Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 11 July 2018

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 (NIV).

When I was a kid, I spent most of my middle school years in southeast Oklahoma.  During lunch hours, I sat with kids who talked about their churches (really, they did).   It was the late 1970s, and they talked a lot about the end times, about the days and things that will happen when Jesus returns.   I had attended church all my life, the churches I had attended were mainstream northern protestant (Lutheran or Presbyterian), not charismatic evangelicals such as Baptist, Assemblies of God, or Pentecostal.  I had never learned about any of this, and what they said scared the crap out of me, making me question whether I was good enough for Jesus.

I felt angry, upset at how they treated this end-times news as if it was some special information only they knew about.   These teenagers tossed it around as if it was something cool, something given just to them, and when I started asking questions they responded with, “DON’T YOU KNOW THIS?”   I didn’t.   That was the point when I gave up.

News flash:   on our own, you and I AREN’T good enough for Jesus.   We choose other things and separate ourselves from Him.   But it isn’t up to us to do things to become “good enough” for Him.  We can’t.   He’s already done everything necessary to repair our relationship.  At the cross, He replaced our sin with His blood and our uncleanness with His purity.   When His Father sees us, all He sees is Jesus covering one of His beloved children.

Here’s a second news flash:   this is for everyone.   It isn’t just for Christians or evangelicals.  It isn’t just for people who look or think like you, and it isn’t just for the people you like.   It isn’t just for black people or white people, and it isn’t just for Americans or Ugandans or underground believers who defy Communist China.  Jesus is coming back and He’s coming back with holy fire to make all things new, and He wants everyone to know so they can believe in Him first.   It isn’t a secret, and we aren’t to act as if you need a secret handshake to know it.  We aren’t better than anyone just because we know it even if we may be better informed.   Get with the program but don’t be a jerk about it.

For further reading: Philippians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Kings 17:18, Isaiah 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Lord, help Me to witness for You today to everyone.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 5 June 2018

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NIV).

I’ve long struggled with the boundaries we place over how much “the church” should govern our lives.   In this verse, Paul seems to be saying “fully!”   Indeed, Paul stresses in nearly all of his letters that we should do good for each other, and treat each other with maximum forgiveness and maximum kindness.   In that respect, what we worship and celebrate on Sundays “in church” should govern every minute of our lives all week long, not just once a week.   More important, we should be loving to everyone, not just the people like us.

And I struggle with that.   Do you?   I’d be surprised if you didn’t.

It’s tough to really, really absorb words of the New Testament that tell us to give up ALL control over our lives and trust Jesus to remake us.   We rail against that, even more so since we’re “independent Americans.”  We value our self-reliance and our independent streak.   Jesus tells us, though, to give up that independence and depend fully on Him.   He asks us to be His brother and sister, His friend, His fellow man, and He proves Himself to be God Immanuel, our only need.  He proves hAnd in spite of all that, we STILL rail against it.   We still struggle with giving ourselves over to Him to really, truly love our fellow man.

Paul asks us to “strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”   He isn’t talking about just our family and friends.   In Paul’s day, he was talking about doing good for the Romans, and the Greeks who mocked him, and the Jews who tried to kill him over and over.   He tells us to model our hearts, and then our hands, on Jesus, who gave Himself up to His created beings so that they wouldn’t have to endure spiritual agony.

He did it for you and me, too.

And we struggle with it.   Surely there’s something more we must do to be worthy of it.   Yes, I really do know better!   And “that guy” or “that woman” who hurt me, well, they don’t deserve forgiveness.  I’ll give over 99.9% of everything to God but that .01%, well, that’s not part of the bargain.

You know it is.

You can live a “good life” without being believing in Jesus.   There are millions of people who do just that, and they seem like decent people (even though they’re immortally lost).  Yet without Jesus, they live for nothing of real value.   With Jesus, they live for the only thing of value in life.   How much do you struggle with that idea?

For further reading:  Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9, Ephesians 4:32, 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Lord Jesus, forgive me for how I struggle against You.   Teach me Your better way.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 September 2016

how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?  Hebrews 2, verse 3.

Let’s talk about choosing and free will.   A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about a conversation I had with an atheist friend.   One thing that conversation had in common with others like it is that we talked about free will.

Free will is a concept I’m not sure unbelievers really grasp.

It’s not that unbelievers don’t understand what free will is.   Indeed, in my experience, atheists and unbelievers stridently guard the territory of free will and free choice.   They jealously guard their right to refuse to believe in God, Jesus, or anything resembling the Christian faith.   That’s their right as Americans.   As a believer, I look at my unbelieving friends and sometimes think they’re only a small step away from actually embracing Christian faith.   After all, it’s easier for someone who says “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” to come to faith than it is someone who says “I reject that.”   The mind (and heart) is more open to alternatives they might not have otherwise considered.

Yet even knowing that, I’m still left at the point of seeing how free will isn’t really, fully grasped by unbelievers.   They don’t fully see that free will is itself a gift from God and even a fruit of God’s Spirit.  What they purport to reject is the blessed source of their cherished right.

