Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 12 March 2018

In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.  1 Thessalonians 3:4(NIV).

This is a theme we’ve talked about here many times before:  when you believe in Jesus, you will be persecuted.   You’ll lose friends.   You’ll become alienated from family.   You may lose your job, your home.  If you become a believer in Jesus and you expect your life to be peaches and cream, brother (or sister), you need to be prepared.  Jesus Himself told His disciples – and us – that those who hate you hated Him first.   That those who follow Him will be persecuted but also blessed.  Paul spoke squarely with his friends.  He didn’t varnish this truth for them, he didn’t downplay it.   When you care about someone, you speak the truth to them, and Paul spoke Jesus’ truth.

Put yourself in first century Asia Minor and consider how they might have viewed things.  You have befriended a renegade in this man Paul.   You know his past, that he was once a Jewish Pharisee who, himself, violently persecuted followers of this Jesus.   In listening to him you know him to be a learned man, a man well-versed in the words of the Pentateuch, and the hymns of David, and the accounts of the prophets.  You have been told how he oversaw the murder of Stephen, one of Jesus’ early followers.   You have heard his account of how Jesus met him on a road to Damascus and transformed his life.  You know how he is in conflict with the leaders of the local synagogue (all synagogues in fact) as well as the local government authorities, representatives from Rome and Athens both, and that he is an argumentative though persuasive firebrand.   And you have seen the look in his eyes, the look that combines determination, regret, peace, and something else that you can’t quite nail down.   Whatever it is that gives Paul that look, you want it for your own life.

To get that look means you have some serious choices to make.   The people around you insult this new sect, deriding it as lunatic fantasy.   A man walking around after he was dead?   The Messiah murdered by the people He came to save?  Love your enemies when your enemies want you dead?  Yet there’s something about Paul’s words, something about the peace of this Jesus, that is calling to you, speaking to you in a place deep inside all you know to be true.   In a world where we seem destined for pain and trouble, the words of Jesus, told by this eccentric tentmaker, talk to the very core of your being.  To accept them means turning your back on everything you’ve ever known and that carries great risk.

My friend, in 2000 years, what has changed?

For further reading: John 15:18, Luke 6:22, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 3:5.

My Lord, I will follow You no matter the cost.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 2 March 2018

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.  1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 (NIV).

Oh wow…so much to unpack.  Let’s not let ourselves get wrapped around some concepts that aren’t easily understood.   Instead, let’s speak plainly:   Paul isn’t being anti-Semitic.   He isn’t ‘hating’ on all Jews, but is rightfully condemning those with ungodly intentions.   In doing so, he denounces all sinners.  The people who were the subject of his remarks were, of course, the Jewish priests who both crucified Jesus and then persecuted His followers.  But one cannot read Paul’s words of love in this and other books and conclude that he was anti-Semitic or advocated anti-Semitism.   Paul didn’t hate the Jews:   he hated that they were antagonistic to Christ.   In some ways, he probably hated that he had once been part of that persecution.

In these verses today, Paul is reminding us that those who turn their backs on God displease Him.   They are hostile to believers and whatever believers say and do.  In their doing this, they are heaping up sin after sin on themselves, not just for their self-focused lives or meanness to others but because these things are meanness and sin against God.   In doing this, they are incurring the wrath of God, namely damnation.   They separate themselves from Jesus, possibly for eternity.  This is by choice, not because anyone forced them.  It’s not on God:  it’s on them.  As C.S. Lewis once said, the gates of hell are locked from the inside.

Saying “I believe in Jesus” sets you apart in this world, and it paints a target on your back.  People who don’t believe will separate themselves from you even as you separate yourselves from unbelieving behaviors (if not unbelieving people).  Your “illogical” acceptance of the supernatural will set you against anyone who embraces the easy path of believing other things.  The “establishment” doesn’t believe what you do, and they will come after you.    Plain speaking about matters of the heart can become common sense to you as you see that there is no real love apart from the love of Christ.

Paul experienced these things just as we do.  When he called out his fellow Jews for murdering the Christ, he was persecuted.   History has labeled him an anti-Semite for doing this.   It simply isn’t true.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Galatians 1:22, Acts 17:5, Luke 24:20, Acts 2:23, Acts 13:45, Matthew 23:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:15.

Lord, always remind me to never hate people You love.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

We the people tend to remember daring acts of bravery.   Remember the Alamo; remember Pearl Harbor.   We remember times when people do heroic things worthy of memory.  You’ve (hopefully) heard the accounts of people in our world today who are being persecuted for believing in Jesus.  That may seem like something from our distant past, like we of the ‘modern’ world have learned to live beyond such savagery.   But the fact is that we haven’t.   Just last week I read a story about how the communist government in China tore down a large church.  The people who worshipped there are under surveillance, and it’s a good thing to assume quite a few have been questioned or arrested.   Just for believing in Jesus.

