Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 20 April 2020

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.  1 Peter 1:10-11 (NIV).

Nobody in the ancient world knew precisely when the Messiah would appear.   Scriptures recorded hundreds of prophecies, and each one contained a small piece of the overall prediction.   Yet none of those gave the exact date and time and precise location.   It was known He would be born in Bethlehem, and that he would be born of a virgin, and there were dozens of details about His life that were disclosed ahead of time.   But nobody could put them all together to tell exactly when and where and even how all this would happen.

Until it did.  Until then, it didn’t really matter.

Two thousand years later, most of the world still doesn’t believe this.  Of those who do believe, many search intently with the greatest care to know the hour and minute that the Messiah will return in the manner He said He would.   There are many reasons for this; some of them are even valid.   Boil away those reasons, however, and we’re left with the best advice of all:   be ready now.

Until it happens, it won’t matter.   When it happens, it will have mattered most of all.   Be ready.   Receive Him and believe now.   Do it today.   You’ll find that everything you needed to do was already done by Him.

We can and should embrace salvation here and now because Jesus Christ gave us His Spirit to bring us salvation.   He sent His Spirit at Pentecost and it has been at work worldwide ever since.   We don’t need to know the date and time of Christ’s return to know that the salvation He gave can be ours right now.   Predicting when Christ’s return happens is a fun exercise but it doesn’t matter much other than landing on “be ready.”   What matters so much more is sharing Jesus in any number of ways with our fellow women and men who don’t believe in Him.   Jesus died for them, too, and wants them to have His life everlasting the same as you or me.   He gave us to them to share His invitation.

So do it now.   Don’t waste another day.  As Peter said, “the glories that would follow” are both the peace of God here and now and life through Him forever.   Share His word in how you talk and act.   Live out the Galatians 5 fruits of the Spirit in what you do.  Share it in some way today.  The Messiah has come, and gone, and will return.  Until that happens, be ready now.

For further reading: Matthew 26:24, Acts 16:7, Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Peter 1:21, 1 Peter 1:12

Lord Jesus, come quickly.   I’m ready now.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 7 May 2018

Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (NIV).

Be ready now.  Regarding the Rapture and that whole 7-year Millenialist end times story, it might or might not be true.   We might or might not understand how Jesus will bring about the end of all things and begin something totally new.   There may be a Rapture where believers are snatched up to heaven in a flash and those ‘left behind’ get to endure seven years of worsening hell on earth to fulfill prophecy and give them one last chance (actually seven years of last chances) to repent.   There may very well be a coming time where an Antichrist rises to earthly power, plagues and woes are unleashed, and the battle of Armageddon is waged to Satan’s loss.   It could very well happen that, at the end of all this, Jesus will reign as earthly king here for exactly one thousand years, after which this earth will be burned away and something completely new unveiled.   All this may be true.

Or it may not be.   It may be all wrong.   The end may be just one ending, and the words of 1 Thessalonians 4 may be completely germane to how things will happen.   It may or may not be that Jesus will come back in the clouds – the way He left – and that this event will be the end.   The faithful in Him will be taken to be with Him and the unfaithful rejected and sent away to perdition.  The Rapture and the tribulation and the rise and fall of Antichrist may not happen.

We simply don’t know.  Tim LaHaye didn’t know.   Your pastor doesn’t know.   The Pope (or Pope Emeritus) doesn’t know.   Get the picture?

Be ready now.   Be encouraged by this today.

The Bible simply says that Jesus will return and that we should encourage each other with that knowledge.   Before He came the first time, at least 4000 years of human history passed.   Is it so inconceivable that it would, then, take a very long time for conditions to be made right for the Messiah to re-appear?   It isn’t up to us to pre-game the thing or know the specifics.  All we know is that He said He will be with us in all things until the end of the age and then in person after that.  The Bible mentions a great deal of figurative language describing events that happen to herald that.  But knowing the hour, day and specifics are only up to God the Father, not us.  Is there harm in believing in a Rapture?   No.  Is it necessary?   Perhaps not.   We don’t know.

