Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 August 2017

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  Hebrews 11, verses 35-38.

Read through these verses again and you get a, well, Biblical feeling about them (pun intended).   Then read through them again and consider that, somewhere in the world today, there are people who are being mistreated, persecuted, and tortured for believing in Jesus just like these church forebears thousands of years ago.

You and I read about that on the Internet, but it’s true.   In Sudan, people are tortured for being Christian, for denying anyone but Allah.   In Iran, you can be executed for being a Christian.   Ditto in North Korea (or any communist country for all that matter).   In Cuba you can still be thrown in prison for saying you believe in Jesus (but, then again, Cuba is still a communist dictatorship).   Same in the People’s Republic of China (also still a communist dictatorship).   In Saudi Arabia, if you’re a Christian (or any non-Muslim for all that matter), you can be punished with instant death for trying to enter the holy mosque near the Kaaba.

Being tortured and dying for what you believe goes a long way back.   But look at the benefits.   Indeed, consider ONLY the benefits of believing.  Jesus or the world?   Jesus wins.

Only Jesus can bring you back from death because only He has done that.   Only Jesus can give you true peace inside, true calmness of your Spirit.  That’s here and not, not just some day.  Only Jesus can steel your spine to face down agonizing death because only in Jesus can you have full assurance that physical death is only a tiny passage into eternal life.

That’s not to say that living your faith is rosy or even easy.  I wonder if that’s not a disappointment for many folks who say they believe.   They are looking for something that takes away the hurt, the difficulty, even the pain of things that happen in life and when Christianity doesn’t instantly do that, they walk away disappointed.  Who knows when we got away from the idea that following Jesus could be tough?  Somewhere along the way, (especially) we in America began to serve up a Christianity that was light and easy, an egg-white omelette of faith if you will.

That isn’t the faith Jesus advertised.   He said that, if we wanted to follow Him, we would have to take up our cross and walk with Him daily.   That means we would, every day of our lives, have to stand against the world, against our nature, against even those who love us but don’t love Him.   That means we would have to carry our instrument of death with us everywhere we go until, at the end of all things, we are nailed to it.    When Jesus taught from the Scriptures, he taught from the accounts of the Old Testament heroes who died for their faith but died IN their faith.  For them, there was no death at all, but only that passage to something far better in paradise.  Death in the service of the Lord was an honor, maybe even a duty, but not a burden.

They understood that the God of their fathers was loving, just and true.   That He kept His promises.   That He was all He said He was.   They understood that, even in a century-long life, time here on earth is short.   The men and women of ancient days who died for Christ in their faith seemed to know something we have misplaced.

Here’s the hard part:  what are you willing to do to get it back?

For further reading:  1 Kings 17:22-23, 2 Kings:4:36-37, Jeremiah 20:2, genesis 39:20, 1 Kings 19:10, Jeremiah 26:23, 1 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 18:4, Luke 9:23.

My Lord, forgive me when I fail You.  Thank You for the blessings of enduring hardship in service to You, in faith in You.   Let my sufferings be a good witness to others and strengthen them.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 December 2016

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Hebrews 6, verses 4-6.

Something else that needs to be said, and this is going to be harsh.

“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”   We do it every day.   It’s why He chose the cross; it’s why, every day, He chooses it again and again when you and I, selfish bastards that we are, keep stabbing him with those Roman nails.   We do it with our sins, small and large, even the ones we don’t think amount to much.   Have you begun to realize all the effects of your God-damned sins?   Yes, I said that.   Your sins and mine:   they’re cause for God to damn us to eternal punishment.   Personally, I think that punishment starts here and now and only gets worse as we go.   God damn us for all of our sins.

Enough of the profanity.   I hope you don’t mind it too much…it’s for effect and I’m hoping that it makes you think, maybe even a little angry.  You should be righteously angry at sin; angry enough to do something about it.   Jesus did.   And yet we keep taking up that hammer and ramming those nails back into His hands and feet.

Every single time you and I fail we nail Jesus back to that cross.   He suffered mortal agony the first time around, and then He suffered spiritual agony being ripped apart from His Divine being (so as to suffer and redeem us) while still being inevitably matched to Him as well.   Then He rose three days later, making death and suffering moot forever.  And yet every minute since, whenever someone has done, said or thought anything contrary to Him, it’s like we have nailed Him back onto that cross.

Here in the first-world, we persecute those who believe in Jesus.   You’ve done it; so have I.   Huh?   You bet you have.   Ever been afraid to speak up and say you’re a believer?   Ever been ashamed of your faith because the ‘cool kids’ didn’t seem to be ashamed of themselves?   Ever felt even the slightest bit sanctimonious when you did speak up, not realizing your proud sanctimony is a disgrace to Him who loves us unselfishly?  Every single time we do things like these, even the tiniest thing, we are disgracing Jesus again.   We are joining in with the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who spit on Him, screamed at Him, hated Him.  You and I already know it’s un-cool to be a believer in Hollywood or even on social media.   That’s persecution my friend, even if it’s soft-boiled.

And REAL persecution?   You know, the kind that gets you killed for being a believer?   It’s happening in every Muslim country on the planet.   It’s happening on steroids in places controlled by ISIS and Boko Haram.   It’s still happening in communist strongholds like Cuba, and China, and North Korea.   Don’t fool yourself:   when you and I sin, we’re joining in the execution squads in Iran who torture you, then stand you up against the wall simply for saying “I believe in Jesus and not Mohammed.”

Like I said, God damn us for our sins.   He can, He will, He doesn’t want to, but He must if we don’t repent of them.   God is holy and must be holy.   Our very lives depend on it.  If He isn’t, even for an iota of a second, then this whole universe comes apart.   The places where the spiritual and physical intertwine would become explosion points of sin if there is no holy and just Lord God Almighty to bind them together.

