Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 23 April 2018

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV).

In this verse, Paul switches subjects.   He moves from living to living again.

You’ll recall that Barbara Bush died last week.   Her son, President Bush, said that his mother didn’t fear death because she had faith in God, faith in the afterlife.   Here in Texas, this has been a big story.   In fact, I can’t remember the press ever making such a big deal about the death of a First Lady, even though Mrs. Bush was indeed extraordinary and famous.   Ecology.com says that approximately 151, 600 in the world people die every day.   Not to make light of their deaths or Mrs. Bush’s, but that means that 909,600 people have died just since Barbara Bush joined their ranks.

I wonder how many of them died with the surety she had about her ultimate destination.   The fact is, Mrs. Bush lived in her faith so dying was simply the next part of living.   She knew Jesus, so there was no fear of death.   I wonder how many of her fellow dead could have said the same thing.

My Pastor will occasionally remind our congregation that we aren’t just part of eternity when we die:   we’re part of it now.   Our forever is sealed to be with Jesus by His grace, through His death, in His wisdom, in our world today.   We are guaranteed to live with Him forever whether we die now or a century from now.   More importantly, what time we have left in this life is guaranteed to be led in His grace, to be inspired by His love, by His forgiveness.   The shame, the guilt, the hatred, the ignorance that plagued us before accepting Him is gone.  It’s as if it never existed forever, and it will never be held against us again, forever.   We are citizens of heaven already because Jesus is our savior, God and brother.

Mrs. Bush understood this.   I’m hopeful that many who died in this last week also did, though statistically speaking that’s unlikely.  Paul reminds us that those who precede us in death are with the Lord, awaiting the final day of time, when all who have died will be resurrected.   Those who died here believing in the Lord awaiting a destiny much brighter than those who rejected Him.  This, the purpose of this life is to give glory to Jesus in how we live it, to use our time here to connect others to Him.   To prepare, and to love and forgive as Jesus does.   It isn’t codes of morality or getting the brass ring.   909600 people, including Mrs. Bush, learned that final truth last week.

For further reading:   Romans 11:25, Matthew 9:24, Ephesians 2:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:14.

Lord, I praise You for the life you give.   Help me to live it for You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 February 2017

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Hebrews 7, verse 26.

You NEED a holy high priest to intercede for you whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not.   You need it just like you need air, water, food and shelter.   Here endeth the sermon.

Now for the example.  A friend of mine has recently lost both of her parents.   I completely empathize with her because both of my parents are gone as well.   Her mom got sick and quickly died late last year.   Not long after, I talked with her and she said that she didn’t think her dad, who was also in failing health, would last long.   Her parents’ marriage had been close, Godly, and long, and my friend simply didn’t see how her dad would want to live long without his wife.   Turns out she was right as her dad died just this week.   Did he will himself to die or did the maladies of old age simply overtake him?   Perhaps it was a little bit of both.   The culprit in his passing really doesn’t matter, though, because the man and woman are both home with the Lord now, off on a new adventure that will last all eternity.   They’ll get to spend it with each other, with Jesus, and with millions of others who believed and were saved.

Here’s the kicker:   my friend doesn’t believe any of this.   She’s not an atheist:   she’s an unbeliever, one who doesn’t know but is apprehensive of taking the step that says “I believe.”  She and I have talked many times about this very thing, and several times I’ve held out hope – as I do especially now – that she would be brought to faith.   I see God’s Holy Spirit at work in her life, calling out to her to give up her pride and just embrace Him, yet she doesn’t.   If good can come out of grieving (and it usually does), then I hope and pray this good comes out of hers.   Heaven would be a much better place with my friend in it.

