Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 22 November 2017

 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  Hebrews 13, verse 13.

Jesus earned “street cred” by dying outside the city walls.   That wasn’t the intention of the Jews who murdered Him.   They wanted to discredit Him, to consign Him to a place with the worst of society.   The Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death wanted to erase the memory of Him so that He would soon be forgotten.  To do that, they reasoned that having Him executed as a common criminal would cause people to abandon following Him.   By branding Jesus as a criminal worthy of death, they would so disgrace His name that people would be repelled by even the mention of it.  Within a few years nobody would remember this evangelist from Nazareth.

With anyone else, it might have worked.   After all, there is only a small handful of names we actually know out of the billions of people who lived before, say, one thousand years ago (maybe even one hundred years ago).    The people we know of (like Jesus) earned fame or honor.   Who even knows the names of condemned prisoners from Phoenicia, Babylon, Athens or Rome?   Do we know the names of the men crucified with Spartacus?  Without using Google, who are the people on death row now in Idaho?   Can you name anyone shot for cowardice during the Mexican War?   We don’t know the names of these men because they’re lost to history.

We don’t know their names because we don’t want to.   They died in disgrace.   They died in ignominy and dishonor.   You, me, and our friends don’t want to be associated with their dishonor and disgrace.  It’s like adulterers in church:  nobody wants to be associated with them because we feel like, if we are, we’ll be tainted by their sins.   It’s a stupid, highly irrational feeling even if it is a constructive psychological defense mechanism.

It’s also ungodly.   What would Jesus do?  Not that.  Jesus ran to the cross.   He wrapped Himself in the dishonor and ignominy.  Jesus knew that His sacrifice would bring glory, honor, and love to the Father.  THAT is our better example.

Luke quoted Christ in saying that each of us who wants to really follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross daily.  We must willingly, even gleefully, run outside the camp and pick up the weapon of our own death.  We must embrace the disgrace.  And the writer of Hebrews reminds us that human disgrace for faith in Jesus is worth more than all the treasures in the world.  Joy in being persecuted for believing in Jesus is the street cred of faith.

A few years ago I read the Left Behind books.   I’m not a millenialist, so I didn’t accept the rapture/7 years tribulation idea; to me, getting mixed up in the how & when details of the end of time misses the miracle of being called home to heaven.  But one scene from one of the books (I don’t remember which one) stuck with me.  In it, one of the main characters is talking with a condemned man who is on his way to the guillotine.  The man is about to die for not taking the mark of the Antichrist and instead of being hesitant about it, he is joyful.   Imagine that:   the man is about to be murdered for what he believed and he is enthusiastic about it.   He’s ebullient, joyously embracing the disgrace of dying for the one you love.   And I don’t even remember the character’s name.

But that’s just a book.   The truth of it is that that this happens here and now.   It’s been happening for real to Coptic Christians for years.   It happens wherever ISIS rules.   It still happens in Communist China, and Cuba, and Islamonazi Iran.  A watered-down version of the persecution even happens in American universities and American corporations.  I am challenged regularly online for words like these, and I have lost friends over my faith.   The best response when that happens?   Joyfully thank God and press forward.  The world thinks it’s a disgrace to believe like this.  Embrace the disgrace and advance against an enemy that has already lost even when it costs you everything.

For further reading:  Luke 9:23, Hebrews 11:26.

Lord, let me embrace the ‘disgrace’ of serving You, of loving You, of faith in You.   Teach me and uphold me to better serve you in the world.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 August 2017

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  Hebrews 11, verses 35-38.

Read through these verses again and you get a, well, Biblical feeling about them (pun intended).   Then read through them again and consider that, somewhere in the world today, there are people who are being mistreated, persecuted, and tortured for believing in Jesus just like these church forebears thousands of years ago.

You and I read about that on the Internet, but it’s true.   In Sudan, people are tortured for being Christian, for denying anyone but Allah.   In Iran, you can be executed for being a Christian.   Ditto in North Korea (or any communist country for all that matter).   In Cuba you can still be thrown in prison for saying you believe in Jesus (but, then again, Cuba is still a communist dictatorship).   Same in the People’s Republic of China (also still a communist dictatorship).   In Saudi Arabia, if you’re a Christian (or any non-Muslim for all that matter), you can be punished with instant death for trying to enter the holy mosque near the Kaaba.

Being tortured and dying for what you believe goes a long way back.   But look at the benefits.   Indeed, consider ONLY the benefits of believing.  Jesus or the world?   Jesus wins.

