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, 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 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, 4 October 2016

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  Hebrews 2, verse 9.

Verse 9 continues the amplification of Psalm 8.   If you haven’t already read the psalm, go back and give it a read.  In it, King David praises God, taking about how God is majestic over all creation and how man is God’s most honored creation over the earth.  David didn’t know he was prophesying about his Savior and his descendant, Jesus, but he was.  And King David also didn’t know that, a thousand years later, the author of Hebrews would transform his words about praising God into words that perfectly describe Jesus and His perfect death for all.

Jesus was fully God.  King David said, “You have made them a little lower than the angels, and crowned them with glory and honor.”  In this, He was talking about men in general, about how God had given men dominion over the earth.   Yet Jesus is later born in fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah.   He is born as God Immanuel, “God with us.”  No ordinary man could do the miracles Jesus did; no other man is still being talked about the way Jesus is two thousand years after His life here was done.  Jesus lived His life here using both natural and supernatural means to give meaning to His ministry.   Over and over, the Gospels describe how He proved His nature as fully God.

Yet Jesus was fully man.   You or I couldn’t die a death for everyone.   If I died today, people would grieve me, but in a few short years, I’d be forgotten.   I’m sorry to say but it’s the same for you.   Not so Jesus.   He lived as a man, fully as a man, breathing, eating, sleeping, hurting, experiencing all the emotions and feelings you and I experience.   The difference?   He never sinned.   He was all man in every way but this one.   He inherited his mother’s sinful nature yet He never succumbed to it.  Jesus was fully man in every other way…

…including that He died.   He who is fully God and eternal put off His eternal nature and died a physical death.   Not only, but He died the death of a criminal.   He was tortured and murdered and nailed to the shame of the cross.   In dying, He experienced agony that no innocent man should know.   Worse, He experienced His eternal soul being separated from His eternal being.   It’s the mystery of the ages, how God the Father could be with Jesus yet turned from Jesus all at the same time, how Jesus could put off His inherent divine nature to die a human death, how Their Spirit could surrender to the degradation of death and sin’s sentence into hell.   Yet He did it.   Jesus died a human death.

And then He wasn’t dead.  As the Creed says, “He descended into hell.”   Jesus in Spirit descended into the place of the dead to announce to those there that He had conquered sin once for all.   In doing so, He proved that living in faith in Him, then dying in faith in Him, is the pathway to paradise.  He did this so that anyone, Jew or non-Jew, could gain paradise forever.   For us, one hundred generations later, it means we have hope in this life:   hope that the screw-ups and wrongs we do here won’t merit us eternal punishment afterwards.

And knowing about it all goes back to King David.   Jesus came from humble origins and so did His ancestor, David.   David had been just a commoner’s son, the youngest son of a simple man.   He was a shepherd and a ‘nobody.’   Yet David had unswerving faith in his God and for this God made him king.   Even more, God blessed David by promising to ‘be with us, Immanuel,’ through David’s own family.   If God said that to me, I hope I’d fall in praise the way David did.

For more reading:   Acts 3:13, Philippians 2: 7-9, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 1 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:2, Psalm 8

Lord, thank You for the words of King David, for the life of my Savior, and for how You made heaven possible for all of us.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 September 2016

how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?  Hebrews 2, verse 3.

Let’s talk about choosing and free will.   A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about a conversation I had with an atheist friend.   One thing that conversation had in common with others like it is that we talked about free will.

Free will is a concept I’m not sure unbelievers really grasp.

It’s not that unbelievers don’t understand what free will is.   Indeed, in my experience, atheists and unbelievers stridently guard the territory of free will and free choice.   They jealously guard their right to refuse to believe in God, Jesus, or anything resembling the Christian faith.   That’s their right as Americans.   As a believer, I look at my unbelieving friends and sometimes think they’re only a small step away from actually embracing Christian faith.   After all, it’s easier for someone who says “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” to come to faith than it is someone who says “I reject that.”   The mind (and heart) is more open to alternatives they might not have otherwise considered.

Yet even knowing that, I’m still left at the point of seeing how free will isn’t really, fully grasped by unbelievers.   They don’t fully see that free will is itself a gift from God and even a fruit of God’s Spirit.  What they purport to reject is the blessed source of their cherished right.

