Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 November 2017

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.  Hebrews 13, verse 14.

Do you struggle with the here and now as I do?   I remember from years ago a sermon presented by our pastor in west Colorado Springs.   It was about heaven being our real home, how we are really just transient citizens on this fallen earth.   You know the details:   this world will end and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, then usher in a new heaven and a new earth.   “No matter what is happening here, don’t lose heart.  Heaven is our real home” said this pastor.  We shouldn’t get too wrapped around the axle about holding on to this place because we’re actually citizens of another, better place.

But what about now?

Here and now is all I know.   Like so many people, I have déjà vu moments that seem like fleeting glimpses of something else.   Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t “soul memories” of where I was before I was born.   I know:   crazy stuff.   Or is it?   A learned, educated, rational Lutheran pastor insisted (as millions of others do) that I, as a believer in Jesus, am actually a citizen of a multi-dimensional existence that is a reality outside of what we know as time and space.   Trusting that I will spend eternity there with a Savior who I’ve never met in person is a bedrock of my faith.   It keeps me going sometimes because, as they say in the church I now attend “eternity matters most.”   To an unchurched mind, THAT is crazy stuff.   Here and now is the known.  So what about now?

You see, I get it.   The pastor was correct.  I get that Jesus has a place ready for me in heaven.   Whatever heaven is, wherever heaven is, I’ll be going there when my time here on the Third Rock is done.   I really, truly do trust that this earthly home – the only home I know – isn’t a permanent place, that my permanent residence is a place I haven’t yet seen, or that I remember so deeply from so long ago that I can’t recall the memories and can’t tell you what it looks, smells, and feels like to be there.  I get it.

And that’s good.   It really is.  But while it’s a focus, that’s the forest.   Today is built with trees.  Here and now is where I’m a front line soldier in the army of the Living God.  I know I have a place in His ranks someday in heaven, but for know I also know that I’m on the lines here on terra firma.   That most of the world doesn’t believe in this Jesus.   That much of the world believes in a host of terrestrial ghosts, or the manufactured demonics of Islam, or, worse, in nothing at all.  Here I’m armed with Christ’s command to love as He loves, to tell others about Him, and to use what time, talents & treasures He has given me to do my best in my various callings.  Here I’m fighting on His front line every day, defying the prince of this world, sometimes minute by minute, so that people won’t look at me and be led astray from Jesus.   I’m glad that heaven is my home, and I’m glad that I’m not part of this un-permanent settlement in the land east of Eden.

But east of Eden is all I really know and it’s more than a Steinbeck novel   Jesus calls me to remember that I’m a part of His eternity now, but that, for now, my role before eternity is here.   To do His bidding here; to do His work at hand.  And I struggle with that, struggle to keep my eyes on the ball, to follow His commands, to lay down my hypocritical judgments, to turn aside from my petty thinking and small ways.   East of Eden is all I know, yet I also know Jesus walks with me here.

For further reading:  Hebrews 12:27, Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:10.

Lord Jesus, I live in the land of Canaan, and I struggle here.   I pray, encourage me, walk with me, and strengthen me to fight Your good fight today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 November 2017

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”  Hebrews 13, verse 6.

This verse actually goes hand-in-hand with verse 5; as you’ll remember, that verse concludes with “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  God will never forsake us and never abandon us no matter what we’ve done.   Even if we lead a life of despicable sin, He will work until our very last moment to turn our hearts back to Him.  When we realize that, we GET TO shed even our worst fears.

Knowing that gave Jesus the courage to hang in agony on the cross.   Knowing that let all His disciples save one to go to their deaths as martyrs.   Knowing that has allowed missionaries for two thousand years to go into the field, turn their worlds upside down, and even risk death for the sake of being “there” and being able to say “do you know this Jesus?”   Knowing that enables you to stand and say “I believe” even when pressures of friends, family, and the world challenge you to deny it.

The world, the devil, and other people can kill your body but nobody can extinguish your soul.   That’s the ultimate truth of faith, namely that eternity really does matter most.

Have you considered that, if you’re consigned to hell, you’re alive?   You aren’t annihilated.   You’re conscious there of what’s happening and you know it forever.   The “life” one leads in hell isn’t the living for which we’re intended.   Indeed, it’s the full consequence of the sins we embrace in this life that separate us from the heart of God.  It is the ultimate separation from the love that makes life worth living.  Misery, anguish, sorrow, pain, torture:  they exist from the inside out for all who walk through hell’s gate.  Hell isn’t a place to which God sentences us:   it’s the place we choose while we’re here by continually rejecting Him.