My friend doesn’t realize that she needs Jesus.   She needs Him as a holy high priest, one who is blameless, pure, set apart from we sinners, and exalted from the heaven where her parents now thrive.  A “need” is a necessity arising from circumstances.   My friend (and me, and you, and everyone here on the Third Rock) needs Jesus to be her personal high priest because the circumstances of her life include rebelling against His holy command to be perfect.   She hasn’t loved fully.   She’s done things that are wrong.   She’s willfully and sometimes gleefully dived deep into dark sins to which none of us should aspire.   Those things weigh her down, making temporal existence seem overpoweringly dreadful when it need not be so.  When we don’t realize our physical and spiritual need for Jesus, our lives are empty.   Life without Jesus is merely existence.

News flash, friend reader:   I could have just described you.   I DID just describe me, as well as my mourning friend.   Every single one of us sets ourselves apart from Jesus every time we sin against Him.   And every thought or deed that is not of Him is sin.   How can we abide by His command to be perfect?   It’s not that tough.   It starts by submitting to Him, believing in Him, giving ourselves over to Him, damn the world and the cost.   Yes, in giving ourselves over to Jesus, we damn, we condemn, our actions to be taken away from us.   We’re taken out of this world and begin to set foot, here and now, in a new world, a new existence where those things we condemn are separated away from us.   They’re taken away from us because Jesus Himself took them away.   I’ve described you, friend sinner, and I’ve described me, a sinner like you.

Like my friend.   Please keep her and her family in your prayers.   Pray that she would come to faith in the Savior who aches now to ease her pain, take away her burdens, and prepare her, too, to one day join her parents with Him in that new world of which they’re now forever citizens.

Lord Jesus, be with my friend and her family as they grieve.   Reach out, use me to reach out, to help her by being a friend and Your ambassador.  Touch her life and I pray she and all like her would come to You in faith.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 October 2016

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.  Hebrews 3, verse 1.

My mom died two years ago today.   Two years ago this morning, my mom, Grace Terry, exited the temporal plane of this life and entered the eternal plane of heaven.   For her and my dad, who preceded her by 17 years, time no longer has meaning.  Days, years, aging, disease, seasons, changes:  these mileposts by which we measure our lives here don’t mean anything anymore to either of them.   Or to the millions of believers there with them.   Today is every moment for those in heaven because every moment is spent with Jesus.   I know it has been two years since Mom died but I’m thinking she doesn’t.   For her, it’s “Amazing Grace” (and not just because that’s her name).   You know the line:   “when we’ve been there ten thousand years…we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”

My parents were both believers and college graduates.  I learned from them the intellectual exercise of how I walk my faith walk.   I learned how skepticism, questioning, and even academic rigor can be tools with which you can learn around the edges about the richness of our Lord and Savior.   As long as you don’t make those tools your idols, they can be helpful, even Godly, gifts.   In concluding his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul said “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good.”  He was giving instructions to the church on how to deal with the physical and spiritual persecution they were undergoing.   As you’ve read, part of those instructions was to use Godly skepticism in questioning matters of faith.   God would never lead them wrong so they (and we) should use healthy questioning to determine God’s will in tough choices.

Yet, a better, deeper way to learn about Jesus is to move beyond that, to fix that intellect on Him.  The author of Hebrews says that if the Hebrew believers (and us, and the Thesssalonians) would fix our thoughts on Jesus then it would be much easier to employ that healthy questioning when the times come for us to do so.  When we don’t know what path to take, ask Jesus.   When we are troubled by things happening our lives, think about Jesus.   When we make mistakes, turn to Jesus.  Celebrations, happiness, and good times?   Focus on Jesus and thank Him, involve Him.  And when temptation, or falling, or hurt come into our lives as they regularly do, then focusing on Jesus makes it much, much easier to then ask “Lord, what should I do now?”   “Is this a good choice?”   “What do You want me to do?”

God will answer in His own way in His own time, but answer He will.   I’m betting it’ll be much sooner than later and usually in an overflow of some blessing.

