Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 August 2017

 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Hebrews 11, verses 32-34.

Where are there great heroes today?   Gideon, who led when nobody else would.  Barak, the warrior who answered God’s call to rally troops and defeated the Canaanite, Sisera.   Samson, the self-centered leader in the days of the Judges, who rejected his selfishness to rally the power of God in his death and, in doing so. slew the Philistines.   Jephthah, the great Israelite leader who conquered the Ammonites yet made a foolish vow, then considered his word to God to be more important than any other word he had ever spoken.

Here in our day, is President Trump a hero?   Hardly, especially since (as one of my relatives pointed out) so many of our countrymen consider him to be a boor, a scoundrel, and “an incomparable cheat.”  How about his predecessor, President Obama?   Hardly again, especially since so many more of our countrymen consider him to be weak, of poor beliefs, and an enemy of liberty.  The leaders of our major churches live in luxury and opulence.   The gulf between the richest and poorest in our country, in our world, keeps growing ever wider.   We all want to believe we are special in God’s eyes yet we, myself included, look across the room and see people of different beliefs, different colors, different places in this world and we consider them aliens.  How must our God feel about us?

Where are the people whose weakness God turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle through the Lord and routed foreign armies?   Where are the men and women of honor and valor who walk the walk and talk the talk for Jesus today?

You saw a few of them on the news this weekend.   They were friends, relatives, first responders working beyond exhaustion to retrieve strangers from the floodwaters in Houston.   They were the pastors in Africa who walk miles between villages on Sunday afternoon just to share a few minutes of Christian worship with people hungry to know more about Jesus.   They’re people who smile at you when you meet them in the streets, mothers who raise their children (and new puppies) while husbands and fathers are deployed overseas.   They are nurses in hospitals, grandparents raising grand-babies, the people who hold open doors.  Ordinary people live extraordinary lives and, very often, just by doing so are heroic in small ways that matter.

Yesterday in church, the sermon text was on the fruit of the spirit.   From Galatians 5, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   The heroes of the Bible listed above knew these things, knew them centuries before Paul recorded them in his epistle.   The heroes mentioned in our world today know them, too.   Whether any of them, or us, know it or not, they are evidence of God for only from God’s Spirit are these things possible.  Apart from the Savior, they’re just niceties, ways to get along for a short time in a hostile world of hopelessness and futility.  Abiding in the Savior, they’re evidence of His presence.   And they’re the makings of heroes.  When we consider how people of faith live out these good things from God, we can be sure that our God feels only love for us since it is His love that binds all those other things together.

I don’t consider myself a hero.   More often than not, I mess up these words and mess up the message I’m trying to convey.   I offend people who are trying to understand where I’m coming from, and I don’t represent the God of our Fathers in the good way He deserves.   Maybe I’m describing you.  I know I’m describing me.  Yet perhaps there’s someone, somewhere who looks at you differently.   Perhaps there’s someone who see’s through our warts, who looks past our sins and failings, who doesn’t tolerate our cruel words but loves us enough to look past them.  There’s someone like that for all of us; His name is Jesus.   If we see our blessings, we get to see how others live out the fruit of His Spirit and they are heroes whether they do good deeds or not.  A few days ago, I wrote things that offended someone close to me.  For that, I apologize, especially since she’s a hero in my eyes.  I pray that she, and you, would know a hero today.

For further reading:  Galatians 5:22-23, Judges 4-8, 1 Samuel 15:1, 13-20, 2 Samuel 8:1-3, Daniel 6:22, Daniel 3:19-27, Exodus 18:4, 2 Kings 20:7.

Lord, I praise You for the fruit of Your Spirit that lives out in the heroes of today.   They’re my brothers and sisters, and I look up to them because when I see good things they say and do, I’m looking at You in their eyes.

Advertisements

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 August 2017

 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.  Hebrews 11, verse 21.

Jacob:   he is revered yet he is reviled.   I’ve heard Biblical critics savage the Scriptures because of Jacob.   He was a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel.  He was the radically imperfect vessel through whom God chose to display His grace.   Later there was Moses, and Ruth, and David, and the prophets, and Paul.   Much later came you and me.   Like it or not, got skin, got sin.   You, Jacob, and I are cut from the same cloth.

Yet you and I aren’t going to be remembered in the Bible whereas those other people are.   Jacob was an old man by the time the story of Joseph fully played out.   He had known the consequences of the sins of his youth as well as those perpetrated against him.   He married two sisters who quarreled.   Said two sisters hated their father, and this animosity carried over into the next two generations.   His wife had played favorites with their children, just as Jacob’s had; just as Jacob did himself.  Those children, twelve sons from multiple women, quarreled again and sold their youngest brother into slavery.   When Jacob was praying like this, he was in danger of losing both his life and his family.  Indeed, at the time Jacob praying while leaning on his staff, he and everyone around him was still in real danger of starving to death.

