Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

Advertisements

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 1 March 2019

“…who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”  1 Timothy 6:16 (NIV).

No one can see God and no one ever has; Exodus 33:20 says so straight from God’s own words.  This side of eternity, no one can see God in all His glory and live.   Our minds couldn’t process Him.  Our bodies couldn’t withstand Him.  Yet when we see Jesus, we are seeing God.   We are seeing the part of Him that is human, fully God and fully man all at once.   It’s a mystery how He does that, but He does it all the same.

I think of this verse the way I think of going outside.   My day job involves a lot of time staring at a laptop.   I implement software and business improvements used in processing healthcare information for insurance companies.   That involves a lot of online work in systems that are pretty basic to look at; white windows with black edges and writing, some grays and blues thrown in.   My office at home is in a bedroom, and while there is a window in it, the sun doesn’t shine directly in.  When I’m on my (current) client’s site, I work in an IT lab, in an enclosed conference room with no outside light.

All this makes going outside during the work-day a rich treat. Yet the older I get, the longer it takes for my eyes to adjust to the sun.   If I don’t wear sunglasses, my eyes squint, and it takes me awhile to be able to see without them watering.   Occasionally things are even blurry but that passes quickly.

Imagine looking into God the Father’s unapproachable light.   Imagine the brightest light you can think of, then staring straight into it.   You’d be blinded; you’d melt (sort of like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Nazis opened the Ark of the Covenant).   You’d die.

Now imagine being Peter, James, and John and standing before Jesus when He was transfigured.  His clothes were the brightest white possible.   They saw Him as He truly was, in the beautiful spiritual light of perfection while clearly recognizing their friend.  Their eyes weren’t burned; they lived through it.   How can this be?   You know the answer:   because of Jesus.   He made it possible for them to look on Him and live.   In a flash it happened, then in a moment it was over.

One day each of us will indeed stare into God’s full light and see Him face to face.   In our final day, will we be dazzled by the brilliance of it or will we be destroyed?   My friend, you know the better way.

For further reading:   Exodus 33:20, Psalm 104:2, 1 John 1:7, John 1:18, Romans 11:36, Mark 9:3, 1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Lord of light, You are beautiful.  Heal my eyes to let me see You more so that others see You through me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 December 2017

Grace be with you all.  Hebrews 13, verse 25.

Once again, we find ourselves at the end.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ve seen the ending of Hebrews, Mark, The Ten Commandments, Ruth, 1/2/3 John, James, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   That’s a lot of real estate to cover.   Thank you so much, my friend, for reading, sharing, learning, and hopefully hearing the voice of God inside you through these thoughts.

Yet it’s time to finish up this section.   After this, there are other things I’d like to cover.   Next week, we’ll spend the rest of the Christmas season talking about Santa Claus and giving.   After that, I believe God is leading me to walk through the “five T’s” of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; we’ll be walking with the Apostle Paul, so get ready to get real; Paul has that effect.

Until then, grace be with you all.   Grace:  that’s a concept I haven’t given nearly enough thought to even though my mom and grand-daughter are both named Grace.  I used to think of grace as a quiet thing, like sunny meadows and warm tea.  But that’s only part of what it is.  My friend, Bill Brimer, however, calls the book of Ephesians “a grace bomb.”  It’s an explosion of God’s grace in your face.   An overpowering force of enormous power that can undo physical reality.  Ephesians spends much of it’s time explaining God’s grace as a living, vital thing instead of just a pastoral quality.

Boom.

Have you ever really thought about what grace means to you?   My Random House dictionary defines grace as “a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor shown in granting a delay or immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor or love of God, the influence or spirit of God operating in man; moral strength.”   All those meanings (and more) for such a small word.   And to think they could all blow up in your face with the peace of a rural pasture.  In the context of talking about Jesus, grace means all those things, and all of them at once.

We don’t deserve it, but Jesus richly blesses us to live in His grace.   We’ve done everything we can think of to tick him off, to merit His wrath, but, instead, He likes us, wants to be with us, runs to us where we are in the middle of our dysfunctions.   If I listed here even a fraction of the sins I’ve done against Jesus, I wouldn’t list much before you’d see I don’t deserve His grace.   I don’t even deserve air, food, water, and my beating heart.   News flash:  neither you you.   We’re damn dirty sinners.

But we have so much more than air, food, water and life.   We have love, friends, jobs, possessions, liberty, opportunity.   We have each other.   We have seven billion people here to live, thrive and survive with, and we GET TO tell them that this Jesus blesses us all in His grace.   That He wants them to know Him, too.   That’s grace.   When I deserve punishment, Jesus wants love for me.  When I deserve scorn, He lives in my heart.   When I merit revenge, He urges peace.   When I deserved to die, He ran to the cross for me and took my place.   Boom!

