Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  Hebrews 11, verses 13-14.

I’m a wanderer.   I learned it as a kid.   We first moved in 1969, when I was three, moving from Bloomington to Minneapolis, Minnesota.   That isn’t very far, but it’s a quantum leap for a family from the suburbs.  I went two years to an old elementary school before they tore it down in 1974.   That year, I spent a year in private school in east Minneapolis.   1975-1976 saw me attend two different third grade classes, one in Iowa and the other in Pennsylvania.  From 1976 to 1978 we lived in Pennsylvania, 1978-1980 in Oklahoma, 1980-1983 back in Iowa, and 1983-1985 in southern Indiana, which I refer to now as ‘home.’  After that, I joined the Air Force, and spent 1985 in Texas, then 1986-1989 in Texas, Maryland, and TDY (on temporary duty) around the world.   From 1989 to 1992, I lived in Italy (living in two different towns during that stay).   From 1992 until 2004, I lived in Colorado, residing in six different places in twelve years.  2004-2005 found me in Montana, then 2005 back in Colorado before moving to Texas.   Since 2005, I have lived full time in Texas, but have traveled all over the country (and the planet), and have lived in three different houses in two towns.  After fifty years of wandering, I’m finally in a home I’ve always dreamed of.   Wouldn’t you know that even my time here may be short, in jeopardy, and that there could be more wandering just up ahead.

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking for a country of my own.

I wish I could say that my story is one of deep public faith, but it isn’t.  In fact, more times than I care to admit, my faith has wandered too and has been weak with my practice of it weaker.  I’ve been rightfully accused of being a hypocrite, and Billy Joel could have once described me as “a man with so much tension and far too many sins to mention.”  I’ve tried, but in following Jesus, trying isn’t enough.   You have to “do” to be believeable to other people, and sometimes what I’ve done has been quite opposite of what I believe.

You know what?  I’m in good company.   Abraham was a wanderer and God did wonderful things through Him.   Jacob was a deceitful wanderer and God led him to live an amazing life.  Moses, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus Himself were all wanderers who did incredible, great things in the lead-up to the time of their Messiah.  After Jesus, all twelve of His disciples wandered, going from place to place to spread the Good News of the friend-Savior they knew.  Some of them were murdered for it; only one lived into old age.

I bet all those people were looking for a country of their own.   I wonder, then, if the country mentioned by the writer of Hebrews isn’t actually the nation of Heaven.   Shakespeare called death “the undiscovered country.”  Hamlet lamented that his life was all sorrow and he longed to journey into the undiscovered country of what lay beyond.   Don’t we all, yet here and now are all we know.   This is where we make our bones, discover what it means to live.   And the longer any of us live – and wander – the more we find that the only real meaning in the fallen world is found in Jesus Christ.  In Christ there is no more wandering.   In Christ, the discovery is amazement and it is continuous.   In Jesus Christ there is fulfillment of all of life’s desires, answers to every question, and peace to settle all restlessness.   In Christ, we no longer need to wander.

Christ is the undiscovered country I wish to explore, yet isn’t it wonderful to be able to do so now, as best we can, in this place that’s rife with both life and imperfection?  Until my prayers are answered and I meet Him face to face, I guess I’ll continue to wander, awaiting my endless time in the country of my own that I know in hope is only a short time away.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

My Lord and Savior, abide with me as I wander here.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 January 2017

And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared:  “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Hebrews 7, verses 15-17.

It’s another verse affirming the supremacy of Jesus.   We’ve already established that a pedigree matters to people.   It doesn’t matter to God, but we need to know that our leaders are ‘legit.’  Here’s more proof of that.  Those words “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” are directly quoted from Psalm 110 and from the earlier Hebrews verses.  This means that, in first century Judea, when Hebrews was written, the psalm was already hundreds of years old, dating back centuries to the time of King David.   The original readers of Hebrews would have recognized this already ancient verse and ascribed power and meaning to it.   How much more so should we.

We’ve already spoken about how Jesus wasn’t a Levite, so for Him to be the ‘priest forever’ meant that He would have to have been declared so by God.   Jesus fulfilled all the priestly requirements, including the ones in line with the example of Melchizedek.  Going back to our first century timeline, up to that point, who else had appeared who was like Jesus?   Did John the Baptist do the things Jesus did?   No.   Did the Maccabeans?   Nope.   The Jewish Sanhedrin?   Nope again.   In fact, in all of antiquity, who else could lay claim to even being able to preach the words, perform the miracles, die the cruel death after living a sinless life, and demonstrate the Father’s true character the way Jesus did?   You know the answer.  In the twenty centuries since the life of Christ, has anyone else done these things?   Again, you know the answer.

