Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  Hebrews 11, verses 13-14.

I’m a wanderer.   I learned it as a kid.   We first moved in 1969, when I was three, moving from Bloomington to Minneapolis, Minnesota.   That isn’t very far, but it’s a quantum leap for a family from the suburbs.  I went two years to an old elementary school before they tore it down in 1974.   That year, I spent a year in private school in east Minneapolis.   1975-1976 saw me attend two different third grade classes, one in Iowa and the other in Pennsylvania.  From 1976 to 1978 we lived in Pennsylvania, 1978-1980 in Oklahoma, 1980-1983 back in Iowa, and 1983-1985 in southern Indiana, which I refer to now as ‘home.’  After that, I joined the Air Force, and spent 1985 in Texas, then 1986-1989 in Texas, Maryland, and TDY (on temporary duty) around the world.   From 1989 to 1992, I lived in Italy (living in two different towns during that stay).   From 1992 until 2004, I lived in Colorado, residing in six different places in twelve years.  2004-2005 found me in Montana, then 2005 back in Colorado before moving to Texas.   Since 2005, I have lived full time in Texas, but have traveled all over the country (and the planet), and have lived in three different houses in two towns.  After fifty years of wandering, I’m finally in a home I’ve always dreamed of.   Wouldn’t you know that even my time here may be short, in jeopardy, and that there could be more wandering just up ahead.

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking for a country of my own.

I wish I could say that my story is one of deep public faith, but it isn’t.  In fact, more times than I care to admit, my faith has wandered too and has been weak with my practice of it weaker.  I’ve been rightfully accused of being a hypocrite, and Billy Joel could have once described me as “a man with so much tension and far too many sins to mention.”  I’ve tried, but in following Jesus, trying isn’t enough.   You have to “do” to be believeable to other people, and sometimes what I’ve done has been quite opposite of what I believe.

You know what?  I’m in good company.   Abraham was a wanderer and God did wonderful things through Him.   Jacob was a deceitful wanderer and God led him to live an amazing life.  Moses, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus Himself were all wanderers who did incredible, great things in the lead-up to the time of their Messiah.  After Jesus, all twelve of His disciples wandered, going from place to place to spread the Good News of the friend-Savior they knew.  Some of them were murdered for it; only one lived into old age.

I bet all those people were looking for a country of their own.   I wonder, then, if the country mentioned by the writer of Hebrews isn’t actually the nation of Heaven.   Shakespeare called death “the undiscovered country.”  Hamlet lamented that his life was all sorrow and he longed to journey into the undiscovered country of what lay beyond.   Don’t we all, yet here and now are all we know.   This is where we make our bones, discover what it means to live.   And the longer any of us live – and wander – the more we find that the only real meaning in the fallen world is found in Jesus Christ.  In Christ there is no more wandering.   In Christ, the discovery is amazement and it is continuous.   In Jesus Christ there is fulfillment of all of life’s desires, answers to every question, and peace to settle all restlessness.   In Christ, we no longer need to wander.

Christ is the undiscovered country I wish to explore, yet isn’t it wonderful to be able to do so now, as best we can, in this place that’s rife with both life and imperfection?  Until my prayers are answered and I meet Him face to face, I guess I’ll continue to wander, awaiting my endless time in the country of my own that I know in hope is only a short time away.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

My Lord and Savior, abide with me as I wander here.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 17 February 2016

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14, verses 37-38.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak:” no more helpful words were spoken that early Good Friday morning.

Notice how Jesus poses the question to Peter (and, in turn, James and John) that both accuses of slacking but also speaks to their conscience.   Jesus doesn’t slam the Disciples.   Instead, He states a fact – I really need your help – while speaking to the better angels of their nature.   Then Jesus “goes there,” reminding them – and us – of a few key things about humanity.

Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation.   God made each of us with the inborn ability to watch, to be alert, to be cognizant, mindful, attentive, and active in our lives.   God Immanuel tells us to watch around us because the fallen world of sin is the world we live in.   He calls us to be in that world, to hold fast to faith in Him but live in that sinful world with other sinful people like ourselves.   Why does Jesus tell us to watch?   So that we don’t fall into temptation, of course.   Jesus understood temptation; He was fully man while still being fully God.   Yet when Satan tempted Him in the desert, Jesus was literally starving to death.   He was at His physical and emotional lowest and that’s when Satan pressed for advantage.   Jesus was telling His friends that the best way to resist temptation is to watch out for it.

