Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 September 2017

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12, verse 3.

I become easily depressed.   It doesn’t take much to get me down, and sometimes I don’t even realize I’m in a funk even when I am.   Sometimes my wife will ask me “what’s wrong” and I didn’t even realize I was showing a face that showed anything was bothering me.  Sometimes, depression seems like walking in a dark forest, wandering down a path you’ve wandered before and not knowing how you’ll get out alive.

And then I read a verse like this one.   I’ll admit:  sometimes these words seem like just trite.   In a way they seem like they aren’t enough to snap me out of my depression.   They’re almost a euphemism.  When I get to feeling like that, it’s time to step back and look at the forest for the trees.  Looking at just the one verse, it’s a tree.   Jesus lived and died a tough life and death.   So what?   What about me.  How do I get around this big tree?   It’s so much bigger than me, and it’s so cold in here, and dark, and I’ll admit I sometimes still get scared of the dark.

Back up a few steps…look at a few trees together…

Consider Him.   Really, truly consider Him.  He didn’t deserve the cross.  We of the twenty-first century First World focus on “fair.”   “It isn’t fair” are some of our favorite words, especially when we’re depressed.   Have you considered it wasn’t fair for Jesus to give up the beautiful perfection of heaven to come here and live?   Have you considered how He felt sometimes, knowing He was God but living among people openly hostile to Him (some of whom were even His closest friends)?   Have you considered how terrified, anguished and in pure agony he felt being tortured to death by people He could extinguish with just a thought?   None of that seems very fair.

On your hardest days, have you or I ever truly considered the man Jesus living here among us, let alone the man Jesus living now at the right hand of God the Father?

Back up a few steps more…there are a few more trees, a few more things to consider…

Consider Jesus losing heart.   He did, you know.   That last night of His life, in Gethsemene, He was scared to death.   He wanted anything but the cross, anything but the torment of being ripped away from God while fully being God in the moment.   Only He could understand the physical and spiritual agony of it and it terrified Him completely.  What He wanted more was to submit to His Father, and that made all the difference in the world.   Literally.  And consider when He wept.   He did, you know.   He wept – crying, inconsolable grief – when His friend, Lazarus died.   Have you ever cried because someone you loved died?   Jesus did, and He was God.

Keep backing up a few more steps…it’s starting to look like the beginning of a forest…

Consider that the God-man who didn’t deserve the cross, who didn’t deserve the torture, who fully experienced all the emotional agony that you or I could know lived that extraordinary life so that you could live your ordinary life by taking your lead from Him.  It’s easy to lose heart in this world.   It’s easy to get down when really tough things plague you.   Often you don’t do anything and still the blues hit you.  Sometimes that depression can seem like a spinning weight, pulling you down into emotional black water that you just can’t seem to swim out of.   Consider, then, that you aren’t alone in it.  At your very toughest moment, when every other human deserts you and your thoughts seem to close in on you like walls, Jesus is there.   He’s in your heart; He’s in your conscience.   He beckons you to put hope in Him, hope being a promise and not just some wish.   He listens, He conveys peace to you, He gets you through the moment.   Sometimes, when every day seems piled high with interminable moments, well, sometimes the first step on the road back to peace is realizing Jesus is there with us.

Sometimes there’s a tree planted in front of you, but when you and your Lord back up a few steps, you realize He’s with you there in the forest.   And that a forest is just a bunch of trees.   It’s dark there in the forest, but it doesn’t have to be.   Hold onto His Hand and consider Him.   He’s walked around a few trees in His time.   He’s been in the dark forest, and wherever He is, there’s light.  Hold onto that light; hold Him by the hand, and walk forward through the forest passing one tree at a time.   Before you know it, you’ll be on a different path to something and some place better.   Sometimes, that’s a great place to start.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:9, Revelation 2:3.

My Lord, You sustain me in the toughest times.   You guide me, You forgive me, You uphold me.   When I consider You, I I can only feel awesome humble thankfulness.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 30 May 2017

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  Hebrews 10, verses 30-31.

Before we move off these verses, let’s talk about revenge.