Only Jesus can bring you back from death because only He has done that.   Only Jesus can give you true peace inside, true calmness of your Spirit.  That’s here and not, not just some day.  Only Jesus can steel your spine to face down agonizing death because only in Jesus can you have full assurance that physical death is only a tiny passage into eternal life.

That’s not to say that living your faith is rosy or even easy.  I wonder if that’s not a disappointment for many folks who say they believe.   They are looking for something that takes away the hurt, the difficulty, even the pain of things that happen in life and when Christianity doesn’t instantly do that, they walk away disappointed.  Who knows when we got away from the idea that following Jesus could be tough?  Somewhere along the way, (especially) we in America began to serve up a Christianity that was light and easy, an egg-white omelette of faith if you will.

That isn’t the faith Jesus advertised.   He said that, if we wanted to follow Him, we would have to take up our cross and walk with Him daily.   That means we would, every day of our lives, have to stand against the world, against our nature, against even those who love us but don’t love Him.   That means we would have to carry our instrument of death with us everywhere we go until, at the end of all things, we are nailed to it.    When Jesus taught from the Scriptures, he taught from the accounts of the Old Testament heroes who died for their faith but died IN their faith.  For them, there was no death at all, but only that passage to something far better in paradise.  Death in the service of the Lord was an honor, maybe even a duty, but not a burden.

They understood that the God of their fathers was loving, just and true.   That He kept His promises.   That He was all He said He was.   They understood that, even in a century-long life, time here on earth is short.   The men and women of ancient days who died for Christ in their faith seemed to know something we have misplaced.

Here’s the hard part:  what are you willing to do to get it back?

For further reading:  1 Kings 17:22-23, 2 Kings:4:36-37, Jeremiah 20:2, genesis 39:20, 1 Kings 19:10, Jeremiah 26:23, 1 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 18:4, Luke 9:23.

My Lord, forgive me when I fail You.  Thank You for the blessings of enduring hardship in service to You, in faith in You.   Let my sufferings be a good witness to others and strengthen them.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 December 2016

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Hebrews 6, verses 4-6.

Something else that needs to be said, and this is going to be harsh.

“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”   We do it every day.   It’s why He chose the cross; it’s why, every day, He chooses it again and again when you and I, selfish bastards that we are, keep stabbing him with those Roman nails.   We do it with our sins, small and large, even the ones we don’t think amount to much.   Have you begun to realize all the effects of your God-damned sins?   Yes, I said that.   Your sins and mine:   they’re cause for God to damn us to eternal punishment.   Personally, I think that punishment starts here and now and only gets worse as we go.   God damn us for all of our sins.

Enough of the profanity.   I hope you don’t mind it too much…it’s for effect and I’m hoping that it makes you think, maybe even a little angry.  You should be righteously angry at sin; angry enough to do something about it.   Jesus did.   And yet we keep taking up that hammer and ramming those nails back into His hands and feet.

Every single time you and I fail we nail Jesus back to that cross.   He suffered mortal agony the first time around, and then He suffered spiritual agony being ripped apart from His Divine being (so as to suffer and redeem us) while still being inevitably matched to Him as well.   Then He rose three days later, making death and suffering moot forever.  And yet every minute since, whenever someone has done, said or thought anything contrary to Him, it’s like we have nailed Him back onto that cross.

Here in the first-world, we persecute those who believe in Jesus.   You’ve done it; so have I.   Huh?   You bet you have.   Ever been afraid to speak up and say you’re a believer?   Ever been ashamed of your faith because the ‘cool kids’ didn’t seem to be ashamed of themselves?   Ever felt even the slightest bit sanctimonious when you did speak up, not realizing your proud sanctimony is a disgrace to Him who loves us unselfishly?  Every single time we do things like these, even the tiniest thing, we are disgracing Jesus again.   We are joining in with the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who spit on Him, screamed at Him, hated Him.  You and I already know it’s un-cool to be a believer in Hollywood or even on social media.   That’s persecution my friend, even if it’s soft-boiled.

And REAL persecution?   You know, the kind that gets you killed for being a believer?   It’s happening in every Muslim country on the planet.   It’s happening on steroids in places controlled by ISIS and Boko Haram.   It’s still happening in communist strongholds like Cuba, and China, and North Korea.   Don’t fool yourself:   when you and I sin, we’re joining in the execution squads in Iran who torture you, then stand you up against the wall simply for saying “I believe in Jesus and not Mohammed.”

