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 Hebrews, 29 December 2016

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Hebrews 6, verses 4-6.

Something else that needs to be said, and this is going to be harsh.

“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”   We do it every day.   It’s why He chose the cross; it’s why, every day, He chooses it again and again when you and I, selfish bastards that we are, keep stabbing him with those Roman nails.   We do it with our sins, small and large, even the ones we don’t think amount to much.   Have you begun to realize all the effects of your God-damned sins?   Yes, I said that.   Your sins and mine:   they’re cause for God to damn us to eternal punishment.   Personally, I think that punishment starts here and now and only gets worse as we go.   God damn us for all of our sins.

Enough of the profanity.   I hope you don’t mind it too much…it’s for effect and I’m hoping that it makes you think, maybe even a little angry.  You should be righteously angry at sin; angry enough to do something about it.   Jesus did.   And yet we keep taking up that hammer and ramming those nails back into His hands and feet.

Every single time you and I fail we nail Jesus back to that cross.   He suffered mortal agony the first time around, and then He suffered spiritual agony being ripped apart from His Divine being (so as to suffer and redeem us) while still being inevitably matched to Him as well.   Then He rose three days later, making death and suffering moot forever.  And yet every minute since, whenever someone has done, said or thought anything contrary to Him, it’s like we have nailed Him back onto that cross.

Here in the first-world, we persecute those who believe in Jesus.   You’ve done it; so have I.   Huh?   You bet you have.   Ever been afraid to speak up and say you’re a believer?   Ever been ashamed of your faith because the ‘cool kids’ didn’t seem to be ashamed of themselves?   Ever felt even the slightest bit sanctimonious when you did speak up, not realizing your proud sanctimony is a disgrace to Him who loves us unselfishly?  Every single time we do things like these, even the tiniest thing, we are disgracing Jesus again.   We are joining in with the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who spit on Him, screamed at Him, hated Him.  You and I already know it’s un-cool to be a believer in Hollywood or even on social media.   That’s persecution my friend, even if it’s soft-boiled.

And REAL persecution?   You know, the kind that gets you killed for being a believer?   It’s happening in every Muslim country on the planet.   It’s happening on steroids in places controlled by ISIS and Boko Haram.   It’s still happening in communist strongholds like Cuba, and China, and North Korea.   Don’t fool yourself:   when you and I sin, we’re joining in the execution squads in Iran who torture you, then stand you up against the wall simply for saying “I believe in Jesus and not Mohammed.”

Like I said, God damn us for our sins.   He can, He will, He doesn’t want to, but He must if we don’t repent of them.   God is holy and must be holy.   Our very lives depend on it.  If He isn’t, even for an iota of a second, then this whole universe comes apart.   The places where the spiritual and physical intertwine would become explosion points of sin if there is no holy and just Lord God Almighty to bind them together.

Thank God that He is the cure for the common damnation.   The cure for damnation is Jesus.   Every time we do the difficult, mature thing and turn from our sins, it’s like witnessing Jesus rise from death again.   We’re the women at the garden tomb, clinging fast to our risen Lord.   We’re the blind man who can see again because He healed us.   We’re Peter, restored to faith after denying Him three times.   If our sins nail Him to that cross every time, then our repentance and re-acceptance of His gift of true salvation is being restored into His resurrection.   Damnation becomes simply a road we didn’t follow when we step back onto the path of following Jesus.   Then and only then do we grasp how He was ready for us all along.   The salvation wasn’t undone by our rebellion even as our rebellion renounced our acceptance of His salvation.

For further reading:   Luke 2:14, Philippians 3:12-14, Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 9:14, John 3:25, Acts 6:6, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:24, Acts 18:21.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for all You did in saving us.   I’m truly sorry for the sins I’ve done that nailed You to the cross.   I’m truly sorry that I’ve kept on doing them.   Live in me and strengthen me to turn from my awful sins and to follow only 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.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 December 2014

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.  When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea. Mark 3, verses 7-8.

The folks in Judea had heard about Jesus performing miracles. And about how He confronted the Pharisees.   And about how His words were compelling yet caring, about how He spoke of the Kingdom of God as a place of real love and brotherhood.   Many of them had seen or met John the Baptist, who spoke about Jesus.   The people of Judea had heard about how people just like them had dropped everything to follow this new rabbi, just to hear what He said.

In 2000 years, what has changed?

I mean, the stories of people who follow Jesus and whose lives are transformed by Him are astounding. One of my heroes is Billy Graham, who has personally preached the Good News of Christ to millions of people in stadiums, churches, and meetings all across the planet.   How many untold millions, maybe billions, of people in history and alive even now had their hearts changed by listening to someone like Mr. Graham, or to a local preacher, a minister, or a servant of the church and then letting themselves ask that question:   “what about all that?”

Yet far more people learn about Jesus from folks like you and me.   It’s the Holy Spirit acting through us in moments of kindness.   Last night, while driving along a narrow highway, an old man driving a motorhome in front of me hit something on the road.   I don’t know what he hit, but it seriously damaged his RV.   When I finally got to the scene of the accident, amidst all the honking, broken pieces, and careless frustration, a young man had stopped his truck and was gently walking the frightened old man around, helping him sort out what had happened.   The vehicles had different license plates, so I can only surmise that the old and young men weren’t acquainted; they were strangers.

Jesus was walking with them.   In a practical moment of fear and need, Jesus reached out through a stranger and helped another stranger.   That happens far more than conversions in a church service or even by people reading a blog like this one.   Yes, those things matter and they can help, yet it is Jesus’ Holy Spirit living out through each of us that most effectively spreads His good news today.

There’s my Facebook friend who turned her life of alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity, and desperation into one of serving others with her practical work, her practical words, and her testimonies in a growing Florida church: all because someone reached out to her in her need with a caring hug from Jesus.   There is another friend whose heart was cold towards God for decades yet has only recently begun to warm to Him when she witnessed the real love of believers at a wedding then soon after a funeral. There is the fact that the world’s largest Christian nation is now the People’s Republic of China.   Communist China, where the pagan communist government has worked to stamp out all worship except that of the state and yet the church still grows underground to over 100 million active members.

It’s not about me or you.   It’s about Jesus: just like it was 2000 years ago. It’s Him living through us.

Lord, help me to always see how all in life is about You.   Live through me to reach others.

Read ahead in Mark 3, verses 7-12.