Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 November 2016

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Hebrews 4, verse 12.

Read the verses listed below, then wrestle with God at what He’s telling you through them.  He’s dividing your soul from your sins.

I’ll never forget the look on the face of the CIO when she fired me.   I was the temporary IT director at a small HMO in Montana.   A few months before, I had taken the job up there in Kalispell to make a big change after a year of sin, frustration, shame and distraction had nearly wrecked my family.  Montana would be a fresh beginning, a place to start from scratch and move forward.   Nearly from the start, I knew I couldn’t fix all that was wrong in the department there yet I kept trying, doing my best to bail water out of a sinking boat.   Profession dysfunctions, inadequate systems, incompetent consultants, poor configuration, no processes:   it was an IT director’s challenge and my job to clean up someone else’s messes.   To do that, I worked with the company board to hire a new CIO and we found one with all the qualifications we needed.   She was really good.  Now she was letting me go.   I had trained her in all the issues we were facing and what was being done to address them and there I was, called in out of the blue on a Tuesday afternoon and she was letting me go.   “This just isn’t working out,” she said, and without them giving me another reason I was out of a job.

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”  That’s from Jeremiah 23.  I felt crushed.  In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the story of how God’s word is like good seed that farmers sow in various kinds of ground.   Some grows to produce a harvest; sometimes it withers and dies.  What seed had I become?  And in Acts 12 there’s this simple truth:  “But the word of God continued to increase and spread” despite the faithful being scattered, torture and murders of the saints, and all the structural impediments that the Jews and their collaborative Roman friends could build against it.  Fine words to hear but I had people depending on me!

Ephesians 6 talks about us being clothed in the armor of God to carry that word of God boldly into battle against real forces of sin and dark magic. Paul’s sometime friend Peter then says that this word is imperishable, living, enduring.   John is the one who said it is a double edged sword, one he saw in a vision coming out of the mouth of Jesus.  And as you’ve read, that analogy was also used here in Hebrews, stating how God’s word cuts us to the core, slicing away soul from sin so that our sins might be laid bare for the terrible choices they are.

Tell all this to the guy who lost his job.   Here in the real world, tell all this to the man who’s terrified of how he’s going to support his family, pay his bills, overcome the shame of unemployment, talk to the people who thought he was making a fresh start up there in the north woods.   Or in the woods of east Texas.   Or perhaps in the woods where you and I wander today.   Tell all this to that guy, and to you, and to me, and all who will listen.   Speak it loud and clear because, brother, we need it.

Even in what we think must be the worst times, Jesus is still in everything and the Word He gives is that sharp sword.  It is both the weapon to use against temptations and guilt, and the scalpel that excises cancer from the spirit.  It has been years since that day in northwest Montana when Dory fired me for reasons I still don’t understand.   Once again I find myself in a job that seems to be slipping away, and once again I find myself faced with the fears of supporting my family, paying those bills and the frustration of not understanding where things went wrong.   Yet once again I also find myself standing here, sometimes terrorized in the dark until I realize that I’m standing here, not alone, but with Jesus.   He used that door He slammed shut to walk me through others He would open.   He’s doing it again now and, in doing so, He speaks to my heart to cleanse my thoughts and my attitude.   The bills will get paid, we’ll get through the tough times, and that second job is there to help.  What matters is staying close to His side.  He reassures me in the days when the world seems harsh that I should take heart because He has overcome the world.

For more reading:   Isaiah 55:11, Jeremiah 23:29, Mark 4:14, Luke 5:1, John 10:35, John 16:33, Acts 7:38, Acts 12:24, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, Ephesians 6:17, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 1:23, 1 John 2:14, Revelation 1:2, 16

Lord Jesus, I find myself scared and worried about all kinds of things.   Comfort me with Your presence, and equip me to boldly share You where I am today. May Your piercing Word be active in my life today and in the lives of those I reach.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 October 2016

And free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  Hebrews 2, verse 15.

Does anyone remember the movie “Moonstruck?”   In it, Olympia Dukakis’ husband was cheating on her.   Throughout the movie, she kept asking everyone “why do men cheat?”   All kinds of answers ensued until she asked her prospective son-in-law.   His answer?  “Because they fear death.”

He couldn’t have been more correct.  Indeed, Hebrews 2, verse 15 says exactly that.   We sin because we are held captive by sin.   And we are held in captivity by our sins because we fear death.

