Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 19 December 2017

Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.   Deuteronomy 26:11.

It’s the week before Christmas and, if we’re having an honest conversation about Santa Claus, we need to face some facts about the world we live in.

We each know people who are having a tough time this year.  One friend of mine is struggling to give her kids and grandkids the kind of happy Christmas she never had when she was growing up, and she feels she’s failing.   Another friend of mine is struggling with the recent diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor.   Yet another confesses her broken-heartedness on her first Christmas as a single mom following her divorce.   One of my sons-in-law is deployed overseas, spending his first Christmas away from his wife and daughter; his wife and daughter are very much missing Dad.  Another friend of mine is struggling with schizophrenia.  One of my classmates is being buried today after her untimely death last week.  I’m losing my house.

And we’re supposed to rejoice over all this?  Actually, yes, and it really isn’t that difficult to do.

Think of “A Christmas Carol”, of Scrooge’s overnight transformed heart.   Or the Santa Clause movie where Tim Allen brightens up the teacher’s holiday party by using a little Santa magic.  Consider the lines of excited kids lining up to see Santa.   Or the bell-ringer wearing a Santa hat who wishes you a merry Christmas when you drop a few coins into the red kettle.  Rejoice.   Rejoice, already.   God gives us the basics but so much more.   If you don’t believe that, go do some Santa watching at the mall.   Reject the crass commercialism and just watch the little kids.   Watch how they anticipate, and how a kind old man spends some time with them to listen and love a little.   Then rejoice already.   Rejoice on days good and bad alike because the same Christ Child, born on Christmas Day, reflected by a character we call “Santa,” is Lord of all.

In it all, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.   You know it, the Christmas hymn.   According to Wikipedia, the words to the hymn come from the 1700s while the medieval dirge to which they’re sung comes from France of the 1500s.  Yet I love the song.  It is actually one of the more hopeful ones you’ll hear this Christmas because the refrain constantly reminds us to rejoice over how Jesus Emmanuel has ransomed us from ourselves.   How “Emmanuel” actually means “God with us.”   How He is with us now.

Rejoice, too, because one of Emmanuel’s representatives here in our world is that jolly fat man in the red suit.   That attitude of giving selflessly is cause enough to begin the rejoicing.   The heart that gives is the heart of hope, and in the face of real adversity we need more of that hope.   Only Jesus can truly give that hope, but you, me, and acting like Santa can share it.   That’s what keeps the world going around.  The people of 1500s France knew it.  The magi knew it.   Moses knew it when he penned Deuteronomy.   And the men who play Santa at the mall know it.

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna concerning the hard condition in which we find ourselves.   Living can hurt.   Yet the very real antidote to being crushed by this world is letting ourselves be lifted up by God instead.   Loss, death, and pain still happen, but they cannot defeat a heart focused on giving through rejoicing.   Indeed, the only way to persevere through those things is with that rejoicing heart of Jesus.   In hard times, that may be the only gift we can get or give.  Like the song, so much of our lives is sung in a minor key.   How much better it is, then, to consider the smile of Santa’s face, the touch of Jesus’ hand, and the fresh day today to rejoice one moment at a time.

For further reading: Matthew 25:29.

My Lord, I rejoice at Your wonder, at how You provide for us and love us.  Help me to persevere through adversity today.   And ease the pain of those who are struggling right now.  Love and nurture them, Lord.


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, 16 May 2017

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10, verse 23.

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that I recently started a new job.   My previous company laid me off in December.   Now, I’m 50 and have been working in one capacity or another since I was 16.  This wasn’t the first time I’d been rolled off an account or even laid off a job.   Yet this has been the first time that my confidence has been rattled to the core.  I started a new job 3 months ago and, by all measures, it’s going very well (I’m leading a great team of really talented people).  Yet I’ve become ultra-sensitive to perfectionism, working to try to get things just right even as I know that isn’t a sustainable goal.   For the first time in my life, I’ve encountered anxiety, even panic attacks.   Couple that with some pretty heavy depression, a bunch of other stressors, and it’s a tough combination to live with.  I’ve come to dread  every time someone from my new job calls or e-mails, wondering if this is the message where the ax falls on my neck again.  50 is a tough time in life to be having to start over.

It’s as if I have forgotten how to hold unswervingly to the hope I profess in Christ.   Except that my faith is still solid. All through this, I’ve known deep inside that God was still real.  I’ve almost instinctively known that Jesus is with me, and that whatever I’m feeling, He’s beside me to help me.   That’s proof of Hebrews 10, verse 23.   And yet I’ve still been hurting.

Earlier, I was talking with my atheist friend who, once again, chided me for believing in “space fairies.”   I replied to him that it’d be better if he got to know the One he calls “space fairy” now, in thanks and admiration, instead of later in fear and dread because he will come to know Him whether he calls Him names or not.   Again, this is something I know inside of me because I believe what God has said through His Word and through His nature & history.   Yet in a world of doubt, anger, and hurt, is it any wonder that people like atheists would reject faith they can’t see, even if the One they reject is faithful and bears real hope?

Perhaps it’s natural to occasionally question one’s faith, even as the God in whom we have faith doesn’t question us.   He is always present, always the same, always diligent, always loving.   He’s God; He can’t be any other way.   We aren’t God; we can’t be God and shouldn’t try (after all, there really are no true atheists…).  I can only speak for myself in saying that I truly believe in all God says He is and that I don’t doubt that He’s saved me.   Yet I still question where He is and His purposes when things like this job loss come to me.   I didn’t deserve it, but it happened.   It has wreaked a lot of changes, some good and many not, in my family’s life, and I question “why”.

