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 1 Thessalonians, 4 May 2018

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NIV).

Here’s the Rapture.  Or, if, like me, you don’t believe in the Rapture, here’s how the story ends…or begins.   But let’s do ourselves the favor of not getting wrapped up over details.   The important part is that the story ends with believers going to live with Jesus forever.

What happens to those who don’t believe?  You know.

And that’s a terrible, tough truth to talk about.  ALL people will be resurrected, first those who died in faith in Jesus, then everyone else.  And for those who don’t believe in Jesus there awaits an eternity without Jesus.   He who said He was “the way and the truth and the life” will cast out those who rejected Him (and those things).   Imagine an eternity without a way to paradise, or an eternity without truth (but full of lies).   Consider forever without life and all the vitality and love that is life.

You know:   hell.   That’s how the story ends for those who claim this whole Jesus thing is nonsense.   We get what we choose and those who choose anything but Jesus get their choice.   It’s not what Jesus wants; it’s not what He came for.   But Jesus is all love and love respects free will, and we are creatures given free will.  If we choose the temporal, temporary pleasure of “I know better” then, when time runs out, Jesus will reluctantly grant the reward of our choice and remove Himself from our lives.   Forever.   It’ll be the start of the worst forever you could imagine.

Yet for those who choose to follow Him, verses 16 and 17 describe the start of a different eternity.   It will happen with a shock and the thunderous voice of God and His angels setting things right. Heaven will return to earth and begin to remake what we’ve undone.  He will bring us to Himself, and He will grant us the reward we’ve chosen in Him.   In Him we’ll find life, purpose, worship, brotherhood, peace, music, fulfillment, knowledge, harmony.   Keep throwing glowing adjectives at it and you get the drift.  We’re a part of heaven now yet we only know part of it.   In that moment, we will see it all.

Whether you believe that comes in a single flash or through the Rapture-initiated great tribulation, the end result is forever with Jesus.   That is the only detail that matters.

For further reading:  Matthew 16:27, Jude 9, 1 Corinthians 15:23, Revelation 14:13, Acts 1:9, Acts 8:39, 1 Thessalonians 4:18.

Lord, I so look forward to forever with You!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 15 March 2018

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.  1 Thessalonians 3:7 (NIV).

Have you ever thought about the example you set for others?

Stephen Hawking died yesterday.   You’ve probably heard that by now, and how the most brilliant scientist of our age lived his live as a self-avowed atheist.  To many believers this means Mr. Hawking is spending his first full day of eternity in hell.  Other people I know are, like me, hoping Dr. Hawking saw the truth of the Scriptures just before he died and is embracing Jesus in heaven.   Some others I know are angered at anyone insisting we know one way or another.  I’d imagine that more than a few atheists, if they truly don’t believe in God, shouldn’t particularly care.

Me, I’m encouraged when I hear about someone’s faith.

It isn’t up to you or me to know that Stephen Hawking is burning in hell or celebrating in heaven.  That’s up to God.  So I pray God was merciful to this atheist who said God didn’t exist.  We’re supposed to pray for our enemies, right, and unbelievers or dis-believers are, well, enemies of the faith.     Their posture is antithetical to Christ.  If we can’t pray for those people, especially in their greatest moments of need (like dying) then maybe we need a gut check.

So when I hear that there are people in the world who prayed for Dr. Hawking and others like him, I’m encouraged by that.   I’m encouraged to hear about my friend in Uganda who ministers to multiple congregations by both his formal ministry as well as through the way he teaches young people how to farm and garden. I’m encouraged when I think about all the people who celebrated faith not when Stephen Hawking died but, instead, when Billy Graham died a few weeks ago.   I’m encouraged when I meet new people at church who I haven’t seen there before.   And I’m encouraged to teach my grandkids how to say their prayers at night just before they go to sleep.

Because the ways I act concerning these things are examples I set for others.  Other people, like atheists and new followers and grandkids, are watching how I, as a follower of Jesus, act in these times.   The Thessalonians watched Paul and changed their lives to more closely resemble his.   So it is with us today.

I honestly hope and pray Stephen Hawking changed his extraordinary thinking about the truth of Jesus just before he met Jesus.  Scripture is replete with warnings about the eternity of those who reject Christ in this life.   I hope Dr. Hawking “saw the light” before he met the Light. It’s too grim to think otherwise.  One day we’ll each find out.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.

Lord, have mercy on those who are dying without believing in You.  I pray, change their hearts now.  Use my life as a tool to help do that

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 21 February 2018

 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  1 Thessalonians 2:9 (NIV).

Usually I write these blog posts the night before I post them.   Last night, I was busy calculating my taxes so I didn’t get to write until morning.   I take that as yet another proof that God knows what He’s doing and is active in even the little details of our lives.

Word came this morning that Billy Graham has died.   I think of a few things when I think of Rev Graham, mostly that I met him once, saw him twice, and turned off the TV when he was on dozens of times when I was a kid.   Today I think that 1 Thessalonians 2:9 is a fitting verse by which to remember him.

The words I write and share here won’t reach 2 billion people, but Billy Graham’s did.   I’ve never met 9 presidents and witnessed the gospel personally to them, but Billy Graham did (indeed, George W. Bush credits Graham for personally ministering to him in a way that let him turn cold turkey from alcoholism and never turn back).   I never traveled behind the Iron Curtain for the specific purpose of talking about Jesus, but Billy Graham did.  I never did this or that or one or the other but Reverend Graham did.

So what? Through it all, Mr. Graham was just like you and me.   He was a sinner.   On his own, he wasn’t worthy to lick God’s bootheels.   Without God’s intervention, he was damned.  Because of Jesus, none of that mattered.   Because of Jesus, Billy Graham got to meet Him face to face today:   just like you and I can when our lives are over.

I once went to a Billy Graham crusade; I once met him in person.   In those days, that was simply another happening to me, another check box I could fill about having done something for God.   I didn’t realize that Graham, as a speaker, was using his platform to tell me what God had already done for me.   In time, I came to admire that, came to better understand it.   There was no decision for Christ I made other than simply acknowledging what Jesus had already done in full.  Yet when that understanding came, it made all the difference in my life.

Today you’ll read a great many things about Billy Graham, then tomorrow the world will move on to its next big thing.   That’s how it goes here, and really that’s how it should be.  But for today, celebrate the kingdom work of a man who used his time to tell us all “Jesus loves you.”  The longer I live, the more I see that’s the most fitting epitaph of all.   Rest in peace Reverend and welcome home.

For further reading: Thessalonians 2:10.

Lord, thank You for this good servant.

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.

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.