Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 November 2017

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.  Hebrews 13, verses 17-18.

Pastors, presidents, parents, bosses:   they are our leaders.   So are mentors, quarterbacks, famous actors, media figures, teachers, and drill sergeants.   Every group has leaders and followers; it’s human nature.   Some leaders have natural aptitude for it; some have elected authority; some have power they have simply assumed from those around them or the situation in which they find themselves.   Some leaders inspire you to want to follow them in anything; some leaders are complete jerks.   Some are virtuous; some are murderous Communists.  Whether these verses are talking explicitly about ecclesiastical leaders alone misses the fact that these verses actually do apply to all situations.

God allows leaders to be vested with (and use) authority that originates with Him.  Just before ascending after His resurrection, Jesus said that “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to Him.   God the Father owned it and vested it into His Son.  That means Jesus is where the buck really stops.   And because of that word “all,” through delegation, if someone on earth has any kind of authority, they have it because Jesus directly or indirectly gave it to them.   Even people who don’t believe in Jesus have this endowment.

Yesterday evening I was having an online discussion with a friend who doesn’t profess conventional belief in God.   I don’t think of him as an atheist, or even an un-believer as I don’t think his heart is hardened against God.   Indeed, I’m hopeful that God is working on him as we speak.  He’s going through a terrible time right now, and I hope and pray that He learns to seek comfort from the Lord.   He’s having a leadership crisis because he has lost faith in many of the leaders in his life (work, family, etc).  If you told him that these verses required him to have confidence in these leaders he might rip your head off.

Yet think about the writer of Hebrews.   He was saying these words and echoing his contemporary, the Apostle Paul.  Paul exhorted his fellow believers to submit to authorities, and many of those believers were being actively persecuted by those authorities.   Paul himself was imprisoned and tortured by both Roman and Jewish officials.  Unless you have been tortured by ISIS, you and I may not be able to comprehend what kind of character it must take to put trust in leaders who are evil.   But we’ve all worked for bosses who didn’t seem to know how to lead; sometimes those bosses have been us.   And we can each tell stories about parents or people we looked up to who let us down or didn’t do things they should have.

The verses are another of God’s reminders to us that we are to remember that those in charge are in charge because He allows it.   He allows their selection (or assumption of power) because it serves His purposes (even when we don’t understand what those purposes are).  I don’t know what purpose was served by God allowing tens of millions of innocent people to be murdered by Communists in the last hundred years but I do know that God worked to turn that evil for good purposes after.   I don’t know what good purpose was served at Auschwitz, but I do know about the stories of faith and love from people who survived there.   I don’t know what good is accomplished by allowing pedophile priests to rape kids, or presidential candidates destroying classified information, or the exploitation of people for profit and power, but I do know that good people come out of those situations even stronger.   It’s tough to admit but we, as people, have the power to stop many of these things, yet we don’t, and then we blame God when they happen.   But a tangent of this is also true:  when good prevails, you can count on the fact that it was because God was at work through it.

Besides, those in charge will have to give an accounting for how they used the power entrusted to them.   Did they use it in ways to further God’s Kingdom?   Was love increased because of things they did?   To God be the glory or was it to the person waving the flag?  It’s important to remember that we must not hold God to standards that we ourselves won’t abide by.  Thus it’s a fool’s game to blame God for all evil because doing so simply means we’re putting ourselves in His place as God.   I don’t know of anyone who’s worthy of that.

I’ve been fired from jobs, and it’s hard for me to do honor to my former employers but that’s what God calls me to do.   There are leaders in our government whose words and actions I detest, but Jesus tells me to abide and follow them.   Some of what elders and mentors tell me is tough to hear, and some of it is dead wrong, but the Lord still tells me to respect them.   All of this is true because God entrusts them with the authority they have and we all serve His purposes in one way or another.

For further reading:  Isaiah 62:6, Acts 20:28, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Acts 23:1, Romans 15:33, Matthew 28:18.

Lord, abide with humanity’s leaders.   Empower them, instruct them, guide them and forgive them.   And teach me to do the same as I follow them.   When I follow, I’m following You.

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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.

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 Hebrews, 5 October 2016

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.  Hebrews 2, verse 10.

One of my favorite hymns is “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”   In it, the lyrics paraphrase Hebrews 2 with the poetic lines “How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the chosen One bring many sons to glory.”

Magnificent.

Indeed, isn’t it true how so many verses in Scripture are memorable because they are poetic?   This one especially sticks with me.   “Bringing many sons and daughters to glory” inspires in me thoughts of mission, and brotherhood, and mercy.   The thought has an almost Gaelic feel to it, as if there are thousands of mournful believers moving through the fog towards a dim light in the distance.  The closer you get to the light, you see Jesus is the light, and that His arms are open, His heart of love on display, His presence evaporating the fog of sin and unbelief.