And did you know that it is a crime that carries a death sentence to publicly declare or preach faith in Jesus in Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Pakistan?   In Mauritania, Libya, Morocco, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh it is illegal to declare yourself as a Christian.   In the workplace in many cities and states of America it is officially frowned upon to minister to others or even profess your faith (to be fair, not just faith in Jesus, yet faith in Jesus seems to be tolerated least of all).

Outrageous treatment?   To be sure.   Suffering for the faith?   In many places in our world today, yes, this happens.   Stand up for Jesus?   No, that isn’t tough at all…

Those who dare to share the gospel in the face of this treatment are heroes.   Indeed, it is energizing and invigorating to stand up for Jesus in the face of people who oppress you.  It demonstrates courage and a belief in human dignity to act in ways that show the fruit of His Spirit, then to stand up and tell just why you do what you do.   People remember that kind of thing, and I dare say most of them remember it with respect.

Read through Scripture to the end and you know that the end of all things is already foretold.  Evil will be vanquished.   God will once and for all destroy evil and relegate Satan and all who reject God to the terror of everlasting existence away from Him.  Yet before all that happens we are told things will get even tougher for believers.   Tough times are coming; you can even feel it in the air, and people are watching.   What will they see you do?   How will you be remembered?

For further reading: Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, thank You for preserving me through oppression and persecution.   Be the steel in my spine and put Your words in my mouth when people challenge me to deny you.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 22 November 2017

 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  Hebrews 13, verse 13.

Jesus earned “street cred” by dying outside the city walls.   That wasn’t the intention of the Jews who murdered Him.   They wanted to discredit Him, to consign Him to a place with the worst of society.   The Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death wanted to erase the memory of Him so that He would soon be forgotten.  To do that, they reasoned that having Him executed as a common criminal would cause people to abandon following Him.   By branding Jesus as a criminal worthy of death, they would so disgrace His name that people would be repelled by even the mention of it.  Within a few years nobody would remember this evangelist from Nazareth.

With anyone else, it might have worked.   After all, there is only a small handful of names we actually know out of the billions of people who lived before, say, one thousand years ago (maybe even one hundred years ago).    The people we know of (like Jesus) earned fame or honor.   Who even knows the names of condemned prisoners from Phoenicia, Babylon, Athens or Rome?   Do we know the names of the men crucified with Spartacus?  Without using Google, who are the people on death row now in Idaho?   Can you name anyone shot for cowardice during the Mexican War?   We don’t know the names of these men because they’re lost to history.

We don’t know their names because we don’t want to.   They died in disgrace.   They died in ignominy and dishonor.   You, me, and our friends don’t want to be associated with their dishonor and disgrace.  It’s like adulterers in church:  nobody wants to be associated with them because we feel like, if we are, we’ll be tainted by their sins.   It’s a stupid, highly irrational feeling even if it is a constructive psychological defense mechanism.

It’s also ungodly.   What would Jesus do?  Not that.  Jesus ran to the cross.   He wrapped Himself in the dishonor and ignominy.  Jesus knew that His sacrifice would bring glory, honor, and love to the Father.  THAT is our better example.

Luke quoted Christ in saying that each of us who wants to really follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross daily.  We must willingly, even gleefully, run outside the camp and pick up the weapon of our own death.  We must embrace the disgrace.  And the writer of Hebrews reminds us that human disgrace for faith in Jesus is worth more than all the treasures in the world.  Joy in being persecuted for believing in Jesus is the street cred of faith.

A few years ago I read the Left Behind books.   I’m not a millenialist, so I didn’t accept the rapture/7 years tribulation idea; to me, getting mixed up in the how & when details of the end of time misses the miracle of being called home to heaven.  But one scene from one of the books (I don’t remember which one) stuck with me.  In it, one of the main characters is talking with a condemned man who is on his way to the guillotine.  The man is about to die for not taking the mark of the Antichrist and instead of being hesitant about it, he is joyful.   Imagine that:   the man is about to be murdered for what he believed and he is enthusiastic about it.   He’s ebullient, joyously embracing the disgrace of dying for the one you love.   And I don’t even remember the character’s name.

But that’s just a book.   The truth of it is that that this happens here and now.   It’s been happening for real to Coptic Christians for years.   It happens wherever ISIS rules.   It still happens in Communist China, and Cuba, and Islamonazi Iran.  A watered-down version of the persecution even happens in American universities and American corporations.  I am challenged regularly online for words like these, and I have lost friends over my faith.   The best response when that happens?   Joyfully thank God and press forward.  The world thinks it’s a disgrace to believe like this.  Embrace the disgrace and advance against an enemy that has already lost even when it costs you everything.

For further reading:  Luke 9:23, Hebrews 11:26.

Lord, let me embrace the ‘disgrace’ of serving You, of loving You, of faith in You.   Teach me and uphold me to better serve you in the world.

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.

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.