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 Hebrews, 18 May 2017

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10, verses 24-25.

I’m building a collection of rocks around the base of the cross we built by my pond.   At our old house, I had built a similar collection of stones from all around the world.   California, Florida, China, Uganda:   wherever I went, I picked up a rock.  They were put in a special planter built for just that purpose, but when we moved I left the rocks there.   Now, I’m building a new collection and it already has rocks from Walt Disney World, the Gulf Coast, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and places all over Texas.   I even have an old chunk of amethyst my Mom had acquired (I believe) at a rock quarry in Arkansas way back when I was a kid.

Somehow it seems neat to me to gather stones from all over the world to place them there at the foot of the cross.   That cross was almost the first project we did when we moved into this house last year.   The day after we took possession, my son, son-in-law, and I cut down a tree in our woods, fashioned it into a cross, bolted and roped it together, and then installed it in concrete.   A few months later, I wrapped it in solar lights so that it lights up at night.   When you drive by our house at night, you can see the cross, reflected off the pond.   It’s our own kind of witness to our friends and neighbors.

What does this have to do with verses 24 and 25?   To be honest, I’m not sure it has anything to do with it.  Then again..

…Then again, maybe it has everything to do with it.  My rock collection is like a collection of people, coming together to worship and make the cross of the Lord look better.  The longer we live here, the more it matters to give glory to God.  There are rocks of different shapes, different composition, different colors.   All together, they’re a mosaic.   They’re a strong base that gives the structure both foundation and beauty.

They’re like a church.   We started going to our home church, Waters Edge Frisco, in 2006, when it was still worshiping in a school.   Eleven years, several pastors, a discordant split, and hundreds of members later, I hardly recognize the place for all the new faces and new directions in which it’s moving.   That’s a good thing.   The people of God are the church, not some building or even some congregation.   We’re supposed to move in the world, yet we’re also called to come together to give glory to God.  When we do, it’s a refreshing thing to see a fresh, new mosaic of people calling that place home while others from the past have gone on to color their new homes with the purpose and freshness then once brought to ours.   That, too, is a good thing, for the body of God is alive.

We go to church to be the church, and the more I grow in faith, the more I value my time with my fellow believers.   We’re like those stones around the cross, bringing purpose, beauty, and strength to worship our God.   The more I grow in my faith, though, the more I see that the worship isn’t about our purpose, beauty or strength.   We get those things from God Himself.   They aren’t ours alone.   They aren’t even ours to give.   They’re qualities given to people to share in God’s greater mission.   All the more as we see the days of the end approaching, it’s a good thing to come together as groups and gather around the cross to simply worship He who was once nailed to it.   In doing so, we encourage each other and build each other up.

When we give glory to Jesus, He shines that glory out over us like the Sun warming the land.

It’s my hope to one day build that rock collection so big that it overtakes the cross.   I’ll have to expand around it at that point.   It’s my hope that friends, family and, better yet, strangers, will look at the collection and ask how it came to be, and what it means.   It’s my hope that, in a pile of rocks, they’ll see a unique glimpse of the Savior.

For further reading:  Titus 2:14, Acts 2:43, Hebrews 3:13, 1 Corinthians 3:13.

Lord, may I be Your rock in a wonderful collection of other stones.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 September 2014

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey– Mark 1, verse 6.

Let’s start this out by saying “so what?” So what if this strange guy in the desert wore camel’s hair, a leather belt, and ate organic natural food?   Half of California does that!   In words that seem to exemplify our time in history, “at this point, what difference does it make?”

Maybe a lot.

Matthew described John this way as well.   Some scholars think that means Matthew took his testimony from Mark’s. Some think that the wearing of camel hair and eating wild insects signified living an ascetic life of denial; hold that thought.   And some others think that John might have been on to something because a diet of natural sugar and protein is highly recommended for anyone who wants to lead a lean but active lifestyle.

God’s provision is where I think it goes. I mean, if you trust God to provide for your basic needs, then that gives you much, much more time to focus on what’s important (namely, your mission to herald the soon-to-arrive Messiah). I wonder if John decided that he didn’t want to sweat the small stuff, like food and clothing, and focus, instead, on confronting the sinners who came to see him and telling them about the deliverer who was well on His way.

In reality, perhaps the way it matters a lot is because all of those things could be true. We don’t know whether Matthew copied Mark or who wrote first:   the veracity of the testimony is what matters.   And centuries of analysis and comparisons show that the Gospels are remarkably complementary to each other, not contradicting while each granting perspectives about Jesus that other witnesses couldn’t provide. The ascetic claim has merit.   If you live a life of self-denial in service of your God, others take you seriously. John had standing because he publicly, strenuously, vociferously walked the walk while talking the talk. And we can’t discount that God provided highly nutritious natural food to a strident worker who always needed quick energy. In survival training, instructors teach you how to live off the land.   Two of the foods that are highly recommended are honey and insects.   John the Baptist knew this and he wasn’t exactly a modern day prepper.

Yet it is because of these descriptions of John that, centuries later, we remember him as a serious and committed man.   His testimony is reliable because he was down for the struggle as shown in how he lived past the basics. John didn’t have to focus on where his next meal would come from because he kept that part of his life simple.   He trusted God. It allowed him to focus all his energy on Jesus. THAT, perhaps, is the most important aspect of all.

Granted, it might be entertaining (to others) if you dropped by Buffalo Wild Wings to order locusts and honey; the reaction you get may not be what you expect.   But if it helps you skinny down to only what matters most (like John the Baptist did) then perhaps those locusts wouldn’t be too bad if you dipped them in the honey first.

So what indeed.

Lord, help me to follow John’s example by giving up all worry over simple things so I can focus on the mission You give me today.

Read the descriptions of John’s habits in Mark 1 and Matthew 3.