So who else but Jesus would appear?   Are you looking for someone else?   Do you seriously expect someone else to appear who would do what Jesus did?   Even discounting Christ’s divinity, do you seriously, truly expect another person will appear in all of history who will be able to satisfy the requirements of a go-between with God and man the way Jesus did?   Over three hundred Biblical prophecies were completed in Jesus Christ.   The odds of anyone else being able to do that are astronomical, physically impossible.   Could anyone else do what Jesus did?

Buddha didn’t.  Mohammed didn’t and never could.  Martin Luther King and Billy Graham (or Billy Sunday) didn’t.  Neither did any of the old Communist dictators (including the still above room temperature Raul Castro and the boy-tyrant Kim Jong Un), Martin Luther, Pope John Paul II, the Apostle Peter, Torquemada, any US president including George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, Timothy Leary, Elon Musk, or Buddy Holly even before the day the music died.

The fact is there is no other man who has or might appear who has become a priest like Melchizedek.   There is no other priest whose lineage is eternal, and to whom a great stranger would tithe a tenth of his possessions.   There is nobody else throughout all of time who could have said, done, and lived the way the man from Nazareth did.  There is only Jesus.   In all of human history, only Jesus of Nazareth satisfies all the things that the author of Hebrews says about a true intermediary between God and man.   Science, logic, history, and faith prove there simply is no other way.

For further reading:   Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6.

Lord, only You.   Only You could be the Savior of mankind.   I believe in only You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 March 2015

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.  Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.  The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”  And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”  She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”  “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.  At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.  Mark 6, verses 17-29.

Following Jesus may cost you everything.  Don’t we see that in the story of John the Baptist?   How about in our lives?

Over the weekend, I was talking online with an atheist friend.   This man and I worked together nearly 30 years ago, and I posted an item on his Facebook page, agreeing with the Christian aspect of a particular subject.   My friend completely launched his rhetorical missiles in return; really harsh, in some cases vile statements about faith, Christianity, God, the Bible and Jesus.   My temper usually gets dandered up at such things but this time I think I heard God’s better Spirit telling me, “let it slide.”   I simply wished him a good night and logged off.

And, in a way, my friend also opted for the apparently lowest-impact response to this fact, namely to say “um, God, no thanks.”   In doing so, he chose the course of least resistance.   Disbelieve in God and check out from all the God-circumstances (as far as he knows).   Perhaps he doesn’t want the feelings that come with following God, and in the eyes of the world, perhaps that’s even a good thing.   Look at what happened to John the Baptist.   He was Jesus’ cousin, friend, and prophet.   All John did was do his job and it cost him his life.   Look at the Apostles, Jesus’ closest friends.   All of them but one died horrible deaths for doing nothing more than following and proclaiming Jesus.   Look at what’s happening to Christians in the areas that ISIS has overrun today.   They’re being murdered wholesale:  all for following Jesus.   IN the eyes of the world, can you blame people like my atheist friend for wanting to run away from God?

Yet what m friend fails to see is how Jesus is working on and in him already.   How he couldn’t even contemplate God (let alone disbelieving in Him) if God hadn’t first planted that knowledge & spark in him.   How there is no peace in this tortured world without the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.   How, in Christ, there’s so much more than meets the eye.  How, to die for Christ is to live for eternal gain.   How losing everything the world offers for Jesus is to take hold of something so much more valuable, something that will last forever.  John the Baptist understood this.   I pray my friend learns it as well.

Lord, let me live only for You.

Read Mark 6, verses 30-44.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 27 March 2015

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” Mark 6, verses 14-16.

Folks believe some really crazy stuff.   Have you ever considered that maybe some of it is real?

Consider these statements:   alar on apples will poison you.   Elvis eats lunch at a Burger King in Kalamazoo. A black man will never be elected president. If you play the Beatles’ White Album backwards, you hear messages from Satan. You can’t grow wine in Texas.

Which of those are true and which of them are flat out crazy? Truth is that all of them have been considered to be true by rational people not unlike ourselves. Some of those statements were true at one time but untrue now; some are just dumb or wacky (Elvis actually eats at KFC…).   Folks believe some crazy stuff.

So is it implausible that there’s this Jewish king named Herod who executes this great prophet (named John the Baptist) and there are those who are saying John has come back from death?   Put yourself in Herod’s shoes:   do you believe it or not?   Fact is, Herod didn’t really know what to believe.   Mark’s Gospel hasn’t gotten that far yet into describing Herod’s story; don’t worry, we’ll get there soon.

