Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 10 July 2018

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (NIV).

Sad verse; this is a very sad verse.

I read all the “Left Behind” books.  They’re fiction, yet in the scene where Jesus delivers His divine judgment against those who rejected Him, He is described as looking sad.   For those who choose to not believe in Him, it will be a moment of supreme terror and it will show; for believers, it will be shock, and that’ll show as well.  Yet for Jesus, I’m betting the book will have called it right.   I’m betting Jesus will be sad in that moment, maybe even weeping.

Jesus didn’t come to destroy us.   He won’t return with the sole purpose of doing that either.  Even though He will return in mighty justice, heavenly fire, and more power than the world has ever known, that’s not why He’s coming back.   He’s coming back to restore creation to the way He created it.  He’s coming back to permanently restore true love, real harmony, and peace forever.   Jesus is coming back in power and glory to claim His followers to bring them into eternity with Him and it will be the greatest day in history, especially since it will be the last one.

Yet involved in that will be expunging those who chose no part of it.  Those who insisted they know better, those who spurned Him, those who embraced hypocrisy, those who live in hate and worldly pleasure, those who simply don’t care:  they will be punished.   He will unleash His angels to bind and eternally sentence them to be apart from Him.   Oh, they’ll live forever; we are eternal beings whether eternally in heaven or hell.   Yet their forever will be one of eternal punishment, apart from all love, hope, and peace in whatever hell has in store for them.   Whether hell is literal fire or emotional torment (or both) we don’t know.   Whatever is in it, it will be terrible.

I feel sorry for these unbelievers, especially since the Gospel isn’t a game of “I’ve got a secret.”   It’s sad, and I’m thinking that’s how Jesus will feel.   It’s not what He wants; it isn’t what He intended for His children.   He wants brothers and sisters, friends, followers, lovers of His real love.  He wants all of us to be saved, including scoffers.   He wants saints and sinners side by side with Him forever.  But He’s holy and the new Earth refined out of His fire will be holy like Him.  For that holiness to exist, it must be free from all that reject Him.   That means God will punish those who reject Him and who choose to reject the Gospel of Jesus.   And that’s the saddest news ever even as it’s necessary.

For further reading: Philippians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Kings 17:18, Isaiah 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Lord Jesus, come quickly and have mercy.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 9 July 2018

God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 (NIV).

God is good.   He helped me achieve a life goal, and it’s gonna be roasted to a crisp.

I’m working in New England this week and had a few free hours after my flight landed.   So yesterday I traveled to Vermont.   That meant I have now been in all 50 states of these United States.  Again, that may not seem like much, but this is a big country.   What’s more, except for Nevada and North Dakota, I’ve been to 48 of those 50 since I left home at age 18, over half of them repeatedly.   Vermont was the last state I needed to visit to join an elite club of people who spend way too much time on the road.

Vermont is a beautiful place.   Hilly, green, lush, friendly.  I only visited a few miles of it.   I checked in on Facebook, posted some pictures, had a great chat with a Navy veteran at a tourist center, and then bugged out.   But the drive up and back was gorgeous.   Literally it was one of the most pleasant rides I’ve ever had.

One day it’ll all be burned up in blazing fire from heaven.

That kind veteran I met:   really nice guy.   Vietnam Veteran; a veteran of the Gulf of Tonkin crisis in fact.   He’s been around, and I told him my story and that he was the first person I’d met in Vermont.   We got along well, as vets do.  Yet I hope he believes in Jesus because, if he doesn’t, one day he’ll know more trouble than he’s ever thought possible.

Paul reminds us that God is just.   He is perfect and His justice is perfect.   It is exactly what every situation needs.   God made this earth (and we who inhabit it) to be in perfect communion with Him so that we can share the blessings of Him.   Yet we frustrated His just and good creation with our free choice of sin.  Our just God respects our choices because that’s what love does yet He has promised to return and make all things new.   That will involve worldwide justice.   And terror for those who thwart Him.   And smiles and love and reunions.   And it will involve fire.