For years now, I’ve thought of my Christian walk as an active thing, a living, ongoing event.   It has seemed like a movement.   I’ve learned that we’re in a spiritual war, one in which battles are fought on a personal basis every day.  The battle manifests itself in resisting temptations, professing faith, encouraging others in the face of sin and despair.   On one side stands Satan, general of the armies of the fallen.   He uses evil to manifest itself in every dark emotion with which we can be plagued.   Lies, pain, and anguish are the carnage he leaves on the battlefield of human souls.

Yet on the other side is Jesus, meek and mild yet overwhelmingly powerful.   He is humble yet strong, quiet yet unfathomably deep, all peace yet all martial in protecting the peace, justice and love that stream from His very presence.  He only tolerates Satan because Satan allows that peace, justice and love to shine in ways that build up His cherished creation, humanity.  With a thought He could vanquish evil forever.   With depth we cannot fully understand this side of heaven, He gave Himself up as payment for all the evil we embraced and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory.

I also love that phrase “pioneer of their salvation.”   In my walk of faith, my daily war against the spirits of evil, I get to follow Jesus as a pioneer.   Your life and mine are unwritten; thank you Natasha Bedingfield.  Today isn’t fore-ordained and tomorrow isn’t here yet.   We’re writing our lives as we live them.  What we do in our lives today pioneers the ground on which we build our lives.   We get to use the free choice God gave to each of us to do with what we will.   It’s God’s hope that we’ll look to Him, to Jesus, first and always, as the pioneer who blazed a trail for us.  It wasn’t a wagon train trail through the prairie or a lonely ride across uncharted ocean.   It was living a life without sin, loving all others as He loved His Father, and then dying the death of just, noble sacrifice so that others might live forever.  Jesus and only Jesus blazed that path to God for us.   Buddha didn’t; Mohammed didn’t; L. Ron Hubbard didn’t; our ancestors didn’t.   We don’t today.   Only Jesus.

Only He, who fulfilled ancient prophecy and was incarnate a little lower than the angels, pioneered the path into paradise and, in doing so, poetically brought mankind into that glory.  He did it how?   Through suffering.   The physical torture, the spiritual agony, the abyss of separation from God:  only Jesus did those things and only He persevered in true character through them to guarantee us the promise of hope that is His salvation.  You and I can’t imagine the suffering He endured.  Not even the horrors of concentration camps or the monstrosities of ISIS in our world today can compare to the terror, agony, and pain Jesus endured for our benefit.  It’s simply beyond our compare.   Yet endure them He did and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory forever.

For more reading:   Romans 11:36, Luke 24:26, Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 7:28, Romans 5:  3-5.

Lord, I thank You and praise You for bringing us to glory, for pioneering the way into eternity.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 March 2016

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. Mark 15, verses 27-32.

This past Sunday, on Palm Sunday, Fox TV broadcast “The Passion:”   a live-action Tyler Perry musical drama about the last days of Jesus.   It was told by modern actors, set in modern-day New Orleans, to the tune of modern pop music with very few lyrics modified. One scene acted out one of the verses above.   In it, Jesus has been apprehended and is being hauled away in a police wagon.   He wears an orange jumpsuit, like other common criminals, and is in the vehicle with 2 other men.   One hurls insults at Him; the other defends Him. Later in the show, a crowd is shown screaming for Jesus’ crucifixion, the release of Barabbas, and Mary’s anguish. The drama didn’t show the actual crucifixion, though it was alluded to by a group of pallbearers carrying a lighted cross through downtown New Orleans.

What struck me about the whole TV show was that it was contemporary and believable.   Yes, there was some ‘mushy theology’ involved, some misquoting of Scripture, and some things that were done out of line in how they actually appeared in the account of Holy Week.   Big freaking deal.   We shouldn’t get wrapped around the axle of details when we can consider what was being done.   I’m told that the Monday morning ratings and reviews for the show weren’t good.   They don’t matter.

Someone used their position to share the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a way that was modern, understandable, and plausible. But it begs the thought:   would we as so-called modern people do the same things that the people of Jerusalem did 2000 years ago?   Would we heap scorn and murder on the Son of God if He showed up here today?   Would we ridicule Him? Would we demand His death?   Would we nail him up with thieves and criminals?   Would we insult Him while He was dying?

Consider the brutality that is reported regularly in our news these days.   ISIS murders thousands of people – Christian and Muslim alike – in the name of their pagan religion. In Chicago, there are a dozen or more murders every weekend, sometimes every day.   Our presidential candidates are conducting their campaigns by appealing to the most base emotions and experiences of a largely uninformed voting public. Leaders in politics, entertainment and business scorn the public, relying on spin and deception to advance their various agendas while getting richer by the minute.

Would we insult the Messiah as He hung there dying?   You bet we would.

