Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 22 January 2020

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18. (EHV).

Building on yesterday’s thoughts, we should be glad when one of us is poured out, spent, sacrificed for God’s greater kingdom.   Yes, you read that right.   You and me:   we should celebrate when a fellow believer is poured out, spent, persecuted, tortured, even murdered (and martyred) for faith in God.   Again, yes, you read that right.  Read it again because, as things go in our world, some day soon it might be you or me being martyred.  And if you think about it, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.   Yes, I’m being serious.

Years ago, I read one of the Left Behind books, which aren’t my usual taste.   It was the one in which non-believers accepted the mark of the devil, and those who didn’t have the mark (believers) were rounded up and marched to the guillotine.   One of the main characters was awaiting her own beheading when she saw a group of other believers marching toward their execution, and they were joyful.   They were singing, joyful to be going to die.   By the end of the book, the main character joined them.   She, too, went joyfully.

I think about the people who are sentenced to die in Iran and Saudi Arabia and China and Cuba for being followers of Jesus.   Do they know they are heroes of the faith?   Are they happy to be dying?  Surely their families aren’t happy about it…are they?  Do the families or the persecuted realize that there are people all over the world who are both praying for their release while celebrating their defiant courage?   I love reading stories of their quiet dignity, their iron resolve to not renounce Jesus.   Those people – women and men both – are being poured out like Paul was.   They’re doing a courageous thing; something we, ourselves, may one day be called to do.   When they die, we can celebrate that their mission is complete, that they accomplished what God sent them here to do.   They’re enjoying eternity with Christ, enjoying their reward.   That’s something to celebrate.

When Peter and John were flogged and imprisoned, they sang.  Paul encouraged his friends to celebrate as approached death.  But should we be happy about it when our turn comes against the wall?   Yes:  yes, we should.   We’re each going to die; unless Jesus returns first; that’s a certainty.   When it happens to us, we can either face it with courage and be an example for others to celebrate or we can choose differently.   And when it happens to someone else, we have those same choices.   How we die matters.   Let’s make ours count.

For further reading:   Acts 5, Philippians 2:19

Lord Jesus, encourage me to celebrate the heroic faith of others and to demonstrate it myself today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 10 July 2018

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (NIV).

Sad verse; this is a very sad verse.

I read all the “Left Behind” books.  They’re fiction, yet in the scene where Jesus delivers His divine judgment against those who rejected Him, He is described as looking sad.   For those who choose to not believe in Him, it will be a moment of supreme terror and it will show; for believers, it will be shock, and that’ll show as well.  Yet for Jesus, I’m betting the book will have called it right.   I’m betting Jesus will be sad in that moment, maybe even weeping.

Jesus didn’t come to destroy us.   He won’t return with the sole purpose of doing that either.  Even though He will return in mighty justice, heavenly fire, and more power than the world has ever known, that’s not why He’s coming back.   He’s coming back to restore creation to the way He created it.  He’s coming back to permanently restore true love, real harmony, and peace forever.   Jesus is coming back in power and glory to claim His followers to bring them into eternity with Him and it will be the greatest day in history, especially since it will be the last one.

Yet involved in that will be expunging those who chose no part of it.  Those who insisted they know better, those who spurned Him, those who embraced hypocrisy, those who live in hate and worldly pleasure, those who simply don’t care:  they will be punished.   He will unleash His angels to bind and eternally sentence them to be apart from Him.   Oh, they’ll live forever; we are eternal beings whether eternally in heaven or hell.   Yet their forever will be one of eternal punishment, apart from all love, hope, and peace in whatever hell has in store for them.   Whether hell is literal fire or emotional torment (or both) we don’t know.   Whatever is in it, it will be terrible.

I feel sorry for these unbelievers, especially since the Gospel isn’t a game of “I’ve got a secret.”   It’s sad, and I’m thinking that’s how Jesus will feel.   It’s not what He wants; it isn’t what He intended for His children.   He wants brothers and sisters, friends, followers, lovers of His real love.  He wants all of us to be saved, including scoffers.   He wants saints and sinners side by side with Him forever.  But He’s holy and the new Earth refined out of His fire will be holy like Him.  For that holiness to exist, it must be free from all that reject Him.   That means God will punish those who reject Him and who choose to reject the Gospel of Jesus.   And that’s the saddest news ever even as it’s necessary.

For further reading: Philippians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Kings 17:18, Isaiah 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Lord Jesus, come quickly and have mercy.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 22 November 2017

 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  Hebrews 13, verse 13.

Jesus earned “street cred” by dying outside the city walls.   That wasn’t the intention of the Jews who murdered Him.   They wanted to discredit Him, to consign Him to a place with the worst of society.   The Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death wanted to erase the memory of Him so that He would soon be forgotten.  To do that, they reasoned that having Him executed as a common criminal would cause people to abandon following Him.   By branding Jesus as a criminal worthy of death, they would so disgrace His name that people would be repelled by even the mention of it.  Within a few years nobody would remember this evangelist from Nazareth.

