Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 15 August 2017

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.  Hebrews 11, verse 22.

I respect wisdom; I only wish I practiced more of it.   Like I said the last time, I’m Jacob.   I tend towards living out the unwise even as I crave to be wiser.  If I’m Jacob, that makes Joseph my son.  It’s as if my Dad and I had switched roles.   When I think of Joseph, I think of my Dad because I believe they shared a similar temperament.

If you don’t know the story, Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son.   He’s his son by Rachel, the beloved wife for whom Jacob had slaved seven years.   Joseph is animated, insightful, lively, and honest.   He’s also naïve and wise, and not very tactful.   Joseph alienated his older brothers so much that they wanted to murder him, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it.   So they sold him as a slave to passing travelers, who carried him away to Egypt.   There Joseph became a slave in a rich man’s house.   Over ups and downs, God provided for Joseph in everything, abiding with him when he was unjustly thrown in prison, and abiding with him when he rose to great power afterwards.   Second only to the king, Joseph worked miracles in using the knowledge and talents God gave him to prepare for seven years of famine.   Because of Joseph’s faith in God, all Egypt had food to eat during that famine, so much so that the extra was sold to foreigners…including Joseph’s family.   After some drama even Hollywood couldn’t imagine, Joseph is reunited with his family, and his father, Jacob, is able to die in peace.

Joseph was wise.   He recognized the hand of God in all good that had come his way.   When bad things happened, he thanked God for providing rescue and knowledge.   When good things happened, he gave all credit to God who had made it so.   Yet Joseph never underestimated the power of human depravity.   He understood the fickle nature of politics, and of being a foreigner serving a foreign king; Joseph believed there would be trouble after he died.   Thus, he prophesied that a time would come when his Israelite kinfolk would become a nation in need of deliverance.   “God will come to your aid” was what he told his children and grandchildren.  Joseph was a wise realist.   He ‘played long ball’ were good and when they weren’t.   He knew that, in both, God is still God and over it all.  His faith didn’t decrease even when he realized he was dying.   Indeed, he clung onto it steadily even when he knew God would see him die in a strange land.

My dad was a Kenneth, not a Joseph.   Yet I’m reminded of Joseph when I think of my dad.   Dad wasn’t a deeply religious man.   He went to church nearly all his life, yet it seemed like he taught my sister and I to be Sunday morning Christians.   It wasn’t that he was a bad man, or that he lived a moral life on Sunday and immoral otherwise; nothing could be farther from the truth.   Dad always believed in Jesus.  It’s just that his faith wasn’t something he practiced openly.   That is until he was dying.   Dad died of cancer in 1997.   The disease took him in a little over two years of up’s and down’s and painful treatments.   Through it, like Joseph, Dad learned to cling onto his faith.   Even up until the last time I talked with him, Dad was content with his life and realistic about his death.   “I know where I’m going.   I wish it wasn’t now, but that isn’t up to me.”   His words; not mine.

My Dad wasn’t a perfect man, and he didn’t try to be one.   He did his best.   His father did the same even as he, my grandfather, wasn’t a particularly strong example of the kind of man my father once wanted to be.  Dad worked to teach the people around him to have faith and be better.   He did his best to prepare us for hard times that would one day come.

If I as the son am more Jacob – an impetuous believer – then I remember my Dad as more Joseph:  a wise believer.   God took Joseph from obscurity to the depths to great fame.   God took my Dad from obscurity, through the hills, and to a quiet grave in a green field of white stones.  Yet I remember him as wise, and prospering, and usually laughing, and good.   I learned from my Dad to always try my hardest, and to ‘give it my all’ no matter what ‘it’ is.  And I learned from him the basics of believing, of learning how to trust God.   I’m betting Joseph could have said the same thing about his dad.

For further reading:  Genesis 50:24-25, Exodus 13:19, Joshua 24:32.

Lord, thank You for letting me be my Dad’s son, and Your created son.  Thank You for the example of Joseph, for all he did.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 May 2017

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Hebrews 10, verses 15-16.

I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. That thought blows my mind.   Does it apply to everyone?

Do you think Kim Jong Un has a conscience?   This is the man who tortures nearly 300,000 of his countrymen simply for the act of thinking for themselves.   He just ordered the assassination of his half-brother in Malaysia.   He seems bent on provoking war with the West, provoking a resumption of the vicious civil war his grandfather began nearly 70 years ago.   Do you think he has a conscience?   Do you think that his conscience is inured?   He was educated in Switzerland, so it’s reasonable to assume he was exposed to Christianity at some point in his life.   Do you think he rejected it?

