Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 22 March 2018

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?  1 Thessalonians 3:8-9 (NIV).

I don’t know all the people who have come to faith or been encouraged in faith because of me; some day, in heaven, I’ll find out.   Perhaps there are many; perhaps there are few.   Yet, here and now, I’m very encouraged.   Occasionally people do message me, thanking me for sharing devotions like these and others. When I see those messages, I’m encouraged.   They make me realize that doing these things is doing the right thing.   At the same time, they’re a great reminder that ‘it’s not about me.’   Life is about using the talents God gives us to help others in their paths to Jesus.

Jeremiah 29:11 says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   Even on days like today, when there is fear, doubt, and struggle in so many things we do, God still has a plan for our lives.   That plan isn’t to fear and doubt, though sometimes struggle will be involved.   But it will be struggle to remain standing firm in the Lord.  Through it, we will really live.

Paul knew this.   He knew the words of Jeremiah; he had been inculcated in them since he was a boy. Later in life, he had a personal, radical encounter with Jesus, who immediately transformed his entire life.  Paul knew God had plans for him and that these plans were to prosper him, to use his talents to bless others.  Paul’s reward?   Thankfulness.   Joy; incomparable joy before God because of God because of the faith his friends had.

I don’t know what you’re going through today.   Me, today is going to be a tough day.   I have a hunch some big things are coming down in my life today and to be honest they intimidate me.   Yet through them, God is still working in me.   He has plans for me and they don’t involve fear and doubt.   They may not even involve ever really knowing how my words and my actions have benefitted others.   Yet, no matter what’s going on in my world, I do know that God is working through me, like He did through Paul, like He does through you, too.  I know that, here and now, I can celebrate in real joy because He has let me share words of faith with you and that’s important.   Instead of worry, my posture will be to thank Him and ask Him for more.   And in this, there is real life.

For further reading: Jeremiah 29:11, 1 Corinthians 16:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10.

Lord, thank You for using me to share You with my friends.   Help me to do it more.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 September 2016

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Hebrews 1, verses 5-6

There is comfort in knowing some of the intricacies of faith that contribute to its rich history.

These first two verses do some heavy hitting in the early church.   The Gospels tie Jesus and His lineage to the Jewish Patriarchs (Luke takes it all the way back to God Himself through Adam), but these verses in Hebrews tie Jesus directly to God the Father through the Psalms.   That matters.

According to the NIV, Psalm 2 is heavily messianic; I encourage you to read it.   In it, the Lord speaks to His people in song saying both “you are my Son” and “you are my son in the line of King David.”   Remember that Jewish men were instructed in the synagogues on the Torah and the Psalms.   The Psalms were hymns they sung, poetic verses they memorized and carried all their lives. Psalm 2 is traditionally credited to King David as the writer.   Thus, a tie to Psalm 2 is one that early churchgoers would have easily understood and absorbed, especially since the author then ties it to (what were at the time) contemporary eyewitness accounts from Matthew and John, as well as the (then) contemporary writings of Paul to the church in Colosse.

As if that wasn’t enough, the reference from 2 Samuel (which is the story of King David), then also ties Jesus directly to King David.   Of David, the book said “you will be my son” who would be punished on behalf of the people for wrongdoings.   As Jesus was a direct descendant from David – something that may not have been fully understood at the time Hebrews was written – the author is, thus, tying the Son of God to the revered royal lineage of Israel’s most famous warrior king.

Pretty heavy indeed.   Here’s a bit more heaviness for you:   so what?

I mean, so what?   What does this matter to us today?   Jesus and David have been dead for thousands of years, many centuries.   Why does that matter?

Really.

It’s been over 200 years yet people are still quoting Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.   It has been decades and we’re still quoting John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.   If for only historic reasons, it matters that, centuries ago, ancient writers used (already) ancient texts to tie Jesus of Nazareth – someone of their own time and day – to Jewish tradition and royal lineage.   Doing so helps us today understand the religious, social and even political impacts that the new Christian faith was having on the world at the time.   That helps us to better understand how things came to be.

Yet move beyond that to matters of your own heart in the here and now.   Your faith is a supernatural thing.   Having faith in this Jesus is highly illogical, something that the world dismisses because it requires putting trust in something you can neither see nor feel.   Yet you can sense it.   You can sense the very real peace and clarity that come from expressing faith in Jesus Christ.   You can’t touch it, but you can know it’s real.