The spirit is willing; words of hope.   Jesus knew the depth of the human spirit; He knew that it was for love that God created each one of us with a spirit.   And He knew that He, in His Spirit, would return to the world after He had ascended home.   When that happened, the Spirit of God would move the spirit of man to faith, to accept this resurrected Lord as the only Savior of mankind.   He knew this would be possible, that it would happen, because Jesus knew that the spirits of men are willing, that we crave God and innately seek God even as we deny Him.

Yet we deny God because the flesh is weak. Even when we watch, even when our spirit is willing, man’s flesh is weak.   We want the sin.   We want the praise, the power, the glory.   All the stuff of comfort?   Want it.   All the adulation and fame and adoration of other men?   We crave them. We want and crave those things because we forget that our flesh is weak.   We’re sinful from birth, weak in the flesh and tempted to seek comfort in the flesh instead of comfort from the Cross.

Jesus ‘got’ all of that, and I marvel at how He spoke with instead of speaking to these men who, being men, fell asleep when they should have been standing watch for Him. Peter and the others should have been keeping guard, attending their friend.   Instead, they did what we would do.   Thank God for His patience with them and us.

Lord Jesus, You are kind, wise and patient with us. Thank You for these blessed qualities, for teaching me about myself.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 12 February 2016

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. Mark 14, verses 28-31.

Why did Jesus say this?

Last week, I attended a men’s Bible study out here in Paris, Texas. It was the first one of this year, and the pastor was recanting some of his personal history in the context of five “R’s” that he wanted the men of the church to remember throughout the year (revelation, realization, reliance, repetition, relationship). During his talk, he mentioned how, as a young Marine, he woke up on a beach one time, hungover with a strange naked woman beside him.   His conscience bothered him because he thought of himself as a Christian yet was spending so much of his personal time living in markedly un-Christian ways.   He said that God’s Spirit convicted him, prodding him to the realization that he could turn and follow Jesus unconditionally, or he could live unconditionally as a worldly man but couldn’t, in good conscience, still call himself a Christian.

Why did Jesus say this to this man?

Let’s be fair: the Disciples probably thought they meant well.   Jesus was plainly telling them that He was about to be arrested, tortured, and murdered and that none of them would lift a finger to stop it.   If your best friend said something like that to you, wouldn’t you immediately become indignant? You’d jump to defend yourself; “now wait just a minute!”   In part, you’d do this out of love for your friend.   But in being fair, we also need to be honest:   you’d also do it for yourself, to ward off a perceived attack on your dignity. Yes, we really do usually think (and act) as if ‘it’s all about me.’ Peter, John and the rest were no different.

In true friend-form, Jesus then responded with the truth.   “This is what’s going to happen.   When I’m at my neediest moment, you’re going to deny me.   You’re going to run away from me and lie about Me to save your own skin.”   He wasn’t doing it out of anger or spite: it was a matter of fact.   Yet I’ll give you another motivation that may not seem too apparent.

It was out of love.

Why would Jesus say this to His friends?   To convict them, of course.   He said what He said so that they would feel it, internalize it, contemplate it, and know all the more the power of His Word on that Easter Sunday just a few eternally long days later. Jesus had yanked them into this supernatural event and used supernatural fore-knowledge that He shared with Peter.   “Before the rooster even crows, you’ll deny me not just once but three times.”   Perhaps that number three has meaning as well.   After all, three is a significant number in Scripture…think Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.   Think “on the third day.”   In convicting them through their consciences, Jesus was also using a Scriptural reference to turn a painful event of recollection into a Gospel-proclaiming lesson of powerful truth.

Next time you do something outrageous and you feel the sting of your conscience, think “three” and that maybe God is trying to tell you something.

Lord, I pray You convict me daily of my sins, turning the pain of my remembering them into Your glory here and now.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 11 February 2016

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee. Mark 14, verse 28.

This verse carries us realistically into the supernatural.   Up until now, Jesus has alluded to His death and resurrection.   He has performed miracles even as many of those could be rationalized away.   He has said and done amazing things, and He has confronted authorities, prejudices, convention, and things that good people would rather have left unsaid. Now Jesus lurches forward into a clearly, undeniably supernatural realm in ways nobody else could.

Bet you didn’t think that much power could get packed into just thirteen words of one verse!   Sure, it happens all the time…but you know, in fact, it really does.   Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, ours is a supernatural world. Things happen that defy logic; things that we just can’t explain. Heck, the internet is full of them; try Googling the topic some time. Carlos Santana believes that music has supernatural healing powers; yes, he really did say that. We seek comfort in the very real times of crisis in our lives by clinging to the physically impossible probability that there are such things as a Savior and life after death.   We crave the supernatural when the natural gets us down.