Or there was Sayyid Qtub.   You might never have heard of him.   He, too, was educated in the West, and he, too, was exposed to Christianity during his time in America (several years, in fact).   Sayyid Qtub was the original Islamist fundamentalist, a man who grew to hate all that the West stands for and who began to challenge the Arab governments in Egypt in the 1960s.   He founded the anti-American Muslim Brotherhood and was executed by the Egyptians in 1966.   One of his acolytes was a man named Zawahiri, who later worked with a man named Bin Laden to form Al Qaeda.   Do you think they had consciences?

Do you think God wrote His laws on their hearts and wrote them on their minds?

Has He written them on yours?

You know the answer, and it’ll make you uncomfortable to admit that, yes, these people did (or do) know God.   God loved Sayyid Qtub, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Osama Bin Laden enough that He sent His only son to die for them.   He does it for everyone, even those who commit great sins.   Just yesterday, I was at a gymnastics facility here in Paris, talking with a woman there (while waiting for my grandson to complete his gym lesson).   We were talking about the man in Dallas who had just shot the paramedic (and who was later found dead, a suicide, in a nearby home).   The woman’s young daughter quipped into our conversation that “Mommy, Jesus died for that man, too.”   She’s right.   He did.   Jesus died for that lunatic who murdered an innocent first responder and then murdered himself.

Just like He died for You.   You whose sins may be relatively tame compared to Kim Jong Un, Osama Bin Laden, or a crazed killer.  Re-read verses 15 and 16 and tell me if they say “only white people” or “The Holy Spirit testifies to Southern Baptists about this.”   It doesn’t say “This pertains only to the Catholics” or “AME Methodists know this better than anyone else.”   No, those verses say that Jesus’ Holy Spirit testifies to US, all of us, each of us, you and me.   They say that God wrote His holy laws into our hearts and minds.   They are natural law, beyond human education and not caused or inspired by human thought.   They are God bequeathed into us, innately part of us.   They are branded onto our very existence.

So do I think those horrible people, whoever they are, whoever WE are, know about God without being taught about Him?   Yes, yes I do.   I believe that God writes Himself into our DNA, whoever we are, and that our deepest yearnings in whatever culture from which we emanate are to know God more.   To learn about Him, to seek Him, to build on what He put into us and to find meaning in this life through Him.   Some reject this; let’s be honest:   most people reject this.   Yet it doesn’t make the truth less true that God loved us first and wants us first to love Him before we know or love anything else.   His Spirit speaks to us through the conscience, and we each have a conscience even if we dull it.  He loved us enough to die for us no matter what terrible things we do to each other in our lives.  He wants everyone to know this so that everyone might turn from our evil ways to embrace His Way.  Even Sayyid Qtub, the Dallas killer, and Kim Jong Un.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being bigger than me, more patient than me, more loving than me.

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, 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, the Ten Commandments, 20 June 2014. Today’s topic: ending at the start

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20, verses 2 and 3.

So we end here at the beginning. We end with first principles:   God is God.   We are not to worship anyone or anything else. In reality, this first commandment goes with every other one.   There is no sin that doesn’t start without first making something else more important than God.

Let’s not gloss over that slavery thing, though.   You and I: we are still slaves.   Paul said we believers are slaves to righteousness; that’s true. Yet it’s also true we are rhetorical slaves to many other things.   I’m a slave to my job; you’re a slave to your children; we slave out in the yard every weekend; my wife slaves in the kitchen.   Blah, blah blah. As we talk down a pretty powerful word, let’s not lose sight of what it really means.

Slavery is having no freedom.   It is being under the complete control of another.   It means someone can beat you, abuse you, work you, and kill you without your being able to do anything to stop it. For over 200 years, in colonial America then into Constitutional America, slavery was legal and normal.   It took a civil war and drastic societal change to rid the nation of slavery; even then, hatred found ways to perpetuate its effects for another hundred years.

Don’t kid yourself: slavery still exists in this world.   There are still whole parts of Africa in which men enslave each other.   The sex trade is run on slavery in every nation in on the planet. Every government, even benevolent ones, has the tendency to move from liberty to tyranny to enslaving its people; it is only we the people who prevent that.   Slavery is alive and well in 2014.

The Israelites had been slaves for over 400 years, since the death of Joseph and the kind pharaoh he served.   They were subjugated, beaten, tortured and worked until God delivered them into His freedom. Quickly they learned that slavery, however, needs no taskmaster.   Slavery can exist when you’re enslaved to your sins, to your temptations.   God understood this, so He gave them this first commandment to remind them that He is God. That He redeemed them. That He is more powerful. In Him there is only love, justice and true liberty.   In God, there is no cruelty of slavery.   In God, there is only the true freedom of divine redemption. We were created for that loving freedom.

That’s where we end this series. God started it by reminding us of His true, free redemption, then gave us reminders of how to cling to that honest liberty. How much freer could we be if we simply took His commandments at His Word, then lived our lives accordingly.

Lord, You are my only God.   You are the only source of liberty, truth, and love.

 

Read Exodus chapter 20: the full Ten Commandments.