Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 27 March 2018

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.  1 Thessalonians 3:9-10 (NIV).

This is Holy Week.   Tradition (and Biblegateway.com) say that Monday is the day when Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem and scoured it out.   Tuesday is the day of Jesus’ Olivet discourse, and the day when Judas Iscariot discussed betraying his Master with the Sanhedrin.  When you boil it all down, though, we’re speculating.   The events of Holy Week are well documented in the four Gospels, but 2000 years later we still can’t pinpoint exactly some of what happened and at exact times on each of the days.  That isn’t surprising, since we can’t always pinpoint exact times for things that happen in our lives today.  It’s tough to say, but in reality, the specific dates and times of things, even events from the Bible, are just trivia.   If that’s all we focus on, we’ve missed the larger point.

Yet something about this is true whether we know the date and time or not:  we can’t thank God enough for the joy we have in His presence because of each other, especially now.  No matter what’s going on, no matter what day of Holy Week it is, no matter what other trivial things cloud up our lives, we can always thank God for the blessing of other people that He moves into our lives.

Why does Paul say what he said?   You know the answer:   joy.   It’s because the angels in heaven rejoice when we the people love and live as followers of Jesus.   It’s because it pleases Jesus to commune with us, and when two or more of us are together in His name He is there.   It’s because it’s a privilege to tell loved ones about this Jesus and this miraculous, wonderful love He has for them.   It’s because you get to share with other people the news that they’re completely forgiven, as forgiven as anyone ever could be, by the God who created them just to love them.

People are a blessing.   They folks you argue with on Facebook:  blessing.   The sister-in-law who’s hurting:  blessing.   The grandkids you love, the ornery boss, the stranger with whom you strike up a conversation, the homeless man you pass by:  all blessings.   God gives us people in our lives so that we might share the joy of Jesus with them, and then increase His love all the more.

That matters no matter what day of the calendar it is.   And it’s not a trivial matter.

For further reading:   Matthew 18:20, Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:13-22, 1 Thessalonians 3:11.

Lord, I praise You for the blessing of people in my life.   Thank You for blessing me with them, all of them.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 June 2017

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  Hebrews 10, verses 32-34.

Is this calling us to actively give up our possessions?  Is it telling us to be content in all circumstances, even when we’re being mistreated?   Actually, yes it is.   It ISN’T saying “be happy about it.”   God doesn’t tell us to enjoy suffering.   But He does tell us to put our trust in Him alone and be content with Him because He is more than enough to overcome any suffering.  He doesn’t promise Easy Street:   He promises to abide with us on any street.  Is this also telling us to turn the other cheek?   Again, yes it is.  When suffering happens, we should focus our joy on it’s true source, Jesus.   Instead of focusing on hurt, to stop the ‘bleeding’ of our suffering, we should focus on He who is with us even to the point of turning the other cheek to the one who is making us suffer.

A few days ago, my Billy Graham devotion reminded me that “joy” doesn’t equal “happiness” as the world defines happiness.   Brother (and sister), I understand this.   I’m sure you do, too.  Without divulging too many whines, my family is going through a difficult time.   For the moment, my wife and I are unemployed.  Just as He did the last time we went through this, God has a plan in all this.   To be honest, we don’t know what that plan is right now, but we do trust Him and His daily provision.   We’re still eating; we’re still breathing; midnight to midnight, we are still above the dirt.   Everything else is a gift from Him, even the struggles.  We pray the time will be short, and we’re blessed to be able to use it to do things that need to be done here on our farm.   God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Yet it can be a struggle to see happiness or joy in this.   “How could it” you might ask?   “Dave, you’re on the unemployment line again; you expect to be happy?”  Happy no, joy yes.   Every struggle, even unemployment or financial struggles, is an opportunity to make a choice for Jesus.  The verses aren’t saying that my problems will disappear.   It’s only saying that my unseen baggage from them can when I fix my eyes and hope on Christ.  If nothing else, why not ease that emotional burden?

And let’s get real:  the author of Hebrews wasn’t talking about a First-World situation like unemployment or paying your bills online.   He was talking about struggles like being tortured in Roman prisons.   About living in a world with astronomical infant mortality, real starvation, life expectancy of 45 years, and a host of other problems that most of us can’t fathom.   The first audience for verses 32-34 was comprised of people who lived in the primitive first century nations of the Mediterranean.  He was telling them to put all their trust, their hope, their everything on the shoulders of Jesus and let Jesus take the heat.   The author was telling his reader to rejoice in Jesus even when the branding iron struck your flesh, or you were kidnapped to row in a galley, or your family was sold off into slavery because you couldn’t pay your debts, or when they nailed you to a cross.