Even in beautiful Vermont.   It’ll be a shame to think of such a wonderful place being scorched to a crisp.   Yet God already has something even more beautiful in store.   Knowing that, bring on the fire.

For further reading: Luke 18:7-8, Romans 12:19, Colossians 3:25, Revelation 6:10, Hebrews 10:27, 2 Peter 3:7, Jude 14, 2 Thessalonians 1:8.

Lord, thank You for helping with my goal.   And thank You for Your coming justice!

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 October 2017

For our “God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12, verse 29.

My son in law (one of them) is a firefighter; the other is a military police officer.  Josh (the fireman) serves in College Station, Texas, and is combined firefighter, EMT, and paramedic.   He has skills and passion for this kind of work that I can only imagine.   A few years ago, when he was still in training, we were driving around town and saw a house under construction that had just caught on fire.   He was mesmerized watching it, and I was fascinated at how he described what the fire was doing to the building.   Josh predicted that the fire would spill over from room to room and engulf the whole floor; as if on cue, that’s exactly what happened.   The building went from somebody’s future home to a pile of ashes in a matter of minutes.

That’s a consuming fire.

Or there are the wildfires that happen out west every year.   Every year, fires consume thousands of acres of land that is both under-maintained and over-developed.   When we lived in Colorado Springs, I watched one particular wildfire rise from a pillar of smoke to miles-high mushroom cloud almost instantly.   I later read that the fire (the Hayman Fire of 2002) was caused by arson.  I remember driving out Highway 24 west of Pikes Peak and seeing mile after mile of emergency responder vehicles, makeshift responder camps, and mobile command facilities.  According to Wikipedia, that fire burned over 138000 acres and killed six people.

Consuming.

Intense preaching; short-term deadlines; focused workers; heated arguments; passionate evenings:   these are all consuming things that regularly show up on our lives.  They consume our focus and consume our attention.   They’ll consume our lives in obsession if we let them.  Have we ever considered how God is the consuming fire mentioned in the verse?   Is he like the fire mentioned when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, a fire that burned to nothing even soaking wet logs?   Is He the fire in your fireplace that warms your house while destroying old wood?   Is He nuclear fire, both destructive and immensely powerful in its magnitude?  Or is God a candle in the dark, giving the only light to an empty space?

You know the answer.

Our God is an awesome God; ok, over-used platitude and verse.  But it’s true!   God is awe-inspiring, awe-inducing, awe-producing.  His overwhelming power and His understated but equally-overwhelming love are the ultimate sources of the only real awe in the universe.   When we let Christ be the Lord in our lives, He consumes us from within and without.   He changes our heart, He evolves our attitudes, He teaches us better ways to act.   Those become self-fulfilling prophecies because when we display cleaner hearts, new attitudes, and those better ways, things around us change.   People treat us differently and we act differently.   That’s the crux of it (the cross, if you will):  we react more as Christ would have us react.   We pro-act, acting out of His love instead of just our own perspectives.  The world doesn’t change immediately but it does change.

It’s all because Christ consumes us.   He paid the price for our sins, and when we let Him into our lives, He scours out the shame, guilt, anger and hurt that held us hostage.   He replaces those feelings with His love and makes it possible to move forward in better ways.  In this way, He, our God, is like Elijah’s fire; He’s like the fire on top of Mount Sinai.  He’s the fire in our fireplace that helps us survive, comforts and warms us, and provides us with what we need.   And He’s the candle in the dark, replacing (and consuming) the darkness with undeniable light that provides focus, guidance and hope.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 4:24, 1 Kings 18.

Lord, consume me with Your holy love-fire. 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 October 2017

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”  Hebrews 12, verses 18-21.