Like I said, God damn us for our sins.   He can, He will, He doesn’t want to, but He must if we don’t repent of them.   God is holy and must be holy.   Our very lives depend on it.  If He isn’t, even for an iota of a second, then this whole universe comes apart.   The places where the spiritual and physical intertwine would become explosion points of sin if there is no holy and just Lord God Almighty to bind them together.

Thank God that He is the cure for the common damnation.   The cure for damnation is Jesus.   Every time we do the difficult, mature thing and turn from our sins, it’s like witnessing Jesus rise from death again.   We’re the women at the garden tomb, clinging fast to our risen Lord.   We’re the blind man who can see again because He healed us.   We’re Peter, restored to faith after denying Him three times.   If our sins nail Him to that cross every time, then our repentance and re-acceptance of His gift of true salvation is being restored into His resurrection.   Damnation becomes simply a road we didn’t follow when we step back onto the path of following Jesus.   Then and only then do we grasp how He was ready for us all along.   The salvation wasn’t undone by our rebellion even as our rebellion renounced our acceptance of His salvation.

For further reading:   Luke 2:14, Philippians 3:12-14, Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 9:14, John 3:25, Acts 6:6, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:24, Acts 18:21.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for all You did in saving us.   I’m truly sorry for the sins I’ve done that nailed You to the cross.   I’m truly sorry that I’ve kept on doing them.   Live in me and strengthen me to turn from my awful sins and to follow only You.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 21 August 2015

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10, verses 13-16.

We can all grasp the obvious hint from these verses:   have the innocence of children to receive the kingdom of God.   To receive Christ’s peace, be as humble, inquisitive, innocent, trusting, and believing as children.

Tell me:   do you think Josh Duggar can ever be innocent again?   Or Hillary Clinton?   Do you think that CEOs, union bosses, land-rich but cash-poor farmers, and insurance industry workers terrified about losing their jobs can ever receive the kingdom of God again like children?   What about the doctors in those Planned Parenthood videos, the doctors who scissor open baby skulls to extract human brains:   can they ever again receive the kingdom of God like children?   ISIS head-slicers, Jared Fogle, meth addicts in Indiana, angry looters in Ferguson, political consultants, and your neighbor who doesn’t take out his trash:   can any of these people ever receive the kingdom of God like children?

I’ll admit:   we believers don’t make it easy for the fallen to let this Jesus pick them up.   Pastors sometimes talk like oblique jerks playing “I’ve got a secret.” People like me are hypocrites; people like you may not follow through with the walk to match the talk.   Folks who hold themselves up as living to a higher standard fall hard, and other folks are watching: folks who may not know this Jesus and aren’t sure they want to if the best the faithful can do is us. No wonder it seems so tough for people to come back to the faith after they’ve fallen away.

Read up on those verses again and maybe key in on a few key words: “Jesus was indignant.”   He got downright ticked off that His disciples were preventing innocent, curious children from coming up to see Him. There was a larger lesson to teach and He wanted to teach it to the children so He could teach it to all of us.

If someone can’t get to Jesus, Jesus gets indignant about that.

You’ve heard the platitude:   you’re enough for Jesus to die for.   Yet it’s true.   It’s what He did; it’s what really happened. It’s not just something said to buck you up: it’s the God’s-honest truth. What’s more, when the world or the world’s inhabitants (like us) create barriers that prevent repentent, curious, humble sinners from coming to Him for forgiveness and healing, Jesus gets indignant.   Beware to those in His way.

Jesus wants you.   Jesus wants me.   Jesus wants Josh Duggar and anyone he flirted with on Ashley Madison.   Jesus wants Hillary Clinton and her server experts, Iranian mullahs, unemployed people, the woman who reads Tarot every morning, and every other kind of person you or I can think of to come to Him like innocent children and ask Him to simply love us.   When we do that, we find He already does and for a very long time now.

Lord, I come to You broken, hurting and needing You.   Forgive me and share Yourself with me, and help me to start again new today.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 July 2015

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Mark 9, verse 20.

In the face of real human tragedy, suffering, terror, and the uncertainty of a world spinning out of control, evil always surrenders to Jesus Christ.   It always has; it always will.   At the end of time, the love of Jesus will triumph and grow, while the pity of evil will be consigned to be banished forever.

Buzz, Tom, Mark, and Eric.   Those are the names of four men close to me who have battled cancer in the last few years.   Two of them lost the battle; one is in the ICU right now, fighting; one is in chronic treatment.   Cancer is evil; there’s no other way to adequately describe it.   Statistically speaking, more folks are dying of cancer today, probably because other diseases have been eradicated or are under control.   But when it comes, it comes with insidious evil.   Yet don’t forget this key point: cancer is subject to Jesus, and if Jesus wants to confront your cancer, your cancer loses.