Through all of it, two things remained.   One, Jacob remained a cheeky fellow, and two, Jacob came to rely more and more on God.  God had sustained him when he journeyed in the desert to his uncle’s land.  The pillow, the ladder, the visions, the miracle food:  all God’s provision.  In return, Jacob worshipped and prayed, built altars, dug wells, and dedicated his life to God.  Through God’s woven plan, Jacob regained the son whom he thought had died.  When his life was nearly over, he blessed his sons and their future in the name of the God he had come to know well, the God who had sustained him physically and spiritually against long odds.

Do you know any Jacobs in the world today?  Better yet, do you know of any in your own life?   Are you one of them?

I’ll admit:   I have a soft spot for Jacob.   When I was a boy, I was quiet like he was; I would have rather stayed around the house than go out hunting in the open country.   I’m still that way.  I’ve done my share of deceiving to get what I wanted, and I’ve come to own the consequences of sins I wish I had never done.   Yet I also know God.   I rely on Him more and more, even as so many times I still rail against Him.   I’m not wealthy like Jacob, and I haven’t yet known real famine.   Yet I have been in real danger of destitution and death many times, many of them times of my own making.   In all of them, I grew closer to my Maker because He sustains me in the bad times and provides for me in everything.   Anything good I have known is from God and nobody else.

Sometimes I see Jacob in the mirror.   God hasn’t made me into an Israel yet, but there’s still time.  What He has done is bring me from long ago days that seem fearfully ancient into today, where I am unafraid to talk of God and talk about Him in this life.   Where there have been mixed blessings, the ‘mixed’ part has always been because of something I or someone else did.  The blessings overwhelmingly come from God.  There are people who revere and revile me equally; it’s all fair.   Put it on my tombstone that I wish for them to revere God instead and revile the bad choices they, too, have made.   I’m Jacob.   How about you?

For further reading:  Genesis 48-49.

My Lord, You and only You sustain me, just as You did Your servant, Jacob.   Thank You for this.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 January 2017

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  Hebrews 6, verse 10.

Dovetailing off yesterday’s talk comes today’s verse that confirms how God has a long memory.  As you’ll remember, the gist of yesterday’s talk was ‘do something about your faith right now’ so this is good advice for people who may be on the fence about how to live out their faith.

The other night I talked with one of the nastiest people with whom I’ve ever spoken.  At the call center, a number appears on a computer screen and we are required to dial it.  We don’t see the history of calls dialed to the person’s number, and we aren’t given any information about them, how many people have spoken with them, or anything of a personal nature.   When the man answered the phone, he began to berate and yell at me, demanding that I stop calling him.   I followed procedure and asked him to verify his telephone number so I could place him on a do-not-call list.   That only caused him to get angrier, and he continued berating, insulting, and even threatening me for about 10 minutes.  Eventually, he hung up before I could complete the call procedure, but I put him on the do-not-call list anyway.  We aren’t supposed to do that; it can cause auditors to give an ‘auto-fail’ to an agent.   But I did it anyway because I figured that both the customer and the company would be better off by not antagonizing him any further.   If I’m assigned an auto-fail for it, so be it.

The best way to recover from something like this is to pray for the person.   I’ll admit:  I did this, but it was difficult.   In fact, I let his negativity ruin the rest of my night.   But the next morning, my wife and I prayed for him during our morning devotion.   I sincerely hope he’s well (and I hope he both calms down and hasn’t received any more telemarketing calls).

I also sincerely hope God remembers it because I know He will.   My hope for the irate customer is more like a wish; I wish for him some peace and maybe that he’d lighten up a little.   My hope where God’s memory is concerned is remembering a sure promise.  God WILL remember the good things we do, not as good works to earn His favor but, instead, as examples of how we live out the faith we have in Him.  It matters when we do things for each other in a caring manner.   It matters when we act in ways that demonstrate faith in God.   It matters when we do things to truly foster peace by helping others instead of choosing another way.

These things matter because they are evidence of how our thinking, then our actions, change when Jesus takes over in our lives.  We get to do good works and act kindly towards others because that’s what Jesus wants us to do.   He acted lovingly towards us, even when He was harsh.   He wants us to do the same in how we act towards each other.

Both Proverbs 25 and Romans 12 (which quotes Proverbs 25) say “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  That may seem mean, but it really isn’t.   If your motivation is to help, then these actions are discipline.   They are tough love, dishing out justice for justice’s sake because justice should be righteous.  They’re only mean if you intend them to be mean.   And God remembers our intentions.   God deals in the why, not just the what.

