Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2016

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2, verse 4.

Segueing off an earlier post, Jesus doesn’t need the signs, wonders, and various miracles…but we do.  John 4:48 records Jesus saying, “unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.”   Indeed, while wandering in the desert before Sinai, the Israelites repeatedly asked for reassuring miracles.   It seems they, like we, too easily forgot the wonder of how God delivered them out of slavery while ignoring the daily miracles that accompany just living.   Wonders with the staff, ten plagues, the Red Sea, water from the rock, manna and quail:   what miracles?   Never mind the birth of a new baby, the miracle of healing from sickness, and so many other things that happened so often they simply didn’t notice them.  Yet that didn’t make them any less miraculous.

Those things weren’t enough for the Israelites to remember that God was always with them and always all-powerful.   No, they always wanted more.   So do we.   We’re always looking for proof, more razzle dazzle.   We say it’s because we’re skeptical but maybe it’s just old fashioned idolatry.   “I know better than you, Lord.   You’ll have to prove it to me again.”   What does God do?   “Ok, Mr. Texas Hold ‘Em.   Call.”  God brings it, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ones.   You can explain it away to nature or chance how just the right amount of money sometimes shows up right when you need it.   Or a storm de-intensifies when it wasn’t supposed to.   Or how your friend seemed to get better and the doctors can’t explain it.  Maybe nature, or maybe it’s God testifying by signs, wonders, and various miracles.

The Apostle Paul reminds us, too, that we all have different gifts (1 Cor 12).   Some people actually can use the power of God to work what we could consider to be miracles.  According to this verse in Hebrews (and referencing the one in Ephesians 1), this is according to God’s Spirit.   It is God who gives us the power (talent, inspiration, ability) to perform such miracles as microsurgery, a green thumb, empathy for strangers, mathematical brilliance, or even multi-tasking.   Some folks may think that these are just the results of preparation or blind luck.   We know differently.

We know that God works through us in ways we don’t always see.  I’ve come to disagree with those who say God is disinterested in our lives, that He simply created the world then walked away to watch it spin on its axis.   That doesn’t account for the miracle of life, or the changes in nature every season, or a thousand other ways we could list if we only stopped to notice.  Indeed, a look out of my office door at the woods where my house lies shows an intricate, vastly complex and beautiful nature unfolding in infinite ways every single morning.   And that’s just on a few acres here in North Texas.   It’s a miracle to behold nature; it’s a miracle to contemplate life.

And it’s all a gift from God, a gift that testifies to His nature and His goodness.   He shares with us the talents best suited to us.   Perhaps these are abilities that He has that He knows we would enjoy and be able to use to help others.  I can’t perform neurosurgery but I do know how to bake sugar cookies.   I can’t explain how a tree grows but I do know how to plant and nurture one.   I don’t understand why catfish and codfish taste different (and great) but I do know how to catch and fry them.   God didn’t give to me the talents He gave to you, but I do believe He gave each of us some way we can use to live in better service to His Kingdom.   Everyone has something valuable to contribute, some more than others and some less.   All of them are valuable.

And, again, it’s all a gift from Him.   He doesn’t need us to do anything to make Him more God.   But He does continually want to share with us and give to us because that’s a part of His loving nature.   Think about it long enough and I bet you’ll see how that’s the greatest miracle of all.

For more reading:   Mark 16:20, John 4:48, 1 Corinthians 12:4, Ephesians 1:5.

Lord I praise You for the miracles You share, the ways in which You give to us to build us up and enrich our lives.   Help me to use the talents You give me in service to You and others.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 20 July 2015

“‘If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9, verse 23.

But what if what I want to do doesn’t happen?   Before moving on to one of the most profound statements in Scripture, we need to tackle this really tough question.

What if I’m praying earnestly, believing honestly, submitting reverently to Jesus and I still can’t move the mountain?   What if I’ve prayed for healing and healing hasn’t occurred?   What if I’ve tried and failed, repeatedly?   Is it my fault?   Is my faith inadequate?   Has Jesus given up on me?

What easy questions for a Monday…

Before giving an answer, may I refer you back to the verse.   Don’t go down the rabbit hole of doubt without firmly realizing that nothing you do, and nothing you don’t do, could shake Jesus off you.   Everything that we are, everything we think or say or do is under Jesus’ dominion, and nothing in all creation happens without His knowing of it.   When Jesus says everything is possible for one who believes, He means it.   He means it in ALL circumstances, at all times, even when we feel lost.