What we do know is the ultimate end:   that Christ returns.  That’s it.  The lesson?   Be ready now.   Don’t be mired in details.  Be at peace with it.  THAT is the biggest encouragement of all.

For further reading:  Matthew 28:20, Acts 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:1.

Lord, how and when you come back I’m ready to meet You now.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 November 2017

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.  Hebrews 13, verse 14.

Do you struggle with the here and now as I do?   I remember from years ago a sermon presented by our pastor in west Colorado Springs.   It was about heaven being our real home, how we are really just transient citizens on this fallen earth.   You know the details:   this world will end and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, then usher in a new heaven and a new earth.   “No matter what is happening here, don’t lose heart.  Heaven is our real home” said this pastor.  We shouldn’t get too wrapped around the axle about holding on to this place because we’re actually citizens of another, better place.

But what about now?

Here and now is all I know.   Like so many people, I have déjà vu moments that seem like fleeting glimpses of something else.   Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t “soul memories” of where I was before I was born.   I know:   crazy stuff.   Or is it?   A learned, educated, rational Lutheran pastor insisted (as millions of others do) that I, as a believer in Jesus, am actually a citizen of a multi-dimensional existence that is a reality outside of what we know as time and space.   Trusting that I will spend eternity there with a Savior who I’ve never met in person is a bedrock of my faith.   It keeps me going sometimes because, as they say in the church I now attend “eternity matters most.”   To an unchurched mind, THAT is crazy stuff.   Here and now is the known.  So what about now?

You see, I get it.   The pastor was correct.  I get that Jesus has a place ready for me in heaven.   Whatever heaven is, wherever heaven is, I’ll be going there when my time here on the Third Rock is done.   I really, truly do trust that this earthly home – the only home I know – isn’t a permanent place, that my permanent residence is a place I haven’t yet seen, or that I remember so deeply from so long ago that I can’t recall the memories and can’t tell you what it looks, smells, and feels like to be there.  I get it.

And that’s good.   It really is.  But while it’s a focus, that’s the forest.   Today is built with trees.  Here and now is where I’m a front line soldier in the army of the Living God.  I know I have a place in His ranks someday in heaven, but for know I also know that I’m on the lines here on terra firma.   That most of the world doesn’t believe in this Jesus.   That much of the world believes in a host of terrestrial ghosts, or the manufactured demonics of Islam, or, worse, in nothing at all.  Here I’m armed with Christ’s command to love as He loves, to tell others about Him, and to use what time, talents & treasures He has given me to do my best in my various callings.  Here I’m fighting on His front line every day, defying the prince of this world, sometimes minute by minute, so that people won’t look at me and be led astray from Jesus.   I’m glad that heaven is my home, and I’m glad that I’m not part of this un-permanent settlement in the land east of Eden.

But east of Eden is all I really know and it’s more than a Steinbeck novel   Jesus calls me to remember that I’m a part of His eternity now, but that, for now, my role before eternity is here.   To do His bidding here; to do His work at hand.  And I struggle with that, struggle to keep my eyes on the ball, to follow His commands, to lay down my hypocritical judgments, to turn aside from my petty thinking and small ways.   East of Eden is all I know, yet I also know Jesus walks with me here.

For further reading:  Hebrews 12:27, Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:10.

Lord Jesus, I live in the land of Canaan, and I struggle here.   I pray, encourage me, walk with me, and strengthen me to fight Your good fight today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 23 October 2017

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  Hebrews 12, verse 25.

Now.   Because eternity matters most, the time is now to talk about it, to listen about it.  There is no tomorrow guaranteed for any of us, and yesterday is done.  Today is the day to listen to what God is saying to you.   Today is the ONLY time to listen.

I took off last week from writing these proverbials because my wife and I were moving.   We did “the big move” from our small farm in Paris to an apartment in McKinney.  There are a few reasons why, some good, some not so good.  In time, I’m sure I’ll talk about them here; for now, it’s just raw.  You’ve probably moved a few times in your own life, so you know it’s hard work; emotional and physical work.   We’re almost done with it, but it’s hard work all the way up to the end.   So I needed some time off.

