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.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 October 2016

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.  Hebrews 2, verse 11.

Think about this one.   I mean really, truly, slowly contemplate the idea being stated by this Bible verse.

You’re like Jesus.

Jesus is like you.

You and Jesus, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything creator of the universe, are family.   You’re in His.

You aren’t part of Allah’s family.   In fact, nothing you can do could ever get you close to Allah; you’ll never be good enough.   You aren’t on the same level as the Buddha.   He reached nirvana first and, well, we just aren’t that cool.   Your ancestors did it better than you.  The earth and Mother Gaia are so much bigger than you.   Name one other faith on this planet and, chances are, you and I just don’t measure up.   This isn’t Rag On Other Religions Day:   it’s simply the way things are.

Not so with Jesus.   With Jesus, you’re family.   We’re family.   You and I, we are adopted children.   It’s as if He showed up at court and did everything necessary to fully, freely, finally adopt us as His own children.   Even more, He doesn’t just think of us as children:   He looks at us as brothers and sisters.   Equals, peers, siblings, friends:   we aren’t just family.   We’re on the same level.

Now, let’s keep it real.   Us, we aren’t God.  We aren’t supernatural and we aren’t the Triune God the way Jesus is.   But He asks us to put off thinking like that and reminds us that He came here as Himself, as fully man while being fully God.   We don’t have to understand that mystery.   In fact, we don’t get to.   It’s simply a fact we get to accept.   Yet fact it is.  We can’t do what He does in the supernatural realm and we never will.   We are the created, not the Creator.

But as men, we get to relate to Jesus man to man because that’s how He relates to us.   He reminds us that He lived a full life among us.   He ate, drank, slept, laughed, cried.   Jesus did the same things you and I do except sin.   He lived the kind of life we were designed to live to teach us that it could be done.   He lived the life we could live, that, post-death, we will one day get to live.   And He did it out of love to set things right.

Buddha didn’t do that.   Allah can’t do that.   Neither can the Hindus, the Mormons, the atheists, or any other followers of any other faith.   But Jesus did it.

He did it because He sees us as people, as men and women.   He meets us where we are and asks that we meet Him there in return.   He wants to meet us on a human level because He knows that’s what we can understand.   He knows that He can appeal to our understanding, our hearts and minds, because He is the foundation of all understanding.   Faith in God is the beginning of human reason.   Jesus knows this and wants us to know it too so that we can live our lives here in purpose and love with Him as our guide.

Jesus sees you as His brother or sister because He wants you to see Him as your brother.  He wants to be the person with whom you can confide, and trust, and rely on.   Jesus wants us to know Him as family because family sticks together.   Because family is a bond that matters.   Because a family is the primary unit in every society, and because mankind was designed to live in families.

Seriously think about that.   Seriously contemplate that thought.  Jesus brings many sons to glory because He sees those sons, you and I, as brothers whom He loves and adores.   That’s the best news you’.

For more reading:   Hebrews 13:12, Ephesians 5:26, Matthew 28:10.

Lord Jesus, my brother and my Lord, thank You for loving me as your sibling!

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2016

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  Hebrews 2, verses 2 and 3.

What does that mean?  It sort of seems like two different thoughts ‘smushed’ together.

My NIV concordance says that “the message spoken through angels” references God giving the Commandments to Moses at Sinai.  Some reading from Deuteronomy tells that “myriads of angels” accompanied God in giving Him praise when He revealed His law to Moses (who then shared it with the world).  A little online research corroborates that opinion.  What about the rest of the verses?

Yesterday at church the theme was “good enough.”   Pastor Mark talked about how we, as people, constantly strive to prove we’re good enough.   Every religion on earth is a choice between following Jesus or not.   If you aren’t following Jesus, then you’re doing something, anything, to prove you’re good enough.   Good enough for Allah, good enough to reach nirvana, good enough to prove your worth, good enough to make up for things you’ve done, just good enough:   that’s the point of all faiths other than following Jesus.  You’re either a following Christian or you aren’t.

I don’t say this to denigrate other faiths.   It’s just a fact.   If your faith isn’t put in Jesus, you aren’t putting your faith in the only one who can save you from your sins.  You’re striving to do something, most likely to prove you’re good enough to rise above the wrongs you’ve done.   And be real:   everyone does something wrong.   Wrong equals sin.   We all sin; we’re all thick with sin.  There’s nothing we can do to undo the consequences of those sins, both against other people and, as believers, against the righteous justice of God.   If you aren’t following Jesus, you’re doing something to overcome those sins.  THAT point segues directly into verse 3, where the verse talks about salvation.

