Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 15 May 19

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  2 Timothy 3:1 (NIV).

This section of 2 Timothy talks about the end times.   It’s heavy stuff, not for the faint of faith.    And it’s heavy stuff that people have been hauling, dreading, and contemplating for two thousand years.

Wikipedia defines “Christian eschatology” as “a major branch of study within Christian theology dealing with the “last things.” Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning “last” (ἔσχατος) and “study” (-λογία), is the study of ‘end things’, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world or the nature of the Kingdom of God. Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order, based primarily upon biblical texts within the Old and New Testament.”

Yep.   What they said.

Even from the beginning of the Christian church, we’ve contemplated the end of it here.  Not long before His crucifixion, Jesus spoke of it extensively in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.   And He inspired John to write extensively about it in the Revelation.  If you haven’t done so, go read these accounts for yourself.   It isn’t for the faint of faith.   Yet read them again and again and you’ll find your faith strengthened.

That’s a good thing because we’re in the last days.   Face it, my friend:   this life is a one-way death trip.   Every day we celebrate life and live we are one day closer to death.   Whether these are the last days of terrestrial history or simply the last days of our lives, we are living through them now.   Do you think terrible things happen?

You know the answer.

Paul warned Timothy about it.   He warned Timothy to teach that people should love Jesus every day, should live as God’s chosen followers every minute of every day because any day may be the last.  Paul and Peter may have been talking about the end of time as the “last days” yet their advice pertains to both those last days of Earth as well as all of our days on Earth.

Scoffers gonna scoff; haters gonna hate.   Those who are determined to be unpersuaded of this man Jesus will remain so.   It’s their choice, their self-inflicted misery.  They aren’t happy with that knowledge and are determined that you be as unhappy as they are.   So they’ll insult you, ridicule your faith, persecute your actions, hate you for who you believe in.  It was this way in 1st Century Judea and Asia Minor; it is the same way now.  It’s heavy, not for the weak to bear even as they, too, must find a way to bear through it.   That way is found only in Jesus Christ.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Peter 3:3, 2 Timothy 3:1.

Lord Jesus, come quickly.   These times are as You predicted, full of evil scoffers.   Come and remake all things new.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 9 August 2018

He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ2 Thessalonians 2:14 (NIV).

My daughter got married over the weekend.  The dress, the cake, the dancing, the reception, the walk down the aisle:   it was time for the whole shootin match.   If I do say so, it was a great party where everyone (over 150 people) had a wonderful time.   Check out the Youtube of just before the bride walked:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LDOH8OB3hI

But big fancy weddings aren’t why we’re here.

And over the weekend, too, we also had a party for my wife, who has a milestone birthday this month.  At the VRBO we rented, a large group of family and friends gathered to celebrate her birthday, our fellowship, and just enjoying life (and Texas barbecue) together.   Again, if I do say so, it was another great time, a great birthday bash!

But that’s not why we are here.

Big parties, our jobs, our churches, shopping at the mall (or at the grocery store), working hard in school, the next big vacation:   none of those are why you and I are here.   We are called to enjoy life and to be good stewards of all the things that God gives us to do.   We are motivated, even inspired, to do our best in all things, and that is a good thing, even a Godly thing.

But NONE of those are what we are called to in this life.   In all of them, we can indeed give glory to God, and we can even share in His glory through doing them.   But make no mistake about it:   we aren’t called to DO things here just for the sake of doing them.   We aren’t called to simply live, even if living means a rich, full, eventful, or moral life.

We are called to serve in God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus.    We are called to believe in Jesus in everything we do.   We are called to share this belief, this faith in His saving death and resurrection, by living it out.   We are called through the gospel, given to men like Paul, Matthew, Peter, John and others, to share Jesus with what we say and do so that others who don’t know – or reject – Him might come to know Him too (and then repeat the cycle with even more others).  In doing these things, we share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ because that’s how we do the work of the God who sent Him.

I loved the wedding; I loved the party.   I love time with family, friends, and even strangers.   But without Jesus, they’re just meaningless events.   There’s no morality without Jesus, nothing good.  Involving Him transforms life into something more, something meaningful, something we are called to live.

For further reading:  Romans 8:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

Lord Jesus, thank You for faith, for letting me share You in all these ways.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 April 2017

When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Hebrews 9, verses 19-22.

Yesterday, I posed a question to you, asking “what will you say” to someone who doesn’t know about Jesus (or someone who has rejected Him or is hostile to Him)?   Today, let me take a burden off you by reminding you of something better than my question:

Don’t worry about it.