I’ve spent that time wondering what Jesus is saying in all this.   We’re moving to make sure we don’t lose our livelihood, and to be closer to family that needs us.   Yet it hurts.   I’ve always felt we were led to Paris, to buy the farm and start a new life together.   Now I also feel we are being led elsewhere, to start another new life together in a different way.   We are both following God’s lead, and so we understand that, no matter what happens, it will all be ok.   One of my favorite movie lines is from “The Best New Marigold Hotel.”   Judy Densch:  “everything will be alright in the end.   If it’s not alright, then it isn’t the end.”   Very Indian; very Hindu; very apropos.   I know things will be alright because God ALWAYS works in our lives for good.   In the end, because of Him, it will be alright, all right, all the time.   If it isn’t yet alright, then it isn’t yet the end and He isn’t done leading us through better things.  If we don’t believe that, then don’t we simply bring on ourselves the consequences of not following God?   If we don’t follow God, don’t we get what we ask for?   The verse today implies this is so.

So we’re following Jesus yet it still hurts.   Now it’s tough.  Now I’m mourning what’s lost, ambivalent about today, unafraid of the future but also uncaring of it.   Even angry.  I suppose I’m actually numb because I’m having difficulty sorting out what I’m feeling and prioritizing what I can and can’t do about it.   What is God saying to me when I’m numb, when I don’t know where I fit in right now?   What’s He saying to my family when my wife and I are both working so hard to get set up to ‘be there’ for those who need us yet feeling distant and hurt?   What is the Lord saying when it’s the end of some things but it doesn’t really feel alright?

You know what He’s saying.   So do I, even when I don’t want to admit it.  He doesn’t promise the easy road:   He promises to walk it with us.   He promises to abide with us when His words say “I know the work is hard but you aren’t finished.   I’m with you, so keep it up.”  He’s calling me to submit to Him in all this, and He’s calling me to trust in Him even though that hurts.   He NEVER guarantees that things in life won’t hurt because, in a fallen world, we feel hurt when it stings into our lives.   He simply says “I’m with you.   Always.”   Why, Christ’s last words here were “lo I am with you even until the end of the age.”

That’s now.   That means He’s with me, with us, now.   Ages end every day; yes, I mean that.  Things begin and things end and through it all, like we talked about a few days back, these are the days of Elijah when we get to declare the word of the Lord.   We do that because we listen to Him when times are good and bad both and we declare that, in both, He’s with us.   He’s celebrating with us when we’re glad, and He’s holding us, mourning with us, hurting for us, when we’re hurting.  He meant what He said and He’s with us now.

Because now is the time.   Eternity does matter most so now is the time to listen and make ready for it.  No matter what happens today, He’s abiding with us, working with us to make things better.   He already did everything to make eternity matter most, to make it possible.  And He’s with us each day to make things alright in the meantime.   Right now, today, He’s talking to us and telling us what matters most.   That HE matters most because He is our everything and He makes all things all right, right up until the very end.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 8:5, Hebrew 11:7, Deuteronomy 18:19, Hebrews 2:2-3, Hebrews 10:29, Matthew 28:20, Mark 8:36.

My Lord, abide with me these days.   I’m hurting and struggling.   Thank You for walking with me now.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 January 2017

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation.  Hebrews 6, verse 9.

Something else needs to be said about this verse, something that will offend my inner (and outer) Lutheran but has to be said all the same.  It has to be said right now for the here and now.

Salvation isn’t just for the after-life:   salvation is for now.   Eternal life is for NOW, as part of eternity, not just when you’re dead to this world.  In fact, if all you do with the salvation Jesus won for you is bank on it for the after-life, you’re spitting on His gift.  Channel your inner James and do something with it.  Your salvation doesn’t depend on you doing something with it, but if someone else doesn’t know Jesus, theirs just might.

I think of “The Color Purple,” one of my favorite movies.   You remember, the Alice Walker novel made into a poignant Steven Spielberg movie.  The main character, Celie (played by Whoopi Goldberg), lives a squalid life, devoid of real hope.   She believes in Jesus and endures her horrible life in hopes that this life won’t last forever, that she’ll be rewarded in heaven for her suffering here.  Into that life marches Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), who insists that salvation is wonderful but, by God, you need to stand up for yourself as well.  Where Celie is ‘say,’ Sofia is ‘do.’