Here on the Third Rock, each of us lives as a sentient body for only so long and then we enter eternity.   During our time here, God continuously provides for us life, food, water, air, shelter, and love.  He does it until our very last heartbeat.   It’s up to us what we do with those things He gives to us.   Do we only consume them, or do we consume and share them?   Are we only existing or are we existing and thanking God that we are?   Can we get by with what we have or can we get by and then use our time, talents, and treasures to share with others as God shares?   What will you believe and then what will you do about that?

When we turn to God, He begins His work in us.  For us, it starts with “I believe”, realizing that Jesus has already done everything needed for that to happen.  The path to hell is changed into a guaranteed entrance into heaven.   He takes up residence in our hearts and begins to work from the inside out.   He helps us in all we think, say, and do.   No we don’t always get it right, and sometimes we do terribly wrong.   That doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.   It means we’ve chosen something else.   Yet even in the middle of those choices, God’s Spirit is still within us and beckons us to choose differently.   We get to choose life even when we’ve previously chosen death.  To turn from the heart-attitude that caused us to sin and let Him scour it out.   He helps us and flourishes in us.   When that happens, we can’t help but share it, we can’t help but want to follow and do His better will.

When that happens, we begin to realize that nothing can extinguish His love inside us, and nothing can take it away, and nothing can overcome it.  Satan and his world may kill us for it but that won’t stop it.   In the next life, God’s love comes to full miraculous fruition.   Can you imagine, then, what even a hint of His love could do here and now?

The robbers next to Jesus on Calvary both heaped insults and scorn on Him as they hung there dying.   Yet sometime during that day, one of them realized his sin and appealed to Christ for mercy.  In that very moment, Jesus promised the man eternity in paradise; you can have confidence that he’s there now.   Even in those moments of physical torture, God filled up this man’s heart and gave him the courage to die and then truly live.   There are stories of mercy even in the Holocaust of World War II.   There is the story of the girl at Columbine who stood up for her faith and was summarily murdered for it.   Just this past weekend, 26 believers were slaughtered by a lunatic who had gleefully abandoned God.  Those people are more alive now in heaven than they ever were here; I feel pity for the killer who is probably alive some place else.  All of these are manifestations of God’s promise to always help us and quench our fears.   When He is with us, there’s no need to ever be afraid of anything the world thinks it can do.

For further reading:  Psalm 118:6-7, Matthew 13:50, Revelation 20:14-15.

My saving Lord, thank You so much for always being with me.   Thank You for inspiring courage in me.  Thank You for always working Your will in my life.   Help me to better live out Your wonderful will today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 August 2017

If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.  Hebrews 11, verses 15-16.

More thoughts on the idea of longing for a country.

As we talked about, the country we long for is indeed with God.   I go back and forth with the idea that “heaven is our home.”   That’s great talk, but what about now?   Here and now, people die.   Here and now, it’s tough to pay the bills.   Here and now is all we truly know about.  I’m all for heaven but what can help me here and now?

Don’t mind me:  as my grandpa might have said, ‘it’s just piss and wind.’  What can help me here and now is quite apparent.   His name is Jesus, and He is the Son of the Three in One Godhead.  His perfect sacrifice made it possible for me to stand in front of my perfect Father and say “forgive me, Father, because I’ve really messed things up.”   Because of Jesus, I know my Father will pick me up and embrace me and tell me “I’m so glad to see you again, Dave.   I love you.”   I know all this because the Spirit Jesus and His Father share teaches it to me.   He has all my life, even in the doubting times.   In the days when I’ve wanted to give in, His Spirit said “one more time.”   In the times I’ve wandered, He has said “follow Me.”   What can help us here and now?   You know.

So what will the city look like?   Beats me.   None of us knows.   All we know is that we’ll see Jesus there in full and we’ll be both known and knowing.  It’ll be beautiful and it’ll be forever.   Personally, I’m hoping for a farm on a cool spring morning, with smells of the earth and growing and life.   I’m hoping there will be fishing in the sun, hot coffee in the sunrise, and fellowship with the loved ones (which will mean everyone).

I hope for those things because some of those things are memories I have from the here and now.  Walking barefoot in loamy black soil and tending good things as they grow.  Of fishing with my pals in the mountains, or with my boys way north in Minnesota, or with my Dad and Grandpa on those same lakes.   I think of mugs of hot coffee with my Hunnie during our morning devotions, or the taste of good coffee from a cool morning campfire pot.   I think about times with my family, and friends I’ve known for decades, and of basking in the love of togetherness.  Good scotch on the rocks, all the dogs I’ve ever owned, waking up to the smell of biscuits and butter, and warm summer nights under a blanket of lush stars.   These are things that warm my visions of heaven, of the country I long for still.  How about you?