A follower of Jesus sees that it is a blessing that God allows us to choose whether or not to believe in Him, to love Him.   Compulsion isn’t love.   He wants us and He wants us to want Him.  If God were Allah and looking for us to do things to please Him, we’d find we never really can please Him.  Allah would be perfect and we imperfect:   there’s no way for him, or us, to bridge the imperfection gap.   But God did make a bridge:   Himself, in Jesus Christ.   All He asks is that we believe in Him.   We don’t have to ‘do’ anything to please or placate or satisfy Him:   all that needed to be done to satisfy God and His holy requirement for justice was done by Jesus on the Cross.

To believe in Him, God gives us free will.   We can choose to believe in Him or we can choose to not believe in Him.   It’s as simple as that.   He doesn’t ask us to come to Him because we HAVE TO.   He asks us to come to Him because we want to.   And He helps us see that coming to Him is good in itself.   By willingly going to God, we get to share in His love, justice, peace, contentment and sharing heart.  He gives us hints at it in providing for us in every way possible.   God air in your lungs?   It’s because of God.   Got 24 hours in a day?   Because of God.   Got food, friends and folks who love you, a beautiful sunset, anything else?   God.   We can freely choose to believe these are gifts of God or we can freely choose to believe they aren’t.   God allows us either way.   What’s more, He provides for us whether we believe in Him or not.

It’s just that the eventual penalty for rejecting His gift of saving love will be permanent.   The hell God created as the final repository for rebellious angels can be ours for the choosing as well.   Let’s not even discuss how rejecting God and ensuing bad choices can lead to disaster here on the Third Rock.   No, let’s keep our eyes focused on the fact that, after our time here is over, if we’ve spent our choices rejecting God, He’ll let us reap the consequence of it.   That means hell.   Party over, oops, out of time, as Prince might have sung.   I’d rather avoid that.   It’s ok if all that is frightening because there’s a better way.

Mind you, this isn’t judgmental.   I believe in Jesus but I’m no better than anyone else.   My life is made better by believing in Him, following Him, but it doesn’t make me ‘better than’ anyone else.   If I come off as “judgy,” feel free to upbraid me because I deserve it.   These are simply facts and opinions about something that’s really incontrovertible.  We can’t change that God gives us the free will to do as we please.   We can’t change God and we can’t stop Him.   God does as He pleases and, because He’s God and all good, what He pleases to do is right even if we don’t see it as right.

I’m not sure unbelievers understand the great gift that is free will.   Indeed, I haven’t even done it justice in these few words.  How must it feel for God to see people He loves rejecting Him?   Or for Him to see us say we believe yet keep on sinning (which is still rejection of Him)?  You could spend whole books talking about nothing more than the blessing of being able to choose God’s life and love instead of being compelled to endure it.  What say you?

For more reading:   Hebrews 10:29, Hebrews 12:25, Hebrews 1:2, Luke 1:2.

Lord God, thank You for the blessing of free will, for letting me love You instead of having to love you.   Please continue to bless others and use me as an instrument to help others come to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 22 September 2016

To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?  Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?  Hebrews 1, verses 13-14.

Another comment on angels.   Recall from verses 6 and 7 how the author remarks that God’s angels were created to worship Him, that they were imbued with divine power and supernatural ability.  Now notice how, just a few words later, the author brings us back to the subject of angels, and how Jesus didn’t come to live and die for their salvation.

Wow.  If this is a fact you’re considering for the first time, then stop and ponder it.   Those supernatural, spiritually powerful, defying-space-and-time angels aren’t saved by Jesus.   You are.   They aren’t.   Don’t get lost in that thought, but certainly don’t overlook it.

If you’re an angel, and you’re not one of those who rebelled and fell, then you live your eternal life directly in front of God.   You get to look on Him without being destroyed by simply beholding Him.  You know His holiness and His beauty and His love first-hand, and you see every second how He is all He says He is.   His power, His justice, His perfection, His love, His mercy:  You see all those without the filter of sin or the flaw of humanity.

And you don’t need Him to die for you.   In fact, He didn’t die for you.   You haven’t sinned against Him, but He also didn’t die in the promise to redeem you if ever you do.   There were thousands, maybe millions of your fellow angels who once rebelled with Lucifer and were expelled from heaven accordingly.   You know the Scriptures, so you know that doom and eternal punishment await those rebels at the end of history.   And it isn’t your history:   it’s history for the humans, for the people who God loved differently from you and your peers.  The universe, the earth, the seasons:   they weren’t created for the benefit of the angels.   They were created for man.