What if you pray earnestly and the mountain (either physical or rhetorical) doesn’t move?   Is it all about you, my friend?   It’s not about you or me, you know, and just because I may pray for something to happen doesn’t mean that God, who is omniscient and omnipresent, will allow it.   You and I simply have to trust that God has a purpose, that things are arranged as they are for His higher purposes.   So rather than getting wrapped around “why not” (or even “why”), perhaps the better approach is to simply say “thank you, Lord” for whatever is and adjust our prayers accordingly.

What if my prayers aren’t answered and healing doesn’t occur?   I’ve thought a lot about that recently.   Two friends of mine have died in the last year.   My aunt died a few months ago.  My own mom died just last October, and though I prayed earnestly for healing, that physical healing didn’t happen.   Does that mean my prayers weren’t answered?   Not at all.   Indeed, I know in my heart that Tom, Mark, June and Mom are in heaven, with Jesus, living out eternity as a reward for their faith.  Indeed, again, my prayers WERE answered in that I know this simple truth to be simply truth.  What’s more, some of my other friends and family who are dealing with dread conditions are still very much alive and kicking here, teaching lessons with their very presence.   Those are bountifully answered prayers.

Finally, is it my fault, and is my faith inadequate?   And Has Jesus given up on me?   Not in any way, my friend, and you know this in your heart to be true, even when your heart is clouded in our human doubt. Put your hand on your artery and feel your pulse.   Blink your eyes a few times.   Breathe in and breathe out.   The thing you feel is life, and that life is a gift from Jesus Himself.   If you can feel, you’re alive.   That means Jesus hasn’t abandoned you because, as long as you live, He will always be with us.   No amount of faith or fault can shake that:   He promised it when He left, saying He would be with us always.   That includes now, in our doubt, when our faith is shaken, even when we do all we can and what we desire doesn’t come to pass.

Lord, I need to say it again: I believe that, through You, everything is possible.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 July 2015

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. Mark 9, verses 14-15.

The crowd in these verses could be a crowd in America today.   Media fireflies swarm around Candidate A because they’ve anointed Candidate A as the Next Big Thing…until something bigger comes along.   In high school, the in-crowd picks on the new kid until a newer kid comes along…and then he isn’t what they expect.   At work, you’re swarmed by people who just want someone to help them get their work don, someone with a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of leadership initiative.   Crowds are crowds no matter where you find them in time.

To me, the reaction of the law-teachers is natural.   The teachers of the law were the Judean power structure (and they knew it).   If anyone came along, they were a potential threat to that structure.   Of course the teachers of the law would question, pivot on, and marginalize anyone whose words or actions could cause ripples in the carefully constructed pond. You can almost picture how the news traveled. “Have you heard?   Some of those Galileans who follow that Jesus are here in town.”   “Really?   Go find out what they want.   Take X and Y with you.”   And then it would start.

But that crowd?   They’re like any crowd.   They want to be fed, want to be led, want someone, something who is truly genuine.   When they saw Jesus’ followers, they swarmed them because they saw that ‘genuiness.’ When they saw the teachers of the law cornering Jesus’ disciples, they got even more interested.   And when they saw Jesus Himself, they dropped everything they were doing and ran.

Don’t gloss over that phrase “they were overwhelmed with wonder.” Politicians, former senators, and political straphangers don’t impress me.   Ditto the beautiful people from the red carpet.   I’ve met enough famous people to discover they use the bathroom the same as the rest of us; the same as Jesus did, in fact.   Yet this crowd in Judea saw something unusual in Jesus.   They had heard the rumors about Him; they had seen the miracles He performed.   Many of them had likely heard His teaching, which was spoken in kindly authority, words of love with a velvety steel core.   Forgive, love, be patient, be ready, be strong, love your enemy, love your neighbor, love God:   these weren’t the rote-lessons that the law-teachers taught.   No, the people were overwhelmed with wonder because Jesus was wonderful.

So, I say it again:   this could be a crowd in America today.   This could be us at the State Fair, or at your local mall. Despite how things are tough all over, despite how the mores of society seem to be devolving quickly, despite the worry, the unemployment, the endless cycle of crises both real and manufactured, we still long for something real, something genuine, something kind but with loving authority. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we still very much long for Jesus.

Lord Jesus, I long for You. I want to be where You are, like You are, live my life like You ask me to.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 17 June 2015

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Mark 9, verses 2-4.

Jesus gives us just the right amount of time.   Or, as the Doobie Brothers (or the Byrds) might have said it, “Jesus is just alright with me.”   He’s alright because He made it alright at just the right time with just the right amount of time.

Riddle me this, Batman reader: was six days enough time for Jesus to prepare His close friends for what they would see?   Truth be told, we don’t know if He prepared them in any way.   We don’t know if He said or did anything that said to them “get ready for something you’ve never seen before that will challenge everything you believe about Me.” In fact, other than as a frame of reference, we don’t know why verse 2 even says “after six days.”   Perhaps it’s a moot point.