Are you seeing as I am that it takes effort and study to understand the Bible?   A few nights ago, a pastor I know said that he thought simply turning to the Bible and picking a random verse for advice was dangerous.   If you randomly pick a verse and expect it to give you life-altering advice, you’re subjecting God to a game of Russian Roulette where you hold the gun against the other guy’s head.  I understand his point, because context matters, background matters.   You may not have a degree in hermaneutics or have a bookshelf full of commentaries, but knowing a little bit about the verses you read might just help you to understand them (and what they’re saying) better.  A good website for this is http://thetorah.com/what-happened-at-mount-sinai/.

The background of these verses is, as you’ve guessed, from the time of the Ten Commandments.  God led the people of Israel to Sinai, His holy place.   There He would minister to them and give them His commandments for how to live in the world.   To protect them, He ordered Moses to set up boundaries so that no one would set foot onto God’s holy mountain in some disrespectful way.  It was for them, not Him.  Why wouldn’t God want His people to flock to Him?   The answer is in the millennial joke:  “it’s you, not me.”   Putting it simply, it was the people’s sins.

God can’t be unholy.   Un-holiness is against His nature.   He can’t tolerate it.  Specifically, it seems like the sin of disrespect would be one He would not tolerate.   For the people to accept His holy law, God wanted to ready them.   So He gave them instructions to follow.   “Stay off the mountain.”  Listen to God and He teaches.  God would speak to them through Moses, and in doing so He would affirm Moses’ leadership over them.   That’s a practical as well as spiritual matter, you know.   2 million souls wandering hungrily in unfamiliar territory needed a leader.  They didn’t need another pharaoh or some strongman:   they needed an authority.   God speaks to them directly from the mountain, but at a distance to gather their attention and to set up some ground rules.  By acting through Moses and by requiring the Israelites to follow directions, God installs Moses as leader and affirms that authority.   What’s more, when God speaks directly from Sinai, He has Moses stand above the people, in-between them and Himself.   He couldn’t have told them any clearer:   “This guy Moses is my spokesman here.   Listen to him.”

Then why would He allow un-holy Moses to stand in His presence?  There wasn’t anything special about Moses regarding his sinful nature.   Moses was a sinner just like the rest of the Israelites.   Perhaps it was that God knew how Israel would rebel in Moses’ absence.   Don’t forget that Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights, fasting and being made ready to receive God’s direct commandments.   During that time, Israel defied God and made itself an idol for worship, then they partied like a one-hit wonder on Grammy night.   Moses wasn’t a part of that (reaffirming again his status as above this sin).  Can you imagine the terror of seeing Moses descending from the mountain that first time, carrying two stone tablets, his anger burning stronger with each step down?   Can you imagine the thunder and shaking earth and the fire spewing from the mountain in front of you when God’s wrath was poured out on the rebellious deserters?

It must have been a fearful thing to have been one of the thousands freed from Egypt and then wandering to this strange place in Midian.   It must have been frightening to journey to a mountain where fire, smoke, thunder, and earthquakes were common indicators of the uncommon God occupying it.   It must have been terrifying to see God’s representative coming down to find that you’ve been unfaithful.   And it is always humbling to have to submit to someone’s authority when you know they have every right to rebuke you.

There is a better way.   The better way is to follow as soon as you hear you should.   God never leads people in unjust ways.   His path is always good and for good.   If you want to avoid the stern teaching of a harsh rebuke, or if you fear the fire and brimstone, then live your life in such a way as to make them un-threatening to you.   It really is that simple.  As Billy Currington might have said, thank God for good directions.

For further reading:  Exodus 19:12-22, Deuteronomy 4:11-12, Exodus 20:18, Deuteronomy 5:5 & 25, Deuteronomy 9:19.

Lord, thank You for Your fire, Your high standards, Your good directions, and the hard lessons You taught our ancestors..  

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

Last time we talked about the Alamo.   Today let’s talk about rebuilding.   You saw the stories over the weekend:  Hurricane Irma smacked the Caribbean and Florida.   A number of people lost their lives, millions of people had their lives impacted (many destroyed), and billions of dollars will be needed to build back.