Amen.

I think about my pastor friend, Mark Schaefer, who is constantly reminding our congregation that we’re part of eternity right now, not just when we die.  He’s one of the more mission-focused people I know, venturing out a half-dozen or more times per year to lead youth groups on mission trips across the country (in fact, he’s on one such trip today).   He does it because he firmly believes that we benefit from being part of heaven right here, right now, and it’s our pleasure as followers of Jesus to share that understanding with others.   We do that by the way we live, including the times when we step out of our comfort zones and go places to tell about it.  You never know who you’ll meet on those trips and how their lives might be aching for some Jesus time as well.   So you go when you can, where you can, and share a little love with strangers in hopes they’ll learn, live, and do the same.  After all, eternity matters most.

Amen, again.

I think about wasted days and wasted nights (and Freddy Fender).  How many opportunities in my life have I stayed in my seat because I was afraid to speak up for Jesus?   How many times, too, have I sat there because I was afraid to speak up even for myself?   Part of believing in Jesus is knowing that He’s done everything necessary to win for us heaven.   We can live forever standing blameless in God’s holy presence because Jesus has washed us clean of all our self-induced sins.  How many of us neglect to talk about that really good news – what Jesus Himself called it – because of whatever hang-up we’re embracing at the time?   Every time I willfully fail to share Him in how I speak, act, or just by being myself, I’m wasting an opportunity He put in front of me.

This, too, is surely true.  So what’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is that you were saved for now.   Every moment of our lives is ‘right now,’ and you were saved to share every right now moment for the rest of your right now life sharing something about Jesus right now.  It’s not just to get you to heaven, though that’s part of why Jesus did what He did.   No, it’s more than that.   Jesus saved you and me so that we might connect others to Him; so that they, too, might learn how He saved them as well.  If ever there was an example of ‘the more the merrier,’ then heaven will be it.   It will be all that and more if we keep doing our part right now and sharing some piece of Jesus Christ with people who need Him right now more than ever.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 10:14.

Right now, Lord Jesus, I thank You for saving me.   Right now, I pray that You show me how to share You with others in what I say and what I do.   Let right now be to only Your glory, Lord.

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 November 2016

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  Hebrews 3, verse 13.

When is Today?

Ok, let’s not get TOO metaphysical here, but if you think about it, life is lived in one-second increments.   Sure, we can dissect time into even smaller increments.   But for the sake of discussion, let’s agree that one second is as small as we’ll go.  Knowing that, one second ago you were born, and in one second you’ll die.  In fact, one second ago, Adam and Eve were standing buck naked in the Garden admiring a piece of fruit.   And one second from now Jesus will be coming back on the clouds.

There are 60 seconds in one minute, 3,600 seconds in one hour, and there are 86,400 seconds on one day.   Today there will be 86,400 seconds from midnight to midnight, just like there were yesterday and, God-willing, just like there will be tomorrow.  Yet today is all we know, all we have, and we have it one second at a time.   Every person on this planet has that same increment of time, even Donald and Hillary.  Right here, right now is all we know, so that’s live it up!   Yet at risk of being vulgar, let’s do so within a few rules of discretion.

First off, let’s take the advice of the verse and encourage one another.   A friend of mine pastors a church in Carlsbad, CA.   Years ago, he told me that Barnabas, Paul’s companion, was one of his role models because Barnabas focused his ministry on encouraging others.   That’s a wonderful thing.   If you think about it, it’s one of the best of all things.  When we encourage each other, we show faith in each other.   We empathize, we love, we share, we support.   We get to be Jesus for someone who needs Him there and then.   Right now, today, this very second.