Or perhaps not.

You see, it’s just the right amount of time for them to begin to reset their minds from the verbal bombs Jesus had dropped on them about taking up their crosses and losing their lives for Him.   We’re human; we need to unpack and process.   What had happened before was an emotional, physical stress, so Jesus gave His friends enough time to process it, and then (like Emeril Lagasse), He kicked it up a notch.

So Jesus takes them up on this mountain and rocks their world; the Doobie Brothers would have played along in good rock and roll harmony; David Crosby would have just smoked pot. Jesus did it for them (and us), you know.   The whole transfiguration wasn’t for Himself, and it wasn’t for Moses or Elijah.   They had already seen Jesus in His heavenly splendor.   No, it was for the disciples to see and draw faith…then for each of us to do so as well.

And that continues to happen at just the right time. Every now and then I need a little gift of encouragement; every now and then I would love to see a little hint of Jesus’ splendor. But you know my feelings about miracles:   they happen every day.   Yes, I really would love to see Jesus face to face and just fall to my knees in reverence, but I honestly believe Jesus also shows us sides of His personality every single day through everything around us.   Rainbows in the sky (themselves reminders of God’s covenant), newborn babies, the smile on the face of a friend, a few minutes of quiet solace in a hectic day, blades of grass and the beauty of mountains:   the list could go on and on of all the ways Jesus pulls back the curtain right in front of us to give us a glimpse at just the right time of who and what He really is.   More and more, I’ve come to believe that appreciating beauty is the lens through which we view the personality and splendor of God.   That happens at just the right time and usually just when we need to see it the most.

Amazing.   Just alright with me, in fact, no matter who sings the song.

Jesus, thank You for encouraging me with Your beauty at just the right time every day.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 June 2015

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Mark 9, verse 1.

You and me:   we should be dead by now.   You know it as well as I do that, to paraphrase the apostle, we face death all day long.   Every day that we make it to work safely is a miracle.   Ditto waking up, digesting food, staying healthy from disease, nurturing a beating heart, and sleeping through the night.   Some might say those are simply the outcomes of impossible to predict random acts of chance and interaction.   I say they’re mini miracles that testify to the existence of God in the very details of our lives.

So how astounding is it that God Himself would say that some of those to whom He was speaking would soon see an astounding miracle promised for centuries.   That isn’t some miniature detail anyone would overlook.   It was a big deal, yet Jesus threw it down and, in context of what came next, it was prophetic.

Here’s another throw-down:   it’ll happen to you today as well.

Huh?   First some of that context. Keep in mind where Jesus was. He has just fed four thousand men, healed a blind man, (yet again) confronted the Pharisees, upbraided His friends, predicted His own death, and told people to get on His level regarding what they should expect from their faith in Him. Now He’s saying that not only will people who believe in Him die but that, before they do, they will see God coming in power. As we will see, shortly after this comes the Transfiguration and that display of power Jesus promised.

In my opinion, He also promised a different kind of power to us every day.

Are you thinking about Thor and his hammer?   Or Zeus smiting puny men with thunderbolts from Olympus?   Sauron marching to crush Middle Earth with a million ugly orcs?   Or perhaps a vengeful Allah vanquishing all enemies of Islam with his priestly army of fanatics?   These are the images of god-like beings wielding power that come to mind when we humans are left to our own devices. We think of power as the omnipotent use of force, of the physical being overtaken by the meta-physical, of forces beyond our control or understanding manipulating our lives from a position of strength.

Except that’s not how Jesus worked.   Or works now.   See, He promised the Disciples that He would display His power, and a few days hence He did.   Yet He also promises us the same thing every day.   I believe He delivers on that promise, and I see it in the majesty of sunsets, in the feel of my grandson hugging me around my neck.   I feel it in my beating heart, in the love of my family as we sit at the kitchen table, as I work in my garden where God gives me vocation and food. I see it at work in how He comforts distraught friends, how He turns around destruction to expand His kingdom of goodness, and how He works quietly through we sinful humans by our spreading word about Him.   Do you know Jesus?   Then you know Him in power and miracles.

I think it’s a miracle that we’re still alive to talk about this, given all the ways the world could kill us every day. Turn to Jesus and you see it really is.

Lord, thank You for Your miracles and power in my life.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 September 2014

Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1, verses 10-11

That’s something you don’t see every day.   Let’s say 100 people were standing at the Jordan River when this man walks down to the water and is baptized by John the Baptist just like everyone else waiting there.   It’s what happened next that was unusual. Heaven opened up. A dove descends and comes to rest on Jesus.   A voice speaks from the sky and everyone looks at Jesus in amazement.   Then He leaves. Matthew corroborates Mark’s version.   While Luke doesn’t mention it, John’s version adds a bit more about how John the Baptist knew Jesus was indeed the Son of God.

