Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 4 May 2020

Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God1 Peter 1:21 (NIV).

Last time we talked about what the world would be like without Jesus.   All we can assume is that it would be bleak, much different from what we know today (even on our world’s worst day, which is yet to come).   A world without Jesus – a world without love, hope, justice, honor and so much more – would be a terrible nightmare in which to exist.

One thing we can know, however (because Peter’s words remind us):  we wouldn’t be able to believe in God.  There would be nothing to believe in because He is God.  And it is only through Jesus that we have come to believe in God for it was only through Jesus that God sent the part of Himself who is His Holy Spirit.   When we know Jesus, we do so because His Spirit first touched us.   Yes, we choose to ultimately follow Jesus but that choice comes only after He, first, reached out to touch us in some way.  When we grow in faith it’s because He started and is causing the growth.  Think of us as good soil and Him as seed, light, air, and water.   The growth happens because of Him, not us.

If you put your faith in other men, you aren’t putting your faith and hope in God.   If you put your faith in Allah through Mohammed you aren’t putting your faith and hope in God.  If you put your faith in your abilities, in chance, in your fortune (or what a fortune teller says), or in anything other than God, you aren’t putting your faith and hope in God.

Neither Allah nor a thousand Hindu gods raised themselves from death.   No other man has ever done this.   Our money, our possessions, our history all pass to others when we assume room temperature.   Go check the tomb:   Jesus isn’t there, because He rose from death then ascended into heaven later.   Somewhere on this planet you will find the mortal remains of Mohammed, the Buddha, your ancestors, and eventually us.   But Jesus isn’t here.   He isn’t here because He said He wouldn’t be bound by death, and He wasn’t.

You and I can’t know this to be true if God Himself, through His Spirit-inspired Word, had not reached us in both spiritual and intellectual knowledge.  He made it happen so the He could inspire it into our hearts and minds.   You and I put our faith in the reliability and honesty of His Words.  It’s true because He said it and made it so.   It’s simply the truth.

For further reading:  Romans 4:24, Philippians 2:7-9, Hebrews 2:9, 1 Peter 1:22

Lord Jesus, You and Your Word are the ultimate truth in our world.   In this fallen place, they’re really the only reliable word.   Thank You for inspiring them into my faith.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 13 April 2020

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed1 Peter 1:7 (NIV).

When is Jesus revealed?

It’s the day after Easter; the first Monday of a new era, of a post-resurrection era.  Yes, this Easter-thing does happen every year; it has happened for many hundreds of them.  Yet every Easter Monday it feels somehow new, a real new year instead of just some arbitrary date in the equinox cycle.  It feels new because we’ve spent time focusing on the central event in all human history:   when Christ resurrected Himself from our curse of death.  He revealed Himself to be exactly who He said He was:   God Immanuel.

Jesus is also revealed in the moment when a new believer accepts Him as God and Savior.  For some people, that’s today.   Especially during this COVID-lockdown, Jesus has revealed His heart to all kinds of new believers.   People who had relied on Allah, or the Buddha, or themselves, or a thousand Hindu gods found those were just worthless idols.   It’s only Jesus who gives peace even in the worst times, and when a new believer accepts Him for who He is, He reveals Himself in miraculous ways:   ways they want to share.

Jesus is revealed in the last days.  Many people are looking for signs that these days are the time when the Ancient of Days will come back in the sky to usher in eternity.   Maybe that is happening now; maybe not yet.  Yet He promised He would reveal Himself then and, because His promises are always the promises of hope, this is one we can only hope for.   When it happens, it will be the best – or worst – moment of our lives.   What will it mean to you?

And Jesus is revealed when you notice how He has provided you with everything.   When you realize your selfishness is so worthless but His selflessness means everything.   Especially now, when we seem cut off from the rest of the world; when we’re scared and hesitant and anxious instead of rejoicing.   Even during these times, Jesus is the merciful God of grace who provides.   We breeze through our lives without even giving notice to what He’s doing.   Because you and I have time on our hands, maybe we should stop to consider Him?

