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 March 2020

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:9 (NJKV).

The peace of God is with us.

Starting in verse 4, Paul blesses his friends with the peace of God that surpasses our understanding as they display gentleness while avoiding anxiety and what results from it.  Then, here in verse 9, he blesses them with God’s peace as they meditate on the good things of God.  He must want them (and us) to understand that God’s peace is present with us.

That’s good to know, isn’t it, especially in a world turning itself upside down over a virus?   After all, these words were written at a time when it was common for villages to shun, even kill, people with leprosy (which is cured by modern antibiotics); when cholera, typhus, or dysentery could wipe out a city in days; when there were no blessings of medicines or sanitation to prevent and cure such things.   They lasted through the Black Death that killed 60% of Europe (because people didn’t know about hygiene and fleas).   They persisted through the 1918 Spanish Flu that came and went in a year but killed more people than World War I.   They will be true when this passes by as well.   In the meantime, they’ll get us through and provide encouragement when we need it…because He will actually abide with us.

Don’t lose sight, too, of Paul reminding us to put faith into practice.   Let’s not just believe in Jesus:   let’s do something with it.   Now is the time for us to show people our faith by showing them our works because of it.  The other night, I was talking with a friend who reminded me that Martin Luther exhorted Christians (during outbreaks of disease) to continue ministering to others out of Christ’s love.   Care for people in real ways and share the medicine of Jesus.  If someone is sick, find out what you can do to help them…bring groceries, cook them a meal, help with laundry or cleaning; anything.  Yes, we should be preventive and cautious in how we conduct ourselves.   But we MUST NOT allow fear or even government edict to prevent us from carrying out our faith in Christ by helping people who need it.

And in it, through it, God will be giving us His peace as we work to help each other get by.   Today I’m praying that, when the crisis has passed, our world will be able to look back and see how God blessed us richly by the works and faith we believers can share as we served each other through it.  Sin is a disease, too, and disease is a result of sin.   God Immanuel is stronger than either.

For further reading: Romans 15:23, 1 Corinthians 4:16, James 2:18, Philippians 4:10.

Lord God, abide with us and grant us Your peace to better serve You by serving each other.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 24 June 2019

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.  2 Timothy 4:16 (NIV).

Paul was given to hyperbole, but here in this verse, he probably wasn’t being hyperbolic.   It’s likely that there actually were people around him who did physically support him – with food, with friendship, with camaraderie, with prayer.   That’ isn’t what he’s talking about.  When Paul was called before the Jewish, then Roman, authorities, he was probably alone.   He was probably left to defend himself with only the words of Jesus’ Spirit to guide him.  Everyone else, even his closest friends, either deserted him or sought self-preservation from the hell-bent Jewish and Roman overseers.

That’s understandable, you know.   We can only do so much.   While God calls us to boldly proclaim and love Him in all ways even unto death, He asks us more to model the attitude of self-sacrifice; the heart to give everything in His service.   That’s the heart Paul had, the kind of heart that guided him through the times when the government and the religious authorities actually persecuted him for proclaiming Christ crucified.

My Concordia Bible makes an interesting parallel between this verse, especially the last section of it, and Acts 7:60.  In the Acts verse, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is being stoned to death by over-eager Jews.   Stephen had just rhetorically devastated these men, who had called him to testify as to why he was proclaiming the forbidden “way” of Jesus.   Stephen used that occasion to relate how the Jews had followed God in an up-then-down manner from the time of Abraham until that day.   He then bluntly denounced them for mocking God in their hearts because they had murdered Jesus, God Immanuel.   The Sanhedrin stoned Stephen for that, and it was Paul, then known as Saul, who had overseen the murder.

So it’s ironic that, in the verse from 2 Timothy, years after the death of Stephen, Paul asks a prayer for the people who have deserted him.   Stephen wasn’t alone in his dying moments:   he saw heaven open and Jesus.  Paul knew that he, too, wasn’t alone.   That even when his friends left him, he still had Jesus there to bring peace to his heart and forgiveness as its best desire.

We’re in that same boat, you know.  We are given to thinking we’re all alone, certain that the world is set against us and that only disaster and despair are ahead.   Yet it’s a mirage; it’s an exaggeration of our circumstances; hyperbole.   We are never all alone, even when we feel alone.   Stephen wasn’t.   Paul wasn’t.   You aren’t; I’m not.  Even in the worst day, Jesus endures with us, giving us strength to pray for the forgiveness of others.

For further reading:  Acts 7:60, 2 Timothy 4:17

Lord Christ, forgive, uphold, restore, and enrich those who would hurt me today.   Grant them and myself Your peace.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 7 November 2018

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:  He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.  1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV).

In Jesus’ day, people no different than us believed in Him.  People who were ridiculed, threatened, persecuted, confused believed in Jesus.   Sometimes we read these stories from the Bible and we seem to think that they were unusual people, ‘super-human’ people.   Jesus was.   All the rest of them?   Not so much.  The people who lived and heard and believed Jesus in His time were people just like us.  They looked, they listened, they let go, and they believed.   Why is it so tough for us?

