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.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 18 November 2015

Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away. Mark 12, verse 12.

Cowards.   You see, I’m the chief priests.   I’m one of the cowards.   So are you.

There’s the big story online this week about whether or not the United States should take in refugees from the Middle East, some of whom may be enemy (ISIS) sleepers.   How do you reconcile the Great Commission and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors with the very real imperative to not foolishly risk national security or American lives?   How do you stand up for things you strongly believe in and not beat-down the other guy rhetorically, not compromise your faith? Myself included, everyone on Facebook seems to have the right (and pious but shallow) answer.   Instead of doing something courageous, however, most of us (myself included again) don’t really extend ourselves to do more than give some pretty worthless opinions.   Not very Christ-like.   Pretty cowardly, in fact.

Then there’s work.   My client is going through hard times.   They have lost a significant portion of business.   In a few weeks, just after Christmas, most of their employees will be out of work. If you don’t know who to pray for, please pray for these good people who are facing some scary days ahead.   Yet in the middle of those scary days, there is work that still must be done. Some of the folks are ‘retired on duty,’ suffering from ‘short-timer’s syndrome’ and not focusing on tasks at hand.   I can understand the attitude; I’ve been there.   But there’s still that pile of unfinished work that we need to get done.   Instead of facing tough issues, more often than not, most folks simply skulk away and gripe, myself included yet again.   Coward.

Or there’s that relative who’s always bringing you down.   They constantly complain about something, telling you the same things over and over. You can talk and talk and talk with them but no matter what you say they always turn the conversation back to themselves and talk over you again. They may not even realize they’re doing it.   You love them; you worry about them; you wish there was some way you could help but instead of telling them what you really feel, you retreat and things never really change for the better. Yep; again.

Cowards.   We’re all a flavor of coward in some way.   Each of us has some kind of junk in the trunk.   Rather than face it – rather than ‘fess it up to Jesus and let Him heal it – we hold onto it and let it rot.

Here’s some news: God didn’t make us for cowardice.   Jesus didn’t die for cowardice.   He wasn’t a coward. Jesus was a hero. He did the tough, necessary work to gain our salvation, even for the chief priests who would reject and kill Him.   In doing so, He gave us all we need to turn from the cowardice of our sinful choices.   Why, then, do we keep going back to them?   Every time we do it’s like we’re spitting on Jesus’ selfless sacrifice.

How can I go on in this life of cowardice?   Thanks be to God for His mercy and His courageous Son who slayed my sins for me.

Lord, imbue me with Your faultless courage.   Forgive my cowardly moments and strengthen me to stand for You when the moment comes.

Read Mark 12, verses 13-17.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 11 August 2015

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’  Mark 9 verses 43-48.

Do you think Jesus is talking about hell here?   If you didn’t answer “yes,” perhaps you need to read it again.   Is He talking about eternal burning in an unending fire?   Maybe; there isn’t enough information to know whether this is direct reference or a metaphor.

Why am I asking this?   I’m on the bandwagon of people who decry our nation’s ignorance of hell.   Just this past month, a group of Satanists unveiled a statue in Detroit of Satan; it’s their 1st Amendment right, just as it’s someone else’s to call that “dumb.” Don’t these people fear hell? ISIS murders innocent people by the thousands in ways that are, um, creative and titillating:   don’t they fear hell?   People do unspeakable things to little children, or even to defenseless animals that are part of God’s creation for our enjoyment:   don’t they fear hell?

I live in the south, so there’s no shortage of churches that will give you your fill of hellfire and brimstone preaching that will, in the least, motivate you to contemplate the domain of the devil. Let’s face it:   it’s a sobering yet healthy thing to confront the idea that there really is evil in our world. The place our just and loving God has reserved for evil once our world has ended is hell.   The previous verses in this chapter are only a few of some throughout the Bible that tell us of how damnation awaits those who consciously refuse to believe in Jesus. Whether it’s literal fire, the absence of love, or something else, it will be more unpleasant than anything we could imagine.