Is it any wonder that Jesus would “go there” during this last real teaching time He had with His Disciples? Consider the verse.

“After I have risen:”   Jesus He puts it on the calendar.   He has spoken openly about being betrayed, arrested and killed even if the Apostles didn’t understand it.   Now He talks about those things as a past-tense matter, stating that He would rise and there would be time afterwards. Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, especially in the hindsight of knowing it actually happened. Consider, then, the idea that He was actually saying (not predicting:   stating) that He would resurrect from actual physical death and decomposition.   Purely supernatural but talked about as a matter-of-fact.

“I will go ahead of you:”   Action.   Doesn’t Jesus always go ahead of us? Don’t forget that this verse comes immediately on the heels of the ones talking about how all of those Disciples would fall away and only minutes after that supernatural Passover supper.   As we have also fallen away, isn’t it an amazing thing to know that Jesus is omniscient and omnipresent in our lives today, even while we’re still living minute by minute in our sins? The Apostles weren’t supermen; they didn’t have physical or mental strengths greater than ours.   They were just men.   Because they were just men, Jesus was promising that He would go ahead of them.   They had sought earthly and spiritual comfort in His presence.   Now He was promising them that He would both remain with them and that He would be active. He would “go” as they would “go.”

Finally, “into Galilee.”   Jesus was reporting a reliable news story ahead of time.   “I’m coming back, I’ll be on the move, and here’s where I’m going, where you can find me.”   Jesus would go home, back to where His ministry started.   He would go back to where He had first encountered these friends of His.   “Find me there” He was saying.   “Here’s where you can look for me.” He was giving them directions that they would need for the time just ahead when they would find themselves isolated, scared and confused.

Realistic yet purely supernatural; truly out of this world.   I’m hoping Carlos Santana would approve.

Lord, I praise You for your real but supernatural life and love.

Read Mark 14, verses 27-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 February

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. Mark 14, verses 12-16.

If you don’t know the story of the Last Supper, then my prayer for this is that you learn something about it.   I’m not yet going to dive into the deep spiritual meaning that Jesus’ Spirit imbues in each of us through His real presence in the elements of bread and wine; relax, peeps, we’ll get there.   Instead, let’s just focus a bit on the history of it.

You know what I think about coincidences (in case you’ve forgotten, it’s ‘there aren’t any’). It’s no coincidence that Jesus would use the ceremony of the Passover seder to give His gift of the Holy Supper. The rich symbolism of Passover was ancient even in Jesus’ day; to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “this is deep, old magic.” BEFORE freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, while they were watching the Egyptians suffer through the ten plagues (that were designed to inspire Pharaoh free God’s chosen people), God came to Moses and commanded him to paint lamb’s blood on the lintels and doorposts of every Hebrew home.   The Hebrews were to stay inside their homes and eat a meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs while God’s angel of death passed over each home where it saw the entryway blood.

Read that again and let it sink in, then consider the story with these words.

While they were still in their sins, God personally came to sinner slaves and, through the blood of an innocent lamb on the entrance to their hearts, purposefully forgot to kill those inside.   To commemorate this, the sinners followed God’s command to eat a meal that would remember this action of God’s holy grace. Lamb signifying the death of an innocent; unleavened bread to remember freeing them in haste from their sins; bitter herbs to remember the unsatisfying taste of their slavery to sin. Blood that God would see and remember their sins no more. The meal became a milestone in every believer’s life.

Sound familiar?

The first Passover happened over a thousand years before the life of Christ.   And every year since they had been delivered, even when in captivity in Babylon then dispersed in the diaspora, the Jewish descendants of those Hebrew slaves had eaten this meal in remembrance.   Jesus the man was a descendant of Israelites; so were His disciples.   So, on that Maundy Thursday, the night before He was murdered on Good Friday, Jesus used the ecclesiastical, spiritual, historical and personally emotional significance of the Passover meal to institute what we Christians know as Holy Communion. It’s not a coincidence.

Noodle that today, then give thanks and glory to God.

Lord Jesus, thank You for using the beauty of Passover for Your Last Supper and Your Holy Communion.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 November 2015

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Mark 13, verse 10.

Awhile back, my pastor friend, Mark, was talking about the end.   He mentioned that he DOESN’T think we are nearing the end of time because the Gospel of Jesus – the good news that Jesus is God and forgives all sin and died as God’s only perfect atoning sacrifice specifically to redeem us – hasn’t been preached to all nations.   Despite all the new media, instant worldwide communications, and efforts to preach Jesus to billions of people in every language we know, he contends that the gospel still hasn’t been preached to all nations.   There could be (and likely are) hundreds of millions of our fellow humans who haven’t heard about Jesus, who haven’t been given the introduction to Him.