If you’re an angel, you know Jesus, know His side as fully God and fully man, and you know Him in ways that human beings don’t, can’t.   You get to see how He is working in eternity for the benefit of men, how He has mercy on people who, like those fallen ones, constantly rebel against Him.  How He intercedes for us so that the Father’s holy justice doesn’t punish us for the terrible things we do.   An angel living there in heaven sees all this up close and personal.

And an angel knows it isn’t for him.  God never promised that angels would be redeemed.   God never prophesied for the salvation of the angels.   God never promised to stand against all who would stand against His people.   God privileged the angels with the work of ministering to men, of protecting and advancing and assisting men even in ways that men don’t understand.  Yet God didn’t beget His only Son to live, teach and die for the angels.   He only did this for men.  Heaven isn’t opened up for the angels.   They’re already there, in the presence of God, for the purpose of serving His glory however He sees best.   That includes ministering to people here when we are in danger of the fires of hell.

In fact, hell was created for the angels.   The author of Hebrews notes that creation and history were created for men and will come to an end.  When it ends, those angels we call demons will be judged and consigned to hell where there will be eternal separation from God and eternal punishment.   Fire, pain, anger, hurt, loneliness, desperation:   whatever you conceive hell to be, it will be worse and it was designed for those who rejected God.   Hell’s first citizens will be Lucifer and the angels whose free will drew them away from God.

It will be so because Jesus Christ didn’t die for the angels.   Jesus doesn’t vow to do battle, real and spiritual, for the angels.   Jesus doesn’t promise that angels will be in communion with Him.  Scripture doesn’t say that angels were made in God’s image, but man was.   God never called the angels “very good” the way He did with man.  Angels won’t inherit salvation; they can’t.   But we can.

What say you?

For more reading:   Isaiah 34:4, Psalm 102: 25-27.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your glory and thank You for the angels You made to serve You and help me.   I don’t deserve Your forgiveness but I’m so grateful for it and thankful for those You give to sustain us here.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 11 August 2015

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’  Mark 9 verses 43-48.

Do you think Jesus is talking about hell here?   If you didn’t answer “yes,” perhaps you need to read it again.   Is He talking about eternal burning in an unending fire?   Maybe; there isn’t enough information to know whether this is direct reference or a metaphor.

Why am I asking this?   I’m on the bandwagon of people who decry our nation’s ignorance of hell.   Just this past month, a group of Satanists unveiled a statue in Detroit of Satan; it’s their 1st Amendment right, just as it’s someone else’s to call that “dumb.” Don’t these people fear hell? ISIS murders innocent people by the thousands in ways that are, um, creative and titillating:   don’t they fear hell?   People do unspeakable things to little children, or even to defenseless animals that are part of God’s creation for our enjoyment:   don’t they fear hell?

I live in the south, so there’s no shortage of churches that will give you your fill of hellfire and brimstone preaching that will, in the least, motivate you to contemplate the domain of the devil. Let’s face it:   it’s a sobering yet healthy thing to confront the idea that there really is evil in our world. The place our just and loving God has reserved for evil once our world has ended is hell.   The previous verses in this chapter are only a few of some throughout the Bible that tell us of how damnation awaits those who consciously refuse to believe in Jesus. Whether it’s literal fire, the absence of love, or something else, it will be more unpleasant than anything we could imagine.

But here’s where I’d like to go in a different direction.   Instead of just asking again “don’t they fear hell,” perhaps we could better serve our world by asking “how can I introduce them to Jesus?”   The presence of evil isn’t evidence of the absence of Jesus so much as it is the acceptance of the consequences when we turn away from Jesus.   The longer I live, the more I see Jesus is with me every minute, even when evil prevails. He’s there even when evil shows up on our doorstep, in our hearts, throughout our words and actions when we turn in even subtle ways.   Satan can only exploit us if we let him.

Just like he can only exploit those folks who let him have his way in their lives. Jesus is with us throughout. Instead of standing by, watching while others choose destruction, how about we bridge their self-made gap to Christ?   “Do you know Him?”   “Can I take a few minutes to tell you about Him?”   Those words might mean the difference between someone using their Jesus-given gift of free will to move forward for Him instead of downward towards the realm of the evil one.

Lord, keep me from temptation and forgive my sins.

Read Mark 9, verses 42-50.