Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 March 2016

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. Mark 15, verses 27-32.

This past Sunday, on Palm Sunday, Fox TV broadcast “The Passion:”   a live-action Tyler Perry musical drama about the last days of Jesus.   It was told by modern actors, set in modern-day New Orleans, to the tune of modern pop music with very few lyrics modified. One scene acted out one of the verses above.   In it, Jesus has been apprehended and is being hauled away in a police wagon.   He wears an orange jumpsuit, like other common criminals, and is in the vehicle with 2 other men.   One hurls insults at Him; the other defends Him. Later in the show, a crowd is shown screaming for Jesus’ crucifixion, the release of Barabbas, and Mary’s anguish. The drama didn’t show the actual crucifixion, though it was alluded to by a group of pallbearers carrying a lighted cross through downtown New Orleans.

What struck me about the whole TV show was that it was contemporary and believable.   Yes, there was some ‘mushy theology’ involved, some misquoting of Scripture, and some things that were done out of line in how they actually appeared in the account of Holy Week.   Big freaking deal.   We shouldn’t get wrapped around the axle of details when we can consider what was being done.   I’m told that the Monday morning ratings and reviews for the show weren’t good.   They don’t matter.

Someone used their position to share the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a way that was modern, understandable, and plausible. But it begs the thought:   would we as so-called modern people do the same things that the people of Jerusalem did 2000 years ago?   Would we heap scorn and murder on the Son of God if He showed up here today?   Would we ridicule Him? Would we demand His death?   Would we nail him up with thieves and criminals?   Would we insult Him while He was dying?

Consider the brutality that is reported regularly in our news these days.   ISIS murders thousands of people – Christian and Muslim alike – in the name of their pagan religion. In Chicago, there are a dozen or more murders every weekend, sometimes every day.   Our presidential candidates are conducting their campaigns by appealing to the most base emotions and experiences of a largely uninformed voting public. Leaders in politics, entertainment and business scorn the public, relying on spin and deception to advance their various agendas while getting richer by the minute.

Would we insult the Messiah as He hung there dying?   You bet we would.

Good ratings or not, God bless Tyler Perry for what he did. Thank You Jesus.

Thank You Jesus, my Lord, for inspiring people to tell Your story, to share the precious sacrifice You made for us.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 14 December 2015

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Mark 13, verses 12-13.

The verses are talking about how things will be at the end of time; this is common knowledge.   Have you considered, though, that they apply to more than just end times prophecy?

You see, all those things described in verses 12 and 13 are happening now.   You know as well as I do that they’ve been happening all throughout history.   The first murder was brother betraying brother. If you don’t believe that people will hate you because of Jesus, then you need to consider the fate this year, here and now, of Coptic Christians in Egypt and Iraq; they survived Mubarek and Saddam Hussein but ISIS has exterminated them.   Children rebelling against their parents and having them put to death?   Check Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, even today south of the border in Mexico thanks to the drug cartels.

If you stand up for Jesus, you’re a target. You always have been.   You will be.

Consider the fate of the 12 Apostles.   At the time Jesus spoke these words, they didn’t know it but they were only days away from being hunted fugitives, and Judas Iscariot had only hours left to live. Eleven of the twelve men would die gruesome deaths; only John would live until old age but even he would be tortured numerous times.

Consider these things and then maybe consider that Jesus wasn’t just telling us how things would end for the world:   He was telling us how things could end every single day.   Yes, the price of following Christ would be high.   Could it be any other way when we set ourselves against the world?   If you think of it that way, we are bringing the ‘old Adam’ to his end every day we profess to believe in Jesus, and the old Adam doesn’t die easily.   He’s thick with sin and doesn’t want to let go.   He’s us.   We made him and he doesn’t want to go.

I don’t want to die a painful death.   I don’t want to be tortured or crucified or anything like that.   I want to die like my mom did last year: surrounded by family and in my sleep.   Yet if God wills that I must die for Him in some grotesque or exquisitely painful way then bring it baby.   It’s not false bravado talking:   it’s faith in Jesus.   I love, respect and fear the one who could destroy my soul even as he lets my human life expire.   I know He loved me enough to live and die and live for me. Because of that faith in Him, I know that I won’t die at all.   That while my life here will end, I will only pass into the next life and that it will be so much better than anything I could ever imagine here.

Still, I won’t go easily. There is much living left to do, many things I would like to finish that are now, as yet, undone.   But when the battle comes, I have my sword, I have my armor, and I have my faith.   I have my Lord.   I need nothing more.

Lord, let me live well for You in the remaining time You give me.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 June 2015

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Mark 8, verse 34.

I hate guilt trips so let’s not take one, ok?   But let’s also keep it real and acknowledge a few things.   Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t have it as tough as taking up his cross and following Jesus to death. I don’t have it as tough as taking up my cross and following Jesus to death (and neither do you).   The orphan child living in a broken crack house with criminal addicts for parents who has witnessed murder and overdosing doesn’t have it as tough as taking up his cross and following Jesus to death.   You get the picture.

Does that seem harsh?   I mean, some folks have it bad, really bad.   There are folks within earshot of where I’m sitting here in Bloomington, Minnesota who are living much tougher lives than I’ll ever know.   Despair, suicide, unending physical abuse, mental torture:   there are friends and family in our midst, in our circles, who are going through things like these through no fault of their own.   Those are terrible, awful things that I’ve never had to endure and it’s terrible and awful that they have to endure it.   And it isn’t as hard as what Jesus is saying, what He is commanding us to do. You may not like hearing that (reading it actually) but it’s still the truth.

Jesus promises us more torture, more pain, more suffering, more unending unquestioned agony than anything we’ve ever known as just the first steps on a faith journey with Him.   Verse 34 guarantees that.   Contemplate that phrase “take up their cross.” It is a promise of that torture, pain and suffering in pursuit of Jesus and His ideal. It’s also a command for us to put to death all the things in this world that hold us back from pursuing Him.   Things like guilt, our past, sexual temptations, anger, lust, greed, ungodly work, selfishness:   Jesus is telling us to put them to death on that cross, then follow Him. Give them up, execute them, then turn in a radically different direction.

Keep in mind that He said these things just after Peter had selfishly insisted that Jesus was lying to him about being harassed and murdered by the Jewish priests in the time (that was then) to come.   Jesus sharply rebuked His best friend about this, then speaks the words in this verse to the Disciples and others around them.   In order to stand in the presence of God with Jesus by their side, these people would have to be willing to endure the most painful, shameful agony known to man and do so willingly.

Can you imagine that?   What are you prepared to do about what He’s already done for us?

I’m not making light of the terrible plight some of our fellow men endure in this world.   Christians savagely beheaded by ISIS, victims tortured by kidnappers, anyone being raped or mutilated, Holocaust survivors, and a hundred other examples:   these are terrible things.   As we contemplate the touchy-feely Jesus of contemporary Christian worship and the saccharin faith of contemporary Christian music, let’s keep it real.   Remember that following Jesus might be the hardest thing we could ever imagine doing. The payoff is so worthwhile but make no mistake about the path to get to that payoff.

Lord Jesus, I need Your help to carry my cross.   Encourage me to follow only You.

Read Mark 8, verses 34-38.

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.