Even though this is so, you and I still experience moments of questioning.   It’s natural; it isn’t abnormal; it isn’t even condemned by Jesus, who restored Thomas’ faith after logical doubts threatened to cloud his continued belief.  Having occasional questions or doubt doesn’t make you un-Christian:   it makes you a normal person. It is growing that doubt into dereliction of faith, rejecting God, that is a sin, not occasionally questioning or doubting His purpose or movement in our lives.   Even Jesus doubted, screaming “My God why have You forsaken me” as He was dying on the cross. In moments of question and doubt, it helps to know there are corroborating proofs, independent evidence, supporting what you believe.   It helps to know there were other people who did the same, men like King David and the author of Hebrews, who sang both praises and mourning through the Psalms, as expressions of the faith they had in God.

For more reading:   Psalm 2:7, Matthew 3:17, 2 Samuel 7:14, John 3:16, Colossians 1:18, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 97:7.

My God, thank You for weaving these intricate histories into my faith in You.   Thank You for the deep proofs, then subtle meanings, that come with believing in You as my only Savior.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 21 July 2015

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9, verses 23-24.

These are perhaps the most profound words in the entire Bible that express simple, unvarnished, honest faith.   I find it intensely comforting that someone face to face with Jesus Himself would exclaim these words to Him, exposing the very nerves of his soul, baring everything to the Son of Man. It’s comforting because we can do the same.

The boy’s father was distraught, desperate. His son was dying, Jesus’ Apostles were powerless, and Jesus seemed to be dithering.   All the father wants is what any father wants: for his son to live.   Yet here is Jesus seemingly stuck in this teachable moment.   He isn’t accusing the man but He is forcing the man to get down to brass tacks on what matters most.   Immediately the man responded; not a week later, not after taking some time to consider Jesus’ words:   immediately. And the amazing thing is how the man gets on Jesus’ level, going where the Lord is leading him.

I hadn’t really considered these verses very much until a few months ago in church when our worship leader, Anthony, remarked on them during his devotion.   As I listened to Anthony I was struck by how profound the words are, confessing in the fewest words possible the nearest and dearest concept of faith.   “Jesus, I believe in You but I still have my doubts.   Help me overcome my doubts.”   The man said them right to Jesus’ face.   Can you imagine the desperate humility and courage it must have taken to say them? Indeed, I think those words are the battle that every unbeliever, atheist and agnostic fights every day of their lives. Some give up on the battle; some are plagued by doubts; some grow cold; some bask in the wonder of the logic.

But don’t go away thinking it is only unbelievers who struggle with belief. Every believer, from St. Peter on down to us, struggles with their faith at some point in life. Doubts, anxieties, questions, stress, and exhaustion all plague us from time to time.   They cause us to waver in things that we know are true; more to the point, we let them cause us to waver.   If one can waver in love, in the law, in the ways of this world, or in the friendship of other people, then one can waver in one’s faith in Jesus.   It isn’t rejection: it’s doubting; doubting as much in our own strength as in His strength to help us persevere and overcome.

In those moments, it’s good to come back to these verses and remember two things about them.   One, Jesus promised that everything is possible if we believe in Him. He meant those words especially for people living in doubt. Then, the man in front of him confessed his simply humanity and exposed the bare surfaces of his heart and his overwhelming need for what only Jesus could do. And in doing so, Jesus delivered in ways that still resonate for us here today.

Lord, I too struggle with unbelief.   Forgive me for this, and strengthen me inside to close out the darkness by shining on it Your light of belief.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 1 July 2015

They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. Mark 9, verse 10.

We’ve debated this same thing since the day the three Apostles first did so.   It’s one of the fundamental justifications that folks who struggle with faith give for why they do struggle. Do we really, truly believe that Jesus rose from death?

Join the club if you’ve ever doubted that anyone could do this.   We’re in good company.   Jesus’ Apostles debated it as well as evidenced by verse 10.   When Jesus kept referring to His rising from the dead, they simply didn’t know how to take it.   As we’ve discussed in the past, these were men who were familiar with the stories of Judaism.   Perhaps they had even had minimal training in the synagogues, but it’s doubtful they were highly educated. Scholars they weren’t but they still knew the stories of the Patriarchs, Moses, Elijah, and all the miracles God had performed for Israel over the millennia.   And yet they didn’t know quite what to do with this new information.

