Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

Last time we talked about the Alamo.   Today let’s talk about rebuilding.   You saw the stories over the weekend:  Hurricane Irma smacked the Caribbean and Florida.   A number of people lost their lives, millions of people had their lives impacted (many destroyed), and billions of dollars will be needed to build back.

On Sunday morning, I saw a Tweet about Samaritan’s Purse.   Threading a short time between two hurricanes, Samaritan’s Purse landed an airplane full of supplies and volunteers in St Martin.   Irma laid waste to the island late last week; Jose threatened to do so soon after.  Fortunately, Hurricane Jose turned north instead of passing over the island.  Yet the volunteers from Franklin Graham’s Christian charity didn’t know that would happen when they landed.    Thinking they would have only a short time, the afflicted islanders worked quickly with the frightened volunteers to distribute tons of water, medical supplies, and critically needed food.

In the weeks since Hurricane Harvey, thousands of volunteers have been working behind the scenes to clean up and restore normalcy to the lives of the millions of people affected by that storm.   In the days since the earthquake in Mexico killed 90 people, volunteers and neighbors have been working to bring in food and help to total strangers.   In battling fires in Montana and California, thousands of firefighters have been working around the clock to put out fires so that the lives and livelihoods of total strangers aren’t destroyed.  Every day, ordinary people in ordinary neighborhoods commit their lives to others’ needs so that kids can grow, grandparents can endure, and families can succeed.

They’re all running with perseverance the race marked out for them because many of them, maybe most of them, have their eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.   More than that, Jesus is the ONLY real comfort for those who have been savaged by these acts of a fallen nature.

The writer of Hebrews spent the entire previous chapter citing acts of faith that the ancient heroes of the Bible performed.  He then takes that testimony about those men and calls them ‘witnesses’ to our ability to throw off all that hinders and the sins that entangle us.   After all, they did.   Don’t go off thinking that Moses, Jacob, Gideon and the rest were supermen.   They weren’t.   They were people, sinners in need of a God who could redeem them from the things they had taken into themselves.  Yet they had something in common with those folks from Samaritan’s Purse and those ordinary people everywhere:   faith in God.

Faith in God makes the difference between living an ordinary life where sin entangles and an extraordinary life as an ordinary person throwing off that same entangling sin.   Today is the day after the storm caused so much pain; today starts rebuilding.  Today is also 9/11, the commemoration of a wholly different kind of pain and anguish; today commemorates building back.   Who will you trust to help you run your race?   In whom will you put your faith?

You don’t HAVE TO believe in Jesus.   You really don’t.   It’s a choice and this is a free country.   Most of the world doesn’t believe in Jesus; most of the world thinks this Christian faith is a waste of time, foolish even, given that people have only so much time alive here on the third rock.  Why would they ‘waste’ that on some unseen ancient legend?  Yet if you want to live a life of meaning, you can’t do it alone.   Occasionally you need the help of others.   And, when the chips are really down, you find you need a Savior, someone who can help in ways that relief workers, governments and charities can’t.   You need help to get back into the race.  You need someone to save you from yourself and the terrible choices that we, dearly beloved, make when we gather to get through this thing we call “life.”   Even Prince knew that.

So does Franklin Graham, who has dedicated his life to advancing the Gospel of Jesus.  He does it by helping strangers.   I pray that your life isn’t afflicted today, that you know Jesus without pain or suffering.   But when you do encounter pain, I pray that you reach up to grab Christ’s helping hand.   He’ll get you back on your feet to finish the race set before you.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

My Lord Jesus, I believe in You and You alone.   Only You have saved me.  Only You are Savior.  Help me run my race today with confidence, perseverance, and grace.   And thank You for the hearts of servants serving You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 July 2017

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For in just a little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.”  Hebrews 10, verses 35-37.

Persevering is tough; duh.

I’m entering the third week with a new job, and it’s a true blessin.   In reality, all work is a blessing, but it’s even more noticeable when you get the rare opportunity to go back to a place where you were successful before.   Both my wife and I were out of work for just over a month yet that’s ending.   As mentioned, I’m starting my third week.   As of this morning, my wife is also starting a new job.   God has been so good in so many ways, and at the (hopeful) end of unemployment, I’ll confess that it was only through persevering in God that we were able to make it through.   Because we did persevere in Him, He’s rewarding us with new opportunities.   Not because of our perseverance, but because of His grace.   All we did was trust Him.  Yet I’ll admit it was tough.

Living can indeed be tough.  Just this morning I saw a picture on Pinterest of a Revolutionary War veteran.   Yes, you read that right:  a photograph of a veteran of the American Revolution.   In fact, he was the last veteran.   The photo was taken in the 1860s of a man named Daniel Bakeman, who died as the last veteran of the American Revolution on April 5, 1869.   If you search on the internet, you can find pictures of other Revolution veterans as well.   By the time photography was invented, they were already very old men.  Yet it amazes me to see a picture, not a painting, of someone who actually fought in the American Revolution in the 1700s.   It’s a connection to exactly what such people looked like instead of a representation of them.  Such men lived long lives of perseverance and reaped the reward of living in a free land they had helped to build.

