Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2017.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12, verse 14.

Here’s another tall order:   live in peace and be holy.  How does that fit in with America’s NFL controversy this week?   Or our political discourse in general since the start of this century?   How well are we living in peace with our enemies and even our allies?   Is there peace in Detroit or St. Louis?   Is there peace at your table on Thanksgiving?   And are you and your spouse at peace (if you’re married)?

Let’s get this out there:   peace is NOT the absence of conflict.   Don’t think that just because we don’t have conflict that we’re at peace.   Yes, I mean that.  Sure, not shooting each other in war is indeed “peaceful” yet there’s all too often no real peace in that.   It’s a good thing to not have someone shooting you, attacking you, berating you, and that condition is indeed conducive to overall peace.  But it isn’t real peace.   There isn’t peace along the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula:   there is only a cessation of hostilities that has lasted since 1953.  There isn’t peace in Sudan.   There isn’t peace in Ukraine.   There isn’t peace in Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, or most of America’s inner cities.

You can only have peace if the Holy Spirit is working within you.   The bumper sticker meme “no Jesus no peace.   Know Jesus know peace” is spot on true.   The only real peace you can know in this world is when you open up your heart and let Jesus crowd out all the rest of the noise.  Sure, there are some true believing folks in all the areas listed above (even in North Korea) but without God’s Holy Spirit in control, the peace we will know is uneasy, tenuous.

That isn’t easy to do.   I have a schedule to keep.   There are Facebook posts that require my brilliance.   My wife and kids aren’t doing what I want them to do.  That guy who passed me on the right was a real jerk!  DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE TIME FOR PEACE?  Actually, Dave, if the truth is told, you don’t have time to NOT have peace.   Without the peace of Jesus, you got nuthin.

You’ve got nothing without Jesus because, without Jesus, the second half of verse 14 is also impossible.   I’m not holy; you aren’t holy.   Neither Franklin Graham nor Pope Francis (nor even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are holy.   We’re all dirty sinners on our own.  Without Jesus, we still own our sins; owning our sins, we are unholy.   Without Jesus we still own the consequences of our sins.  What’s more, without Jesus you won’t see the Lord.   You won’t see heaven.   You won’t be there.

Don’t get mad at me for pointing that out:   it’s what verse 14 says.  Without knowing Jesus we can’t be holy and if we’re unholy we won’t be going to heaven.   The ONLY cure for that is to put your faith in Christ.  And the way to do that is to say “I believe” and then start walking the walk.  Read your Bible.  Pray constantly.   Be with other believers and be built up by your fellowship with Jesus and each other.   Tithe from a giving heart.   And, most of all, practice what you preach by starting to live your life in ways the Lord has told us to.  Once again, that’s a tall order.   It means giving up the porn, holding your tongue, confessing your dark secrets to the unseen God, and changing the way you act with other people.   Pick your pet sin:  you and I GET TO give up these things and follow Jesus closer so that His holiness can be imputed to us and we may stand with Him in paradise.   These are simply the practices of a follower of Jesus.  If my tone seems preachy, I apologize.

I have no illusion that everyone turning to Jesus would immediately solve the world’s problems.  Perhaps we would still have conflicts, arguments, and hurt.   Or, perhaps we wouldn’t.   Si Robertson once said “it ain’t gun control we need.   It’s sin control.”   Right on brother.  If we all embraced Jesus more and did what He asked, perhaps we’d have more control over those temptations that lure us in.   If we all did better and walking the walk and talking the talk, perhaps the world’s problems would indeed be solved.   Sin control looks a lot like Jesus.

For further reading:  Romans 14:19, Romans 6:22, Matthew 5:8.

Lord, thank You for giving us Your righteousness, for making us holy.   Help us to believe in You more, to practice our faith.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 November 2015

 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11, verses 24-26.