Like my mom dying two years ago today.   I have a confession to make:  I haven’t cried over her.   Really haven’t.   I loved my mom, and I’m ashamed to say I spent a good part of the last year of her life busy and angry over choices she made that impacted me.   When she was gone, I was still in the thick of having to deal with her estate that I simply put all my feelings in a box and stored them away.   I’d deal with them later.  Two years on, I still haven’t, and I know some day that box will be opened and there they’ll be, fresh for dealing.  Her death snuck up on me.   She went into the hospital healthy – but quietly dying – on a Wednesday night and was gone on Friday morning.  That’s less than 36 hours, and I think, now, that it was actually a blessing.   God gave us a gift in that, for a brief hour or two, she regained consciousness and grasped what was happening, and instantly made peace with it.   All of us in the family got a chance to talk with her and say goodbye.   But it happened much sooner than I ever thought it would.   If I had known she would die so quickly, perhaps I might have let go of that anger and spent time more wisely.

Yet now I see we did use that time well.   In the last years and months we all had here, we had good visits, and we talked for hours, and we forgave and shared faith.   It wasn’t all rosy but it was all good because, through it all, in our own ways, we fixed our minds on Jesus and understood that He would somehow make everything alright.   And He did.

For more reading:   1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, Hebrews 2:11, Romans 8:28, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Corinthians 9:13.

Lord, thank You for this day, for the passage of death, the forgiveness You give, and for calling Your followers home.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 March 2016

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.  In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.  It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. Mark 15, verses 40-47.

It seems a bit anti-climactic to talk about things that happened on Good Friday when today is the Monday after Easter, yet please indulge me a bit while we do.   It’s good news.

Awhile back, my pastor friend, Mark, exhorted our congregation to be “Easter people.”   Yesterday, during Easter service, he reiterated this theme in a slightly different way.   We should be people who live joyfully knowing that God Immanuel, Jesus our Savior, kept His promise and rose from His murdered death.   He was killed, embalmed, and put in a grave on Friday.   On Sunday morning, Jesus was back in action, just as He said He would be.  It means He is exactly who He said He is, and that our believing in Him means we’re eternally set free from the overwhelming guilt over our doing unholy things.   I can let them go; you can let them go.   God doesn’t see our sins any more.   He sees us perfect because He looks at us through the window of Jesus and His perfect life and death.

The Good Friday lesson to remember is that we get to lay our sins in the grave.   Jesus took them away.   They are dead; they have died, gone away, and are no more for us.   Yes, notice the dedication and devotion with which Jesus’ followers still pursued and believed in Him even as He died.   They loved Him; they did right by Him even after He was gone and their hopes apparently crushed.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that, with Him, all our sins are dead forever. We no longer have to be burdened by them.   We are part of eternity here and now, and because of what He did, we GET TO start fresh.   To truly repent, to change, to adjust, to make amends, and best of all to forgive.   To forgive and then move forward knowing that, no matter what tough things the world has in store for us, we’re Easter people who know that we can’t ever be truly destroyed.

Most of all, death itself is destroyed. God didn’t create death, but He allowed it as the consequences of our free will to choose things other than Him.  Death is the absence of God because God is life.   Death is un-love because, the opposite of death is God, who is all love.   God didn’t create us to die:   He created us to live in harmony with Him, our loving, Holy, and just creator.  When our ancestors (and later we) chose differently, God respected our choices knowing that our choices carried the penalty of death.   God hates death so He Himself, Jesus, the God-man, came, lived, and died to destroy death.   He died on Good Friday to restore balance to mankind’s destiny, then He began a new destiny for us on Easter Sunday by rising, living, and moving forward in a world that could finally see Him for who He was and is.  Jesus hated death; He hates it still.   So He offered Himself as the cure for the common death.   On the Monday after Good Friday and the Easter to which it gave way, this is the best news of all.

Risen Lord Jesus, bless You for all You did in dying and living for us.   I’m so thankful for all You’ve done!

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.  

