Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 13 August 2019

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:4-5 (EHV).

So we’ve been sinful and Jesus gave Himself for us despite that.   Have you ever really noodled that thought?   Would you die for Jeffrey Epstein?   Or Charles Manson?   Would you die for the bully who targeted you for a year in third grade?   Or your ex?    Would you die for the Nazi concentration camp guards who willfully, willingly sent people to their deaths (or pulled the trigger themselves)?

Jesus did it without hesitation.   In fact, he did it willingly, out of the most extreme love and devotion we could think of.

Not to make light of it, but you may be thinking “I get it.   Jesus.   Gotcha.   I’m not Jesus.”  No, you aren’t.   None of us are.

Represent Jesus anyway.

It’s mind-blowing how the New Testament is replete with proofs like Paul’s of how Jesus died for us.   It’s also replete with statements from Jesus about the power of faith.   Think of what He said about tiny faith (the size of a seed), or power over nature (as in how He commanded the fig tree), or Him commanding the waves when the Disciples were terrified, or moving mountains.   He wasn’t speaking in purposefully hyperbolic statements even though they were powerful and dramatic.  Have you considered that He may have simply been stating a fact?

We who were once undeniably sinful can have the same abilities of faith that Jesus does?   Yes.   And yes again.   And yes.  ANYTHING we ask for in true faith in Jesus can be done.

So, I’ll ask you again:   those despicable people I mentioned:   would you die for them?

Your response:  “NOT FAIR!   So I’m saying that, yet because I feel even a smidgeon of resentment or anything other than pure love, I’m disqualified?   I’m not good enough?”   Yes and no.   Yes, you’re not good enough on your own, and, no, you can’t do anything to make it right.   Because Jesus already did.   You and I don’t have to do anything to add to or complete that.   He already did everything.   Yet if we hold on to things of the past – including resentment or the conscious vestiges of forgiven sin- then can we truly expect to think we’re acting like Jesus?   He never did those things.

When Peter remembered he was walking on water, he started to sink.   So it is with us.   Yet in His mercy, Jesus made that walk possible.   He does for us as well.   Should we be willing to die for those who are detestable?   You know the answer.  Represent Jesus anyway.

For further reading:  Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 4:35-41, Mark 11:22-24, Acts 22:16, Romans 11:14, Ephesians 2:9, 1 Peter 1:3, Titus 3:6

Lord, forgive me and help me to let it go.   Then help me to do Your will.

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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.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 23 May 2018

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  1 Thessalonians 5:10 (NIV).

Jesus died for everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, whether we accept Him or not, so that we may spend eternity with Him.  Dear unbelievers, read verse 10 again.   Then have a nice day.  No that isn’t smug:   it’s a plea.   It’s an invitation.   It’s a statement of fact.  It’s a mission statement.  It’s a challenge.  It’s a matter of life and death, both His and ours.

In reality, it’s almost unfair to talk about this verse apart from the ones immediately preceding and succeeding it; I encourage you to read both.  Jesus died for us so that we don’t have to live in wrath, or anticipate God’s wrath.   He did it knowing that this would be the best news humanity would ever receive:  IF we chose to accept it.

Preachers are fond of (correctly) saying that Paul was the greatest missionary who ever lived.   When you read his books again and again, you find that Paul easily, seamlessly mixes both practical and supernatural arguments for Christ.   To him, the supernatural was matter of fact, an accepted thing.   We of the ‘enlightened’ post-modern world seem to have a hard time believing that the supernatural is true (even though we don’t seem to have much difficulty thinking comic book movies are reflections of how we wish we could be).

That’s just now how things were with Paul, and with the people of his day.   They had lived in the time of Jesus, seeing Him personally both before and after resurrection.   They had witnessed miracles performed by Christ and by His followers.   They lived in a world that accepted God (and gods) as facts, as part of the natural order; indeed, people of the first century more readily accepted divine creation than we did, and they lived in a time where science and logic ruled the public square even more so than now.

Yet, then as now, they still questioned, marveled, and wondered at how Paul could say the things he did and mean them.   After all, people simply didn’t die and come back the way Jesus did.   People then as now were skeptical, even hostile, to ideas that offended their sensibilities.

And yet, when all the skepticism quieted down, Paul’s words still stood, un-recanted and unchallengeable.  This Jesus, murdered by Jerusalem and Rome together, died even for them so that even they might live in peace with Him forever.  In a hostile world, Jesus’ words offered a better way, a fresh start.   They’re truth to live and die by.  It was, and is, truth to make us rise again.

For further reading:  Romans 14:9, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Lord Jesus, only You could live and die for us.   Thank You for Your selfless death and resurrection.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 21 February 2018

 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  1 Thessalonians 2:9 (NIV).

Usually I write these blog posts the night before I post them.   Last night, I was busy calculating my taxes so I didn’t get to write until morning.   I take that as yet another proof that God knows what He’s doing and is active in even the little details of our lives.

Word came this morning that Billy Graham has died.   I think of a few things when I think of Rev Graham, mostly that I met him once, saw him twice, and turned off the TV when he was on dozens of times when I was a kid.   Today I think that 1 Thessalonians 2:9 is a fitting verse by which to remember him.