God remembers what we do here and now, and right now is when we’re living.  If our motivation is to live in ways that please God, then we’ll want to be kind, helpful, just, and honest whenever we’re dealing with others in any way.   Be nice to each other, especially to strangers, even telemarketers.  If you’re in a troubled marriage, be kind.   If you’re working with difficult people, be generous.   If someone talks too much, actively listen.   If someone is angry, be respectful.   If someone hurts you or is irate with you, respond as Jesus would and, in doing so, you’ll heap burning coals on their head.   Then, stand back and hope that they realize how unpleasant it can be to have your head on fire.   With God’s hope in mind, they, too, will choose to act differently.

For further reading:   Matthew 10: 40-42, Proverbs 25: 21-22, Romans 12:20.

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I fail to act as You do.   Help me to show love and caring for my brothers and sisters in everything I do.

 

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 December 2016

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Hebrews 5, verses 11-14.

Yesterday we discussed how we, as people, are slow to learn.   Today, let’s put that in context of the Hebrews author’s warnings against falling away.  And about Jedi Knights.

In 1 Corinthians 3:2, the Apostle Paul uses an analogy similar to that above, talking about how he ‘fed’ the ‘children’ under his tutelage milk and not solid food.   He did this because they were not ready for solid food as their faith and understanding of it had not yet matured.   That analogy is quite similar to today’s verses.  You can see why, for many years, people thought Hebrews had also been written by Paul, though contemporary opinions today now differ.  If nothing else, we can surmise that the author of Hebrews was familiar with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians or, at least, familiar with what could have been a popular saying.   What does all this have to do with falling away from the faith?

Think about it:  resisting temptation is a difficult thing.   It is a characteristic of maturity, of being able to discern the consequences of choosing right over wrong.  A child, one still developing and able to only digest simple ideas, doesn’t fully know how to do this because they haven’t yet fully acquired those skills.   Time, training, experience, and a ‘diet’ designed to foster those things are the only ways to acquire the wisdom that comes with age.   If man does not live by bread alone, then the ‘bread’ food on which we are fed by God corresponds to our level of maturity.   Thinking that way, then it’s easy to understand how those new to the faith are fed on milk while solid food comes with time.   Thinking further, things like resisting the temptation to sin, fully repenting of our sins, and fully submitting to God’s active will in our lives can more easily be seen as matters into which we grow mature.

So much for the judgy analysis.   Let’s tone it down a little. Just this morning, I was watching a Star Wars movie; Revenge of the Sith, one of the pre-quel movies that sci-fi purists constantly pan.   If you think about it, all seven of the Star Wars movies are morality plays.  The interwoven storylines about Jedi, Sith, galactic warfare tactics, and the rise, fall, and rise of empires revolve around some pretty basic ideas.   Choose good over evil and good prevails.   Choose evil over good and the opposite occurs.  In the movies, the Jedi are trained over many years to embrace the patient ways of good, to learn how to channel the Force for use in serving the greater good.   They start on milk and graduate to steak and potatoes.

Me thinks that Anakin Skywalker, for all his Darth Vaderness, never progressed beyond spiritual milk.  Neither has George Lucas, for what it matters.

Over time, when we’re immature, we become impatient.   Impatience can be a natural reaction to negative stress, yet when we focus on it beyond a moment, it can become a choice, a way of reacting.  Impatient people are generally immature in some way.  They become intolerant of the pace of things and determine to change that pace.   Not unlike the believers of Hebrews times, we who are impatient today reject the deliberate life of righteousness and choose the impatient impetuousness of unrighteousness.   It takes time to be still and learn about God.   It takes time to learn the ways of righteousness, submission, and faith.   When we are impatient, we fall away from those ways and the choices of evil can become alluring.

Me thinks, too, that these are the ways of the Force.   Note to Star Wars fans:   don’t navel-gaze too long at this idea but also don’t miss these overtones in the movies.   The way of God is the way of righteousness, and the way of righteousness takes patience and time.   Sort of like learning to be a Jedi.

For further reading:   Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 6:1, 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 3:2, 1 Corinthians 14:20, 1 Peter 2:2, Isaiah 7:15, Psalm 46:10

Lord Jesus, I pray You to feed me the food I need.   Feed me milk in my impatient times, and I pray for more substance when You see I am ready for it.   Thy will be done, Lord.

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, 12 August 2016. This week’s topic: delegation

Delegation

Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. Acts 6, verses 3-4.

Today is a milestone at the house here in Paris.   Today my wife started her first paying job in several years.   For a few months now she’s been looking for a position in which to both serve others and earn extra money.   Today she began in one.

Today, also, my manager (a company vice president) delegated several tasks to me.   All summer I’ve been working from home and, to be honest with you, I wanted more work.   I’ve been in-between long-term projects, so I’ve been helping others (remotely) on theirs.   Today, my boss gave me that work.

Have you ever considered that it’s a Godly thing for us to delegate things to each other?   In fact, have you considered that God WANTS us to delegate?