Today is the day after Easter and the resurrection is fresh on our minds.  Church service or no, the holiday still came.   Church service or no, Jesus still rose from death and is eagerly awaiting His time to return and make all things new.  To reveal Himself once more.   To you.

For further reading: Job 23:10, Psalm 66:10, Proverbs 17:3, Isaiah 48:10, James 1:3, 1 Peter 1:8

Lord Jesus, reveal Yourself again in these troubled days.   Let these days of testing end to find me still holding fast to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 12 December 2019

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. Philippians 1:25-26. (EHV).

Paul never undersold his talents.   Indeed, here in Philippians (and in his other books as well), Paul expresses confidence in his abilities and especially in his faith.   That’s the key, you see:   confidence in faith.  Paul is convinced that his mission on earth is to express Jesus boldly to others; that others are built up to do the same through this ministry.   That is borne out by the fact that he started a number of successful churches, that the faith spread exponentially and quickly during his lifetime in the areas where he worked, and by the fact that his writings have endured as the backbone of Christian evangelical practice for two thousand years.   God blesses each of us with talents.   He richly blessed Paul with the talent to evangelize.

It came from Jesus’ Spirit filling Paul with a heart to serve.  As a zealous Pharisee, Paul eagerly served the Jewish faith even to the point of persecuting Christians.   When Christ converted him, Paul’s outlook changed and he threw his talents into building up Jesus to a skeptical world (one that was understandably skeptical about him).   We have all benefitted from that because of how Paul’s ministry served us with examples of how to ‘do ministry.’  Why?

So that Christ Jesus will abound because of him.   So that Christ Jesus will abound because of us, because of the lives we live and the things we do.   So that Christ will abound.

Think about that:   we do what we do so that Christ will abound, so that Christ will increase, so that Christ will become known to billions who don’t know Him.   Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Communists, and even Joel Osteen:  all people who don’t know about Jesus or reject Him get another look at Him when we live out our lives in faith.   It’s not to convince them:   it’s to share Jesus so that His Spirit can do the work through us.   We’re just supposed to live godly lives and share honestly.   We’re just supposed to have confidence to do that in the way Paul had confidence.

Look at yourself in the mirror today and tell yourself about the talents you have.   Maybe it’s speaking, or managing, or coding, or following.   Singing, dancing, bartending, writing; fixing cars, working the line, bagging groceries, working in the White House:  do what God gave you the ability to do for HIS glory.   Be confident in that, confidently share Him as you do, then get out of the way to watch Him work.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:13, Ephesians 4:1, Jude 3, Philippians 1:27

Lord Jesus, thank You for the abilities You gave to me.   Help me to use them to confidently share You today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 November 2017

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13, verse 8.

You know it’s true:  you might as well just say “amen” now (which actually means “this is most certainly true”).   Verse 8 is one of the foundation verses of the entire Bible.   It’s the explanation, motivation, and reason for everything.   There’s a Maren Morris song that mentions old time country music as “my church.”  It’s explains life; it’s always great; it’s always the same; it’s always there to uplift a sad soul.  I agree with some of that; “can I get an amen?”

Here’s something that merits an amen whether Maren sings about it or not:  Jesus our Savior is the same person He was yesterday as He is today as He will be tomorrow.  Can I get a hallelujah?

Wrap your noodle around this truth.  When everything around you is changing (and the only constant in this crazy world is change), Jesus is.  The great I AM is.  As you feel like your feeling careen around like a pinball, Jesus is the same.   The same Jesus who talked one on one with John, Peter, and even Judas Iscariot is the same Jesus who speaks to your heart today.  In science, gravity and time are constants.   Everything else changes, and you can even vary the effects of both time and gravity even though they are standards.  Yet Jesus is the same.  He is the same no matter the temperature, the time of year, or the phase of the moon.  Yet Christ is more than science; indeed, He invented it, inspired it.   Christ is beyond our science, and beyond our puny religion.  Jesus is the same whether you’re a Baptist, a Hindu, a Shiite (or Sunni or Wahabi) Muslim, or a card carrying atheist vegan who loves Crossfit.   He’s the same Savior we think about when we sing “Jesus Loves Me” as little children or “The Old Rugged Cross” as old people.