When the writer of Hebrews had only a few words left to say, he said that he desired for God’s magnificent grace bomb to explode in the lives of his readers.   “Grace be with you all” is more than just a benediction:   it’s a challenge.   It’s a powerful this-I-know-to-be-true amen.   It’s a quiet prayer but also an artillery-packed lock and load on the front line.  Grace is the quiet strength of Christ from the cross giving you peace.   And grace is the raw edge of God’s knife in your hand, cutting away the scar tissue of sin to cure the flesh below.   When there was nothing else to say to his friends, the writer affirmed God’s presence in their lives and called on them to realize all God does for undeserving people while sharing His saving love with those who don’t know about Him.

I’m not worthy to argue with wisdom like that.   I’ll simply accept it as a gift of love from our God.  Grace in your face, indeed.   Back in the race for us now.  Lace up your boots, pick up your gun, and let’s march.

Until next time, grace be with you all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 13:25

Lord thank You for Your grace, for how You love and provide for me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 February 2017

 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Hebrews 7, verses 23-25.

We need consistency.   Frankly, consistency is one of the best things about faith in Jesus.   He’s always the same, He is always fair, He is always just, He is always there; hey, that rhymes!   He is consistent, constant, and always present when you need Him (or even when you think you don’t).  As Hebrews 13 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”   Amen to that.  Yet consider this:   Jesus doesn’t need to be consistent.   He doesn’t need that constancy, or fairness, or sameness.   We do.

It has always baffled me why folks reject faith in Jesus.   Why would a decent, upright soul not want to follow Jesus?   Reject Christianity, religion, Protestantism all the live-long day (or Catholicism, maybe even Orthodoxy as well); I may even join you.   Far as I’m concerned, we can sell every church building in the country and use the proceeds to BE the church instead of meeting in one.  Practice of the Christian religion by Christians has given Christianity a really bad name.   If you’re stuck on your liturgy or hymnals, your ‘infallible’ doctrines, your rock band performances (or the cherubic choir), the beautiful sanctuary with the comfy cozy pews, or even your motivated pastor, maybe you need a gut check.   Jesus is about relationship, about discipling, about serving, about love.   None of those other things are really about love, are they?   If your ‘church’ is about the worship service and not worshipping Jesus in service, try walking out one Sunday and trying something different.

All that ragging aside, if anything about your church or practicing your faith is encouraged by the things I’ve derided, then all glory to Jesus and keep on keeping on with them.  They should (and perhaps do) point to Jesus because He’s consistent and constant.   Like a solid reference, we as humans need Him to be unchanging.   Everything not of Him is sin or is, at least, tainted by the possibility of sin.  The more you look at things not of Jesus, too, the more you find they’re inconsistent, transient.   All things aside from Christ are temporary.   They don’t last.   Pyramids?   Slowly decaying.   Scientology?   Please.   Money?   Never enough.   All your possessions?   Nice but when you die they aren’t yours anymore.   Even the land:   please, again; just another possession, and that deed you and I always work for will only be ours for a short time before it passes to someone else.

Standing beside all those other things is Jesus, who remains just as He was and is and is to come.   He’s the same as He was with Peter, James and John.   He’s the same as He was with Adam.   He’s the same Jesus to Billy Graham that He is to you, me, and the strangers we pass in the street.  That matters even more when you then remember that Jesus’ mission is to save souls.   He lived, died, and lives again to reach souls who need Him even when they don’t realize it.  Even when they/we do things to reject Him, He still intercedes with the Father to say “remember, Dad, we love him/her.”  He provides for us because of those intercessions, because He wants with all His being for us to be one with Him and He’ll do anything He needs to in order to give us the maximum chances to be in communion with Him.  Every breath we take in rebellion against Christ is also another opportunity to lay down our arms.  Every new morning He grants is a fresh start to make something new with the life He gives us.

Why not make the most of it?   Jesus is.   We need Him to.   Thanks be that He does.

For further reading:   Romans 11:4, Romans 8:34, Hebrews 13:8.

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your consistency, for interceding for me, for always providing for me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 October 2016

He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.  Hebrews 3, verse 2.

Moses was God’s servant.   When Moses was a tiny baby, floating in the reed ark in the Nile, Jesus knew him.   When Moses murdered the Egyptian and fled in hypocritical fear, Jesus knew him.   When Moses stood in front of God’s presence and doubted himself and this God, Jesus knew him.   When Moses was an old man dying on top of Mount Nebo and looking into the Promised Land he was told he would never enter, Jesus knew him.  And when Moses, along with Elijah, appeared to Jesus, Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration, Jesus knew him.

You get the picture.   Jesus knew Moses.

And Moses, try as he did otherwise, knew Jesus.   He may not have known Jesus as the man incarnate, yet Moses knew Him as the three in one.  As Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 6 in the great Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”   Moses saw the Three in One personally, as God, as three persons in One.  He knew Jesus was God’s person abiding with Israel as it struggled with its newfound identity.   He knew Jesus as his deliverer and mediator when he stood in God’s presence and pleaded for his rebellious people.   He knew Jesus when He spoke comfort into Moses’ doubting heart.   And, after death, He knew Jesus as Lord, friend, man, and brother, talking with Him on that mountain in the desert where Jesus revealed a taste of His glory to a hungry world.

