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, 14 November 2017

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13, verse 8.

You know it’s true:  you might as well just say “amen” now (which actually means “this is most certainly true”).   Verse 8 is one of the foundation verses of the entire Bible.   It’s the explanation, motivation, and reason for everything.   There’s a Maren Morris song that mentions old time country music as “my church.”  It’s explains life; it’s always great; it’s always the same; it’s always there to uplift a sad soul.  I agree with some of that; “can I get an amen?”

Here’s something that merits an amen whether Maren sings about it or not:  Jesus our Savior is the same person He was yesterday as He is today as He will be tomorrow.  Can I get a hallelujah?

Wrap your noodle around this truth.  When everything around you is changing (and the only constant in this crazy world is change), Jesus is.  The great I AM is.  As you feel like your feeling careen around like a pinball, Jesus is the same.   The same Jesus who talked one on one with John, Peter, and even Judas Iscariot is the same Jesus who speaks to your heart today.  In science, gravity and time are constants.   Everything else changes, and you can even vary the effects of both time and gravity even though they are standards.  Yet Jesus is the same.  He is the same no matter the temperature, the time of year, or the phase of the moon.  Yet Christ is more than science; indeed, He invented it, inspired it.   Christ is beyond our science, and beyond our puny religion.  Jesus is the same whether you’re a Baptist, a Hindu, a Shiite (or Sunni or Wahabi) Muslim, or a card carrying atheist vegan who loves Crossfit.   He’s the same Savior we think about when we sing “Jesus Loves Me” as little children or “The Old Rugged Cross” as old people.

Consider, too, that this statement comes at the end of the exhortations where the writer has given us concluding thoughts.   He wants us to remember that, no matter what advice we give, the founder of all advice is Christ.   The source of all wisdom is Christ.   The reason for all we know is Jesus.   And when the world gets sideways as it always does, Jesus is still there just as He always was/is/will be.  Maybe the Doobie Brothers summed it up:   “I don’t care what they may say.   I don’t care what they may do.   Jesus is just alright (oh yeah).”

He’s just alright.  He’s just in time.   You can count on Him.  We should sing about that.   Can I get an amen?

I have a friend who is going through a particularly rough time right now.   He just left one job, and his family situation is all in turmoil.   My friend has always been plagued by darkness and has become one of the more hopeless people I know.   No faith, no grounding, he’s lost his way and is miserable.   Some of it is circumstances beyond his control; some environment; some the past; and some of it is his chickens coming home to roost.  Just last night we were talking about his having no identity, and I asked him to call me when he’s ready to seek it.  To call me because there’s really only one place to find your lasting identity.   It’s at the cross.   It’s there and only there that we can lay down our weapons, our guilt, our fears, and our pride and be renewed in both spirit and mind.

It’s because the Jesus we find on the cross is the same Jesus who walked on water is the same Jesus in the Word is the same Jesus listening to our prayers today is the same Jesus who loves children is the same Jesus who will judge the world.  He’s the same God no matter what.   When my friend sees his world collapsing around him and he feels bereft of all that’s good, by going to the cross and meeting the same Jesus there, he can begin again and move in a different direction.

I’m not a pastor.  I sometimes wish I had some of the knowledge my pastor friends have gained.   If not the knowledge, then maybe a little of the wisdom.  When people come to me and ask about why I believe what I do, all I can do is paraphrase C.S. Lewis who said that he prayed because he couldn’t help himself.   I believe in Christ because I can’t help myself.  Everything else I’ve sought in this world has left me wanting and hollow.  Yet I go to Jesus and see that He’s the same as He always is.   That helps me to realize that He’s the God I crave, the God I want to follow, the leader I want to emulate, the unchanging Savior I desperately need, and the friend I want to always cherish.  Jesus is just alright because He is ALL RIGHT and is always Himself.   Can I get an amen to that?

For further reading:  Psalm 102:27, Hebrews 1:12.

My Lord, this is most certainly true:   You are God.   You are the only constant in the universe.   You are good, worthy of praise, and all life.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 19 February 2016

Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14, verses 41-42.