The words I write and share here won’t reach 2 billion people, but Billy Graham’s did.   I’ve never met 9 presidents and witnessed the gospel personally to them, but Billy Graham did (indeed, George W. Bush credits Graham for personally ministering to him in a way that let him turn cold turkey from alcoholism and never turn back).   I never traveled behind the Iron Curtain for the specific purpose of talking about Jesus, but Billy Graham did.  I never did this or that or one or the other but Reverend Graham did.

So what? Through it all, Mr. Graham was just like you and me.   He was a sinner.   On his own, he wasn’t worthy to lick God’s bootheels.   Without God’s intervention, he was damned.  Because of Jesus, none of that mattered.   Because of Jesus, Billy Graham got to meet Him face to face today:   just like you and I can when our lives are over.

I once went to a Billy Graham crusade; I once met him in person.   In those days, that was simply another happening to me, another check box I could fill about having done something for God.   I didn’t realize that Graham, as a speaker, was using his platform to tell me what God had already done for me.   In time, I came to admire that, came to better understand it.   There was no decision for Christ I made other than simply acknowledging what Jesus had already done in full.  Yet when that understanding came, it made all the difference in my life.

Today you’ll read a great many things about Billy Graham, then tomorrow the world will move on to its next big thing.   That’s how it goes here, and really that’s how it should be.  But for today, celebrate the kingdom work of a man who used his time to tell us all “Jesus loves you.”  The longer I live, the more I see that’s the most fitting epitaph of all.   Rest in peace Reverend and welcome home.

For further reading: Thessalonians 2:10.

Lord, thank You for this good servant.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 January 2018

You know how we lived among you for your sake.  1 Thessalonians 1:5.

Before we move on, let’s discuss the last sentence of verse 5.

Our dog, Josh, had been part of our family since September 2006, and he got very sick these last few months.   Yesterday, it was time to say goodbye, so we made an appointment with a vet to have hit put to sleep; that’s what you do as a pet owner.   Josh died bravely, and he licked me on the face just a few seconds before he received the injection.   It tore at me but I didn’t want to see my canine friend suffer.  He was my pal, and I loved him.  My wife and I cried together as he died.

I have another friend, not canine, who is battling terminal cancer.   She and I were co-workers, and we’ve stayed friends over the years, commiserating over work, sharing life stories.  My friend has battled cancer already, but this time the disease is likely to win.   How do you support someone who is facing death?  Do we ever really know what to say when they are fighting this battle we all must eventually fight?

The Apostle Paul, Silas, and Timothy had lived among the people of the church at Thessalonica.   They had witnessed to the parishioners, helped them set up things from the start, and helped them to hold fast to this new and fast-spreading faith.   At the time this was happening, Christianity was brand-new.   When the congregation was figuring out how to do things, how to worship in the face of real, physical persecution, they did so without history to guide them.   They were setting that precedent; they were figuring out how to do things for the first time.

What a comfort it must have been to have these storied men live among them, be themselves among them, and help them through this difficult time.

Perhaps that’s a lesson we can remember now, in difficult times when we lose loved ones and face the troubles life gives us.  God gives us people in our lives to live among us for our sake.   He gives us each other to support each other, encourage each other, love on each other.   God chooses to live among us by living through us and letting us share Him through how we live.  Famous people don’t make the world go around:   you and I, living out our faith, do.

What do we say when our friends and family face death, when times are tough and we don’t know what else to say or do?  We love them as Jesus would, listening, talking, feeling for them when they hurt, even saying goodbye.   We do what Paul and his friends did, for their sake, for their comfort.   For Jesus’ glory.

For further reading:  Colossians 3:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Romans 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:6.

My Lord, teach me to live Your love for other and to others in my circle.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 October 2015

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. Mark 11, verse 18.

Let’s talk about Donald Trump.   No, I’m not endorsing Mr. Trump, nor am I going to use this time to insult or demean him.   Trump is (mostly) the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.   Yes, there is a LONG time to go until the election, so being the front-runner of anything at this point in the election cycle is largely meaningless. Instead, let’s talk about how folks are out to ‘kill’ Mr. Trump.

And ‘kill’ is not a hyperbolic word.   Many Republicans and Democrats would love to write the epitaph on Donald Trump’s public career at the earliest possible moment.   In this presidential election, it is outsiders (on both sides of the aisle) who are shaking up conventional wisdom and taking the establishment political classes to task.   In ways good and bad, unconventional candidates are saying and doing things that both threaten the power of established ‘rulers’ and engender support from a voting population that is largely disinterested and mostly disgusted. Trump, Carson, Sanders, Fiorina, even the no-name professor from Harvard, are saying things that resonate with voters in ways that seem to baffle traditional political advisors, consultants and candidates.    According to the elites, that simply can’t be allowed.