On Sunday morning, I saw a Tweet about Samaritan’s Purse.   Threading a short time between two hurricanes, Samaritan’s Purse landed an airplane full of supplies and volunteers in St Martin.   Irma laid waste to the island late last week; Jose threatened to do so soon after.  Fortunately, Hurricane Jose turned north instead of passing over the island.  Yet the volunteers from Franklin Graham’s Christian charity didn’t know that would happen when they landed.    Thinking they would have only a short time, the afflicted islanders worked quickly with the frightened volunteers to distribute tons of water, medical supplies, and critically needed food.

In the weeks since Hurricane Harvey, thousands of volunteers have been working behind the scenes to clean up and restore normalcy to the lives of the millions of people affected by that storm.   In the days since the earthquake in Mexico killed 90 people, volunteers and neighbors have been working to bring in food and help to total strangers.   In battling fires in Montana and California, thousands of firefighters have been working around the clock to put out fires so that the lives and livelihoods of total strangers aren’t destroyed.  Every day, ordinary people in ordinary neighborhoods commit their lives to others’ needs so that kids can grow, grandparents can endure, and families can succeed.

They’re all running with perseverance the race marked out for them because many of them, maybe most of them, have their eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.   More than that, Jesus is the ONLY real comfort for those who have been savaged by these acts of a fallen nature.

The writer of Hebrews spent the entire previous chapter citing acts of faith that the ancient heroes of the Bible performed.  He then takes that testimony about those men and calls them ‘witnesses’ to our ability to throw off all that hinders and the sins that entangle us.   After all, they did.   Don’t go off thinking that Moses, Jacob, Gideon and the rest were supermen.   They weren’t.   They were people, sinners in need of a God who could redeem them from the things they had taken into themselves.  Yet they had something in common with those folks from Samaritan’s Purse and those ordinary people everywhere:   faith in God.

Faith in God makes the difference between living an ordinary life where sin entangles and an extraordinary life as an ordinary person throwing off that same entangling sin.   Today is the day after the storm caused so much pain; today starts rebuilding.  Today is also 9/11, the commemoration of a wholly different kind of pain and anguish; today commemorates building back.   Who will you trust to help you run your race?   In whom will you put your faith?

You don’t HAVE TO believe in Jesus.   You really don’t.   It’s a choice and this is a free country.   Most of the world doesn’t believe in Jesus; most of the world thinks this Christian faith is a waste of time, foolish even, given that people have only so much time alive here on the third rock.  Why would they ‘waste’ that on some unseen ancient legend?  Yet if you want to live a life of meaning, you can’t do it alone.   Occasionally you need the help of others.   And, when the chips are really down, you find you need a Savior, someone who can help in ways that relief workers, governments and charities can’t.   You need help to get back into the race.  You need someone to save you from yourself and the terrible choices that we, dearly beloved, make when we gather to get through this thing we call “life.”   Even Prince knew that.

So does Franklin Graham, who has dedicated his life to advancing the Gospel of Jesus.  He does it by helping strangers.   I pray that your life isn’t afflicted today, that you know Jesus without pain or suffering.   But when you do encounter pain, I pray that you reach up to grab Christ’s helping hand.   He’ll get you back on your feet to finish the race set before you.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

My Lord Jesus, I believe in You and You alone.   Only You have saved me.  Only You are Savior.  Help me run my race today with confidence, perseverance, and grace.   And thank You for the hearts of servants serving You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 30 December 2016

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.  Hebrews 6, verses 7-8.

In verses 4-6, the author of Hebrews warns us that, while God doesn’t undo our salvation, we can undo our acceptance of it to our own peril.  Here he talks about what peril can await us if we turn from Him.