Two things strike me about these verses.   They’re another example of Jesus meaning what He says; does He ever not mean what He says; I mean, really?   And the other part is how He reminds us to seek forgiveness for any wrong we’ve done.

I suspect that you’re like me in thinking that last part is especially hard.   That guy I was arguing with on Facebook?   Jesus tells me to be reconciled to him before even praying silently.   The wife I’ve hurt a thousand times with my callous words?   Jesus tells me to ask for her forgiveness before I come to Him for anything.   The kid I hit back in sixth grade, the guy I insulted on an airplane this summer, the guy I cut off in traffic, that woman who stole my parking space and then received from me some demonstrably un-Christian words:   Jesus tells me to go to them and forgive them before I do anything else.

Tough, man:   that’s a really, really tough thing to do.

Jesus is cutting us to the core.   He’s saying “don’t talk to me about your innermost love if you’re holding that love back from someone else.”   In one verse, the Savior is assuring us that He means what He says, that if we earnestly ask Him for something it will be ours.   Joel Osteen followers take note:   that may not mean a Lexus. No, Jesus is assuring us that the things that really matter – the matters of the heart – will be ours if we take our honest requests to Him.   And in the very next verse, Jesus then reminds us to let go of our junk before we bring our heart-felt matters to Him.

Astounding.   And it’s tough.   It may be the toughest thing you could ever do.   Just one verse before Jesus assures us that faith will make anything possible because His faith is true and full.   Here He tells us that the vehicle He gives us to exercise our faith – prayer – makes that ‘anything possible’ into a tangible tool for living.   Yet in the same breath Jesus reminds us how we would misuse that tool if we do so while harboring any kind of un-forgiveness against our sisters and brothers.

Yep:   tough.   Really, really tough thing to do in life yet it’s what Jesus asks us to do, even commands us to do.

Think about it: it’s the tendency of the world to tell us to do opposite. It’s easy (and fun) to gossip.   It’s natural to react in anger, to vent.   It’s understandable to want revenge.   It makes sense that we would react when people hurt us.   You know where this is heading:   the old guilt trip.   Yet Jesus doesn’t call us to feel guilty:   He calls us to change.   He calls us to repent from our wrongs, and the biggest part of repenting is turning away, changing our behavior.   Then comes forgiveness.

We can do neither without making use of the lifeline God gives us in prayer.   So every time we feel pulled by the past, grab on to the lifeline, then first forgive anyone who has wronged you or you have wronged.

Lord, teach me to forgive as You forgive.   I believe in You.

Read Mark 11, verses 27-33.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 17 September 2015

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Mark 10, verses 35-39

Are you audacious, bold or even arrogant?   Are you confident when you pray, or does it seem awkward?   Are your prayers wishes or honest requests? Do you boldly ask for things or tackle questions and issues head-on?   That’s what the Disciples were doing.   In a way, these verses are some of the most brutally honest and realistic because James and John, the Sons of Thunder, were doing what you and I would do.   In a way, I think they were more honest than you or I would be.

You see, we SHOULD ask Jesus for anything in prayer in audacity, boldness and confidence.   Do we?   Usually not.   As I mentioned yesterday, my wife and I went to see “War Room.” Audacity, boldness and confidence in prayer are some of the big messages we took away from the movie.   God wants us to talk with Him confidently, boldly and with an audacity of hope that even Mr. Obama couldn’t imagine. He wants us to talk with Him about things that matter to us, things we believe – and don’t believe – and he wants us to be genuine.   Jesus wants our reality, our truth because He is reality and He is the only real truth.   If you haven’t seen the movie, go see “War Room” and gird up for battle.

And life is a daily battle, isn’t it?   Sometimes it is very much a battle to be true to principles throughout the day.   I know that, for me, authenticity in my faith can be a real struggle.   I really, truly believe in Jesus.   I really, truly believe all He said He is, all that He did, and all the ways He is at work in the world today.   Yet every day I really, truly struggle with coarse language, with ‘walking the walk’ as an honest believer.   I’m judgmental.   I’m shallow.   I fail at gossiping, at patience and humility, at empathy for my brothers and sisters. My bold audacity is indeed arrogant sometimes. I’m a sinner and because I’m a sinner I desperately wage war against an unseen enemy every day.

