed by the devil.’   That’s what the leading Jewish interpreters said.

So here’s a news flash:   they seemed pretty afraid as well.   I suppose there were some who had genuine concern to protect the integrity of the rich Jewish tradition.   Their fear would seem understandable since what Jesus said & did was so confrontational and challenging.   What He said, however, didn’t contradict God’s commands or His love.   Indeed, had they listened closer, perhaps they would have let go of their fear.   And I suppose, too, there were those who were afraid of what could happen to them if the people listened closely enough to Jesus and maybe wised up.  That, too, is understandable, if inexcusable.  So they were afraid enough to jump to the conclusion that Jesus must be Satanic.

Tell me:   how are we different?   We get to know Jesus by His word and Spirit; are we afraid of what He says, afraid of what it could mean to us?  The Judean people knew Him in person.   They saw Him as the man He was, and came to know Him as fully man and fully God.   My pastor said this yesterday:   Jesus had to be both for Him to do what He did.   Yet some became afraid of Him…just like some of us.  Why?

Lord, forgive me my fears.

Re-read Mark 3, verses 20-34.