I agree with Mark.

Now, I won’t speak for my friend but I will say I don’t think he’s a millenialist, a believer in the Rapture and Tim LaHaye/”Left Behind” kind of apocalypse.   I think my friend is a typical Lutheran, stressing “be ready now” because we’re part of eternity now. No matter how much we debate how the world will end, Jesus promised it would end and that He would return to bring about eternity.

Yet, here and now, on this earth, believers in Jesus are already sealed as part of His eternity, already a part of heaven. We’re finishing our time here and, yes, determining post-terra firma implications to our eternity by what we say, believe and confess.   But Jesus has already done everything necessary to make possible and guarantee our eternal destiny.   He promised that we would be with Him, that God would accept us believing sinners on behalf of His sacrifice, because of His grace and love. No matter whether or not there’s a Rapture and all that follows, the best lesson we can teach about “the end” is “be ready for it now.”   “Don’t wait; believe and follow Jesus now and be ready if He returns now, millennially or otherwise.”

Keep in mind where this verse is said.   It’s said at the temple just days, even hours, before Jesus will be arrested and unjustly murdered.   The verse itself comes right between other verses that talk about the end times, about watching for signs and standing up for Jesus despite being persecuted.   That matters.

It matters because, here, Jesus is reminding us why He came, why He matters.   He is the good news; Jesus is the reason for the Gospel. Preaching and sharing Him with the world is why He came.   He wants that to be done because He loves ALL people of all races and nationalities and colors.   Jesus wants all men and women to be in communion with Him forever and He was reminding His followers that, before the end of time is brought about, He wants all people to be given the opportunity to follow Him.   So, smack-dab in the middle of telling His friends that they need to watch out and look for signs that (He said) will point to the end of time, Jesus reminds them that the purpose of time is to allow us to share Him with each other.   To bring more believers into Jesus’ eternity.

No matter what you believe about how the world will end, that’s a great first principle to always keep in mind.

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your words about eternity. Thank You for using me to share You with folks who might not know You.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 October 2015

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.  Mark 11, verses 1-3.

Strange and prophetic verses; in reality, Jesus is directing His disciples to do something that will fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9) as well as to identify Himself as the one true King.   There are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that talk about the Messiah; this was simply one of the more public ones.   It was something Jesus understood even as the Apostles apparently didn’t.

Now consider what they were actually doing. The cynical part of me says “yeah, try doing it in downtown Baltimore today.”   Or maybe inner city Detroit (or inner city anywhere).   In fact, try doing it in the suburbs of any American city, or out in the redneck woods of East Texas where I live.   Try going up to some stranger’s house, taking one of his prized possessions, and then just saying “it’s for Jesus.”   You can imagine the reaction awaiting you; hope you’re wearing Kevlar.

That same emotional reaction would have awaited the Disciples as they walked up to a stranger’s house and took away his property (in this case, a donkey). Do you think the owner would have been irate?   Do you think his go-to reaction would be to confront the disciples with a weapon, or an argument?   Perhaps some more focused questions would be ‘are we so different from the people of Jesus’ time?   Are we any less protective of our belongings, or skeptical of God Himself? Do we honestly think that our modernity makes us superior or truly different from these people who first knew Jesus face to face?’

Noodle that for awhile.

If a stranger came up to me and said “I need your car but I’ll bring it back in an hour,” I wouldn’t let him have it.   In today’s America, it wouldn’t even be safe.   Yet Jesus told the Apostles that they could get this donkey and no harm would befall them and that’s what happened.

Tell me:   do you think Jesus asks us to do things that will make us inherently unsafe?   The only honest answer has to be “yes, sometimes He does.”   But consider that word ‘unsafe.’   Jesus is asking us to trust Him, to cast away our notions of safety and security (and property) and trust Him with all that’s most important to us.   He may very well ask us to inject ourselves into things, postures or positions that will challenge the safety of all we know, yet what Jesus is really doing is saying “trust me.”   He said it to the Disciples, to the owner of the colt, and maybe even to the colt itself; we’ll never know about that last one.   What Jesus puts on our hearts is more real than our distrust of the world around us.

And all of it was foreseen centuries before it ever happened.

Lord, when You ask, help me to hold nothing back, to give everything to You, to trust You completely.

Read Mark 11, 4-11.