Verse 30 is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:35, meaning that the quote goes back to Moses.  They are part of what’s called “the Song of Moses,” which was a recitation he gave in front of the assembled Israelites.  In it, he’s saying farewell to his fellow Israelites, warning them to not push God to the limit.   God gave them free will but He did so in order for them to want to love Him willingly.   Moses doesn’t have much time left, and he uses it to explain, one more time, the mercy and justice of the Lord.   Immediately after, he says that the Lord will judge His chosen people.   Left out from the book of Hebrews quote is how got “will have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left slave or free.”

On one hand God talks about judging people harshly, and on the other hand God talks about having compassion on them.  My friend the atheist might be laughing at this because it would appear to give credence to his assertion that God is crazy.  Except that it doesn’t.

The Song of Moses sings about the same thing the Hebrews 10 says:   God is just and merciful.  When you devote your heart to God, you set yourself apart from the scoffers, critics, and God-haters.   When you realize how full love, peace, justice, and harmony  are found only in God’s Son, Jesus, you say to the world “I believe.   I’m not like the others.”   Elitist?   Not at all.   It’s a profession of faith in understanding that the Triune God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob is a God of peace and understanding, but that, like any parent, His peace and understanding have limits.   When we push our ultimate parent to His limit, should it be a surprise that we would incur His wrath?

It does no good to try to predict what that wrath would look like.   Fire, tribulation, burning sulfur, the agony of hell:  perhaps it could be any of these.   Perhaps, too, it could be discord, anxiety, difficulty, troubles, even depression.   These, too, can be God’s tools to avenge our rebellion.   What did the song say:   “Be careful what you wish for cause you just might get it.”   Perhaps God’s wrath in our lives is coated in sensual pleasure.   But notice a couple of things about whatever medium He chooses.   One, whatever evils beset us, they only do because of our own pulling away from God.   He’s still there, in the center, where He always is.   It is us who move away; it is us who draw ourselves away from His mercy and grace.   Draw far enough away and it would be as if He had drawn Himself out of our lives, which He cannot do because He loves us unconditionally.

Notice, too, that all of those pains are temporary things.   They are physical or emotional difficulties that come into our lives for a relatively short time.   When they do, they are actually for our good.   That can be hard to see, but it’s true.  God disciplines those He loves, and discipline can be tough to endure.   Sometimes it’s terrible; sometimes it even lasts for years.  Yet it isn’t permanent, and if we submit ourselves to it, we are disciplined, ‘discipled,’ and made stronger.

Finally, notice that God doesn’t ensnare us into the dread of His justice.   We fall into it.   Through some kind of circumstance, we initiate that falling.   We place ourselves in rebellion against Him and, when we’ve reached the limit of His patience, we are before Him, subject to judgment.   Is that fair?

Fair?   What is fair but a four-letter F-word?  God is the arbiter of fair.   Apart from seeing fair through the lens of God, our interpretation of fairness is skewed.   God owes us nothing, yet He constantly provides even if it’s only life, air, and food.  We earn His judgment, yet He’s constantly working to help us avoid it.  He knows that, apart from Him, we can do nothing.  He understands that, with our limited comprehension, to stand guilty before Him would be a dreadful thing for our soul.  God knows that revenge is a terrible thing, even if we bring His revenge on ourselves, and He’d rather spare us that consequence.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 32:35-36, Romans 12:19, Psalm 135:14, 2 Corinthians 5:11, Isaiah 19:16, Matthew 16:16; John 15:15.

Lord, I pray, discipline and mentor me that my heart may change and I may turn from my sinful ways to avert Your vengeance.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark 11 December 2014

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Mark 2, verse 18.

That’s not fair!   Have you ever heard kids say that?   Even if you don’t have kids, you’ve probably heard it.   You may have even said it.   Read verse 18 again and admit it:   isn’t that what these people were saying to Jesus?   “How come they get to do this and we don’t?” After 2000 years and billions of other people, what’s changed?

Yet there’s a word that jumps out because it’s used multiple times in this one verse:   disciples.   John’s disciples, disciples of the Pharisees, and (it’s implied) Jesus’ disciples:   what is it about that word that seems so old fashioned?   Dictionary.com defines “disciple” as “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another; follower.”   Not every teacher has disciples, and not every student is a disciple.   The relationship goes deeper.   There’s a connection that allows the student to embrace more than just the educational lessons offered by the teacher. The disciple absorbs the instruction, the patterns, the behaviors of the mentor.   In today’s parlance, ‘mentor’ is more commonly said than ‘disciple.’