Only Jesus has atoned for your sins.   Only Jesus can save me, you, or anyone from the eternal consequences of our sins.  God is perfect and just and righteous and all love.   He made us to love us and for us to live in perfect harmony with that love for all time.   Yet, to maintain that just, righteous, perfect love, God can’t tolerate our sins.   He gave us the free will to follow completely or sin.   Being a loving parent, He allows us to choose what we do, including the consequences.  But to maintain His perfection He can’t allow our constant imperfections to taint Him.   If He did, He wouldn’t be perfect, He wouldn’t be God.  That can’t be allowed, and let’s keep it real:   we wouldn’t really want it.

I am not perfect and I’m not just or righteous on my own.   I can’t atone for myself.  I can make some amends for the wrongs I’ve done to God and other people, but in truth I can’t atone for everything.   As an absolute, if I can’t atone for everything then I really can’t atone for everything.   I’m not God.  Neither are you.  We can’t save ourselves from the punishment we deserve:   damnation and separation from God.

Jesus did.

He did and He did it as fully man and fully God all at the same time.   It’s a mystery, THE mystery of the ages, how Jesus lived, died, and atoned for all sins.   He took on Himself the eternal damnation that even the least of my sins deserves and He made it right.   He made unclean man right and righteous again so that we can again live in the harmony with God that God originally intended.   The truly good news of all history is how He saved us from the eternal consequences our sins deserve.   All of Scripture is God testifying through men how He did this.   Those twelve men who Jesus taught during His ministry here inspired dozens, then hundreds, then millions of others to share this good news with others.   The Bible does this.   Pastors, ministries, whole lifetimes do this.   Even our words here together do this.   It’s all because of what Jesus did those thousands of years ago.   On my own, I’m not good enough.   Jesus is and with Him, He made me good enough.

What do two verses really mean?   As it turns out, quite a lot.

For more reading:   Deuteronomy 33:2, Romans 11:22.

Lord Jesus, I follow You.   Thank You for saving me, for forgiving me, for doing what I can’t.   Help me to live in ways to share this message with the world.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 June 2015

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Mark 9, verse 1.

You and me:   we should be dead by now.   You know it as well as I do that, to paraphrase the apostle, we face death all day long.   Every day that we make it to work safely is a miracle.   Ditto waking up, digesting food, staying healthy from disease, nurturing a beating heart, and sleeping through the night.   Some might say those are simply the outcomes of impossible to predict random acts of chance and interaction.   I say they’re mini miracles that testify to the existence of God in the very details of our lives.

So how astounding is it that God Himself would say that some of those to whom He was speaking would soon see an astounding miracle promised for centuries.   That isn’t some miniature detail anyone would overlook.   It was a big deal, yet Jesus threw it down and, in context of what came next, it was prophetic.

Here’s another throw-down:   it’ll happen to you today as well.

Huh?   First some of that context. Keep in mind where Jesus was. He has just fed four thousand men, healed a blind man, (yet again) confronted the Pharisees, upbraided His friends, predicted His own death, and told people to get on His level regarding what they should expect from their faith in Him. Now He’s saying that not only will people who believe in Him die but that, before they do, they will see God coming in power. As we will see, shortly after this comes the Transfiguration and that display of power Jesus promised.

In my opinion, He also promised a different kind of power to us every day.

Are you thinking about Thor and his hammer?   Or Zeus smiting puny men with thunderbolts from Olympus?   Sauron marching to crush Middle Earth with a million ugly orcs?   Or perhaps a vengeful Allah vanquishing all enemies of Islam with his priestly army of fanatics?   These are the images of god-like beings wielding power that come to mind when we humans are left to our own devices. We think of power as the omnipotent use of force, of the physical being overtaken by the meta-physical, of forces beyond our control or understanding manipulating our lives from a position of strength.

Except that’s not how Jesus worked.   Or works now.   See, He promised the Disciples that He would display His power, and a few days hence He did.   Yet He also promises us the same thing every day.   I believe He delivers on that promise, and I see it in the majesty of sunsets, in the feel of my grandson hugging me around my neck.   I feel it in my beating heart, in the love of my family as we sit at the kitchen table, as I work in my garden where God gives me vocation and food. I see it at work in how He comforts distraught friends, how He turns around destruction to expand His kingdom of goodness, and how He works quietly through we sinful humans by our spreading word about Him.   Do you know Jesus?   Then you know Him in power and miracles.

I think it’s a miracle that we’re still alive to talk about this, given all the ways the world could kill us every day. Turn to Jesus and you see it really is.

Lord, thank You for Your miracles and power in my life.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

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.