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, 11 November 2015

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.   Mark 12, verses 1-9

Prophecy and warning.   Remember the context of these verses.   Jesus is in Jerusalem during the last week of His life; this story is told, perhaps, on Monday or Tuesday of that week. He knows the rulers of the Temple are conspiring against Him, looking for some way to corner and kill Him.   Despite that, He tells this parable to both lay out what would soon happen to Him and to warn those who would do it that God’s wrath wouldn’t be denied.   Years later, the message for us is the same message Jesus gave to them:   “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

I thought God loved us.   Would He who loves us also want to kill us?   Perhaps the answer is in the question “do you believe?”

Will God kill us for our disbelief in Him?   That’s what Jesus is saying in this parable.   The free gift of eternal life is available to ALL mankind.   All races, both sexes (even Bruce Jenner), all nationalities, all religions:   if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He and only He has the power to forgive your sins, and that His death on the cross paid for those since once and for all, then you are saved.   There’s nothing more to it than that; there’s nothing more for you to do.   God’s grace is a free gift and done for you by Him.

Reject it at your own eternal peril.   That’s what Jesus says in verse 9.   The second death – the death of the spirit – is eternal separation from God, who cannot allow unholiness into His presence.   Rejecting Jesus means rejecting His covering holiness, His once for all sacrifice to the Holy Father.   That leads to death, both eventual physical death and, much worse, the death of the spirit.   It’s what He was warning His accusers about.

As an aspiring vintner (as well as aspiring writer) I like that Jesus uses the analogy of a vineyard to paint His prophetic picture.   But it isn’t for love of wine that He says what He says.   He says it for love of you, me, and even those long ago priests who were looking for an opportunity to kill Him.

Lord, I believe in You, that only You can save me.

Read Mark 12, verses 1-12

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 September 2015

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” Mark 10, verses 32-34.

Consider what has just happened.   As Jesus and the His Disciples are walking to Jerusalem they are being followed by crowds of strangers.   In all this, Jesus politely but definitively rebukes a wealthy man and, in doing so, teaches a valuable object lesson.   He then stresses that everything we know about ‘living a good life’ means nothing in God’s eyes, that only those dead to the world will be considered alive to Christ, and that it is impossible for us to be rich enough to get to Heaven.

Now He’s predicting His death.

Several times before (just in Mark He has mentioned it explicitly twice and implied it at least three other times and that was just in Chapters 8 and 9), Jesus has talked about His coming death.   Here, in Chapter 10, He spells out more details even as He and His friends are walking towards the scene of the coming crime.   What’s more, He is specifically telling them that the very religious authorities to whom they have submitted (in faith) through their entire lives will seize Him, murder Him, and bring about the greatest miracle in all of history.

Put yourself in the place of someone walking there beside Jesus.   Do you think your mind would have been scrambled by now?   I think it’s practically a guarantee. In the space of a few days’ walk from Galilee to Bethany, Jesus has upended everything you thought you knew. He has thrown spiritual, economic, mental, political, ethical and practical knowledge into chaos and all without any kind of threat or violence.   His words cause people to question everything they have ever known and every way in which they’ve ever interacted with others.

He’s still doing it today.   He’s still doing it because His love is illogical.   It’s crazy; it makes no sense.   It was foolishness to the men and women walking with Him in 1st Century Judea.   And it is foolishness today for those who, to paraphrase CS Lewis, populate all of human history with their pursuit to deny God by making other things gods in His place.   It’s simply crazy to believe in something you can’t see while denying what you can see; that’s how the logical world looks at faith in Jesus.   It’s even crazier to cling to that unseen thing and justify it as good because a good man who said He was God died.

Except that it all actually happened.   Except that Jesus gave us His crazy life.   That he clings to us illogically through His crazy love today specifically because He died that death in our place. It’s been proven nearly statistically impossible for one person to have fulfilled every Bible prophecy and live a sinless life to atone for all our sins and promises we didn’t keep.   Yet Jesus did it anyway.   It’s crazy but it’s true.

Lord Jesus, thank You for living and dying for me.  

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.