When you don’t know what to say about Jesus, or when you’re anxious, scared, embarrassed, hesitant, or apprehensive saying anything about Jesus, don’t worry about it.   Don’t worry about a thing. Be yourself.   Be real.   Give up trying to game the conversation and sound all holy and righteous and just be yourself.   Surrender your control over the conversation and let what you really believe come out.  When you do, you’ll find that it is Jesus speaking through you.   Indeed, Matthew 10:20 says that, when we don’t know what to say, we shouldn’t worry and speak confidently anyway “for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

People today still need to know that Jesus died for them to atone for their sins and know that they are forgiven of them forever.   People still need to know that Jesus fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy about the world’s Messiah.   People still need to know today about the Old Testament rituals and how they paint pictures of heaven, worship, and Jesus Christ Himself.  People who need to know these things are the same people we meet every day.

Yet most of us feel hesitant to talk about Jesus. It isn’t cool; it isn’t hip.   Someone might make fun of us.   People might be turned off, even repulsed, by hearing what we believe.   Where’s the fun in self-denying yourself the pleasures to be had while living?  Besides, Jesus Himself said that we would be persecuted, even killed, for professing our belief in Him:  who would want that?   Would you want to be part of some right wing, wacko cult following a two thousand year old guy who died who said something that completely defies logic and reason?

I have a hunch that the ancient Hebrews didn’t feel so different.   They had been God’s special people and they seemed to think He hated them.   Over and over again they received God’s mercy in how He delivered them from enemies, gave them victories, and blessed their lives.   Yet over and over again they turned away from Him, turning to idol worship and the pagan practices of their Canaanite neighbors.   Even when God instituted the practices described here in Hebrews, the Israelites must have felt the old self-loathing temptation of pressure.   It was a feeling as old as Adam and Eve, and they fell for it every time…even when the priest was sprinkling them with blood.   Is it any wonder that things haven’t changed?   We aren’t any different.

Here’s the point where it’s good to circle back to remembering that Jesus lived, died, and lived again to make the blood sacrifice to make things right between ourselves and our God.   Here’s a good time to remember that, even when we feel nervous in talking about Him, if we simply trust Him, He will do the talking.   That feeling of friendship, that bond with a stranger, that simple caring or love:   they’re ways Jesus’ Spirit communicates to us and through us.   If we simply give up worrying what we’ll say and let Him do the talking, then everything will turn out fine in the long run.  When you share Jesus simply and honestly, only good things can result from it and often in ways we can’t ever foresee.

What will you say? Don’t worry about it.   Just trust in Him and start talking.

For further reading: Hebrews 1:1, Exodus 24:6-8, Matthew 26:28, Exodus 29:21, Leviticus 8:15, Leviticus 17:11, Romans 12:9-21, 1 Corinthians 13, Matthew 10:20.

My Lord and Savior, I trust You.   Speak through my words and actions so that others may learn about You and You might have greater glory.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 September 2016

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Hebrews 1, verses 5-6

There is comfort in knowing some of the intricacies of faith that contribute to its rich history.

These first two verses do some heavy hitting in the early church.   The Gospels tie Jesus and His lineage to the Jewish Patriarchs (Luke takes it all the way back to God Himself through Adam), but these verses in Hebrews tie Jesus directly to God the Father through the Psalms.   That matters.

According to the NIV, Psalm 2 is heavily messianic; I encourage you to read it.   In it, the Lord speaks to His people in song saying both “you are my Son” and “you are my son in the line of King David.”   Remember that Jewish men were instructed in the synagogues on the Torah and the Psalms.   The Psalms were hymns they sung, poetic verses they memorized and carried all their lives. Psalm 2 is traditionally credited to King David as the writer.   Thus, a tie to Psalm 2 is one that early churchgoers would have easily understood and absorbed, especially since the author then ties it to (what were at the time) contemporary eyewitness accounts from Matthew and John, as well as the (then) contemporary writings of Paul to the church in Colosse.

As if that wasn’t enough, the reference from 2 Samuel (which is the story of King David), then also ties Jesus directly to King David.   Of David, the book said “you will be my son” who would be punished on behalf of the people for wrongdoings.   As Jesus was a direct descendant from David – something that may not have been fully understood at the time Hebrews was written – the author is, thus, tying the Son of God to the revered royal lineage of Israel’s most famous warrior king.

Pretty heavy indeed.   Here’s a bit more heaviness for you:   so what?

I mean, so what?   What does this matter to us today?   Jesus and David have been dead for thousands of years, many centuries.   Why does that matter?

Really.

It’s been over 200 years yet people are still quoting Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.   It has been decades and we’re still quoting John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.   If for only historic reasons, it matters that, centuries ago, ancient writers used (already) ancient texts to tie Jesus of Nazareth – someone of their own time and day – to Jewish tradition and royal lineage.   Doing so helps us today understand the religious, social and even political impacts that the new Christian faith was having on the world at the time.   That helps us to better understand how things came to be.