But here’s where I’d like to go in a different direction.   Instead of just asking again “don’t they fear hell,” perhaps we could better serve our world by asking “how can I introduce them to Jesus?”   The presence of evil isn’t evidence of the absence of Jesus so much as it is the acceptance of the consequences when we turn away from Jesus.   The longer I live, the more I see Jesus is with me every minute, even when evil prevails. He’s there even when evil shows up on our doorstep, in our hearts, throughout our words and actions when we turn in even subtle ways.   Satan can only exploit us if we let him.

Just like he can only exploit those folks who let him have his way in their lives. Jesus is with us throughout. Instead of standing by, watching while others choose destruction, how about we bridge their self-made gap to Christ?   “Do you know Him?”   “Can I take a few minutes to tell you about Him?”   Those words might mean the difference between someone using their Jesus-given gift of free will to move forward for Him instead of downward towards the realm of the evil one.

Lord, keep me from temptation and forgive my sins.

Read Mark 9, verses 42-50.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 June 2015

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Mark 8, verse 34.

I hate guilt trips so let’s not take one, ok?   But let’s also keep it real and acknowledge a few things.   Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t have it as tough as taking up his cross and following Jesus to death. I don’t have it as tough as taking up my cross and following Jesus to death (and neither do you).   The orphan child living in a broken crack house with criminal addicts for parents who has witnessed murder and overdosing doesn’t have it as tough as taking up his cross and following Jesus to death.   You get the picture.

Does that seem harsh?   I mean, some folks have it bad, really bad.   There are folks within earshot of where I’m sitting here in Bloomington, Minnesota who are living much tougher lives than I’ll ever know.   Despair, suicide, unending physical abuse, mental torture:   there are friends and family in our midst, in our circles, who are going through things like these through no fault of their own.   Those are terrible, awful things that I’ve never had to endure and it’s terrible and awful that they have to endure it.   And it isn’t as hard as what Jesus is saying, what He is commanding us to do. You may not like hearing that (reading it actually) but it’s still the truth.

Jesus promises us more torture, more pain, more suffering, more unending unquestioned agony than anything we’ve ever known as just the first steps on a faith journey with Him.   Verse 34 guarantees that.   Contemplate that phrase “take up their cross.” It is a promise of that torture, pain and suffering in pursuit of Jesus and His ideal. It’s also a command for us to put to death all the things in this world that hold us back from pursuing Him.   Things like guilt, our past, sexual temptations, anger, lust, greed, ungodly work, selfishness:   Jesus is telling us to put them to death on that cross, then follow Him. Give them up, execute them, then turn in a radically different direction.

Keep in mind that He said these things just after Peter had selfishly insisted that Jesus was lying to him about being harassed and murdered by the Jewish priests in the time (that was then) to come.   Jesus sharply rebuked His best friend about this, then speaks the words in this verse to the Disciples and others around them.   In order to stand in the presence of God with Jesus by their side, these people would have to be willing to endure the most painful, shameful agony known to man and do so willingly.

Can you imagine that?   What are you prepared to do about what He’s already done for us?

I’m not making light of the terrible plight some of our fellow men endure in this world.   Christians savagely beheaded by ISIS, victims tortured by kidnappers, anyone being raped or mutilated, Holocaust survivors, and a hundred other examples:   these are terrible things.   As we contemplate the touchy-feely Jesus of contemporary Christian worship and the saccharin faith of contemporary Christian music, let’s keep it real.   Remember that following Jesus might be the hardest thing we could ever imagine doing. The payoff is so worthwhile but make no mistake about the path to get to that payoff.

Lord Jesus, I need Your help to carry my cross.   Encourage me to follow only You.

Read Mark 8, verses 34-38.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 20 February 2015

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High GoGod? In d’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”   “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. Mark 5, verses 6-10.

The demons knew who Jesus was; we talked about that yesterday.   If demons knew who Jesus was, then so do Nazis, ISIS terrorists, KKK racists, the LRA in Sudan, atheists in college towns, and any other kind of petty or large evil person…even you and me.   Jesus is self-evident even to those who deny it and want to replace Him with themselves or some other shoddy image.