That’s something I can relate to.   I’ve had several mentors; men and women who taught me things, ways of thinking, ways of performing and behaving, that I’ve adopted as my own. Especially in our so-called post-modern world, it’s more important than ever to have solid mentors.   We each need people to serve as examples for us; folks who think and act in ways we would like to emulate. In the age when families in America seem to be both disposable and disposed of, our young people need solid, virtuous, and experienced mentors from whom to learn the ropes.

If you have a mentor, you are a disciple.   If you are mentoring someone, you have disciples. To be a disciple is to follow.   Not surprisingly, ‘discipline’ is derived from ‘disciple’ because to be disciplined is to both receive correction (including rebuke) and to have adopted the ways of the one to whom you are discipled. Whether you know it or not, you’re following in Jesus’ footsteps.

And that’s not fair, you see, because it isn’t ‘fair’ to give up one’s entire self to be a follower of someone else.   Without descending too far into vulgarity, however, let me remind you that ‘fair’ is a four-letter F word. Life isn’t fair; fair isn’t even fair. Even Jesus isn’t fair.   Jesus is just, and truth, and love, and peace.   When you think about it, ‘fair’ and ‘fairness’ aren’t any of those things.

Neither is being a disciple of Jesus, yet the more I follow Him and the more I share my interpretations of His Word, I find that I don’t care about fairness where He is concerned.   To be a disciple of Jesus, I gladly give up ways I once thought were fine.   I enthusiastically put myself aside so that He can increase in you. I hopefully live now knowing that His hope is more than just a wish.   I thankfully look forward to being in eternity with Jesus and His church because I know I’m part of that eternity now.   None of that is fair, but all of it is just the way it should be.

Lord Jesus, You aren’t fair as the world sees fair.   You’re so much better than that.

Read the whole story again in Mark 2, verses 18-22.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 29 August 2013

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.  James 1, verse 9.

Some of the proudest moments of my life are when I was humbled for God.   There were moments on mission trips, moments when I felt moved by Him to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do at home.  One time in Africa, I felt so despondent and broken that I knew in my heart I had nobody to rely on but Jesus.   When I found Jesus was breaking my heart, I also found that He quickly began to fill it.  I’m proud of those moments; really am.  It’s not an arrogant, cocky, self-confident kind of pride.   Instead, it’s thankful, glad to have been a part of it, understanding God’s purpose for me in those moments, and happy to have let Him do what He did through me.

Then there is last night.   I went to the Minnesota State Fair.   Don’t get me wrong:  I love Texas, and I really love the Texas State Fair.   If you want to do it right, though, you simply have to go to a fair in the Midwest, and the fair here in Minnesota is one of the best.   The food, the rides, the rodeo, the crowds, the bargains, the free stuff:   I love it all.   Most of all, I love walking through the 4H exhibits.   I’m constantly amazed by the arts, crafts, and foods that 4H children make.   They are intricate, very difficult, and original.   Quilts, foods, woodwork, art, photography, different crafts:   they’re all made by kids.

The things on display there are the best of the best; you can tell by all the ribbons.   Yet I imagine the kids who make them do so in humble circumstances.   They’re from small towns all over the state, and they do their best to make things that will be judged among the finest in their craft.   One way of looking at it is that these kids are using their God-given talents to humbly do their best, making things in which they can take rightful pride.

In a way, their handiwork is Jesus’ handiwork.   Those fancy ribbons are recognition for the humble work of humble people, but, in a way, they’re recognition for the good work done by Jesus. 

That should be our goal too:  to win a ribbon for our humility.   We should let Jesus speak through us by using our talents quietly, patiently, humbly, and in a dignified way so that our best, our Jesus light, can shine through.   The longer I live, the more I find that the things of which I’m most proud aren’t things at all, but Jesus moments.   Contentment in my family; smiles on kids; the feeling of a job well done; knowing that I’m loved.   The things of which I’m proudest are the moments when Jesus is most active.

My Lord, I’m proud to follow You.   I’m proud of the faith You grow in me.  Help me to humbly live it.  Thank You.

 

What are you proud of?

Do you have pride in things, or in people, or in what Jesus does in you?

If you aren’t proud of that, what are you prepared to do?