At the end of a growing season, fire can be your friend.   I’ve spent several days this week raking leaves on my land.   I purposefully waited until all the trees had shed their leaves so that I wouldn’t have to do this task twice.   Now I’m seeing that choice has resulted (literally) in a mountain of work.  It takes hard work and time to rake 2 acres of leaves, then to pile them and burn them.   But it’s good for the soil because, once all the ash has cooled, I’ll make several trips with a wheelbarrow and dump that rich ash on my pumpkin patch.   Hold that thought.

Leaves are a useful crop.  They give food to the trees, then die off and enrich the soil on which they fall.   It’s almost shocking how the volume of leaves you rake can condense into such a small portion of ash but that’s what happens.   God’s nature is a miraculous thing.  Part of burning up the leaves includes burning up weeds.   When I dump all that ash on my pumpkin patch, I’m also going to burn off this year’s weeds.   It’ll kill off those plants so that they don’t grow back again, and it will enrich the soil anew.   Weeds are plants you don’t want, and they can be a nuisance when you’re farming crops you do want.   They don’t last but they can come back if you don’t tend to them.  Make no mistake:   this year, they’ll be burned.

Imagine if I was a weed.   In a way, maybe I am.   Today is my last day with the company for which I’ve worked for six years.   They’re letting me go and not replacing me (at least that’s what was told to me).  I’m not being fired for cause; I haven’t done anything improper or wrong.   After six years, in their words “I’m just not a fit.”  Thanks, guys, and at the holidays even!  What I didn’t do was grow the project on which I was the manager, and I refused to make certain concessions to a client that I did indeed think were wrong.   For most of the past six months, I’ve been on the bench and not really fitting in the minor tasks they’ve assigned to me.  For that, I’m losing my job.

It happens.   In corporate America, it happens a lot.   It’s a scary thing to be over fifty and on the unemployment line, though I’m not truly unemployed (I’m working part-time in a call center).  To make it scarier, I feel like a worthless weed that has been cursed and is ready for the fire.   I KNOW that God is active in this, and that He’s clearing a path for something new.  Whether that’s big or not, I don’t know.   I simply know He’s at work, closing and opening doors and moving me in a direction for which He’s preparing me now.   Yet it hurts.   I’ve gone round and round in my head about ‘what did I do wrong?’   I can’t honestly tell you that I consciously did, but if you don’t do what your employer wants, in a way you’re doing wrong.   You get whatever consequences they assign to you.   That’s where I find myself.   I’m in a burn pile from one job and while I’m confident God will see me through, I’m anxious about going through.  I haven’t rejected God in any way.   What’s happening isn’t His fault; it’s mine.   But fire hurts.   Right now it doesn’t seem like my friend.

Here’s the kicker:   good things can come out of the fire.

Another job will happen.   When it does, and I believe and hope that will be soon, it will be worthwhile and present a whole new set of good challenges.   The prospect of that energizes me.   When my manager dismissed me, in addition to protesting my innocence, I also said “I forgive you.”   I meant it, and those three words have kept me from being bitter.   They’ve allowed me to quickly see God’s hand in this, and to both turn the other cheek while still standing up to something that I think is a wrong.   The door that’s closed is behind me.  Others just ahead will be opening and it’s all because of God.

Fire can refine gold.   Fire can burn away impurities and hazards.   Fire wipes the landscape clean.   And fire produces ash, like that ash I’ll dump on my pumpkin patch.  That builds up the soil and prepares it for good things to grow next season.  That’s evidence of God at work, producing useful crops from what’s left of last season’s burn.  Fire can hurt, and fire can kill.   Getting fired can hurt your job prospects, but in the end, God always has something better in store.

For further reading:   Genesis 3:17-18, Isaiah 5:6, Isaiah 27:4.

My Lord and Savior, I see Your beautiful hand at work in this anxious season.   I ask for Your comfort, and the cleansing of Your perfect fire in my life.   Burn away useless weeds from my life, and prepare me to grow a good crop afterwards.

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.