Yet move beyond that to matters of your own heart in the here and now.   Your faith is a supernatural thing.   Having faith in this Jesus is highly illogical, something that the world dismisses because it requires putting trust in something you can neither see nor feel.   Yet you can sense it.   You can sense the very real peace and clarity that come from expressing faith in Jesus Christ.   You can’t touch it, but you can know it’s real.

Even though this is so, you and I still experience moments of questioning.   It’s natural; it isn’t abnormal; it isn’t even condemned by Jesus, who restored Thomas’ faith after logical doubts threatened to cloud his continued belief.  Having occasional questions or doubt doesn’t make you un-Christian:   it makes you a normal person. It is growing that doubt into dereliction of faith, rejecting God, that is a sin, not occasionally questioning or doubting His purpose or movement in our lives.   Even Jesus doubted, screaming “My God why have You forsaken me” as He was dying on the cross. In moments of question and doubt, it helps to know there are corroborating proofs, independent evidence, supporting what you believe.   It helps to know there were other people who did the same, men like King David and the author of Hebrews, who sang both praises and mourning through the Psalms, as expressions of the faith they had in God.

For more reading:   Psalm 2:7, Matthew 3:17, 2 Samuel 7:14, John 3:16, Colossians 1:18, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 97:7.

My God, thank You for weaving these intricate histories into my faith in You.   Thank You for the deep proofs, then subtle meanings, that come with believing in You as my only Savior.

Practical Proverbial, 29 July 2016. This week’s topic: forgiving grudges

Conflict Management.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.   I am the LORD.   Leviticus 19:18.

My second job was working as a desk clerk at a small Indiana State Park hotel near Mitchell.   That was where I met Dan (name changed). Dan was a bright, talented guy a few years older than myself.   He knew everything there was to know about the hotel, had taught himself how to do the night auditing tasks, and was kind and helpful to customers.   Dan also knew how to hold a grudge better than anyone I had met up to that point.

The world was set against Dan; you could ask him and he’d tell you. He remembered everything anyone else on staff had said to him, especially any comments that were critical or confrontational.   During off hours, Dan worked at a local thrift shop for reasons only he knew.   Then he would come to work at the Inn and talk smack behind the desk.

It always baffled me why Dan wanted to even work at the Inn.   If things were so bad, if people hated him so much, why put up with it?   There were other jobs to be had; why not leave with your dignity intact and go get one? Yet Dan stayed long past the time I left.   I don’t know where he is now.

Or there is Rudie (name also changed). A few years ago, my customer, Rudie, was a woman in southern Minnesota who was, in my opinion, the most experienced and talented person in her division yet she wasn’t in management, wasn’t placed in charge of anything, and didn’t lead anything (though she obviously wanted to).   Her attitude was terrible, and she spent part of each day regaling my team and I with stories of how so & so had passed her over, or this person or that person had made a bad decision that caused havoc for the company. Did Rudie ever consider that she had been passed over because it was easier to get along with a honey badger than it was to get along with her? I was thankful when I moved to a new position.

Have you ever worked with someone like Dan or Rudie?   Yesterday, my daily Bible devotion quoted Matthew 18:21, where Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him.   “Up to seven times,” asks Peter. “No,” replies Jesus, “over seventy times seven times.”   It’s a rhetorical way of saying “forgive unconditionally and unendingly.” Jesus said that because He knew Leviticus 19:18, where He directed God’s people to not hold grudges.

Grudges create division and conflict.   In your workplace, grudges are usually the elephant in the room.   They create attitudes like Dan’s and Rudie’s, cementing obstacles which prevent people from fulfilling their potential and rising above.   Grudges lead to revenge, and revenge never ends well for anyone involved.   True, it feels deceptively sweet there in the moment, yet invariably revenge feels empty and hollow to the person on Godly conscience.   After we’ve sought it, we’re smaller, lesser than we were before even if appearances transmit otherwise.

The better path is to walk the path of forgiveness, loving other people – even those who hold grudges, even grudges against us – as we would love ourselves.   When the hard-to-engage person brings up the past, listen, and forgive, and seek points in the conversation to help them move forward.   Sometimes the person may not see the effects of their resentment; yes, sometimes they require rebuke (but be careful and loving with that; how would you react if someone rebuked you about your sore spot?). Other times, the best path may be to encourage them in other ways. In whatever we do, the goal is to bring that person back into the fold, to remind them that we love and forgive because Christ loves and forgive us.   That goes for the workplace as much as it does at home.

This is how we manage God’s way.

For more reading:   James 1:19, Colossians 3:13, Hebrews 12: 14-15, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 16:7, Luke 17:4.

Lord Jesus, help me to help others let go of grudges.   Teach me to not hold them myself, to trust You to help me let go.   Then help me to model that for those around me.   Thank You for Your forgiveness.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 January 2016

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. Mark 13, verses 21-23.

Just a little over a month ago, we talked about the concept in these verses, about false Christs.   See verses 5 and 6 as well as Luke 9, Matthew 24, Acts 1, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, Titus 2 and all over Revelation. Let’s not tread on covered ground.