A miracle, not something you see every day.

Note something about this unusual episode.   God the Father speaks in an understandable voice. This is, perhaps, the first time He has spoken like this since the time of Moses, nearly a thousand years before.   He speaks directly to Jesus and the people around Jesus hear the voice.   It isn’t a thunderclap, or babbling, or something only for the chief priests to hear (though perhaps they would have preferred it be so).   It was God’s own voice telling Jesus that He had pleased Him.   It was God Himself affirming His Son, letting the world know that someone special was in their midst, and that they should listen to Him.

Do you believe that?   It’s a real miracle.   This Sunday, our minister preached an excellent sermon on miracles. These past weeks he has preached on mission, message and method, and to close out the series he talked about miracles.   Do you believe miracles happen today?   There are hundreds of them mentioned in the Bible, but that was then and this is now, right?   I mean, really?   Miracles? Here in the post-modern twenty-first century?

You bet they happen.

I’ve never heard God speak out of a cloud, but that’s not to say others haven’t, or that He wouldn’t, or couldn’t. Yet I believe miracles happen all around us every single day, perhaps hundreds of them in each of our lives.   Maybe even more. Sure, a skeptic could chalk them up to systems, chance, or human interaction but, sometimes, that seems so hopelessly insufficient.

At six in the morning, my wife and I drive to the gym when, perhaps, there are five hundred cars on the road in our town.   A thousand tired, pre-caffeinated drivers fumbling in the dark with their dashboards, coffee cups, and cell phones.   Do you think it’s simply wide roads and street signs that keep us all from smashing into each other?   Maybe there’s more.

Your baby sleeping.   Trees that lose their leaves in the fall only to grow new ones next spring.   A heart that beats millions of times in the life of a centenarian. Gravity.   That ethereal quality worth living and dying for that we call “love.”   Do you simply explain them away, or have you considered that maybe they are God touching you with His power in a thousand ways every day even when we don’t notice it?   Friend, that’s a miracle.

It may not be Jesus-by-the-Jordan level, but it’s real all the same and happening to you here and now.

Lord, thank You for Your miracles in my life.

Read the descriptions again of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1 and Matthew 3

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 14 February 2014

When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.  Ruth 1, verse 18.

I don’t know about you, but it’s tough for me to let someone help me.   At home, I plan my days so full that there is no room to breathe and I want help, but I’m too proud (and dumb) to ask.   Then I get exasperated if nobody offers.   When I am carrying too many boxes, people ask “can I help” and I reply, “I’ve got it.”   In reality, I could use a hand.  If I’m having a rough time, I usually answer “I’m ok” when people ask how I’m doing because I’m too vain to give them the answer that maybe I need a shoulder to lean on.

Dave, face the music.

Naomi might have found it hard as well.   Whether it was love, obligation, grief, independence, or pride that drove her to do it, she urged her daughters-in-law to leave her be (basically to die).   Ruth had other thoughts, though:   thoughts motivated by love.   Ruth convinced Naomi that she was in earnest and that she would accompany her.   Then Naomi consented.

Did Naomi give in to the inevitable?   Did she see the writing on the wall?   Did she begin to grasp the love of God that was rooted in Ruth?   Perhaps it was a bit of all those things; someday, in heaven, let’s ask her.  One thing became clear through it:   God taught Naomi a lesson.   He wants us to let others help us.   He wants this because it’s one of the ways He lets His love shine through.

Think about it.  All of the miracles that Jesus performed:   weren’t they to help others?   In doing things for others – feeding them, healing them, demonstrating His power for them – wasn’t Jesus acting out to help them in ways they couldn’t help themselves?  What better illustration of how God wants to help us?  

What’s more, in letting others help us, we help ourselves AND them through God’s way.  To admit need is to be humble; one can’t say “help me” without admitting that one can’t do it all alone.  In doing that, we open ourselves to God and to others.  Additionally, when we help others, we share Jesus’ agape love.   Sure, sometimes we do things to enforce or fulfill obligations.   But isn’t it true that, most times, even when we do something as small as holding the door for others, we do so without expectation of anything in return?   That’s selfless.   That’s agape.   That’s Jesus at work in us.

That’s where Naomi found herself, tacitly admitting that she needed help and that her loved one wanted to provide it.  When that happened, the help – in God’s providence – really went into motion.

 

Lord, please help me.   I need help only You can give.   And I want to help others today.   Make me Your instrument to do for others what You want done.

 

Read Ruth 1, 18-22.

 

How can you help someone today?

What help do you need?

What’s keeping you from asking for it?