Intertwined in all of them, participating in every scene, and holding all these visions together is my friend and Savior, Jesus.   He’ll be there to talk with, and learn from, to listen, to love.  And I’ll get to praise Him with my words and songs and moments.    All my life I have wandered, sometimes wandering very far from where I should have been.   Yet in all those moments, I always hoped for more, hoped for something better than where I found myself.  If that had been my only hope, then I would have gotten what I wanted (and found it eternally lacking).   No, even when I feel I’ve let my God down, He’s never let me down.   Through it all, He’s always brought me back and kept me looking forward, looking forward to that undiscovered country where He lives.

I don’t know where that city is, but I know I’m on the road that leads there.   You and I, we weren’t made for imperfection.  We were made to live in full harmony with God in His heaven.   In that respect, heaven is indeed our home, or it will be.   Until then, we wander here.

For further reading:  Genesis 24:6-8, 2 Timothy 4:18, Mark 8:38, Genesis 26:24, Exodus 3:6-15, Hebrews 13:14.

Lord, I long to be home with You.   Until You call me there, wander with me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 February 2017

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Hebrews 7, verse 26.

You NEED a holy high priest to intercede for you whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not.   You need it just like you need air, water, food and shelter.   Here endeth the sermon.

Now for the example.  A friend of mine has recently lost both of her parents.   I completely empathize with her because both of my parents are gone as well.   Her mom got sick and quickly died late last year.   Not long after, I talked with her and she said that she didn’t think her dad, who was also in failing health, would last long.   Her parents’ marriage had been close, Godly, and long, and my friend simply didn’t see how her dad would want to live long without his wife.   Turns out she was right as her dad died just this week.   Did he will himself to die or did the maladies of old age simply overtake him?   Perhaps it was a little bit of both.   The culprit in his passing really doesn’t matter, though, because the man and woman are both home with the Lord now, off on a new adventure that will last all eternity.   They’ll get to spend it with each other, with Jesus, and with millions of others who believed and were saved.

Here’s the kicker:   my friend doesn’t believe any of this.   She’s not an atheist:   she’s an unbeliever, one who doesn’t know but is apprehensive of taking the step that says “I believe.”  She and I have talked many times about this very thing, and several times I’ve held out hope – as I do especially now – that she would be brought to faith.   I see God’s Holy Spirit at work in her life, calling out to her to give up her pride and just embrace Him, yet she doesn’t.   If good can come out of grieving (and it usually does), then I hope and pray this good comes out of hers.   Heaven would be a much better place with my friend in it.

My friend doesn’t realize that she needs Jesus.   She needs Him as a holy high priest, one who is blameless, pure, set apart from we sinners, and exalted from the heaven where her parents now thrive.  A “need” is a necessity arising from circumstances.   My friend (and me, and you, and everyone here on the Third Rock) needs Jesus to be her personal high priest because the circumstances of her life include rebelling against His holy command to be perfect.   She hasn’t loved fully.   She’s done things that are wrong.   She’s willfully and sometimes gleefully dived deep into dark sins to which none of us should aspire.   Those things weigh her down, making temporal existence seem overpoweringly dreadful when it need not be so.  When we don’t realize our physical and spiritual need for Jesus, our lives are empty.   Life without Jesus is merely existence.

News flash, friend reader:   I could have just described you.   I DID just describe me, as well as my mourning friend.   Every single one of us sets ourselves apart from Jesus every time we sin against Him.   And every thought or deed that is not of Him is sin.   How can we abide by His command to be perfect?   It’s not that tough.   It starts by submitting to Him, believing in Him, giving ourselves over to Him, damn the world and the cost.   Yes, in giving ourselves over to Jesus, we damn, we condemn, our actions to be taken away from us.   We’re taken out of this world and begin to set foot, here and now, in a new world, a new existence where those things we condemn are separated away from us.   They’re taken away from us because Jesus Himself took them away.   I’ve described you, friend sinner, and I’ve described me, a sinner like you.

Like my friend.   Please keep her and her family in your prayers.   Pray that she would come to faith in the Savior who aches now to ease her pain, take away her burdens, and prepare her, too, to one day join her parents with Him in that new world of which they’re now forever citizens.

Lord Jesus, be with my friend and her family as they grieve.   Reach out, use me to reach out, to help her by being a friend and Your ambassador.  Touch her life and I pray she and all like her would come to You in faith.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 November 2015

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Mark 13, verse 10.

Awhile back, my pastor friend, Mark, was talking about the end.   He mentioned that he DOESN’T think we are nearing the end of time because the Gospel of Jesus – the good news that Jesus is God and forgives all sin and died as God’s only perfect atoning sacrifice specifically to redeem us – hasn’t been preached to all nations.   Despite all the new media, instant worldwide communications, and efforts to preach Jesus to billions of people in every language we know, he contends that the gospel still hasn’t been preached to all nations.   There could be (and likely are) hundreds of millions of our fellow humans who haven’t heard about Jesus, who haven’t been given the introduction to Him.