All kinds of things result from this.   More sin is probably the one with which we’re most familiar.   God never does things that lead us to sin as our only option; you need a gut check if you’re in a set of choices where the best ones involve some kind of wrongdoing.  That’s because sin begets sin; wrong creates wrong.   While good can indeed result out of our wrongdoings – and thank God for grace – generally the only thing that results from bad choices is bad consequences.

Yet if you’re like me you’ve found yourself wrapped up in your sins and you feel you don’t know the way out.  You don’t see any easy way out because, whether you’ll admit it or not, you’re afraid of the ultimate punishment.  What if you died now?   You’d be dead in your sin.   What if someone finds out?   You actually might be dead meat!   What if the punishment is more than I can stand?   You may wish you were dead.

Most of all, what if I’m not good enough for God?   Ah, there is the most deceptive sin of all:   the subtle idolatry of assuming you have to do something to please God, to make yourself good enough so He will accept you.   To make yourself worthy of avoiding death.

Now would be a good time to re-read verse 15.   Key in on those first three words “and free those.”  You can’t do anything to make yourself pleasing to God.   There is absolutely nothing on this planet that you can do that will earn your way into heaven.   There is absolutely nothing you can do to make yourself worthy enough for God to love you.  What’s more, death is a consequence of sin; it was promised to us by God, face to face with our ancestors Adam and Eve.  Whether we fear it or not, death will happen as a natural response to our sinful nature.   Cue the worried moonstruck face.   If you’re an actor or a modern college snowflake, are you frightened yet?   Run for your safe space!

Is that bleak?   Not at all.   Indeed, re-read those words again –  “and free those” – and remember that Jesus freed you.   He loved, lived, died, and rose to free you from the grip that sin held over you.   Whether you remember it or not, whether you choose to put aside your guilt or not, whether you want to admit it or not Jesus and only Jesus did everything necessary for God to love you, forgive you, and welcome you into paradise.   Indeed, Jesus did everything necessary for you to let go of the self-imposed slavery to sin that you keep carrying around.

Guilt?   Let it go because it’s only you hurting yourself.   Shame?   Time to end it and move forward.   Dread of consequences?   You may indeed endure consequences but know that Jesus will be with you and will give you every bit of strength and courage to endure them in a Godly way.  Fear of death?   You don’t need it anymore because Jesus’ perfect sacrifice made it so that, when your physical life ends, you’ll enter Paradise and, with Him there, stand in front of God the Father blameless.   God won’t see your sins or your guilt or your fear.   Instead, He’ll see you through the blood of Jesus, which will clothe you perfectly and render you holy again.

For too long, we let the devil hold us in slavery to our sins.   He shrouds us in guilt, shame, anger and fear, telling us “yeah but what about X.”   He plants deceit and doubt in our hearts and tries to cloud over the bright light that is Jesus.  When you choose to believe in Jesus, all those clouds begin to evaporate.   Instead of the foggy darkness of fear we get to feel the warm liberation of love.   Talk about being genuinely moonstruck and this ain’t no movie.

For more reading:   1 Corinthians 15:50, Ephesians 6:12, John 1:14, Genesis 3:15, 1 Corinthians 15: 54-57, 2 Timothy 1:10, 1 John 3:8.

Lord Jesus, thank You for your liberating love, for freeing me from the fear of death.   Stand with me today to ward off the darkness when it tries to creep in from the boundaries of my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 March 2016

“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.’” Mark 16, verses 6-7.

God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves.   This week after Easter, that’s good to remember.   That can be difficult as the church year goes on because it’s a few weeks until Pentecost, then a long, long span until the next big event, which is Advent in December.

Really?   Yep.   I mean, who besides those wrapped up in ‘churchy stuff’ follows that kind of thing these days?   You’d be surprised:   there are millions who do. Such things still matter; very much, in fact. And during the summer, when the sun is shining and there are fun things to do, it becomes so easy for us to let our faith in Jesus get stale.   Today, when the feeling of being with a bunch of like-minded believers is fresh, it’s easy to feel great about God.   In a few months, that feeling will wane and it’ll be easier to slip into the groove of “it’s all about me.”

Before that happens, notice that the first person to tell humanity about the resurrection isn’t a person at all.   It’s an angel; it’s a supernatural being.   The first person to speak to humanity was supernatural (God Himself).   The first person to speak to Mary when she learned she would be a mother was supernatural, the angel Gabriel (who had also spoken to the prophet Daniel centuries before).   And the first person to speak to believers after Jesus resurrected was another angel, this one unidentified.