If you drive through the American South, you see all kinds of religious billboards.   Many of them implore you to know Jesus as soon as possible because we don’t know when He’s coming back.   I used to see one south of Savanna, Oklahoma that said “watch and pray for we know not what hour the Son of God will return.” There are others that quote dire verses of Scripture announcing hellfire for those who reject Jesus’ open invitation to free salvation. There are still more that have sayings like “Talk with me before it’s too late.   Sincerely, God.” Announcing God’s impending judgment on us isn’t necessarily regional; I suppose signs like these are everywhere. I’ve simply noticed more of them here in the Bible Belt.

Guess what?   They’re all true. Today’s verses prove it.

It’s before sunrise on the morning of Good Friday. Jesus is exhausted while His Disciples have had fitful intermittent rest on the cold Gethsemene ground. After imploring them to keep watch for sin, Jesus returns to them a third time and brings them up short.   The night is over; no more rest; no more interruptions. It’s time to get up because there’s work ahead today. It’s going to be the hardest day of your lives.

“Today I’m going to die.”

The Son of Man was delivered into the hands of sinners.   Make no mistake about it:   the temple guards who seized Jesus were sinners indeed.   They were players in a staged drama predicted since the fall of man.   These ‘innocent’ actors were only doing the bidding of their priestly overseers.   The overseers were only doing the bidding of the chief priests.   The chief priests had only initiated this arrest because Judas Iscariot came to them with news they wanted to hear.   Judas Iscariot only betrayed Jesus to the priests because he was a sinful twisted man.  He was sinful and twisted because he listened to Satan.   Satan was evil because he reveled in sin.

So do I; so do you.   We’re thick with sin and no better than Judas or the guards.   The Bible tells us so.   Jesus said so.   All those billboards scream out the fact. Here’s the good news.

Jesus faced His betrayer. The verses and chapters of Mark after this all describe the story of how He faced His betrayer, how He loved Him anyway, and then how He went to His death as an innocent lamb to slaughter. He did this because the Disciples slept instead of kept watch for sinful temptation.   He did it because Judas Iscariot, the chief priests and those temple guards were dead in their sins if He didn’t.   He did it because all the sins I’ve done today and every day of my life demand more of a penalty than I can pay.   He did it because the same thing can be said about you and everyone we know.

Will you face down your betrayer today?   Will you face your sins and own up to them, then face Jesus and repent of them?   Bibles and billboards remind us how it’s imperative that we do so.

Lord Jesus, I’m sinful through and through.   Thank You for Your holy sacrifice, for facing your betrayer, for dying for us.

Read Mark 14, verses 43-52.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 February 2016

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over. Mark 14, verses 10-11.

Just after witnessing the woman anoint Jesus, Judas went to the Jewish priests and betrayed Jesus. Maybe he was PO’d that Jesus had encouraged the huge ‘waste of money’ that came with dumping the priceless nard over Jesus’ head.   Maybe he had had enough of all the pussy-footing goody goody do-good nature of Jesus and His “love everybody” message.   Maybe Judas had a bad day.

In reality, he had a really bad day.   One of the other Gospels refers to the betrayal by saying “then Satan entered” Judas.   The day Satan enters you is the worst in your life because only terrible things flow from that.   To be honest, I think Satan entered all of us years ago, as babies.   Ever heard a two-year old say “no?”   Yep:   sin.   They learned it somewhere, and they applied it because Satan had already taken up residence.

A bad day for Judas, indeed, when you betray the Son of Man for a sack of coins.

But do you want to know a secret?   I’ve always felt sorry for Judas; Pontius Pilate, too.   My sorrow for them is (obviously) tempered by my after-the-fact knowledge they didn’t have.   I know Jesus was resurrected.   I know He is the Son of God.   I know the history of the faith and what it means to have His Spirit working in my life.   Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate had to experience events in real time.   What we read as history are events through which they lived as they were happening.   They didn’t have Bible concordances and two thousand years of interpretive Christian perspective. We can look down on their terrible choices and we should, yet don’t lose sight of knowing that they made those bad choices without applying any fore-knowledge of just who Christ said He was. They lived through it; we didn’t.