Consider, too, that this statement comes at the end of the exhortations where the writer has given us concluding thoughts.   He wants us to remember that, no matter what advice we give, the founder of all advice is Christ.   The source of all wisdom is Christ.   The reason for all we know is Jesus.   And when the world gets sideways as it always does, Jesus is still there just as He always was/is/will be.  Maybe the Doobie Brothers summed it up:   “I don’t care what they may say.   I don’t care what they may do.   Jesus is just alright (oh yeah).”

He’s just alright.  He’s just in time.   You can count on Him.  We should sing about that.   Can I get an amen?

I have a friend who is going through a particularly rough time right now.   He just left one job, and his family situation is all in turmoil.   My friend has always been plagued by darkness and has become one of the more hopeless people I know.   No faith, no grounding, he’s lost his way and is miserable.   Some of it is circumstances beyond his control; some environment; some the past; and some of it is his chickens coming home to roost.  Just last night we were talking about his having no identity, and I asked him to call me when he’s ready to seek it.  To call me because there’s really only one place to find your lasting identity.   It’s at the cross.   It’s there and only there that we can lay down our weapons, our guilt, our fears, and our pride and be renewed in both spirit and mind.

It’s because the Jesus we find on the cross is the same Jesus who walked on water is the same Jesus in the Word is the same Jesus listening to our prayers today is the same Jesus who loves children is the same Jesus who will judge the world.  He’s the same God no matter what.   When my friend sees his world collapsing around him and he feels bereft of all that’s good, by going to the cross and meeting the same Jesus there, he can begin again and move in a different direction.

I’m not a pastor.  I sometimes wish I had some of the knowledge my pastor friends have gained.   If not the knowledge, then maybe a little of the wisdom.  When people come to me and ask about why I believe what I do, all I can do is paraphrase C.S. Lewis who said that he prayed because he couldn’t help himself.   I believe in Christ because I can’t help myself.  Everything else I’ve sought in this world has left me wanting and hollow.  Yet I go to Jesus and see that He’s the same as He always is.   That helps me to realize that He’s the God I crave, the God I want to follow, the leader I want to emulate, the unchanging Savior I desperately need, and the friend I want to always cherish.  Jesus is just alright because He is ALL RIGHT and is always Himself.   Can I get an amen to that?

For further reading:  Psalm 102:27, Hebrews 1:12.

My Lord, this is most certainly true:   You are God.   You are the only constant in the universe.   You are good, worthy of praise, and all life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 23 October 2017

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  Hebrews 12, verse 25.

Now.   Because eternity matters most, the time is now to talk about it, to listen about it.  There is no tomorrow guaranteed for any of us, and yesterday is done.  Today is the day to listen to what God is saying to you.   Today is the ONLY time to listen.

I took off last week from writing these proverbials because my wife and I were moving.   We did “the big move” from our small farm in Paris to an apartment in McKinney.  There are a few reasons why, some good, some not so good.  In time, I’m sure I’ll talk about them here; for now, it’s just raw.  You’ve probably moved a few times in your own life, so you know it’s hard work; emotional and physical work.   We’re almost done with it, but it’s hard work all the way up to the end.   So I needed some time off.

I’ve spent that time wondering what Jesus is saying in all this.   We’re moving to make sure we don’t lose our livelihood, and to be closer to family that needs us.   Yet it hurts.   I’ve always felt we were led to Paris, to buy the farm and start a new life together.   Now I also feel we are being led elsewhere, to start another new life together in a different way.   We are both following God’s lead, and so we understand that, no matter what happens, it will all be ok.   One of my favorite movie lines is from “The Best New Marigold Hotel.”   Judy Densch:  “everything will be alright in the end.   If it’s not alright, then it isn’t the end.”   Very Indian; very Hindu; very apropos.   I know things will be alright because God ALWAYS works in our lives for good.   In the end, because of Him, it will be alright, all right, all the time.   If it isn’t yet alright, then it isn’t yet the end and He isn’t done leading us through better things.  If we don’t believe that, then don’t we simply bring on ourselves the consequences of not following God?   If we don’t follow God, don’t we get what we ask for?   The verse today implies this is so.