My puny problems pale compared to those things.   If our ancestors could trust Jesus through things like that, I can too.

I’ll admit:   it’s a struggle.   We are having to ‘skinny down;’ going through possessions, putting our farm up for sale, applying for jobs (literally) all over the world.   It’s hard to face being let go and rejected; it’s hard to face doing without things you’ve worked for or desire.   It hurts to go through this.  Jesus understands that.   He’s with us during these times and is calling us to put our faith in Him.  When the tough times are past, the lessons He’s teaching us today will come in handy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 6:4, Philippians 1:29-30, 1 Corinthians 4:9, Philippians 4:14, 1 Peter 1:4-5.

Lord, help me to trust You in all things.   Forgive my weakness and how I’ve failed You.   I trust You in Your teaching, Your provision, and Your discipline.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 23 December 2016

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5, verse 14.
One more set of thoughts about solid food…and Christmas. We gain strength from solid food. Our bodies – our spirits – gain strength and maturity from consuming things that build us up. Today is the day before the day before Christmas. If you’re a “Friends” fan, it’s Christmas Eve Eve. Have you considered that now is the time you should be hungry? Contrary to the popular Christian idea, I actually think that now is the time you SHOULD want more for Christmas. You SHOULD want the whole big Griswold Family Christmas.
Make sense? Probably not; let me explain. It’s because of Hebrews 5, verse 14.
We’re sinful fallen human beings. Like it or not, our ancestors took onto themselves something they’ve passed down to us through our genes: sinful nature. You have one. So do I. Sinful nature is how we can take a beautiful thing like undeserved grace and make it into a consumer-driven mega-holiday we call “Christmas.” Sinful nature is how we can want more and more stuff and still not be satisfied with it. If you don’t believe me, name for me the big gifts you received each of these last 10 years. Chances are, if you’re like me (and I believe you are), you can’t. We think we can gorge on solid food but we don’t realize that if we eat too much steak when we can only tolerate milk, we’re going to end up gripping the spiritual toilet, barfing up what we can’t handle.
Yet we SHOULD want more, we SHOULD want all the love, peace, joy, and happiness that Christmas represents. Why? You know the answer: they’re love, peace, joy and happiness! Don’t make it tougher than it should be! And here’s the kicker: love, peace, joy, and happiness are food for the mature. They’re food for a weary soul. They’re the simplest, most child-like things we can imagine and yet it takes a mature heart to grasp them. More important, it takes a mature spirit to share them, to give them away. Best of all, it takes a mature soul to give them unselfishly, as undeserved grace, to people who don’t deserve it.
Make no mistake: people don’t deserve it. We spend all year treating each other like crap and yet, at Christmas-time, we say we want to make amends and share that love, peace, joy, and happiness. We say we want to do those things because we want them ourselves. Yes, we actually are pretty slow, dull and dim, and yet even the slowest, dullest, dimmest of us want that love, peace, joy and happiness. News flash, friend reader: it’s a good thing to want them. It’s a good thing to look through all the bad things in the world and focus on what’s right and good, especially at the time of the year we set aside to celebrate them.
They’re some of the best of the fruit of God’s Spirit. Love, peace, joy, happiness: apart from God, you can’t find them. Apart from the Savior in the Manger, you only get stuff, you only get a facsimile of love, peace, joy, and happiness. Real love, honest peace, true joy, and lasting happiness can only be found at the feet of Jesus. When you, crushed sinner, bow at His feet and humble yourself in repentance, He takes your hand and you get to look into His eyes. There you see only love, peace, joy, and happiness.
You should want that. It’s the best Christmas gift of all.
In our house, Christmas season starts, oh, probably around May. It’s the consequence of marrying an Elf. My wife is happiest when she’s doing things for others, and I know of nobody better who demonstrates the love, peace, joy and happiness that are knowing Jesus through Christmas than the woman who was crazy enough to marry me. She plans all year long for Christmas, making lists, arranging finances, solidifying plans, and spreading honest cheer. The season kicks into full gear around October; these last two years it has been exacerbated by this thing called “the Hallmark Channel.” She’s been on the floor organizing presents all afternoon, and in a few minutes we’ll go out to give cookies and candies to our neighbors. It’s her thing; it’s a huge part of who she is and I wouldn’t have her any other way. My Hunnie knows a lot about love, peace, joy, and happiness. In a world set against them, she’s chosen to learn about them from following Jesus.
He’s the same Jesus who, God Almighty, decided the best way to meet His greatest creation, humanity, was by coming as a defenseless baby in poverty, then growing up to teach the world about love, peace, joy, and real happiness. Christmas comes this weekend. It’s a herald for the truly beautiful holiday a few months down the road at Easter.
Merry Christmas my friends. Wishing you love, peace, joy, and happiness…and some cookies and Hallmark movies as well. Feast heartily on them because they are the best food for a maturing spirit.
For further reading: Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 6:1, 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 3:2, 1 Corinthians 14:20, 1 Peter 2:2, Isaiah 7:15, Psalm 46:10
Lord Jesus, thank You for Christmas, for coming here to live with us, for being our Savior in the manger.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 November 2016