Perhaps the best answer is still the one God gave to Job, namely that He’s God and I’m not and I should just be comforted by knowing that.   Way back in the book of Job – probably the oldest book in the Bible – God upheld the hope of His faithful servant who, like me, questioned when bad things happened without rejecting his belief in his Maker.   It’s ok to be sincere about saying “Lord, this really sucks right now.”   It’s ok to be sincere about feeling bad when things make you feel bad.   It’s ok to be sincere in saying “I don’t want this.”  Vent those feelings and share those thoughts; that’s good, even Godly.   And then let them go and come back into His fold, remembering that He gives real hope for here and now, not just forever.  He who promised it is faithful in all things and at all times.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:1, 1 Cor 1:9.

Lord, it’s been really tough lately and I’ve been hurting, questioning why these things have happened. I believe in You, though, and I know in my heart that You are with me.   Uphold me now and continue to give me the courage to face each new day.  Thanks for what You do and who You are.


Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 May 2017

Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10, verse 17.

Jesus is talking about wiping the slate clean. That’s a concept we, in our so-called modern world, desperately want.

I’ve been depressed lately.   Really, truly, deeply depressed.   It’s likely a delayed reaction to too many big things happening in my life too quickly.   Job loss, new job; anger over losing the old job, frustration with learning the new one; 2 new grandkids in four months; 2 kids living at home in the same six month period; financial woes; running into the city almost every weekend; missing my old travel job and the control I thought I had over my life; an ever-growing list of chores here on the farm   Guilt over past sins that just doesn’t seem to go away; feeling inadequate in everything I do, that no matter what I do it’s never enough or never good enough for my wife or my family or my team.   Feeling overwhelmed even by small things.

That’s all been me over the last few months, actually more like the last year since I went on the bench in my previous job.   I feel so frustrated over so many things, and I feel powerless to actually do anything substantial to change them.   Yes, it’s a lie because God gives us the power to make changes where we are now.   He is always with me; He is always actively involved even when it seems like Satan’s attacks are making progress in bringing me down.   I know all that is true:   I simply still feel so down over all of it and more.

Some of what bothers me isn’t my fault; I’m innocent of much, maybe even most of it.   Yet if I’m going to be truly honest, all of the things that plague me stem from some kind of sin, either mine or someone else’s.   All dysfunction and strife in the world stems from some kind of sin, either now or in the distant past, even sins that aren’t our own.  The Bible says that all creation is frustrated by man’s sin.   Taking that thought to its logical end, when Adam and Eve first fell, their sin set into motion violence, disease, weather patterns, disasters, and other ‘natural’ phenomena that affect us today.   If you think that’s possible, then perhaps it’s possible for the sins of 7 billion souls alive now affect this planet still.

I know, wacky stuff.   It’s kind of a stretch; it’s kind of crazy to think about it…even if it’s true.  The goodness of God with us in Eden kept sin away, but man’s embrace of sin unleashed these terrors into a place never intended to know them.

Here’s some good news, then.   Jesus will remember our sins no more.   When Jesus moved His Spirit into my heart, He ended the residency of sin.   He drove it out and away.   He wiped the slate clean and in His mind’s eye, they don’t even exist anymore.  He did that in me here and now.   Later, when Jesus returns to renew this corrupted planet, He will remember our sins and lawless acts no more.   He will remake nature; He will wipe out crime; He will change everything we know about living in this place. And in doing so, He will make it so that the things that plague us will never plague us again.   It will be as if they had never happened.

When I get down, I cling to remembering this.   Sure, I do the things to try to beat back the darkness.   I make realistic lists of things to do and work to get them done, then pat myself on the back for doing so.   I remind myself that I’m doing my best.   I remember that the past no longer exists, and the future hasn’t yet happened.   But most of all, I remember that Christ is in my heart and hurts when I hurt.  That He hurt more than I could know for pains like I feel these days.  That He died to make my hurt a thing of the past, and that His death means my sins and lawless acts are remembered no more.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

My Lord, abide with me when I get depressed.   Help me through the dark days, and comfort me with knowing You don’t hold my sins and acts against me.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 27 January 2015

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear. Mark 4, verses 1-9.

Let’s take another look a couple more things about it that matter before we move on from this parable.

“Went out to sow his seed:” the work of the Lord is work indeed. The work of Christ is to tell others about Him, and that takes hard work.   This world is a place set against Christ, and most people in the world don’t want to hear this message of salvation, love, and peace because it requires effort from them. But have you ever been involved in a big project?   On a project team, though everyone has common goals, meeting those goals requires thousands of daily interactions, achievements, and individual contributions. Everyone’s contribution matters. It takes work to achieve a major objective.   Christ knew this, and He knew that there could be no objective more serious than the eternity of a human soul. He knew that the message He preached would challenge many and upend the order of things, and that to spread that message would take work.

That work would be necessary because the ways of the world – the things of the world – will still be around no matter how we receive God’s word.   The Pharisees and other sects of Jesus’ day were pulled away from hearing Jesus’ word.   Are we any different?   It isn’t just modern technology, affluence, or peer pressure competing with the Gospel for our hearts.   There are untold other temptations and realities with which we must grapple just to stay alive. Strip away the trappings and veneer of the twenty-first century and you’ll find the core matters of the heart aren’t much different from those that were covered over by more primitive veneers during the first-century time of Christ.   Lust, greed, anger, lying, envy, hurt:   those aren’t things that are unique to those of us living today.   Jesus knew that too.

Finally, Jesus knew that not everyone would listen. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” This is a message for everyone that not everyone will take to heart. Everyone has ears but does everyone truly listen?   Don’t we each know people who hold fast to their faith as they are dying, while knowing other people who reject Christ with passion? I know them; I bet you do too. Jesus knew His message would require hearing with the heart instead of just hearing with our ears and not everyone would be willing to listen.

Lord, whatever happens in my life today, I am following You.

Read Mark 4, verses 1-20.