A follower of Jesus sees that it is a blessing that God allows us to choose whether or not to believe in Him, to love Him.   Compulsion isn’t love.   He wants us and He wants us to want Him.  If God were Allah and looking for us to do things to please Him, we’d find we never really can please Him.  Allah would be perfect and we imperfect:   there’s no way for him, or us, to bridge the imperfection gap.   But God did make a bridge:   Himself, in Jesus Christ.   All He asks is that we believe in Him.   We don’t have to ‘do’ anything to please or placate or satisfy Him:   all that needed to be done to satisfy God and His holy requirement for justice was done by Jesus on the Cross.

To believe in Him, God gives us free will.   We can choose to believe in Him or we can choose to not believe in Him.   It’s as simple as that.   He doesn’t ask us to come to Him because we HAVE TO.   He asks us to come to Him because we want to.   And He helps us see that coming to Him is good in itself.   By willingly going to God, we get to share in His love, justice, peace, contentment and sharing heart.  He gives us hints at it in providing for us in every way possible.   God air in your lungs?   It’s because of God.   Got 24 hours in a day?   Because of God.   Got food, friends and folks who love you, a beautiful sunset, anything else?   God.   We can freely choose to believe these are gifts of God or we can freely choose to believe they aren’t.   God allows us either way.   What’s more, He provides for us whether we believe in Him or not.

It’s just that the eventual penalty for rejecting His gift of saving love will be permanent.   The hell God created as the final repository for rebellious angels can be ours for the choosing as well.   Let’s not even discuss how rejecting God and ensuing bad choices can lead to disaster here on the Third Rock.   No, let’s keep our eyes focused on the fact that, after our time here is over, if we’ve spent our choices rejecting God, He’ll let us reap the consequence of it.   That means hell.   Party over, oops, out of time, as Prince might have sung.   I’d rather avoid that.   It’s ok if all that is frightening because there’s a better way.

Mind you, this isn’t judgmental.   I believe in Jesus but I’m no better than anyone else.   My life is made better by believing in Him, following Him, but it doesn’t make me ‘better than’ anyone else.   If I come off as “judgy,” feel free to upbraid me because I deserve it.   These are simply facts and opinions about something that’s really incontrovertible.  We can’t change that God gives us the free will to do as we please.   We can’t change God and we can’t stop Him.   God does as He pleases and, because He’s God and all good, what He pleases to do is right even if we don’t see it as right.

I’m not sure unbelievers understand the great gift that is free will.   Indeed, I haven’t even done it justice in these few words.  How must it feel for God to see people He loves rejecting Him?   Or for Him to see us say we believe yet keep on sinning (which is still rejection of Him)?  You could spend whole books talking about nothing more than the blessing of being able to choose God’s life and love instead of being compelled to endure it.  What say you?

For more reading:   Hebrews 10:29, Hebrews 12:25, Hebrews 1:2, Luke 1:2.

Lord God, thank You for the blessing of free will, for letting me love You instead of having to love you.   Please continue to bless others and use me as an instrument to help others come to You.

Practical Provebial, from Mark, 21 October 2015

And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ Mark 11, verse 17.

There’s a clause in verse 17 that I’d like to talk about because it is the invitation you’ve been waiting for.

Last week I was talking with a friend about a mission trip I took to Communist China six years ago.   On my laptop background there is a picture of several children I met there in a remote mountain village. My friend and I were talking about how those of us on the trip communicated with those kids.   Not only were there obvious language barriers.   It was also communicated to us that we, as Christians, were not to initiate conversations about Jesus with any of the local villagers.   But, if the villagers initiated such conversation, we were free to respond.   My friend, who is a skeptic, asked “how could you talk about this Jesus if you weren’t allowed to even mention Him?”

Good question and it hits on verse 17.

I replied to her that we got to ‘be Jesus’ instead of talking about Him.   We got to act kindly, serve others through our work, be patient, listen and smile.   We got to act in ways that we thought Jesus would around strangers; see ‘fruits of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5.   In this way, perhaps these kids would remember that these Americans who called themselves Christians and followers of Jesus were motivated by something other than themselves. We couldn’t talk about Jesus but maybe we got to do something better by simply acting the way He might have.

The reason for this is because ‘my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’

You see, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit want all people of all kinds everywhere to know this Triune God personally and intimately. It isn’t an invitation just for white people, or Americans, or Baptists, or people with some secret password. God wants His house – you and wherever you are – to be a house of prayer.   He wants you and I – His church – to be people who are living vessels of worship in the world, everywhere, for ALL nations.   God wants all people of all races in all places to know Him.   And if they don’t know Him, then you and I get to facilitate the introduction.

The best way to facilitate that introduction is by walking the walk of a faithful believer.

I’ll admit:   I struggle with that. On mission trips it’s easy to act in ways you might not at home.   Back at home, however, my words and actions all too often contradict the desire in my conflicted heart to better serve Jesus.   I know I can do that best by living out those fruits of the Spirit; as the hymn says “they will know we are Christians by our love.”   All too often, though, I fail spectacularly, which is why I constantly need Jesus to keep coming back to me and reminding me that He forgave me and made it possible for me to turn from all that.   When I do that, miracles happen, like showing a little love to some orphan kids half way around the world, then, years later, sharing that story with folks who want to know more.

Lord, let the house of my heart be a house of prayer for You.   Help me to act out my love for You.

Read Mark 11, verses 12-25.