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  Hebrews 4, verse 14.

Here’s where things get tough.   As John Wayne might have said, ‘this is where we get down to the rat killin.’   Ok, maybe not so much, but, man, this is where things get really, really tough.

Hold.   On.  Wilson Phillips sang that in a really corny song; “hold on for one more day.”  ELO sang it too:  “hold on tight to your dream.”   Corny but it’s true.   And it’s critical.  Just hold on when things get tough.  If your dream is heaven, hold on tight because this is a rough old world that is going to try to pry your dream out of your fingers.   If you have faith in Jesus, hold on tight to it because everything else in the world is going to work to unravel your faith and make you believe life is hopeless.   If you love someone, set them free?   Maybe, but hold on tight to that love because love is antithetical to this place we call the Third Rock, where death awaits every life and every day in-between day one and last day can be a struggle.

Pretty bleak, eh?   It can be, if you let it happen.   Yesterday in church, a guest speaker from Jeremy Camp’s organization talked about the joy of God, how it is theological, positional and situational to us.   God’s joy is 24/7; along with His love, grace, mercy, and peace, His joy is available to us whether we accept it or not.   God’s joy doesn’t depend on us doing anything to make it more or make it less:   it simply is because He’s God and He’s eternal and joy is one of His eternal qualities.   Yet that joy is pretty tough to see sometimes.   In my part-time job, I hear many responses on the phone that say “I’d love to buy it but money is really tight right now.”   Not much joy in chronically tight finances during a near-depression.   Death isn’t joyful; grieving is real and a necessary part of the human condition, necessary, that is, to emotionally come to terms with the cruel finality of death.   Divorce, marital heartbreak, loneliness, hurt, resentment:   no joy in those.

If you let it, the world will break you.   It tries.  Don’t let it happen.   Resolve to not let it happen.  Hold on tight.

Faith is an act of willpower.   It is impossible to believe in Jesus without Jesus’ Spirit first reaching out to us to plant the seed of belief.   Yet holding on to that growing seed of believing faith takes willpower.   It can take effort, work, and determination.   God chooses us before we choose to believe in Him, yet holding on to that choice takes resolute effort because the fallen world will keep working to pry us away from that faith.  We can do it because He in whom we put that faith has overcome the fallen world.   He allowed it to fall, came here to reconcile it to His perfection, did all that was necessary to make that happen, and returned into eternity where He supernaturally encourages us today.

The world thinks that’s all BS.   Resolve to think differently.  He did.   He held tight to faith in His Father even when things got tough.

Jesus was part of the struggle and because He lives in you He is part of your struggle today.   When you hurt, He feels it.   When you’re anxious, Jesus feels it with you.   He came to proclaim God’s Kingdom here and now, to make us part of it here and now so that, one day, we can physically join Him as part of His eternity.  Fine talk for Sunday morning, right; lot of good all that heaven talk does me when I’m in the middle of my troubles now.  Brother, it does you more good than you’ll imagine if you simply hold on tight to the truth of it.   In the middle of a world where living minute to minute can be really tough, God’s joy is still present, still real, still tangible to the heart.  It’s available for you this very minute, but first you have to want to believe in it.  Hold on tight to that faith, to the dream of hope for a better now and a beautiful forever.   Hold on tight and never let go.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:17, Matthew 4:2, Hebrews 3:1, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 8:1.

Lord Jesus, I believe in You.   Sometimes it’s tough, though, and sometimes I fail and I hurt.   Comfort me through this and let me experience Your wonderful joy again.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 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.