I agree with Mark.

Now, I won’t speak for my friend but I will say I don’t think he’s a millenialist, a believer in the Rapture and Tim LaHaye/”Left Behind” kind of apocalypse.   I think my friend is a typical Lutheran, stressing “be ready now” because we’re part of eternity now. No matter how much we debate how the world will end, Jesus promised it would end and that He would return to bring about eternity.

Yet, here and now, on this earth, believers in Jesus are already sealed as part of His eternity, already a part of heaven. We’re finishing our time here and, yes, determining post-terra firma implications to our eternity by what we say, believe and confess.   But Jesus has already done everything necessary to make possible and guarantee our eternal destiny.   He promised that we would be with Him, that God would accept us believing sinners on behalf of His sacrifice, because of His grace and love. No matter whether or not there’s a Rapture and all that follows, the best lesson we can teach about “the end” is “be ready for it now.”   “Don’t wait; believe and follow Jesus now and be ready if He returns now, millennially or otherwise.”

Keep in mind where this verse is said.   It’s said at the temple just days, even hours, before Jesus will be arrested and unjustly murdered.   The verse itself comes right between other verses that talk about the end times, about watching for signs and standing up for Jesus despite being persecuted.   That matters.

It matters because, here, Jesus is reminding us why He came, why He matters.   He is the good news; Jesus is the reason for the Gospel. Preaching and sharing Him with the world is why He came.   He wants that to be done because He loves ALL people of all races and nationalities and colors.   Jesus wants all men and women to be in communion with Him forever and He was reminding His followers that, before the end of time is brought about, He wants all people to be given the opportunity to follow Him.   So, smack-dab in the middle of telling His friends that they need to watch out and look for signs that (He said) will point to the end of time, Jesus reminds them that the purpose of time is to allow us to share Him with each other.   To bring more believers into Jesus’ eternity.

No matter what you believe about how the world will end, that’s a great first principle to always keep in mind.

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your words about eternity. Thank You for using me to share You with folks who might not know You.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 5 August 2015

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. Mark 9, verse 41.

Is Jesus talking about heaven or earth here?   Is He talking about an eternal reward in the life everlasting with Him, or is He talking about being rewarded more temporally here in ways we can relate to now?

Yes.

Yes?   It’s really that simple?   Yes it is.   This is simple?   Actually, again, yes it is. Not answering the questions above would be a dodge, and if our Lord does anything, He doesn’t dodge.   Jesus is upfront, teaching and loving even in justice, and always getting to the nub of an issue.   If He answers things in ways that seem oblique to us, it isn’t He who is oblique.

Of course Jesus is talking about that earthly reward, the things you get here.   He’s not going all Joel Osteen, preaching a prosperity gospel of “get rich through My wishing well, guys.”   Not hardly.   But Jesus is promising us a reward here and now: Him.   In Him is more than enough for everything we could comprehend; in Him are found solutions to any issue we could devise. What’s more, we don’t have to live our lives in Him: we get to.   That’s a concept we’ve explored before and it’s worth doing so again.   Faith is a ‘get to’ kind of thing, a real groovy kind of love kind of thing. We don’t have to do it: we get to live our lives following Jesus.   Make no mistake about it:   Joel and the other perfect-hairs have it wrong.   Jesus doesn’t promise us riches or prosperity; if anything, He promises we will walk a tougher earthly road by following Him.   And yet, in reassuring us, He also promises us the unending wealth of Himself, which makes us richer and more prosperous inside that we ever could be with billions and bling.

We get to live with Him now.   We are part of eternity now.   It is part of our lives here and now, and that can change everything.   If we get rich off it, well, count that as another good blessing.   But money isn’t the point:   Jesus is the point.   Jesus is the point now, in our lives here and now on the Third Rock so that we might share Him with others and they might be rich in Him as well.

And, yes, of course Jesus is talking about life everlasting.   It really is a both/and kind of answer, a having your cake and eating it too on a level we hadn’t thought of. Jesus is talking about how, when we profess Him to the world, He smiles and prepares our places with Him forever.   All too often, we use heaven as the ultimate cop out; something we can promise to people but never have to deliver, never have to prove.   The truth is we really don’t have to prove it because Jesus already did.   In this verse, He reminds us that His words are true and reliable. Because of that we can count on receiving a permanent reward with Him in heaven forever. Being for Him means we aren’t against Him and He is never against us, always for us.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Lord, thank You for Your promises of my reward, and for making all of it possible.

Read Mark 9, verses 42-50.