Thank God that He is the cure for the common damnation.   The cure for damnation is Jesus.   Every time we do the difficult, mature thing and turn from our sins, it’s like witnessing Jesus rise from death again.   We’re the women at the garden tomb, clinging fast to our risen Lord.   We’re the blind man who can see again because He healed us.   We’re Peter, restored to faith after denying Him three times.   If our sins nail Him to that cross every time, then our repentance and re-acceptance of His gift of true salvation is being restored into His resurrection.   Damnation becomes simply a road we didn’t follow when we step back onto the path of following Jesus.   Then and only then do we grasp how He was ready for us all along.   The salvation wasn’t undone by our rebellion even as our rebellion renounced our acceptance of His salvation.

For further reading:   Luke 2:14, Philippians 3:12-14, Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 9:14, John 3:25, Acts 6:6, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:24, Acts 18:21.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for all You did in saving us.   I’m truly sorry for the sins I’ve done that nailed You to the cross.   I’m truly sorry that I’ve kept on doing them.   Live in me and strengthen me to turn from my awful sins and to follow only You.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 December 2015

When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. Mark 13, verses 14-19.

Yes, these words are still talking about the end times.   Yes the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ is a reference to the Antichrist, whoever he will be. Yes, people can flee but there’s really no place safe to go…

…And then just hold on to that thought.

If there’s no place to flee, then there’s no place where God can’t find us.   Think about it:   God will allow all this calamity, hurt, chaos and, yes, death, to happen so that His glory might be spread out further amidst the world.   When it happens, there will be no place to flee, no place where we can hide from it.   Yet the miraculous, crazy thing is that, if there’s no place we can’t hide from the persecution, then there’s also no place where God can’t reach us.   The very last thing Jesus said when He ascended to Heaven is “I am with you always even unto the end of the age.”   “I am with you always.”   Always.   Always means all the time everywhere.

As bad as it will get – as bad as it can be – He will still be with us in person and Spirit.   Always.

I don’t know what the abomination that causes desolation will look like; none of us does.   It will probably be worse that Washington DC with a pot of money, or Bruce Jenner in an identity crisis.   Our world focuses on the trivial when the Creator of the Universe speaks in ways to prepare us to live in serious times.   It’s true how it seems that our generation is seeing terrible times and terrible things that couldn’t seem to be worse, at least not in how we conceive of them.   I’m sure those who lived through the world wars, or the Black Plague, or the fall of Rome, or the fall of Jerusalem (that was only a generation away when Jesus spoke these words) thought the same.

The goofy thing is that they were right. So are we.   God tells us that we should be prepared for Him to come back right now.   That things can go bad in an instant right here, right now. “Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.”   Isn’t that apropos for us as well even if we aren’t living through the end of the world? God can call us home today. Jesus says “be ready now.   I am coming soon” even when we don’t know how long “soon” may be.

Yet whether it is tonight, tomorrow, or in another two thousand years, “soon” will be just the right time.   The days leading up to it will be tough; putting it mildly, they’ll suck. And even in the worst of them God will be with us, Jesus will be with us, His Spirit will be in and working through us.   That’s not so tough to understand.

Lord, I pray:   abide with me always.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 1 September 2015

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10, verses 28-31.

Read to understand what Jesus is saying here.   This isn’t Joel Osteen; this isn’t prosperity Gospel.   This isn’t bad-hair-and-three-piece-suit preaching from some corny televangelist. Instead, Jesus is saying God will provide for us in all things and all ways and richly, sometimes even in material riches.   The blessings will be even more apparent when we follow Him.

In truth, you don’t even have to follow Jesus for God to richly provide for you. If you are reading these words with sight in your eyes, air in your lungs, and a heart beating in your chest, God has richly provided for you.   You did nothing to deserve it; that’s a taste of ‘grace.’   God created your life out of lifelessness and He preserves you as you are every day of your life whether you love Him or not.   True, some days are better than others; sometimes life really can be terrible.   Some days we feel pretty far from God. But it’s still life, and through each day of it, if we get to 11:59 PM and we’re still alive, then God has provided for us in yet another 24-hour stretch of blessings.   He does this for over 7 billion souls alive on Planet Earth right now, and the vast majority of them don’t even know or believe in Him.

So it stands to reason that, if you let the peace of Jesus rule your life instead of simply the pursuit of prosperity, then your pursuit of life will be richly blessed. Those blessings may come in the form of a fat checkbook or sometimes they may come only as that steady heartbeat; that’s up to God.   It’s up to us whether we trust Him or not.   Either way, you’re blessed and when you let Christ rule your life your cup overflows. Know peace?   It’s because you know Jesus.   Know satisfaction in a job well done?   It’s because you’re using the talents Jesus gave you for some kind of good.   Feel loved?   You’re feeling Jesus.   The list goes on forever. If you have the love of Jesus Christ in your life, you’re richer that Donald Trump on a good hair day. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Yet don’t get lost in the fuzzy wuzzy nature of all this.   Jesus also promises persecution.   He promises that, in setting yourself with Him, you will set yourself against the world.   The world doesn’t go down without a fight. For professing your faith, you will lose friends, you will lose family, you will lose things with which you’re comfortable, you’ll become a target.   It’s not because of Jesus:   it’s because the world is a sinful place. It’s because sin in the world hates love in the world, is genuinely terrified of the love of Jesus that shines light into every dark place where sin lives.

Even Joel Osteen knows that.

Lord, thank You for all the ways You bless me.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.