Recall the story of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who saw that his son-in-law was overworked and stressed.   In Exodus 18, Jethro tells Moses “look, brah, appoint a few guys to help you out on this and God will bless the work of all of you.”

Recall Luke chapter 9, in which Jesus sends His twelve disciples out to minister in His name. He told them “get up and go now, just as you are, and preach Me wherever you go.”   And they did it.   Successfully, even.

Recall Acts chapter 6 in Jesus has gone to heaven and the Disciples are discussing how to actively care for the growing number of believers.   They decide to appoint seven men to help with the hands-on aspects of caring for the hundreds of new believers in and around Jerusalem.

Recall that the Apostle Paul taught numerous acolytes to preach and teach the name of Jesus as he moved through his missionary journeys.   Rick Warren points out that, in 2 Timothy 4, Paul talks about men with whom he has served and ministered and various good and bad things they have done.

Get the picture?   Simon and Garfunkel were wrong:   I am not a rock and I am not an island.   If I’m anything, I’m an island in an archipelago, one of many, and one who makes up part of God’s larger whole.   I can’t do everything by myself and God isn’t asking me to. What He does ask is that we, first, rely primarily on Him and then, second, delegate what we can’t or shouldn’t handle. We’re supposed to prayerfully take EVERYTHING to Him and ask for His involvement.   If you think about it, He’s involved anyway so why wouldn’t we?

Then, He asks us to use our talents and involve others.   Friends, family, employees, superiors, even strangers:   we are to wisely delegate tasks so that we can turn our focus onto doing our work at hand the best we can. . God gives us each other so that we can support each other and that, in doing so, His glory may increase in ways it couldn’t if we simply kept it to ourselves.

Today my wife and I each got the chance to do that, with each of us serving in roles through work delegated to us. It worked for Moses, Jesus and the Disciples.   Chances are it’ll work fine for us as well.

This is how we manage God’s way.

For more reading:   Exodus 18: 19-23, Luke 9: 1-6; 2 Timothy 4: 10-13.

Lord Jesus, help us to each delegate work to others. I know I can’t do everything on my own, so teach me to delegate meaningful work to others, and to empower them to do that work in Your Name.   Thank You for making us unique in this way.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 6 October 2015

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.  Mark 10, verses 51-52.

Before moving on, there’s something else to be said about these two verses that I feel compelled to share.   It’s the heart of them. It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus.

Duh!

No, really, I mean it. There’s nothing Bartimaeus could do to make Jesus love him any more; there’s nothing Bartimaeus could do to be worthy of Jesus’ gift of sight, or even the gift of sharing the same airspace with Jesus Christ for just a few minutes.   It isn’t about Bartimaeus receiving his sight in this fantastic miracle of love.   In fact, it isn’t about Bartimaeus at all. If you or I were in the story, it wouldn’t be about us either.

It’s about Jesus loving Bartimaeus and doing something for him. It’s what Jesus did and not what Bartimaeus did.

If you’re like me, you spend more of your time wondering about you’re angle, about what all this means to you, about how you should think or respond or whatever.   Lost in the shuffle of all that selfishness is that monumental statement “what do you want me to do for you” that Jesus spoke to this blind stranger. The creator of the universe, the man with whom Adam and Abraham and Moses all personally interacted, the advocate of Job, the fire in the burning bush and the whisper of life in every living being on the planet walks up to a perfect stranger in a crowd and asks him how He, the Savior, can serve.

It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus.

Just yesterday, a co-worker and I were talking about how we had led our project with a service attitude.   Not to be beaten-down servants, or to be cowards in the face of weaker people:   we were talking about how proud we were to be on a team where our attitude has been to serve.   To do our best for other people while subordinating ourselves to their goals.   We talked about how this is the true attitude of a Believer, how it’s impossible to be a follower of Jesus without this attitude.   It’s impossible because it’s what Jesus modeled for us.

And because He did it – because He rendered for us the ultimate service of dying in our place, as our punishment – there is nothing standing between us and the majesty of God.   I couldn’t do that; the Apostle Paul couldn’t do that; you couldn’t do that; neither could Bartimaeus, my co-worker, Billy Graham, any Catholic pope, Joyce Meyer or Donald Trump on a good hair day.   Only Jesus could die for us; only Jesus could redeem us.   Only Jesus could show us that all of life is about the supreme gift of love that He is and gave for us and still gives us every day.

Bartimaeus saw that.   He got his sight and immediately followed the first thing he saw, and the first thing he saw was the Savior who served him in his deepest need.   It’s not about Bartimaeus.   It’s not about you.   It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus and all was, and is, and is to come.

Lord, let all my life be my service to You.   It’s not about me.   It’s about You.

Read Mark 11, 1-3.