So we’re following Jesus yet it still hurts.   Now it’s tough.  Now I’m mourning what’s lost, ambivalent about today, unafraid of the future but also uncaring of it.   Even angry.  I suppose I’m actually numb because I’m having difficulty sorting out what I’m feeling and prioritizing what I can and can’t do about it.   What is God saying to me when I’m numb, when I don’t know where I fit in right now?   What’s He saying to my family when my wife and I are both working so hard to get set up to ‘be there’ for those who need us yet feeling distant and hurt?   What is the Lord saying when it’s the end of some things but it doesn’t really feel alright?

You know what He’s saying.   So do I, even when I don’t want to admit it.  He doesn’t promise the easy road:   He promises to walk it with us.   He promises to abide with us when His words say “I know the work is hard but you aren’t finished.   I’m with you, so keep it up.”  He’s calling me to submit to Him in all this, and He’s calling me to trust in Him even though that hurts.   He NEVER guarantees that things in life won’t hurt because, in a fallen world, we feel hurt when it stings into our lives.   He simply says “I’m with you.   Always.”   Why, Christ’s last words here were “lo I am with you even until the end of the age.”

That’s now.   That means He’s with me, with us, now.   Ages end every day; yes, I mean that.  Things begin and things end and through it all, like we talked about a few days back, these are the days of Elijah when we get to declare the word of the Lord.   We do that because we listen to Him when times are good and bad both and we declare that, in both, He’s with us.   He’s celebrating with us when we’re glad, and He’s holding us, mourning with us, hurting for us, when we’re hurting.  He meant what He said and He’s with us now.

Because now is the time.   Eternity does matter most so now is the time to listen and make ready for it.  No matter what happens today, He’s abiding with us, working with us to make things better.   He already did everything to make eternity matter most, to make it possible.  And He’s with us each day to make things alright in the meantime.   Right now, today, He’s talking to us and telling us what matters most.   That HE matters most because He is our everything and He makes all things all right, right up until the very end.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 8:5, Hebrew 11:7, Deuteronomy 18:19, Hebrews 2:2-3, Hebrews 10:29, Matthew 28:20, Mark 8:36.

My Lord, abide with me these days.   I’m hurting and struggling.   Thank You for walking with me now.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 March 2017

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:  “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.  Hebrews 8, verses 7-12.

It’s like God was saying “folks, you just don’t get it.   In fact, that is what He was saying, and doing, and is why He kept instituting new covenants to benefit mankind until, finally, one could be instituted that would be eternally complete.   Keep this thought at hand:   this was for our benefit, not His.   This was to prepare us, NOT because God had to practice to get it right.   All throughout human history, since the fall in Eden, God has been reaching out, preparing us for the ways and the time when He would restore a clear path to Himself again.   In Eden, Adam and Eve were without sin.   They lived in full harmony with God, seeing Him face to face, talking with Him one on one.   It’s how God designed people to live.

Enter sin.   Enter the serpent.   Enter falling into temptation.   Enter the divide.   Millenia later, we’re still in that divide.   Many thousands of years after Adam, 4500 years after Abraham, 4000 years after Moses and even 2000 years after Jesus, mankind is still in the divide between himself and his God Almighty.   You and I can disagree with that, and we can rail against the fact of it.   We don’t like it when people confront us with ugly truths, but they’re still truths.   We’re full of sin and unable on our own to walk with God.   It’s true for you.   It’s true for me.  It’s true for your saintly mom, Billy (and Franklin) Graham, Pope Francis (and Pope Benedict), the heroes fighting for freedom in Afghanistan, and even my minister friend, Raymond, in Africa who does practical Godly ministry better than anyone else I know.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus built the bridge.   Jesus serves as the path between sinful men and our perfect God.  Jesus forgives all our sins and teaches us how to turn from them.   And He clothes us in Himself so that, when the perfect Father sees us, He sees us through the prism of His perfect Son.   Without Jesus, God (who sees everything) sees an unholy person who can’t be in His presence because His holy presence requires holiness.   Without Jesus, sins aren’t forgiven.   Without Jesus, the old covenants of Moses and David still hammer us with unachievable law, requirements that we still misunderstand and can never fully comply with.   Without Jesus, there is no path to God.  Mohammed can’t get you there.   Buddha and years of navel-gazing can’t get you there.   Paiute, chanting to Mother Gaia, praying to your ancestors, and a thousand Hindu gods can’t get you to God.  Only Jesus.