I’ll admit:   sometimes I don’t know what to do with it either.   See, I fully believe in Jesus.   I believe everything He said, everything He did, everything He said He would do.   The miracles?   I believe they happened.   The virgin birth?   I believe it happened.   The crucifixion and the resurrection?   Yes, I believe they actually happened.   Still, I’m sometimes stuck in the same moment as Peter, James and John, wondering what Jesus meant when He said He had to die and rise from that death. Why was it necessary?   I know the ecclesiastical book answer but isn’t there something more?   Why a death for a life, or a death for all lives?   It’s the question of the ages.

Right now it’s a good time to remind myself that “it’s not about me.” Jesus was predicting these things so that all of us, not just me, could have a permanent, eternal relationship with Him. That’s all I need to know. Even though we struggle with how He would do this, He did it for us anyway. Yet each of us needs to eventually decide one way or another:   do we truly believe?   If you’re like me, even after you decide in the affirmative (something I did so long ago that I don’t even really remember when it happened) you still sometimes find yourself doubting that anyone could actually do what Jesus said He could, would, and then did.

When those doubts come, I take comfort from known that we are indeed in that good company.   Even the Apostles didn’t always understand Jesus and they walked, talked, ate, and lived with Him in person for years. Not only, but (later Apostle) Paul later reminded believers that they needed to be renewed in their faith, by God, every day; see Ephesians 4:23. Doubt is human; questioning is natural.   The illogical in the face of the illogical is still illogical and sends us into questioning.   Yet we should always remember that faith is the beginning of reason when we realize that Jesus is the ultimate source of all truth and the truth behind every answer. Even when we doubt His truth or His miracles (like the resurrection) He is always present to renew us through faith in Him and give us the faith knowledge to press onward.

Lord Jesus, forgive my doubts, and let me find all answers in You.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 6 September 2013

 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.  James 1, verse 13.

It’s SO tempting to give into the desire to blame God when bad things happen.   “If there is a God, then why does He let so many bad things happen?”   “I can’t believe God is doing this to me.”  “God made me this way.”  You and I, even if we say we know that all that Jesus says is true, we still live in moments of doubt.  I’m ashamed to admit it but it’s true.   Sometimes I’ve had thoughts like these.

Does God put us in situations to test us?   Anyone with a knowledge of both Scripture and his own life must answer yes.   Does God allow evil in the world?   Here’s the surprise.   No, He doesn’t.  We do.

Yep.   It’s on us.  God is pure love, pure justice, pure mercy, pure truth.  There is no evil in Him or about Him.   Jesus, who created everything using only His words, has not a single speck of evil in His person.  Zip, zero, nada.   It wasn’t God’s choice to follow evil:  it was man’s.   Does God tolerate it?   Again, if you’re honest with yourself you have to admit He does.   But does God allow it?   Tap into that same honesty and you must conclude He doesn’t.  God cannot be in union with evil.   He can’t be joined with it, in unity with it, or be of it in any way.   If He did, He wouldn’t be holy.  Yet we choose evil every time we say ‘no’ in independence or defiance.  He doesn’t desire evil for us in any fashion, which is why He constantly offers us mercy and an exit strategy that He Himself put in motion.

I’m watching “The Stand” while my wife is overseas.   It’s one of my favorite books, and one of the few Stephen King books that was made into a tolerable movie (miniseries, actually).  If you don’t know the story, it’s basically a battle of good versus evil.  A flu epidemic wipes out most of humanity, and then God uses those left to make their stand against an imp of hell.   It’s apocalyptic stuff.   God gives those who follow His directions the ability to stand against evil, allowing their free choices and always offering a path home in mercy.

Isn’t that how it is with you and me as well?  Sometimes we are tempted, but when we honestly appraise it, it isn’t God doing the tempting.  It’s the deceiver, and we choose to listen.  God allows us to bear the burdens of our choices, even those that result in grave sins.   Yet He always puts in front of us the hope of Jesus that He secured on that Calvary tree. 

Lord, I don’t understand Your ways or even Your will sometimes.   But I accept them both and follow You.  Help me to stand against the evil that plagues me today.     

 

Have you ever doubted God?

What was Jesus telling you in those moments?

Where are you being called to make a stand?