After writing about how terrible and hard it is to take up our cross for Jesus, I don’t want to let another point slip by unobserved. As we talked about yesterday, Jesus said something that is, by our standards, harsh. It’s tough for us to get past that. And it’s almost like He’s being contradictory, even schizophrenic, since Jesus is the same man who said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   When we look at Jesus’ tough words about taking up our crosses through the prism of our ‘modern’ emotions, they are pretty bitter pills to swallow.

Here’s what I think of emotion: don’t let it steal your joy.   Jesus didn’t create us to focus us on emotion or on agony. Instead, He allows the agony so that it leads to joy. It’s for joy that we take up that cross:   the joy of satisfaction in living for something (and Someone) better than ourselves.   It’s for eternal joy that Jesus took up His cross; to share in this is why He exhorts us to take up our own.   Rather than getting wrapped around the axle and not getting past the torture of crucifixion, accept the joy of what Jesus is saying. He calls the crowd and they draw to Him; they draw to Him because they know He has a reputation for love and miracles. When they draw to Him, Jesus levels with them telling them that His message is radical, that it will cost them dearly to follow Him.   He’s being honest with them.   In a few verses we also find that He talks about why His cross and ours are so important. Boil them down and the reason is joy.

Think about it. Can you be happy, know real joy, while you hold onto that grudge, that anger, that chip on your shoulder? Is it possible to know joy without the giving and receiving of forgiveness?   Answering ‘yes’ to either of those questions would not be honest. When our emotions are all in upheaval, we don’t know joy.   Those sins and those emotions must be submitted to God in Jesus via the cross. The reason for the cross was to slay the sin of the world, remolding those who believe in Him to be the people of joy we were meant to be.   On the road to eternity, the way to joy travels through the cross.

There’s a song on Christian radio that says “we were made to thrive” (Casting Crowns).   Joy unspeakable, faith unshakeable, love unstoppable, anything is possible; more words from the same song.   They could easily be talking about the joy of dying in this life for Jesus.   We were indeed made to thrive.   We were indeed made for joy, for the joy of kneeling forgiven before our God and Savior King Jesus, then standing beside Him forever as both his worshipper, brother and friend. To get to that point, we must take up the joy of the suffering that is the cross.   It refines us, puts to death our old Adam, and carries us forward into becoming the people in joy who Jesus wants us to become.

Lord, bless You to bless me with Your joy.   Thank You for Your cross, and for the joyful burden of mine.

Read Mark 8, verses 34-38.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 12 November 2013

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  James 3, verses 9-10.

We are people of contrasts.  James notices this and pounces on it as the question of the ages, and indeed it is.   I go to church a lot; mostly regularly; usually every Sunday.   Yet my wife is constantly (rightfully) ragging on me if I leave the parking lot and let some inappropriate comment or foul language fly.  I just spent an hour (more when the pastor goes over time) praising and worshipping God, and I immediately foul it up with what I say.  I’m the same me who sat in church and gladly sang, praised, lifted my hands, prayed, and all that you do at Sunday worship.   I’m the same me who did all that and then gets mad at the guy who cuts me off on the street, or lets the off-color joke fly by, or passes judgment on what was said and done in the service.

Out of the same mouth.  It’s nothing new.   If you went to one of the small home gatherings that characterized ‘church’ in 1st century Judea, you’d see something similar.   Folks would say one thing holy, then immediately besmirch that holiness with something unholy.  Such behavior transcends time. 

Here’s a good time to remember that we weren’t made for just one time:   we were made for forever.  God made you, me, and everyone we know to last forever, to be with Him forever.   Eternity matters most and God – Father, Son, and Spirit – is in eternity, of eternity, and around eternity.   He made us to commune with Him in eternity, to share His love forever.  That’s why He sent His Son to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves:   make our sinful lives into sinless forever.

That news, too, is nothing new.   It’s older than James:  just like our response to it.   Me first.  I know better.   Did you see that new kid in school?   What planet did she come from?  “Guess what I heard about you know who over in the next department?   Yep!   Doing the boss again.”  The single digit salute to the guy who whips into the parking space you’re waiting for.   How have you responded in ways that a loving follower of Jesus shouldn’t respond?   We could swap war stories on that but we’d miss the point.   We aren’t made for the war stories.   It’s not that we have to become prudes.  Joy is the better path.  We, people of contrast, are made to love Jesus forever.   Let’s start in small ways today.

Patient Lord, teach me to tame my thoughts and words.   Teach me to control them and to use them only in ways that glorify You.

 

How are you guilty of this double-speak?

What contrasts are your weak spots?

Have you asked Jesus to help you change them?