This is true because God instituted the new covenant that He promised in the verses above (much of which are quoted from the prophet Jeremiah).   What men couldn’t make right through our insufficient means and petty pagan religions God made right through the selfless sacrifice of Himself in His Son.   We didn’t ‘get that’ when it happened.  Far too many of us still don’t today.

For further reading:  Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Exodus 19:4, 5, 20: 1-17, Romans 11:27, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ezekiel 11:20, Zechariah 8:8, Isaiah 54:13, John 6:45, Luke 22:20.

Lord God, I praise You for making things right, for Your selfless sacrifice that purchased salvation for all of us.   Thank You more than I can say.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 October 2016

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.  Hebrews 2, verse 11.

Think about this one.   I mean really, truly, slowly contemplate the idea being stated by this Bible verse.

You’re like Jesus.

Jesus is like you.

You and Jesus, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything creator of the universe, are family.   You’re in His.

You aren’t part of Allah’s family.   In fact, nothing you can do could ever get you close to Allah; you’ll never be good enough.   You aren’t on the same level as the Buddha.   He reached nirvana first and, well, we just aren’t that cool.   Your ancestors did it better than you.  The earth and Mother Gaia are so much bigger than you.   Name one other faith on this planet and, chances are, you and I just don’t measure up.   This isn’t Rag On Other Religions Day:   it’s simply the way things are.

Not so with Jesus.   With Jesus, you’re family.   We’re family.   You and I, we are adopted children.   It’s as if He showed up at court and did everything necessary to fully, freely, finally adopt us as His own children.   Even more, He doesn’t just think of us as children:   He looks at us as brothers and sisters.   Equals, peers, siblings, friends:   we aren’t just family.   We’re on the same level.

Now, let’s keep it real.   Us, we aren’t God.  We aren’t supernatural and we aren’t the Triune God the way Jesus is.   But He asks us to put off thinking like that and reminds us that He came here as Himself, as fully man while being fully God.   We don’t have to understand that mystery.   In fact, we don’t get to.   It’s simply a fact we get to accept.   Yet fact it is.  We can’t do what He does in the supernatural realm and we never will.   We are the created, not the Creator.

But as men, we get to relate to Jesus man to man because that’s how He relates to us.   He reminds us that He lived a full life among us.   He ate, drank, slept, laughed, cried.   Jesus did the same things you and I do except sin.   He lived the kind of life we were designed to live to teach us that it could be done.   He lived the life we could live, that, post-death, we will one day get to live.   And He did it out of love to set things right.

Buddha didn’t do that.   Allah can’t do that.   Neither can the Hindus, the Mormons, the atheists, or any other followers of any other faith.   But Jesus did it.

He did it because He sees us as people, as men and women.   He meets us where we are and asks that we meet Him there in return.   He wants to meet us on a human level because He knows that’s what we can understand.   He knows that He can appeal to our understanding, our hearts and minds, because He is the foundation of all understanding.   Faith in God is the beginning of human reason.   Jesus knows this and wants us to know it too so that we can live our lives here in purpose and love with Him as our guide.

Jesus sees you as His brother or sister because He wants you to see Him as your brother.  He wants to be the person with whom you can confide, and trust, and rely on.   Jesus wants us to know Him as family because family sticks together.   Because family is a bond that matters.   Because a family is the primary unit in every society, and because mankind was designed to live in families.

Seriously think about that.   Seriously contemplate that thought.  Jesus brings many sons to glory because He sees those sons, you and I, as brothers whom He loves and adores.   That’s the best news you’.

For more reading:   Hebrews 13:12, Ephesians 5:26, Matthew 28:10.

Lord Jesus, my brother and my Lord, thank You for loving me as your sibling!