You and I have the same information available to us that was available to popes all through history, to Billy Graham and Mother Theresa, to all the billions who have believed in Jesus since He returned to heaven.  Something about Him opened a window into our hearts and we believed.   Not because we’re special or even have special insight but because He is who He said He was.

And it’s beyond all reasonable doubt.   The words of the Bible are plain and they’re available for anyone who wants to read them.   As Paul says, Jesus is proven to be the Son of God beyond all question, not because Paul said so but because Jesus did so.   The mystery of the trinity and of Immanuel incarnate isn’t much of a mystery at all.  It was plainly proven over thousands of years.  Hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled only in Jesus Christ; if you don’t believe me, consult this site, then read the verses for yourself:  http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html.  Nobody else is possible; mathematically, it is 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 and there isn’t even a named number for that (see http://www.goodnewsdispatch.org/math.html).

When you put your faith in Jesus, you’re putting your faith in the only truly known or possible Savior in all of human history.   He’s fully God and fully man at the same time.  With only a thought He could compel you or I to follow Him.   But He doesn’t do that.

Instead, the Christ, proven beyond all reason and doubt, calls to us in love and asks us to follow Him.   He doesn’t demand it, command it, or force it.   Instead, Jesus introduces Himself and says “Be loved and forgiven, then share it.”   We don’t have to do that:  we get to do that.   Because of Him.  The people of His day weren’t any different than us.   They simply saw and believed.

For further reading:  Romans 16:25, John 1:14, Psalm 9:11, Colossians 1:23, Mark 16:19, Timothy 4:1

Lord, thank You for proving Yourself.   I believe in You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 March 2017

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. Hebrews 9, verses 1-5.

Here is more information on the ancient tabernacle.   It’s nice to know; it’s good to know; it’s great to know since it is a representation of the place in which God approached man.   It’s valid history that can increase your understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus; thank you Chad Bird for that bit of teaching.  Understanding the tabernacle and what was done there can greatly increase your perception of the beauty of God.

It’s also irrelevant.

Yes, irrelevant.   There’s nothing today that requires you to build your worship life around the kind of worship that the ancient Israelites conducted in the desert 4000 years ago.  YOU are God’s tabernacle now.  Believe in Jesus and you are the place where God Himself comes to dwell with men.   You, me, and millions like us.  He built His church on our hearts.   He lives, works, breathes, sees, feels actively through you.   God will not be bound by the confines of a tent, temple, or sanctuary.   Instead, He constructs His temple in you and lives as His church through you.   You’re the successor to God’s tabernacle.

Now, that’s not to say that tradition is a bad thing; it isn’t.  If you think about it, many modern churches are still set up in a similar, though not identical, pattern.  Medieval cathedrals were, for the most part, built to reflect the shape of a cross.  Most of today’s churches have a place for the masses to sit or stand, an area down front with an altar that is segregated from where the congregation, well, congregates.   That isn’t much different from the tabernacle, which was segregated into sections for man’s protection and man’s benefit.

In truth, this side of heaven, we won’t fully understand all the implications of just why God determined that His tabernacle must have the dimensions it did.   Or how He fully occupies our hearts with His presence.   It’s a vision of heaven given for our understanding even as we don’t fully see what it will look like there.  Here on the Third Rock, it’s our lot to simply accept it as just the way it is.  If you think about it, that’s the foundation of faith.   “Put your trust in me,” says God.  “I’ve told you all you need to know.   Some of it you won’t understand, just trust me anyway.”   Religion teaches us to be skeptical of this, but that doesn’t change the basic fact and premise of it:   trust God anyway.  Trust God because He came to you, entered your life, became not just your Savior, but your partner, your friend, your guide, your observer.   When you choose to do what He asks, you benefit.   When you choose otherwise, He is there to remind you that He is there and working to turn things around for you.   Whatever you choose, God is with you.   Immanuel ‘immanueling’ with you as an active participant in your life.

THAT was the central point of the ancient tabernacle.   It wasn’t given to Israel as a way for a vain god to steal glory.   It was given to them as a way to see how God had come to them and would always work for them, working to turn things around for them.   In my daily devotions, I’m reading through 2 Kings (having already gone through 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings).  Ancient Israel was brutal.   It was divided and lived under the thumb of many more evil tyrants than good leaders.   The time of 2 Kings was long past the years of the tabernacle in the desert.  God had long ago kept His promise to make Israel a great nation, yet Israel missed the intention of God’s promise.   He would make them great not because of political power or wealth.  No, they would be great because God would be with them.   He would live through them, work through them, demonstrate His beautiful love through them.   He gave them the tabernacle, then the Temple, then the synagogues, to reach them where they were.   Their reaction?   “Who are you, God, to talk to me?”   Isn’t it amazing how little things have changed?

For further reading:  Exodus 25, 26 and 30; Leviticus 24:5-8, Numbers 17:10.