It’s a tough thing to persevere, to push yourself forward in faith even when things tell you not to.   God never promises us that things will be rosy when we believe in Him.   Indeed, He promises we’ll be persecuted because we’re siding with Him.   When we say we believe, we’re saying that we reject the world which rejects Him.   That’s most of humanity, and most of humanity doesn’t take kindly to having a Christian finger stuck in its eye.   Yet that’s what we do.   We do it by saying “I believe” when logic tells us not to.   We do it by thanking God for both the good and the bad.   We do it by trusting Him to live out His will in our lives no matter what happens because we know He will bless us through it.

We do it because verses like 35-37 tell us to.   Because they point us back to the truth that faith in Jesus is rewarded personally by Jesus.   It isn’t rewarded with a new job; it isn’t rewarded with long life after a long war.   Faith in Jesus doesn’t make you wealthy, or prosperous, or worldly, or famous.   All of those things may or may not happen to you, but if they do, they’re blessings from Jesus and not the singular consequence of His grace.

You know where this is going.

Faith in Jesus results in Jesus in your life.   Jesus in your life results in forgiveness of the guilt of your sins.   It results in you being made right again with God:  something you and I can’t accomplish on our own.   Jesus in your life results in you being rewarded with living forever.   In a little while, He’ll keep that promise to make it true in physical fact.   Right now, He’s already kept it because He’s already done the work to make it happen and you’re already a part of His eternity now.   For the rest of your life here, you can live knowing the Creator of the universe personally knows, loves, and wants you for His family.   When this life is over, you get to be with Him forever and see Him face to face.  In the mean time, He promises to abide with us as we struggle when life gets tough.

Would you rather have peace now and later or a new job and a long life?

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:3, James 4:12, James 5:11, 2 Peter 1:6, Hebrews 6:15, Hebrews 9:15.  Matthew 11:3, Revelation 22:20.

Lord, You bless me in so many ways.  Thank You for Your gifts of peace and rewards.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 5 October 2016

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.  Hebrews 2, verse 10.

One of my favorite hymns is “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”   In it, the lyrics paraphrase Hebrews 2 with the poetic lines “How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the chosen One bring many sons to glory.”

Magnificent.

Indeed, isn’t it true how so many verses in Scripture are memorable because they are poetic?   This one especially sticks with me.   “Bringing many sons and daughters to glory” inspires in me thoughts of mission, and brotherhood, and mercy.   The thought has an almost Gaelic feel to it, as if there are thousands of mournful believers moving through the fog towards a dim light in the distance.  The closer you get to the light, you see Jesus is the light, and that His arms are open, His heart of love on display, His presence evaporating the fog of sin and unbelief.

For years now, I’ve thought of my Christian walk as an active thing, a living, ongoing event.   It has seemed like a movement.   I’ve learned that we’re in a spiritual war, one in which battles are fought on a personal basis every day.  The battle manifests itself in resisting temptations, professing faith, encouraging others in the face of sin and despair.   On one side stands Satan, general of the armies of the fallen.   He uses evil to manifest itself in every dark emotion with which we can be plagued.   Lies, pain, and anguish are the carnage he leaves on the battlefield of human souls.

Yet on the other side is Jesus, meek and mild yet overwhelmingly powerful.   He is humble yet strong, quiet yet unfathomably deep, all peace yet all martial in protecting the peace, justice and love that stream from His very presence.  He only tolerates Satan because Satan allows that peace, justice and love to shine in ways that build up His cherished creation, humanity.  With a thought He could vanquish evil forever.   With depth we cannot fully understand this side of heaven, He gave Himself up as payment for all the evil we embraced and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory.

I also love that phrase “pioneer of their salvation.”   In my walk of faith, my daily war against the spirits of evil, I get to follow Jesus as a pioneer.   Your life and mine are unwritten; thank you Natasha Bedingfield.  Today isn’t fore-ordained and tomorrow isn’t here yet.   We’re writing our lives as we live them.  What we do in our lives today pioneers the ground on which we build our lives.   We get to use the free choice God gave to each of us to do with what we will.   It’s God’s hope that we’ll look to Him, to Jesus, first and always, as the pioneer who blazed a trail for us.  It wasn’t a wagon train trail through the prairie or a lonely ride across uncharted ocean.   It was living a life without sin, loving all others as He loved His Father, and then dying the death of just, noble sacrifice so that others might live forever.  Jesus and only Jesus blazed that path to God for us.   Buddha didn’t; Mohammed didn’t; L. Ron Hubbard didn’t; our ancestors didn’t.   We don’t today.   Only Jesus.

Only He, who fulfilled ancient prophecy and was incarnate a little lower than the angels, pioneered the path into paradise and, in doing so, poetically brought mankind into that glory.  He did it how?   Through suffering.   The physical torture, the spiritual agony, the abyss of separation from God:  only Jesus did those things and only He persevered in true character through them to guarantee us the promise of hope that is His salvation.  You and I can’t imagine the suffering He endured.  Not even the horrors of concentration camps or the monstrosities of ISIS in our world today can compare to the terror, agony, and pain Jesus endured for our benefit.  It’s simply beyond our compare.   Yet endure them He did and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory forever.