The only thing that doesn’t seem to baffle them is their perception that, if traditional politician X fails to secure the presidential nomination, the power of the establishment is threatened.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell about how Jesus was murdered for the same reason.   Yes, the reason 2016 outsider candidates are a threat to the current political establishment is exactly the same reason why the religious establishment of 1st century Judea felt threatened by the ‘insurgent ministry’ of Jesus Christ. Jesus was just busy being Jesus, being God Immanuel.   He taught love, peace, patience…and confrontation of evil. His very human existence was an existential threat to the power structure of the elites in Jerusalem (both Jewish and Roman).   He had built a huge following of passionate believers; what if those followers decided to turn on the Temple or on their Roman overseers?   At the very least there would be serious bloodshed.   Indeed, revolution was all too possible.

That couldn’t be allowed.

So Jesus had to die.   The powers-that-be didn’t want to just end Jesus’ political and ecclesiastical careers:   they wanted to end His life. If Jesus didn’t die – if the overseers couldn’t find a way to get rid of Him – then the amazed believers would see they no longer needed Temple worship…or temple taxes.   If the passionate followers decided they no longer feared death because the Jewish rabbi had taught them so, then they would no longer fear Rome.

What would happen if all of Trump’s support (or Carson’s, Fiorina’s or anyone’s) turned into active voters?   Governments only derive their powers from the consent of the governed.   What would happen if all those folks who supposedly support the political outsiders decided they didn’t need the establishment parties? Would the desire for political reform rise and succeed or fail and die?

What would happen if all of us who profess to be Christians and followers of Jesus Christ actually did what He said?   Would we have to die as well?

Lord, I want to die this life for You.

Read Mark 11, verses 12-25.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark 16, 30 October 2014. In memory.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.  She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16, verses 6-16.

I hope you don’t mind my skipping ahead a few verses.   You see, my mother died last week, a week ago today, and I want to relate that it’s ok. It all happened so quickly; Wednesday night she was admitted to the hospital and by Friday morning she was gone. To be frank, I’m still in shock from it; the real depth, both good and bad, is something I haven’t really plumbed yet. Perhaps in time that will happen, and I have no doubt it’ll be tough.   One of my pastor friends related, at mom’s bedside while she was dying, that it’s ok to be angry, sad, frustrated with death because we weren’t made for death.

That’s why I’m writing today.   That’s why I say that it’s all ok.   We weren’t made for death.   My mom wasn’t made for death.   Neither were you, nor yours, nor any of us.   God intended for us to live, to live in perfect harmony with Him.   Yet our ancestors frustrated His intentions with sin, separating the world from God’s harmony.   That’s why we die.   That’s why we grieve over death.   That’s why it hurts so much to lose a loved one.   This wasn’t what we were made for.

Her body in the casket didn’t look anything like her.   At first, that threw me off.   I mean, it’s a shock to see your loved one in a casket anyway.   But this didn’t look like her at all. Her face didn’t look very life-like, and it really didn’t even look like I remember her (unless you wanted to think she was laughing or crying).   Initially it was disconcerting that my last look at my mom’s physical form would look disfigured, and I thought about that while we were driving the long drive home from her funeral.

Then it hit me: of course it didn’t look like her.   She isn’t in the casket; she isn’t there.   We buried her body in that metal box in the cold Oklahoma ground and she isn’t there. She isn’t there because of the verses listed above, because her Savior and mine rose from His own death and lives today.   He rose and proved Himself to His friends and His people.   He rose and frustrated death because death would not frustrate Him any longer.   Jesus died and came back exactly as He said He would.   In doing so, He promised that, when we believe in Him, when we turn our lives over to Him, we, too, will rise from death and live forever with Him.

That’s why my mom’s body didn’t look like her because it wasn’t her.   She moved on. That’s why it’s ok.

Death doesn’t make sense, not even in a biological sense.   Even if you think all this faith business is hogwash, death is illogical.   A few days after Mom’s death, a friend of mine also passed away.   Jason Manthe was only in his 30s (where Mom died at 85) and he died of Alzheimer’s Disease.   That terrible disease took him quickly, similar to how heart disease quickly took my mother. I’ve been trying to glean some sense from his passing and I simply can’t see any worldly good in losing such a fine man. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I can’t even begin to imagine how his wife and young kids must feel.

That is, until I realize that we were born to live, not to die, even as our carbon bodies die a little bit every day in a world that does the same. Jesus created us to live in love, in peace, with Him forever. He lived, died, and lives again to ensure that becomes possible for any of us. When you put death in the perspective of how Jesus conquered it, then instead of “Jesus wept” (John 11, verse 35) you are righteously, joyfully bound to conclude that Mark 16 is the only way to view death.   Death is moot.   It’s something that happens as the passage to new life instead of the defining moment in a hopeless world. Death couldn’t hold on to Jesus Christ and, because of that, and because my mother Grace and my friend Jason believed in Him, then death didn’t hold on to them either.   Wherever heaven is, they are more alive now than ever when I knew them.

And because of that, the journey continues.

Lord, thank You for Your comforting resurrection in the face of sin and death.   Thank You for saving my mother and friend and all who trust You with our lives. I praise you for lives well lived, and well-died, and ask for Your comfort and love in the days ahead.