Lord, I thank You for Your tabernacle, for coming to us through this place.   Help me to ponder it, to study it, to understand more of You through understanding it.   And help me to always sense how You are always with me and in me.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 17 February 2016

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14, verses 37-38.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak:” no more helpful words were spoken that early Good Friday morning.

Notice how Jesus poses the question to Peter (and, in turn, James and John) that both accuses of slacking but also speaks to their conscience.   Jesus doesn’t slam the Disciples.   Instead, He states a fact – I really need your help – while speaking to the better angels of their nature.   Then Jesus “goes there,” reminding them – and us – of a few key things about humanity.

Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation.   God made each of us with the inborn ability to watch, to be alert, to be cognizant, mindful, attentive, and active in our lives.   God Immanuel tells us to watch around us because the fallen world of sin is the world we live in.   He calls us to be in that world, to hold fast to faith in Him but live in that sinful world with other sinful people like ourselves.   Why does Jesus tell us to watch?   So that we don’t fall into temptation, of course.   Jesus understood temptation; He was fully man while still being fully God.   Yet when Satan tempted Him in the desert, Jesus was literally starving to death.   He was at His physical and emotional lowest and that’s when Satan pressed for advantage.   Jesus was telling His friends that the best way to resist temptation is to watch out for it.

The spirit is willing; words of hope.   Jesus knew the depth of the human spirit; He knew that it was for love that God created each one of us with a spirit.   And He knew that He, in His Spirit, would return to the world after He had ascended home.   When that happened, the Spirit of God would move the spirit of man to faith, to accept this resurrected Lord as the only Savior of mankind.   He knew this would be possible, that it would happen, because Jesus knew that the spirits of men are willing, that we crave God and innately seek God even as we deny Him.

Yet we deny God because the flesh is weak. Even when we watch, even when our spirit is willing, man’s flesh is weak.   We want the sin.   We want the praise, the power, the glory.   All the stuff of comfort?   Want it.   All the adulation and fame and adoration of other men?   We crave them. We want and crave those things because we forget that our flesh is weak.   We’re sinful from birth, weak in the flesh and tempted to seek comfort in the flesh instead of comfort from the Cross.

Jesus ‘got’ all of that, and I marvel at how He spoke with instead of speaking to these men who, being men, fell asleep when they should have been standing watch for Him. Peter and the others should have been keeping guard, attending their friend.   Instead, they did what we would do.   Thank God for His patience with them and us.

Lord Jesus, You are kind, wise and patient with us. Thank You for these blessed qualities, for teaching me about myself.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 February 2015

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But he would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home* to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed. Mark 5, verses 18-20.

This confession may be shocking: I’d really like nothing better than to live the esoteric life of contemplating my faith in Jesus.   I’d like to talk through deeper matters of faith with people who are more learned than myself in Jesus, the faith, and how to grow its fruits; scholars, professors and such. For me, it would be heaven to talk and debate these deep matters of the heart, then sleep, wake, and arise to do it all again. That’s not the kind of man I usually am in public but, in reality, that kind of faith-based academic life is one I would love to live.

But to paraphrase Alan Jackson, “I’m here in the real world.”   That just isn’t me.   I wish it could be, and maybe part of my one-day life in heaven will include that.   Here on the Third Rock, however, that just isn’t what I was put here to do. Every time I think I might someday end up in the group of ecclesiastical navel gazers, reality comes crashing in.   The longer I live, the more I equate “reality” with “Jesus Christ.”

So it is that I find myself identifying with the man from the tombs.   Jesus had healed him.  Not only healed, but completely restored.   The demons had once destroyed everything about him, and then this Jesus came along and set his ship right. The man’s reaction?   “Lord, let me follow you.”

Jesus’ reaction? “Thanks but I have a better idea.”   Leave here and go talk about what was done for you.   In so many other places, Jesus told those (whom He healed) to comply with Jewish law and keep quiet. Here, however, He told the man to go talk about it.   Specifically, He told the man to go home and talk about God, about how God personally intervened in his life and made everything new.

The man had wanted nothing more than to bask in Jesus’ glory, to contemplate His glory and His mercy for all the rest of his days.   Jesus had something else in mind.   He sent the man out to preach God Immanuel to hundreds, maybe thousands, of his countrymen who had always and only known the man to be insane. As we talked about the other day, it’s not inconceivable that a substantial body of believers in the land of the Gerasenes became believers in Jesus thanks to the personal testimony this man from the tombs shared.

I would rather stay and sit, but Jesus says ‘go and do’ for Him. These days, I find that comforting, especially in a scary time when my world is changing and I don’t fully understand where God is sending me.   The only thing I know for certain is that He always provides and will put the words in my mouth when He wants me to share something.   I’d rather sit and bask in His glory but He has better plans in mind, no matter what they may turn out to be.   So it is for me.   So it is, my friend, for you as well.

Lord, lead me. I will follow You.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20.