But poor Herod didn’t know what to believe.   He had John killed and now there are reliable sources – knowledgable people in whom Herod places his trust – who are telling him that John is back and bolder than ever.   You and I know now that it was Jesus about whom these folks were talking, but poor Herod didn’t know any better.

When you don’t know any better, you can believe in some really crazy stuff.   As we’ll see in the coming days, Herod was pretty nervous that his sins would come back to haunt him.   What he didn’t realize was how crazy things would soon get and how haunted he might become because of it.   Like I said, he didn’t know any better and the talk was just plain crazy.

So here’s a prayer to rock your world:   I pray you don’t know any better.   After all, it’s plum crazy to believe that there is this two thousand year old man named Jesus who said (and proved) that He was (and is) God.   The government of his day (including Herod) had him murdered because He was a threat to their status quo.   Two nights plus later this same Jesus comes back to life…and it turns out that He had promised to do exactly that.   What’s more, this Jesus spends the next few fortnights meeting hundreds, maybe thousands, of people all of whom will swear that He’s alive and well…just like He said He would be.

Folks believe some crazy stuff.   My hope for you is that you go a little crazy like that today.   Stretch your belief and believe in something your brain tells you must be impossible. Now go have an apple, listen to some old Elvis music (or even the White Album, but forward please), and enjoy a glass of Texas wine this weekend.

Lord, help me to be crazy for You.

Read Mark 6, verses 14-29.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 September 2014

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. – Mark 1, verse 9.

Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus.   This is where He makes His appearance in the book of Mark.   He journeyed with the rest of the Judeans out to the river Jordan, submitted Himself to His cousin John, and was baptized by John in the river.   Immediately afterwards, Jesus left and went further out into the desert to live for 40 days without food and water.

Why would He do that?

That’s the question of the ages. It’s the question people would ask, several years later, when they stared up at Him while He hung on the cross.   Why would God Immanuel, all man and all God, die for us? Before that, why would he, who had no sin, be baptized? Baptism was (and is) a sacramental ritual for sinners, and Jesus was no sinner.   There was no sin in His life and He never fell to temptation like you and I do.   Why would He be baptized? Look to a trained theologian for the proper ecclesiastical answer, complete with other Scriptural cross-references and eschatological background.   I can’t provide those.   What I can give you is my untrained opinion.

We needed it.   He loves us, and we needed it, so He did it.

The God-man was fully man and fully God at the same time.   Here, because He loved all people, He acted on their behalf as full man.   You and I, we need baptism. We need the reassurance that our sins are washed away.   We need to know that we have been reborn and claimed by Jesus into His family.   We need the symbolism of the moment.   We need the anointing of baptism. We need the Holy Spirit to impart Himself into our lives through the miracle of the water and the Word.

Jesus didn’t need that. He WAS already all that, but He did it anyway. Because He lived to fulfill all righteousness. Because He wanted to fully obey all of God’s commands to humanity. Because we couldn’t.   Because He loved us enough to do it.

I’m sure there is a theological explanation that tells why this is, exactly what happened, and the far-reaching importance of the moment when the Lord was baptized in the river. Here and now, that’s too much for me; if someone wants to email it to me, or comment on the blog, please doso. To me, I’m simply awe-struck by the miracle of God, yet again, wanting to identify with the imperfect creatures He made yet loves so much.

For me, it’s enough to know that Jesus loved me enough to, as a man, do what I needed to do and be baptized.   I was baptized as an infant; I have no recollection of it, though I am told it happened.   I have no interest in being re-baptized, or refreshed, or any of that; once was enough for me.   It’s enough because it was enough for Jesus to come to me all those years ago, to graft me into the branches of His family tree in doing so, and to mark me and hold me close as His own.

Because I needed that.

Lord, thank You for being baptized, for how You did all that we needed You to do.

Read the descriptions of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1, Matthew 3, Luke 3 and John 1.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 26 September 2014

And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”- Mark 1, verses 7 and 8.

The life of John the Baptist was summed up in the verses you read above.   Indeed, the life of every person on this planet, either before John or since, is the same sum. His entire message, his entire purpose for living, was to announce that the Messiah was coming.   We aren’t worthy to justify ourselves in front of God; our wrongs are too glaring, too angry.   John knew this and he preached it to the varied masses of his day.   The Pharisees came to see him, and they were the power-brokers in the Temple.   Businessmen came to see him, just like businessmen are today. The poor, the wretched, the miserable, the searching, the lonely:   they all went out to listen to the strange man in the desert preaching his message of hard repentance and velvet-soft forgiveness.