What was the believers’ reaction?   Fear.   Sure, it’s understandable that these humble, mild women would be afraid.   It was, after all, an extraordinary thing.   Don’t forget that the other men and women who had been closest to Jesus were in hiding, afraid of what the Sanhedrin might do.   If the priests were bold enough to take out Jesus, it wouldn’t be a stretch for them to take out Jesus’ inner circle. Indeed, it was a courageous thing for these women to even show their faces yet they did so early in the morning, before the rest of the city was stirring.   Is it surprising that they would be afraid when confronted by the angel?

But that fear is telling.   It’s our reaction today.   9/11 attacks? We were afraid.   The (almost weekly) terrorist homicide, random shooting, or heinous crime in Chicago?   Fear.   Truly polarizing candidates trying to prey on our fears of what ‘the other guy’ will do to the Republic?   They get away with it because we let those fears seem real.   It’s almost as if fear is wired into our psyches.

Hence, God reaches out to us to grab our attention.   He does this because we can’t. We’re paralyzed by our fears; we’re paralyzed by our sins.   When faith is stale, God shakes us up.   In the past, He used the supernatural to crash into our so-called natural world.   Many – myself included – say He still does so today.   He does it to do what we can’t, to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.   Namely, to save us…like He did on Easter Sunday.   Millions of people desperately need it.

Lord, thank You for doing what I can’t, for saving me, for giving me so much better than I deserve.

Read Mark 16, verses 9-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 June 2015

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Mark 9, verse 7

Hello again, my friend.   I took last week off to spend time with my family at a beach house in south Texas. During that time, the Supreme Court mandated that same sex marriage was legal under the Constitution.   No, I’m not going to discuss that issue here, and no I’m not going to expound on my views concerning it.   I’ll simply ask this question:   would we listen if God was talking to us about His Son?

Just tonight, I was reading online about famous atheists like Brangelina, Jodie Foster, Seth McFarlane, Kevin Bacon, Julianne Moore, Morgan Freeman and others. They supposedly wouldn’t listen to God because they don’t believe He exists; this from their own words. I wonder if they’ll listen when He talks with them once their days here on this Earth are done.   By that time it’ll be too late.

Does that mean we should listen to God in part out of fear about what would happen if we didn’t?   In part, yes. Do you obey traffic laws in fear of getting caught if you don’t, or do you do so sometimes because it’s just the right thing to do?   I’m betting your answer is “a little bit of both,” and that seems about right.   I’d say it even seems Godly because God says ‘trust me’ and that’s hard to do when we can’t even see the One who’s asking us to trust Him.   It’s natural to feel some hesitation about believing without seeing, but we do it every day.

How comforting (and shocking) it must have felt, then, for Peter, James and John to hear God the Father Himself proclaiming “This is my Son, whom I love.   Listen to Him!” We’ve talked about how they must have felt fear and trepidation at the transfiguration.   But how must it have felt to have God the Father actively talking to them? I’m betting it was moving, and intimidating, and maybe even humbling.   Do you think they listened?   Their actions later bore it out.

So would we listen if God was talking with us about His Son?   Atheists pose this question over and over, and I’ve always wondered where they go for comfort when terrible things happen to them. Gay activists have been posing it all weekend, many of them throwing the faith of believers right back in our faces (to be honest, that kind of a gut check isn’t all bad).

Perhaps in reading today’s verse we can find that God is ALWAYS talking to us about His Son.   He does it in these words.   He does it in civil debate over contentious issues, imploring us in silence to always come to Him first for any and all answers.   He does it in the magnificence of nature, in the random safety of a million interactions in the city, in the miracles of living, and in every wave that washes up on the beach.   He may even be speaking to us through this debate on how to follow Him through the tangled mess we’ve made of marriage. God the Father may not speak to us in His own voice to our ears, but He does speak to us directly to our hearts through His Word and these verses.

Lord, I hear Your voice even when I don’t always listen.   Thank You for Your voice and Your patience with me.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 June 2015

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.). Mark 9, verses-5-6.

Let’s talk about terror again, about feeling terrified.   And let’s do so without getting all judgy or preachy about it.   You and I can say, from the vantage point of hindsight and so-called ‘modern’ thinking, how small the disciples were; how they should have been elated instead of scared to see what they were seeing in Jesus’ transfiguration. Of course we would be wrong.   We’d be wrong because we’re terrified all the time and in some ways that may not be a bad thing.

