Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 17 April 2019

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.   2 Timothy 2:8-9 (NIV).

Another word about Notre Dame.   Reflect on what happened, on the Parisians who sang Ave Maria as the church burned.   Reflect on the heroism of the firemen struggling to save the magnificent church.   And then, most of all, reflect on what Jesus has now started doing through the financiers, and politicians, and the unknown people who will use kindness and talent and heart to rebuild it for the glory of God.

God’s word is not chained.  Nothing on this planet can chain it, bind it, contain it.   God’s word is the power of life and eternity.

God’s word is best spoken from the cross.   God’s love is found in His only Son, Jesus, dying there so that we may live.   God’s loving Word is found at the empty tomb, on Easter Sunday, when it crushed death and gave the world real hope.   God’s Word lives in you and me and the singing Parisians as His Spirit that came at Pentecost and now lives with us so many centuries later.

God’s word isn’t chained up by a beautiful church building that can be burned.   God’s word is written on your heart, fused into your DNA, living in your bloodstream and in the thoughts that course through your mind.   When you reach the end of this life, God’s word is the only thing you’ll have left.   What will you think of it then?   Will you have used your time to get to know Him, to confess your need for Him, and to have accepted His gift of salvation?

A friend of mine died on Monday.   What I knew of Kim (Page) Granger was that, in her last years, when the world had literally taken everything from her, she held on to faith.   That wasn’t easy, given that she came from a background of abusive relationships and a family history of dysfunctional religion.    Yet in the end, she still believed in Jesus, meaning that her end here this week was the start of a forever with Him.  Kim and I had been co-workers over the years, and she supported me through my own tests of faith.  I’ll miss my friend, but am happy that her pain here is over – she had brain cancer – and that she met Jesus in person.  God’s word didn’t keep her chained to pain here forever.   God’s word broke her chains because His word itself can never be bound in chains.  It’s true in Paris.   It’s true with my friend.   It’s true with you today.

For further reading: Acts 2:24, Matthew 1:1, Romans 2:16, Acts 9:16, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 2:10.

Lord Jesus, nothing can contain You, or Your Word.   Forgive me when I fail You.   Teach me Your better ways.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 1 April 2019

Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.   2 Timothy 1:14 (NIV).

I have taken to walking around a nearby pond.   Whenever I’m home, I walk laps around the pond until I reach my steps-goal for the day, usually a minimum of 10000.  When she is available, my wife also walks with me.   It’s a pretty little area; an open space in the middle of a north Texas housing development.   The pond is probably 6 acres wide, with paved walkways all around, benches, trees, and pretty houses lining the sides.   It’s a mostly level walk, and I usually walk it listening to the radio, or old sermons, or sometimes just in silence.

That place is nature, full of life and death.   And it’s a blessing I want to guard.

That realization came on me there while I was watching some newborn ducklings the other day.   There were 8 of them, toddling around beside a wary mama duck.   She shooed them here and there, keeping them nearby and teaching them how to swim, walk, avoid hazards, and be cautious.  Above all, she was teaching them to be cautious because there are also predators around.   There are hawks that swoop out of the sky, aiming for a quick meal.

Life comes from death.   Hawks eat ducklings and small birds.   Ducks eat small fish, bugs, grass, and most things you find in the water.  Fish eat other fish and unsuspecting bugs that land on the water.  Bugs live in the grass and eat things on the ground.  Other birds eat the grass, and bugs, and worms.  You get the picture.   Something dies so that something can live, even if the thing that dies is as innocuous as a living piece of grass.  When you watch a duck dive into the water, it’s doing so to feed, to kill something and eat it for survival.

And it’s full of life, full of the Spirit.   That Spirit that gives the protecting duck mother her instinct to be wary gives you and I the instinct to be bold.   Sure, we can and should be wary of some things but, until we trust in Jesus and let His Spirit live through us, we can only be wary and never be bold.   The message of salvation is that good teaching Paul implored Timothy to keep and share.   Paul calls us to do the same, and he calls us to do it in a world where life and death every day are the norms even in the smallest, most peaceful places.

That’s a blessing to guard.   Not to guard it so as to keep it confined, but to guard the purity of it, to not amend or change it but, instead, to share it and help it grow in the harsh world of nature.

For further reading:   Romans 8:9, 2 Timothy 15.

Holy Spirit of Jesus, teach me to guard Your message by sharing it.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 9 August 2018

He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ2 Thessalonians 2:14 (NIV).

My daughter got married over the weekend.  The dress, the cake, the dancing, the reception, the walk down the aisle:   it was time for the whole shootin match.   If I do say so, it was a great party where everyone (over 150 people) had a wonderful time.   Check out the Youtube of just before the bride walked:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LDOH8OB3hI

But big fancy weddings aren’t why we’re here.

And over the weekend, too, we also had a party for my wife, who has a milestone birthday this month.  At the VRBO we rented, a large group of family and friends gathered to celebrate her birthday, our fellowship, and just enjoying life (and Texas barbecue) together.   Again, if I do say so, it was another great time, a great birthday bash!

But that’s not why we are here.

Big parties, our jobs, our churches, shopping at the mall (or at the grocery store), working hard in school, the next big vacation:   none of those are why you and I are here.   We are called to enjoy life and to be good stewards of all the things that God gives us to do.   We are motivated, even inspired, to do our best in all things, and that is a good thing, even a Godly thing.

But NONE of those are what we are called to in this life.   In all of them, we can indeed give glory to God, and we can even share in His glory through doing them.   But make no mistake about it:   we aren’t called to DO things here just for the sake of doing them.   We aren’t called to simply live, even if living means a rich, full, eventful, or moral life.

We are called to serve in God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus.    We are called to believe in Jesus in everything we do.   We are called to share this belief, this faith in His saving death and resurrection, by living it out.   We are called through the gospel, given to men like Paul, Matthew, Peter, John and others, to share Jesus with what we say and do so that others who don’t know – or reject – Him might come to know Him too (and then repeat the cycle with even more others).  In doing these things, we share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ because that’s how we do the work of the God who sent Him.

I loved the wedding; I loved the party.   I love time with family, friends, and even strangers.   But without Jesus, they’re just meaningless events.   There’s no morality without Jesus, nothing good.  Involving Him transforms life into something more, something meaningful, something we are called to live.

For further reading:  Romans 8:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

Lord Jesus, thank You for faith, for letting me share You in all these ways.

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.

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.