Let’s not idealize John the Baptist, though, especially since Mark is nearly done introducing him. Yet even in these two verses we learn a bit more about John and how he viewed his divine calling.   Do you read, like I do, that he was realistic about it?   John realized that he was only giving a symbolic baptism, only imparting a message of love and warning.   He understood that Jesus was coming – and coming soon – and that He would have the power of God Almighty in Him.   Real life would come from His rebirth. Jesus would do things nobody ever had, and doing that would change everything.

Yet John was humble.   He understood his place as messenger and not message.   John understood that, even by living a simple life of denial, he was a sinner and needed God’s forgiveness.   To even do the most ignoble of things for the Messiah was impossible because John realized he was unfit because of his sins. John wasn’t like we were today, announcing everything we think and do on Facebook, or sending our selfies around the globe in the name of our personal vanity. John the Baptist was humble.

John didn’t duck from his message either.   It was a hard calling that God gave to him.   Live a tough life.   Preach a tough message to tough people whose hearts will be hardened towards you.   Do it to foreshadow One who will be greater than you.   The glory won’t be yours, but His. Do you think, when John was meeting people at the Jordan, he knew what kind of death he would face as well?   If he did, the Baptist didn’t show it.   He preached bold and loud.

He did that because he understood the stakes.   The damned and dirty who trod out to see him were damned and dirty without God’s forgiveness. Their spiritual loneliness could only be filled by the Divine; their depravity could only be washed away by turning away from their sins and starting anew. John understood that the chosen people of God had prostituted themselves throughout most of history and they needed a Savior.   His place was to prepare them to meet that Savior, to do the groundwork so that, when the Savior appeared, His people might be ready to receive Him.

Lord, thank You for Your patience, Your love, and Your message.   Help me to be bold for You with them today.

Read the descriptions of John’s habits in Mark 1 and Matthew 3.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 September 2014

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey– Mark 1, verse 6.

Let’s start this out by saying “so what?” So what if this strange guy in the desert wore camel’s hair, a leather belt, and ate organic natural food?   Half of California does that!   In words that seem to exemplify our time in history, “at this point, what difference does it make?”

Maybe a lot.

Matthew described John this way as well.   Some scholars think that means Matthew took his testimony from Mark’s. Some think that the wearing of camel hair and eating wild insects signified living an ascetic life of denial; hold that thought.   And some others think that John might have been on to something because a diet of natural sugar and protein is highly recommended for anyone who wants to lead a lean but active lifestyle.

God’s provision is where I think it goes. I mean, if you trust God to provide for your basic needs, then that gives you much, much more time to focus on what’s important (namely, your mission to herald the soon-to-arrive Messiah). I wonder if John decided that he didn’t want to sweat the small stuff, like food and clothing, and focus, instead, on confronting the sinners who came to see him and telling them about the deliverer who was well on His way.

In reality, perhaps the way it matters a lot is because all of those things could be true. We don’t know whether Matthew copied Mark or who wrote first:   the veracity of the testimony is what matters.   And centuries of analysis and comparisons show that the Gospels are remarkably complementary to each other, not contradicting while each granting perspectives about Jesus that other witnesses couldn’t provide. The ascetic claim has merit.   If you live a life of self-denial in service of your God, others take you seriously. John had standing because he publicly, strenuously, vociferously walked the walk while talking the talk. And we can’t discount that God provided highly nutritious natural food to a strident worker who always needed quick energy. In survival training, instructors teach you how to live off the land.   Two of the foods that are highly recommended are honey and insects.   John the Baptist knew this and he wasn’t exactly a modern day prepper.

Yet it is because of these descriptions of John that, centuries later, we remember him as a serious and committed man.   His testimony is reliable because he was down for the struggle as shown in how he lived past the basics. John didn’t have to focus on where his next meal would come from because he kept that part of his life simple.   He trusted God. It allowed him to focus all his energy on Jesus. THAT, perhaps, is the most important aspect of all.

Granted, it might be entertaining (to others) if you dropped by Buffalo Wild Wings to order locusts and honey; the reaction you get may not be what you expect.   But if it helps you skinny down to only what matters most (like John the Baptist did) then perhaps those locusts wouldn’t be too bad if you dipped them in the honey first.

So what indeed.

Lord, help me to follow John’s example by giving up all worry over simple things so I can focus on the mission You give me today.

Read the descriptions of John’s habits in Mark 1 and Matthew 3.