Here is a partial list of things that I, as a 48 year old man, still give me pause and fear: spiders, being alone in the dark, losing my family, burning to death.   Wake me out of a sound sleep at 3 AM with loud sounds and you’ll have me completely terrified in an instant.   This kind of terror isn’t what one would feel if confronted by ISIS, or the kind that a politician would feel when he realizes the press is no longer interested in him.   Instead, it’s simply feeling startled, intimidated by the sudden ferocity of having one’s senses assaulted by matters out of your control.

Is this irrational?   Absolutely it is, and I freely embrace that; some would say I embrace irrationality too freely anyway. No matter, I think it was the sheer irrationality of the transfiguration that had Peter, James and John terrified when they saw what was happening before them. I can’t blame them.   Their senses would have been overloaded. Their intellects would have been challenged by past and present, eternal and earthly, all crashing together in an observation of what God’s world really looks like when time and the ephemeral no longer matter.   They must have quickly realized that this man they knew as friend and teacher really was the all-powerful God of all the earth.   Can you imagine how that would have made them feel?

And yet, these were the same all too human men who would return to humanity in all too human ways.   When it ended, they would return to their friends, sworn to secrecy until the time was appointed to tell others. John would see Jesus die and rise, and provider for Jesus’ mother for the rest of her life.   Peter would deny he even knew Jesus before knowing the worst of despair and then the heights of forgiven elation. James would one day die a martyr’s death.

Thus, maybe it’s unfair if we look down on the three apostles for feeling terrified and frightened to see Jesus as He really was.   If Jesus suddenly appeared to me, I doubt I would react any different than the Apostles did if, indeed, I reacted so well as they.

Lord, forgive me my fears, strengthen my faith, and thank You for any way in which You reveal Yourself.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 24 February 2015

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. Mark 5, verses 14-17.

I’m afraid of what I don’t understand.   When I’m confronted with something sudden, something unexpected, or something I don’t understand, I fall back to fear. This past weekend’s episode of “The Walking Dead” was about fear of the unknown.   The group of survivors was presented with a chance to be safe, to be accepted into an unknown group of secure fellow survivors.   The leader (Rick’s) reaction?   He was immediately wary, afraid, cautious, even afraid.   That’s me. When I’m presented with the unknown, I’m immediately wary.   In other words, afraid.

How about you?   I’m no different from the folks who came up on the man from the tombs who was, suddenly, in his right mind for the first time in a long time.   How about you?   Would you feel any different?   You know the answer.

And, in our defense, wariness is not always a bad thing.   It’s a natural, God-given defense against things that could (or might not) harm us.   Until we know more, like Rick in “The Walking Dead,” it’s a healthy thing to be wary.   Even to be afraid.   But that’s where the fear needs to end.   We recently talked about this, about how Jesus is bigger than our fears and how, through Him, we can completely master every fear.

Unfortunately, we’re more like the pig-herders, who saw that something extraordinary had happened, something they couldn’t quite understand.   They had grown used to the man being crazy.   You could say they were complacent with it; you might even be able to reasonably assume they preferred it that way.   It’s the whole ‘devil you know’ thing (pun intended). When he was in his right mind – and when they saw how their livelihood – the pig herd – was destroyed to make the man whole – they didn’t know how to handle him.   Their reaction?   “Go away Jesus. Don’t go away mad.   Just go away.”

Tell me, friend reader, are we any different? You and I, we are complacent with evil in our backyards.   ‘As long as it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care what they do.’   NIMBY. You get the picture.   I mentioned yesterday how I believe evil lurks even in the suburbs.   An example of that is how a neighborhood just down the street from mine recently drove out a girls’ shelter that wanted to set up shop there.   We have a huge teen abuse and drug problem in Frisco and this shelter wanted to help for a number of reasons, not the smallest being the neighborhood’s proximity to a good school.   Instead, the residents of the neighborhood drove it out.   It’s sort of like they pleaded with Jesus for Him to leave.

Admit it:   we’re no different.   Are we the townspeople, the zombies, or the unkind neighborhood? We’re afraid of what we don’t understand and we sometimes refuse to let Jesus conquer those irrational fears.

Lord, I confess my fears to You.   Teach me to conquer them.   Fight for me.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20.