For more reading:   Romans 11:36, Luke 24:26, Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 7:28, Romans 5:  3-5.

Lord, I thank You and praise You for bringing us to glory, for pioneering the way into eternity.

 

Daily Proverbial, from James, 17 October 2013

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  James 2, verse 14

Be very careful here.   If you want to grasp the meaning of this verse, don’t read it alone.   Go back and re-read all of the 2 chapters before.   Don’t get fooled into interpreting this verse as “work out your own salvation.”

It’s a mistake we all make from time to time.   Especially if you’re bull-headed like me.  It’s easy to think that we can do it all ourselves, or that the things we do earn favor in God’s eyes.   After all, we’re put here to work, to share Jesus in all that we do… to ‘do’ things in life.  Isn’t it easy, then, to think that it’s our doing that makes Jesus love us more?   Just look at how good I’ve been, how hard I’ve been working.   Just look at my good intentions!  James even agrees, saying that our faith only means something because we’re doing something about it, right?

If that’s what you think, you couldn’t be more mistaken.   Go back and re-read again, then come back to me here.

Now that you’re back, let’s get back to the truth that James is telling us about his brother, Jesus.   All through chapter 1, he says that believing in Jesus is going to be tough, that we’ll need to persevere.   And that persevering in Jesus means something.   It builds others up, toughens our skin, and prepares us to move forward in the faith.  It is evidence of faith to people who watch us, who are looking to see what evidence we show that we believe in this Jesus, that He is all He says He is.

The ‘doing’ matters because it is the doing that shows others.  It prepares us for more, like tuning an instrument.  What good is it to believe in Jesus if we don’t let Him change what we say & do, then prove we’re changed by living in changed ways? 

Believe me, this is the toughest part of following Jesus.   It’s hard to back away from the arguments because my self-righteous nature rails against doing so, and I don’t like to lose.   It’s hard to keep away from the things that tempt us because, after all, just one more won’t hurt.   It’s hard to stand up for what you believe when everyone else compromises on principle instead of compromising on practice.

We aren’t in it alone; we never are.  The doing matters.   It matters to help build others up so that Jesus might have a work in them too.

Lord, help me more and more to do for You.   Keep me from temptation, forgive me when I mess it up, and help me to move forward in following You.

 

What are your thoughts on working out your own salvation?

How do you confuse what you do & working for faith?

Do you sometimes feel alone in what you do?

Daily Proverbial, from James, 22 August 2013

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1, verse 4.

Perseverance:   we’ve spent several days discussing it.  It’s learning endurance in faith.   It’s learning to endure in life.  Successful people learn how to persevere.   I think that, more than overcoming, conquering, or mastering something, successful people learn how to persevere.   They learn how to bend without breaking, how to give without giving up or giving in to the travails of the world.  More than any other quality, successful people, I think have learned to understand what is needed to persevere.

Do you remember “The Right Stuff?”   The Tom Wolfe book that was made into a movie about the early US space program?  ‘The right stuff’ was an ephemeral quality in Chuck Yeager, Scott Crossfield, and the Mercury 7 astronauts.   It wasn’t just bravado (or bravery), knowledge, training, endurance, or physicality.  The early space pioneers persevered.   They had to learn to be built up in adversity and danger so that they could succeed in conquering the last great frontier.

James’ success was more than just this yet he had ‘the right stuff,’ too.  Yes, he was martyred for his faith in his brother, Jesus.   Through it, he was successful because he understood what God had spoken through him:   perseverance in the faith completes mankind.  James says that, more than anything physical, when we surrender to Jesus, we learn to persevere, and this is all we need to be whole. 

Think about it.   Faith is calming.   It centers us and provides us with reference in the true north of Christ.  Even in the worst adversities of life, we can remain calm knowing that He has our back.  Faith is knowledge, because faith in God is the foundation of all knowledge and reason.   Human reason is meaningless without the knowledge that the Triune God created us to know His love.   Without knowing God’s love, there is no reason; life is simply brutal chaos.  

Faith is what grows us.  It plants the seed of wisdom that is essential to becoming a seasoned adult.   Faith encourages us, teaching us to love through our hardest moments and to expand that the love that is Jesus to others, which is our primary calling in life.   Faith is our mirror, showing us our failings while teaching us how to recover from them.

To live out the right stuff of faith, we must persevere.   Sometimes we let the world make it tough for us to cling to Jesus.   When we don’t, we stumble, we fail, we embrace the negative.   Yet through it, Jesus is always saying “abide in me.”  Abide…endure…persevere.   As the King of Kings now lives forever, He is the ultimate expression of real success.  To have faith is to persevere.

Persevering Lord, teach me to humbly persevere in You.   Grow me into the mature follower You want me to be, and help me to always have my heart open to where You’re leading me today.

 

Where are you struggling with becoming mature in your faith walk?       

What do you do to persevere?

How is Jesus calling you today to persevere, mature, and grow?