Nuclear deal with Iran. Our nation has negotiated deal with the devil because the devil in Iran has said, over and over, that they want to acquire nuclear weapons to use them against America and America’s allies.   I don’t know what our leaders are thinking, assuming that there are rational people in control in Iran but the fact is there aren’t.   They’re fanatics and they want to destroy us.   And they may get that chance…but let’s not forget something critical:   against Jesus, nuclear weapons, fanatical Muslims, and lame-brained agreements that aren’t worth the paper they’re signed on are powerless and futile.

Changing dynamics in America. In case you haven’t noticed, of late, American society has gone through some pretty hefty social upheavals.   The government has reached farther into peoples’ lives than any time since the 1930s.   Gay marriage has been legalized, and racial tensions are at highs not seen in forty years.   Compared to Jesus these are meaningless and don’t matter one single bit.

Depression that comes and goes. I’ve battled depression all my life.   Maybe it stems from trying to please an overbearing mother and a disinterested father.   Perhaps I’m trying to work past my own insecurities. It could be that depression really is just a neuro-chemical imbalance; I honestly don’t know.   And I honestly could care less because it doesn’t matter.   Jesus is stronger than my depression.   In fact, His love and His hope are the only real cure for it.

None of this should be surprising. The boy who was demon possessed was brought to Jesus. Before Jesus could even speak to it, the demon threw the boy into convulsions.   It could see that Jesus was more powerful than anything it could conjure. The best that our worldly troubles can do is cancer, war, upheaval, and hurt; the best evil could do to the boy was to torture him from within.   Yet those evil troubles are powerless against Jesus and they know it.   It shouldn’t surprise us when evil plagues us; evil preys on us when we’re weak.   And it shouldn’t, then, surprise us how evil cowers in terror when exposed to the love, hope and peace of Jesus.

Lord Jesus, You are stronger than anything.   You are stronger than the evils that plague me.   Work in my life to overcome them, and help me work for You to help others overcome theirs.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 26 November 2013

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3, verse 18.

The big news this weekend was that there was a tentative peace agreement signed between the US and Iran to delay the development of Iranian nuclear weapons.  I’m skeptical.   When someone says they hate you and want to destroy you, I think it’s best to take them at their word and be wary.  Knowing even that, I’ll say that anyone with a half a brain must be hopeful that a hostile nation might be kept from developing terrible weapons, and that there might actually be peace in our time. 

Yet peace is not the absence of conflict.   Simply not being at war is not the same as being at peace.   I’m far from the first person to opine this but I do so now to make a larger point.  Stopping a bully from hitting you today isn’t the same thing as preventing one from hitting you tomorrow.  The only real peace in this world is Jesus Christ.   Those who sow in His peace reap a harvest of righteousness in Him.

It’s true that those who wish to forge peace between hostile adversaries are peacemakers.   Such people are some of the best of us; only a fool could consider otherwise.   And, even as some peacemakers make peace for selfish reasons, they are peacemakers all the same and deserving of our praise.   And (again), even when I disagree with the political aims of those who purport the advancement of a false and untenable peace, well, at least someone is trying to maintain peace all the same.

But I’ll say it again:   the only real peace in this world is Jesus Christ.   The only real peace that can last in this world, that can change hearts, that can mend disagreements and bring tranquility to the world is the peace which surpasses all understanding found only in Christ Jesus.  Anything else is simply cheap diplomacy.  Anything else doesn’t last.   Anything not centered on Jesus isn’t peace.

Peacemakers sow in righteousness, but those who sow in Jesus grow in Jesus, grow the Kingdom of Jesus for Jesus, of Jesus, and about Jesus.  That Kingdom will know no end, and in that Kingdom there will be no more war.  There will be no war there because in that Kingdom the wisdom, patience and love of King Jesus will infuse everything.   Hateful ideology, selfish ambition, crafty politics, and useless diplomacy won’t stand a chance.

I welcome that Kingdom today.   I hope and pray that the new ‘peace agreement’ actually does maintain peace.   I hope and pray more, though, that it is a good, solid step towards advancing the reign of King Jesus in a world that desperately needs it.

Jesus of peace, teach us flawed people to know Your peace so that there may be an absence of sin.

 

How do you define peace?

Have you sown peace in righteousness lately?

How have you been a cheap diplomat?