Through it all, Moses was God’s servant.   Just as Jesus was God’s servant.   Just as you and I are God’s servants.   Noodle that thought for a minute.  You and I have things in common with Moses and Jesus, the two greatest figures of antiquity, the deliverers of millions, the founders of Western civilization, and one of whom is God Immanuel the Savior of all mankind.  It isn’t just similarities, chance behaviors or traits we have in common with figures in history; you could say that about anyone.    No, we have a brotherhood, a familial bond with Jesus and Moses that goes beyond our shared humanity.   By God’s grace, He considers us to be His servants, doing His good and loving will in a world that needs to know Him.

I don’t know about you but I’ll admit that my independent American nature doesn’t like being told the best I can be is a servant.   I’m no slave…and yet I am one.  God forgive, then, my stupid head and ignorant heart.

Just this morning at the gym, I spent 10 minutes alone in the sauna.   I often do this at the end of my workout, and today I spent my time praying.   Going in, I decided I would only pray thanks to God for things that crossed my mind.   That and I wouldn’t pray for the same thing twice; it would only be new things that came to me during the prayers.   10 minutes doesn’t seem like that long of a time, but in reality it was.   Yet the longer I prayed, the harder – and easier – it became to pray for things.   By the end of it, I was praying for even simple things I’d taken for granted, things like dry floors and warm showers and clean clothes and even the air I breathed.

When I was done, I was left full.   I felt both satisfied and tired; can you imagine the thrilling exhaustion of praying for days-straight the way Nehemiah did before rebuilding the Jerusalem walls?   As I was walking out, I prayed again:   where would You have me serve today, Lord?   The God who appointed Moses to lead Israel out of slavery and into a new birth of liberty is the same God who sent His Son to deliver all of humanity out of slavery to sin and into the true birth of real liberty.   He is the same God who was with them in their most glorious and most trying moments.  And He is the same God who lives in the fires of the sun, the renewal of springtime, and the simple miracle of a newborn child.  God speaks to us in many ways, but in all those ways He calls to us to serve Him by using our lives and our talents in His purposes here on the Third Rock.  When we do this, we’re channeling our brothers Moses and Jesus, who were also God’s faithful servants:   servants we can know here and now.

For more reading:   Hebrews 3:5, Numbers 12:7, Deuteronomy 34:5-7, Joshua1:1-2, Psalm 105:26, Deuteronomy 6:4.

Lord God, I am Your servant today.   Thank You for blessing me this way.  Uphold me to do Your bidding as we will today, in service to You and Your good Kingdom.

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, 15 February 2016

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Mark 14, verses 32-34.

Jesus and His Disciples went to a rocky garden on the periphery of Jerusalem for some private time and prayer.   The eleven men with Him had lived a long day. So had Jesus, and all of them had to be physically and emotionally exhausted. When they got to the garden, Jesus then asked His three closest friends to continue on a little further.   He was overwhelmed.   You and I can grasp that feeling because, in these stressful times of economic depression, tense relations, and political upheaval, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the world around us.   Then add on personal issues, anything that hurts, bothers, or haunts you and your sense of being overwhelmed increases drastically.

Now think of Jesus at that point.   All those things were swirling around Him.   Add to them the fact that He had released Judas to go get the men who would start the process of killing Him. He knew it was happening.   Jesus knew that a criminal’s death was only a few hours away, and that in-between these early morning hours and that Good Friday afternoon, He would be beaten, flogged and tortured.   He knew the physical agony that was ahead and He knew there was no other way.   His followers would turn on Him. What’s more, He was assuming onto Himself all the sin of mankind, knowing that His Holy nature and the Holy Father and Spirit who comprise His Trinity could not abide that.   Jesus knew they would abandon Him and yet they wouldn’t.   In a mystery too deep for us to comprehend, Jesus understood the depth of the sin penalty that He would take upon Himself knowing that He would be all alone yet never alone.

He was overwhelmed with sorrow over all of it.   He was overwhelmed in ways that you and I can’t even begin to comprehend. All He asked was that His closest friends would simply be with Him. “I’m scared, guys.   Just be with me while I go through this.”   He said it knowing that Peter would soon deny even knowing Him a minimum of three times.   He said it knowing that James, John and the others would scatter when the temple guards came to seize Him.   It wasn’t much to ask and He asked it.

They failed Him.

So do I.   So do you.

All Jesus asks of us is that we let Him drive. He wants us to allow Him to bless us, to allow Him to bear our burdens, to mentor us, to surrender our control to Him so that He can teach us a better way.   He wants to teach us to stand for Him so that He can fight for us. I fail him every day at this; so do you.   Yet we have a duty to Him to stand that watch, to stand up for Him and stand against what is wrong in our world.   We don’t have this duty to work out our salvation:   we get to bear it as fidelity to our Savior. So did the Disciples.   So do I.   So do you.

Lord, please forgive then strengthen me to stand for You. Thank You for your sacrifice, for dying for me.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.