Then let’s focus on just now.   Yes, it’s a good thing to mourn and let go of things that mattered to us.   And, yes, it’s a good thing to plan for tomorrow.   But let’s keep our eyes on the fact that it’s this very second today when we’re living.   The people in our lives now are in them for reasons, sometimes transient, sometimes permanent.  But whether it’s the folks beside us in the checkout line, the annoying person in the cube beside you, that spouse who thrives on quality time, or just the face you see in the mirror, focus on living life fully with, for, and about the people God has in our lives right now.   They’re there for a reason.   They need our encouragement, our attention, and each second of our time.   It’s what Jesus would do.  Today.

Finally, let’s do these things being mindful that sin is deceitful.   Sin’s WHOLE purpose is deceit.  From that time, one second ago in Eden, sin has always sought to deceive us by lying to us.   Every sin we choose is a combination of that lie, idolatry, and something else.   That whatever else we’re doing only compounds the deceit.  In a world hardened by the harshness of that deceit, let’s be mindful that whenever we choose deceit we’re choosing to harden ourselves just a little bit more.  Choosing to accept anything other than Jesus puts a shell on the softness of our hearts.   Accepting the lie that something other than Jesus is just as good as Him puts layers on that shell.   And then whatever other action we’re doing in our sins just deepens it.  Right now there’s a better way.

Let’s live life by turning from one sin at a time.   Let’s replace the sin with hearts and eyes on Jesus, focusing on where we are now by seeing through His eyes.  One second at a time today.   Not just yesterday, maybe not tomorrow, but definitely in the here and now of today.  Today is now.

For more reading:   Hebrews 10:24-25, Jeremiah 17:9, Ephesians 4:22.

Lord God, I praise You for today and thank You for another day here on Planet Earth.   Guide and bless me through it.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 5 August 2015

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. Mark 9, verse 41.

Is Jesus talking about heaven or earth here?   Is He talking about an eternal reward in the life everlasting with Him, or is He talking about being rewarded more temporally here in ways we can relate to now?

Yes.

Yes?   It’s really that simple?   Yes it is.   This is simple?   Actually, again, yes it is. Not answering the questions above would be a dodge, and if our Lord does anything, He doesn’t dodge.   Jesus is upfront, teaching and loving even in justice, and always getting to the nub of an issue.   If He answers things in ways that seem oblique to us, it isn’t He who is oblique.

Of course Jesus is talking about that earthly reward, the things you get here.   He’s not going all Joel Osteen, preaching a prosperity gospel of “get rich through My wishing well, guys.”   Not hardly.   But Jesus is promising us a reward here and now: Him.   In Him is more than enough for everything we could comprehend; in Him are found solutions to any issue we could devise. What’s more, we don’t have to live our lives in Him: we get to.   That’s a concept we’ve explored before and it’s worth doing so again.   Faith is a ‘get to’ kind of thing, a real groovy kind of love kind of thing. We don’t have to do it: we get to live our lives following Jesus.   Make no mistake about it:   Joel and the other perfect-hairs have it wrong.   Jesus doesn’t promise us riches or prosperity; if anything, He promises we will walk a tougher earthly road by following Him.   And yet, in reassuring us, He also promises us the unending wealth of Himself, which makes us richer and more prosperous inside that we ever could be with billions and bling.

We get to live with Him now.   We are part of eternity now.   It is part of our lives here and now, and that can change everything.   If we get rich off it, well, count that as another good blessing.   But money isn’t the point:   Jesus is the point.   Jesus is the point now, in our lives here and now on the Third Rock so that we might share Him with others and they might be rich in Him as well.

And, yes, of course Jesus is talking about life everlasting.   It really is a both/and kind of answer, a having your cake and eating it too on a level we hadn’t thought of. Jesus is talking about how, when we profess Him to the world, He smiles and prepares our places with Him forever.   All too often, we use heaven as the ultimate cop out; something we can promise to people but never have to deliver, never have to prove.   The truth is we really don’t have to prove it because Jesus already did.   In this verse, He reminds us that His words are true and reliable. Because of that we can count on receiving a permanent reward with Him in heaven forever. Being for Him means we aren’t against Him and He is never against us, always for us.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Lord, thank You for Your promises of my reward, and for making all of it possible.

Read Mark 9, verses 42-50.