I feel sorry for Judas because he became even more destitute and pathetic than he was before.   I’m betting he was the smartest of the disciples, that he had canny sense and was both analytic and street-wise.   He made a choice to cast his lot (pun intended) with those who sought to kill Jesus.   He knew what the priests had in mind, and he knew that his action was risky.   Perhaps he calculated that he would somehow benefit from this choice, from this betrayal.   Otherwise why do it?   Don’t forget that Satan had entered into Judas, though. With Satan indwelt, all bets would be off.

Yet I feel sorry for Judas because that choice brought him only misery, death and (I assume) damnation. Jesus loved Judas.   Let that sink in.   Jesus Christ loved Judas Iscariot.   Jesus didn’t want Judas to be further deceived by the great deceiver. Jesus wanted Judas to live a life in praise of Him, sharing His Spirit with Judas so Judas could share it with others. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of Judas Iscariot just like He did for yours, mine, and Adolf Hitler’s. And Judas betrayed Him anyway. By Good Friday afternoon, when Jesus died, Judas had already hanged himself.   I feel sorry for him, that the consequences of his choices were so dire and awful.

Lord, forgive all who sin, who betray You with our sins, who let You down.   Forgive and rebuild us, Savior Jesus.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 January 2016

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. Mark 14, verses 4-5.

Mark doesn’t say it but he’s most likely talking about a conversation led by Judas Iscariot.   Judas was responsible for carrying the Apostles’ money, and he used to frequently dip into the purse.   Thus, it makes sense that he was indignant that the expensive perfume was being ‘wasted’ because it could have been a huge windfall for the taking.

But tell me something:   do you and I act like Judas with our treasure? You bet we do.

Huh?   “You’re insulting me by comparing me to the man who betrayed Jesus Christ?”   Yes, my friend, that’s exactly what I’m doing.   I’m doing so in love; please let me explain.

Just a few days ago I was sitting in the sauna praying.   When I’m alone in the sauna at the gym I often pray. It’s a time of personal solitude, and I believe it cleanses both body and spirit.   Today, I was praying thanks for a bunch of random things.   My family, food, that gym, health, our home, a job, belongings, pets; you name it.   I prayed thanks to God for everything that came to mind, considering that every blessing, even small ones that I sometimes don’t consider, is a gift from God Himself.

Here’s a confession about it:   praying was tough.   It was tough for me to open up to God and really, truly give heartfelt thanks for all the ways He takes care of me.   Maybe it was because I was in a sauna.   Maybe it was because I was trying too hard. Maybe it’s because I was actually still guarding my heart from Him and didn’t fully open up.

Wanna know a secret?   I think that was what started Judas down his destructive path.   He didn’t fully give Himself over to Jesus’ message.   It was the genesis of selfishness, ambition and sin. Judas didn’t start out as Jesus’ betrayer:   he became Jesus’ betrayer because of the sins he embraced.   Pride, arrogance, selfishness, ambition:   they were some of Judas Iscariot’s sins.   They are exemplified in the verses quoted here today.   Those sins were Judas’ downfall.

They’re ours too.

You and I dip into the purse and sin against Jesus when we choose anything over Him.   No time to simply give thanks?   Take a coin.   Holding onto that grudge?   Grab a drachma. Still running around on your spouse?   You’re Judas.   You’re betraying God’s Son by choosing something that isn’t Him or of Him.   In that way, we’re no better than Judas Iscariot.   Indeed, we keep doing it over and over even as we know exactly who Jesus is.   Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends and even he didn’t fully realize exactly who Jesus was; he didn’t have the luxury of knowing about Easter.   We do.   If you think about it, doesn’t that make our betrayal even more acute?

It’s not about how much you give or even what.   It’s about the heart from which we give it.   Where is yours? Whether it’s praying alone, giving of your time, putting into the collection plate or anything else, where is your treasure focused?

Lord, thank You for Your generous heart.   Rebuke, teach and mentor mine to better follow Your lead and give selflessly.

Read Mark 14, verses 1-11.