Instead, consider these words:   “I have told you everything ahead of time.”

Jesus has informed us. In saying “I have told you everything ahead of time,” Jesus has been the news anchor.   He has been imparting to us information that we need to know in order to make informed decisions.   What an amazing concept that is!   Two thousand years ago, God personally came here to tell us, His creation, things that He knew we needed to know.   “Everything” means just that:   ‘I have told you all there is.’   It’s not just “you have sufficient information,” though that’s part of it.   It’s more.   It’s everything.   It’s everything that is needed, everything that’s important, all of Him. That’s some newscast.

Jesus has prepared us. Because Jesus wants all people to live with Him in eternity, He gave us the information and the tools to do our part.   He gave us all that we needed – back to that ‘everything’ thing, you know – to prepare us for both the tough end times to come as well as living past them into eternity.   The end goal isn’t something as small as surviving tough times or even death.   No, the end goal is eternity.   Jesus is a Hall of Fame batter, always keeping His eye on the ball.   To that end, He gave us all that we need to know to prepare us to assume our place on His team for eternity, forever.

Jesus has forewarned us. Yes, these are verses that warn us of how Satan will try to deceive us into believing that he is the Messiah.   Jesus told us here in Mark and in those other books all we need to know to be forewarned against false messiahs and all the trouble they’ll wreak. He gave us all we need to stand fast.   Face it: we’re gullible.   Let’s not kid ourselves:   iPhones, the internet, robotics, and all this sexy technology can sometimes be lipstick on a pig.   We aren’t any wiser or smarter than our ancestors in most matters of the heart.   And the heart is where Jesus deals.   The heart is the battleground for which Satan contends. Accordingly, Jesus warned us to be on our guard.

Most of all, consider that Jesus has confided in us.   Really, truly noodle that thought, that the Son of God, that God Immanuel, that the great I AM Himself talked with us personally, as a friend, as a brother as well as a Savior.   He trusts us. He told us things dear to His heart that He wanted us to know because He loves us.   Satan doesn’t do that; there is no love in him.   But there is only pure love in Jesus, and He wanted us to know that.   Instead of commanding us, Jesus confided in us.

That’s a lot to consider. But doing so will change everything.

Lord Jesus, I praise You!   Thank You for confiding in me and loving us!

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 19 January 2015

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” Mark 3, verses 28-29.

This is going to be tough to wrestle with, especially if we use only these verses to interpret their meaning.   Verse 28 says all sins can be forgiven, but then verse 29 effectively negates the word “all” and replaces it with “everything except one,” right? Is Jesus contradicting Himself?

Let’s remember first principles.   Our sins are forgiven.   Verse 28 says that, and it’s a concept that goes back to the beginning of time.   In Eden, God prophesied that Jesus would crush Satan, vanquishing sin.   That required forgiveness, yet mankind kept sinning.   Despite our sins, centuries later the prophet Jeremiah said, “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me ” (Jeremiah 33:8). God loved His people and willingly forgave them.   Don’t believe me?   Think about Israel finally entering the promised land. Or how God restored King David. Or how Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.   God loved His people and forgave them, time and again, when they truly repented and returned to Him.

And still we kept sinning.

Later, Jesus modeled the very essence of forgiveness. John 21 tells of how Jesus restored Peter after Peter personally, publicly disowned Jesus.   He restored Peter’s faith and confidence, and then sent him off to live boldly for the Gospel.   Peter’s friend, John, also reminds us (in 1 John 1:9), “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”   Confession is the key.   Owning up to our wrongs, then taking them to Jesus.  After all, with every sin we commit, isn’t Jesus the first who is hurt?   We are simply grasping what Jesus has already done.

But there’s more.  We are to freely forgive each other.   Later in the book (in 11:25), Mark says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  And, in chapter 26, verse 28, Matthew speaks of Holy Communion, quoting Jesus:  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”   Jesus forgives ALL of our sins, so we are to do the same.

So what about that contradiction? Don’t forget a few key things.   In Matthew 10:33, Jesus says “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” He’s talking about people who deny His existence.

Do you or I deny who Jesus is?   Do we turn away from Him, denying Him to other people?   Do we deny that He is who He said He is?   Do we do it in words or our hypocrisy?  Is it any wonder, then, that God would deny us His eternal reward, that such denial would be a curse against God?   Remember:   all that is not of God is sin, yet is freely willing to forgive any wrong we commit against Him.   Taking that to a logical end, denial of God is blasphemy.  Where blasphemy is cursing God, this makes sense. If we mean it in our hearts when we say “I don’t believe in Jesus,” then we are blaspheming God.   When you think of it in that light, there really is no contradiction.

Lord, forgive me yet again.

Read Mark 3, verses 23-30.