Good ratings or not, God bless Tyler Perry for what he did. Thank You Jesus.

Thank You Jesus, my Lord, for inspiring people to tell Your story, to share the precious sacrifice You made for us.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 14 December 2015

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Mark 13, verses 12-13.

The verses are talking about how things will be at the end of time; this is common knowledge.   Have you considered, though, that they apply to more than just end times prophecy?

You see, all those things described in verses 12 and 13 are happening now.   You know as well as I do that they’ve been happening all throughout history.   The first murder was brother betraying brother. If you don’t believe that people will hate you because of Jesus, then you need to consider the fate this year, here and now, of Coptic Christians in Egypt and Iraq; they survived Mubarek and Saddam Hussein but ISIS has exterminated them.   Children rebelling against their parents and having them put to death?   Check Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, even today south of the border in Mexico thanks to the drug cartels.

If you stand up for Jesus, you’re a target. You always have been.   You will be.

Consider the fate of the 12 Apostles.   At the time Jesus spoke these words, they didn’t know it but they were only days away from being hunted fugitives, and Judas Iscariot had only hours left to live. Eleven of the twelve men would die gruesome deaths; only John would live until old age but even he would be tortured numerous times.

Consider these things and then maybe consider that Jesus wasn’t just telling us how things would end for the world:   He was telling us how things could end every single day.   Yes, the price of following Christ would be high.   Could it be any other way when we set ourselves against the world?   If you think of it that way, we are bringing the ‘old Adam’ to his end every day we profess to believe in Jesus, and the old Adam doesn’t die easily.   He’s thick with sin and doesn’t want to let go.   He’s us.   We made him and he doesn’t want to go.

I don’t want to die a painful death.   I don’t want to be tortured or crucified or anything like that.   I want to die like my mom did last year: surrounded by family and in my sleep.   Yet if God wills that I must die for Him in some grotesque or exquisitely painful way then bring it baby.   It’s not false bravado talking:   it’s faith in Jesus.   I love, respect and fear the one who could destroy my soul even as he lets my human life expire.   I know He loved me enough to live and die and live for me. Because of that faith in Him, I know that I won’t die at all.   That while my life here will end, I will only pass into the next life and that it will be so much better than anything I could ever imagine here.

Still, I won’t go easily. There is much living left to do, many things I would like to finish that are now, as yet, undone.   But when the battle comes, I have my sword, I have my armor, and I have my faith.   I have my Lord.   I need nothing more.

Lord, let me live well for You in the remaining time You give me.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 December 2015

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. Mark 13, verses 7-8.

Watch out and be ready.   Read the signs.

Every day we are looking for signs for the second coming of Christ.   As you can read, it’s something that Jesus Himself told us we need to do.   Watch out and be ready.   Look for the signs and heed them.   Heed them to be ready.

Now, I am not going to speculate on whether or not we are in the end times.   Dozens of generations before ours thought they were because they saw wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines and violence.   Remember the fall of Jerusalem less than a generation after Mark’s Gospel was written?   Or the fall of Rome a few centuries later.   The Crusades a thousand years ago, the Muslim invasion of Europe in the 1400s.   The Hundred Years’ War; The Thirty Years’ War; World War I and especially World War II. The generations that lived through those things must surely have thought they were witnessing the end.   So it is with ours.

Maybe it’s never happened in my lifetime or maybe I’m just paying attention to it now but the signs are appearing again.

And the moral of the story is still “watch out and be ready.”   Right now; today.   That’s what Jesus told us.

I can honestly say that I hope it happens.   I honestly hope for the time when this life can end and the life without time can begin.   Perhaps it will indeed happen in my lifetime.   Just today, with ISIS on the move again and with Russia threatening nuclear war with Turkey, wars and rumors of wars are abounding.   I heard a radio ad (not a preacher, an advertisement) speculating on whether or not we are witnessing the start of the war prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel over 2500 years ago. High profile radio hosts are openly talking about how we are in the beginning of World War III but we haven’t faced up to it yet.   Some are saying “end times.”

Watch out and be ready.

Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you.   Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you into thinking they are the returning Jesus. He is coming and soon but none of us know the date or time.   All we can understand through our view of the trees is that only Jesus can truly see the whole forest and He will return to govern it when God the Father deems it to be the time. Until then, we have only one job.

Watch out and be ready.   Watch out and be ready by helping others to do the same.   Help others to do the same by using the talents Jesus gives each of us to His glory, for His purpose, in His ways.   Share our stories, use our abilities, do what we can to be Jesus for other people so that they, too, may ready themselves for Jesus’ imminent return. Heed the signs by reading and interpreting the signs.   Be ready to stand, then to leave, when Jesus comes back for you. Watch and be ready.

Lord, I anxiously await Your return.   Until that happens, help me to understand the signs and be ready for You.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.