What’s more: those same demons acknowledged Jesus as God.   True, there’s a fine line between this statement and the one in the last paragraph, but isn’t it also true to say that there’s a difference between knowing who Jesus is and publicly acknowledging the fact? The demons in the man cried out through him that they not only knew Jesus but acknowledged Him as God.  Thoughts became words and actions.

Still, many kinds of demons meant that the man endured many kinds of torture. I have only known a few truly schizophrenic people but those I’ve known are the closest thing I can imagine to being demon-possessed.   The voices in the man were indeed real and they tortured his thoughts, his actions, his dreams, his every emotion and movement. Can you imagine living like that?   It’s not even a life, really.   It’s more like simply existing.

So what did Jesus do about it? Jesus commanded the demons to stop and they did. The demon (the representative of the ‘legion’ which might have been one or thousands) was told to come out of the man and it did. It couldn’t resist the simple command of the simple Man from Galilee.

Now comes the big question:   so what?   To some, this is a nice story about how Jesus did a kind thing for a stranger.   So what?

Well, for starters, you can either accept that line of reasoning or accept that the story is true. It either happened or it didn’t.   And if it didn’t happen, then, yes, it’s just a nice story.   But then that’s all you’ve got.

Or…

…Or, you can accept that it really happened. That the story is an account of something that really happened a very long time ago.   That there really was a man living in a cemetery.   That He really was tortured by imps of hell.   That there really was a man named Jesus who really did command the demons to come out of the man, and that they did.   And if all that is true, then whatever else is said about Jesus must also be true; you can’t simply cherry pick the Bible.   And if the rest of His life is true as well, then it’s also true that what He did for the stranger in the land of the Gerasenes He can do for you or me today.   Now that is a good thought for the day.

Lord, I believe all that is said in Scripture concerning You. Thank You for what You did for the man living among the tombs.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 February 2015

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” – Mark 4, verse 20.

I want to be a farmer.   When I was a boy, I spent a little time around farms and farmers.   Early on, I fell in love with the idea of working the soil to produce a crop.   Or raising animals, the hard work and the simpler pace.   To me, there’s something magnificent about living close to the earth, growing food from it, and sharing that with others so they can thrive.   It’s hard, sometimes unforgiving work, but it’s what I would like to do with my life.   Right now, my wife and I are taking active steps to move in this very direction.

As we’ve discussed before, this matters because farming is a good practical analogy for what we’re supposed to do with the love Jesus entrusts to us. And it isn’t hard to understand.   If you’ve been in love before, or if you’ve ever loved anyone, even a family member or a young child, you know how love grows itself.   The feeling only increases if you nurture it. It’s then becomes even more dynamic when it’s shared.   God’s Word grows when people share it, especially when we let it remake our lives to where people can see how it’s all for real.   When that happens, they want more of it. When they want more of it, they can become closer to God and the crop of love Jesus planted grows that much more.

We can also produce a crop thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what was sown if we let our sinful base instincts take over. Don’t believe me?   Only five or ten percent of 1930s Germans were Nazis, but the entire nation bore responsibility when those few percent bore the worst fruit possible…and millions died because of it. The vast majority of Muslims in our world today are peaceful people who want to live their lives in peace.   Yet there is a small percentage who have misused that religion, producing a hundred or a thousand-fold crop of utopian evil that calls itself “brotherhood,” or ISIS.   Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it is only good that can produce a crop for harvest.

Yet, like the song says, such a crop will be the trampled out vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. Good always triumphs.   Satan and all his petty evil are already defeated. True, those who farm evil, like those who grow illegal drugs, are sowing crops of destruction.   Yet their evil is already overcome by something far more powerful than they could ever envy to be. If you don’t think right, love and Christ are more powerful, then you have much to learn and a very long row to hoe.

Farmers produce good crops.   Even our high-tech world would grind to a quick halt if the food supply ran out. Isn’t it also true that we grind to a halt without love?   Just ask the hopeless people occupied by ISIS or Boku Haram. Jesus loves ALL of us and wants all of us to be with Him in eternity, even those we’d write off here in the world we know.   He wants them to be part of His harvest as well.   We should work to do the same.

Lord, grow a crop of love in me that I can share in my world today.

Read Mark 4, verses 21-23.