With anyone else, it might have worked.   After all, there is only a small handful of names we actually know out of the billions of people who lived before, say, one thousand years ago (maybe even one hundred years ago).    The people we know of (like Jesus) earned fame or honor.   Who even knows the names of condemned prisoners from Phoenicia, Babylon, Athens or Rome?   Do we know the names of the men crucified with Spartacus?  Without using Google, who are the people on death row now in Idaho?   Can you name anyone shot for cowardice during the Mexican War?   We don’t know the names of these men because they’re lost to history.

We don’t know their names because we don’t want to.   They died in disgrace.   They died in ignominy and dishonor.   You, me, and our friends don’t want to be associated with their dishonor and disgrace.  It’s like adulterers in church:  nobody wants to be associated with them because we feel like, if we are, we’ll be tainted by their sins.   It’s a stupid, highly irrational feeling even if it is a constructive psychological defense mechanism.

It’s also ungodly.   What would Jesus do?  Not that.  Jesus ran to the cross.   He wrapped Himself in the dishonor and ignominy.  Jesus knew that His sacrifice would bring glory, honor, and love to the Father.  THAT is our better example.

Luke quoted Christ in saying that each of us who wants to really follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross daily.  We must willingly, even gleefully, run outside the camp and pick up the weapon of our own death.  We must embrace the disgrace.  And the writer of Hebrews reminds us that human disgrace for faith in Jesus is worth more than all the treasures in the world.  Joy in being persecuted for believing in Jesus is the street cred of faith.

A few years ago I read the Left Behind books.   I’m not a millenialist, so I didn’t accept the rapture/7 years tribulation idea; to me, getting mixed up in the how & when details of the end of time misses the miracle of being called home to heaven.  But one scene from one of the books (I don’t remember which one) stuck with me.  In it, one of the main characters is talking with a condemned man who is on his way to the guillotine.  The man is about to die for not taking the mark of the Antichrist and instead of being hesitant about it, he is joyful.   Imagine that:   the man is about to be murdered for what he believed and he is enthusiastic about it.   He’s ebullient, joyously embracing the disgrace of dying for the one you love.   And I don’t even remember the character’s name.

But that’s just a book.   The truth of it is that that this happens here and now.   It’s been happening for real to Coptic Christians for years.   It happens wherever ISIS rules.   It still happens in Communist China, and Cuba, and Islamonazi Iran.  A watered-down version of the persecution even happens in American universities and American corporations.  I am challenged regularly online for words like these, and I have lost friends over my faith.   The best response when that happens?   Joyfully thank God and press forward.  The world thinks it’s a disgrace to believe like this.  Embrace the disgrace and advance against an enemy that has already lost even when it costs you everything.

For further reading:  Luke 9:23, Hebrews 11:26.

Lord, let me embrace the ‘disgrace’ of serving You, of loving You, of faith in You.   Teach me and uphold me to better serve you in the world.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 8 January 2016

But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. Mark 13, verses 24-27.

“This is the end, my only friend, the end.”   Jim Morrison sang that in one of his darker moods.   That’s understandable, don’t you think?   The end could be tough to contemplate, especially since Jesus’ words about it seem mysterious. It’s hard to write about these verses because it could be easy to misconstrue them.   Does “gather his elect from the four winds” mean a rapture?   Or does it simply mean ‘from all over the world?’

I’ll take door #2, Monty. The context of the verses around it (as well as similar verses in other Gospels) point to Jesus saying that He would take all believers with Him to eternity at the end of the world.   It doesn’t seem to point to a mass Left Behind-style rapture that is popular with many Christians.    It could also very well point to preaching the Gospel all over the world instead of how believers will be removed from the world. There is much to understand from the entire concept.

Still, you could have endless arguments over all the verses and when you boil them down, they all reduce to “get ready now.”   Just like the other verses we’ve talked about in this section, the gist of the message is “be ready now.”   Be ready now because only God the Father knows that time of Jesus’ return.   It could happen at any moment.

Yet we’re not without clues to remind us to be ready.   The distress; the dark sun; the dark moon; the falling stars; the disorder in the heavens:   all of these things will happen as signs.   They aren’t the actual coming of Jesus:   they’re heralds, reminders that His return is promised, maybe even imminent. To be honest, signs like them have happened hundreds of times in the past and people must have thought it was the end of the world, yet it wasn’t.   I hope they were clued into the idea of being ready.

And when Jesus returns it won’t be in secret, or in mystery, or only to a few people.   As the Revelator said, EVERYONE will see Him in the sky, in the clouds, just as He Himself promises here.   How do I know this?   Because He said so in those exact words and I believe Him. “So if Jesus is explicit about coming in the clouds but figurative in the other words, how do you know the difference?”   Again, context; look for the context.   Get yourself a study bible that cross-references such verses.   Look it up on line.   Most of all, don’t stay hung up on it.   The mechanics or semantics of the message aren’t the message itself.   It is the message – I am Lord and I am coming back – that matters, not the way it plays out.

That way, when Jim Morrisson’s words play out and it really is the end (my friend), you’ll be ready.

Lord, prepare me daily for the end, for Your return, to be with You now and forever.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.