If I were to say to Jesus what James and John did, I think He might react in a similar way.   Or, perhaps, He might honestly tell me, “no.”   I believe He would tell me that I really don’t know what I’m asking.   And I also believe He would love me anyway, that (just as He does now) He would see that I’m placed where I need to be so as to best do my part in His work.   Jesus doesn’t NEED me to do anything for Him, but He wants me to. And to do what He wants me to do, He asks that I audaciously, boldly and confidently share with Him all my innermost thoughts, hopes, dreams, and prayers.

Lord, I bring to You all my inmost thoughts.   You know them anyway.   Hear me as I pray, and reinforce me to boldly, audaciously pray with You, pray for others, and do Your work.

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 October 2014

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. Mark 1, verses 35-39

Wake.   Pray.   Minister.   Sleep.   Repeat.

If you aren’t a Christian, you might not know what “the Great Commission” is.   It’s in the last chapter of Matthew, where Jesus commissions his disciples to go out all across the planet and make disciples of everyone else.   Here in Mark, several years before He said that, is a foreshadowing of that charge.

Why did Jesus come here?   To go somewhere else – to the next place – to minister there.   He was preaching His own words, and many of those who heard those words realized they were the bread of life; read in the book of John for an explanation of that.   Jesus’ ministry here was to go where He needed to go to preach to people who needed to meet Him.

He did that by waking up, praying, ministering, sleeping, and then repeating the cycle again the next day.   We don’t know much about what Jesus of Nazareth did during the first 30 years of His life, but we know very well what Jesus the Son of God did for His three years in public ministry.   He did those five steps all over the area we call Israel today. I’m thinking Jesus probably spent more than 5 minutes with God every day, but the bottom line is that he well-spent good time.   Ditto, then, for the other activities during each day on the road.   Wake, pray, preach, sleep, repeat: that was His routine.

What’s yours?

I mean, in your job, don’t you wake up, do your day, then return home for rest?   I do; so do most people I know.   Most folks who work usually follow a fairly fixed routine. Your job probably isn’t to journey all over your state proclaiming the Gospel; that would be a cool job, though.   But your “Galilee” is probably a lot like mine.   It’s where I live, in the area where I work.   And in the area where I work and live I’ve been tasked to use my talents to God’s glory to introduce others to Him.   I do it in my own way:   through words, (badly) through social media, through one-on-one time with friends and strangers, and in a bunch of other ways that I don’t even recognize.   Every day, my job is to do whatever I can to make the most out of the talents with which God has entrusted me to hook up other people to Jesus.   In the course of managing projects, or buying groceries, or changing a tire, or drinking a beer with friends, or whatever you might find me doing when I’m awake there is no more important task. And then to do it somewhere else the next day.

Other than the obvious God-vs-man difference, what’s so different between my life and Jesus’? Our mission is the same no matter where the mission field is. Wake.   Pray.   Minister.   Sleep.   Repeat: and all with a thankful smile.   That is our commission.

Lord, strengthen me for my mission for You today.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20, and read Luke 4, verses 14-22.   Jesus got around.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 October 2014

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1, verse 35.

Something I’ve mentioned here before is how the pastor at my church, Mark Schaefer, periodically advocates to the congregation that we should each take 5 minutes with God every day.   Every year he leads Spoke Folk mission trips with high schoolers and this is one of the practical faith activities they do while on mission. Spend five minutes alone with God, without anyone else around, listening to him.   Clear your mind and just listen to God. Maybe prayers will come to mind, or calm confession, or imploring him on behalf of others. Whatever you do in that time, just take five minutes every day for time with just you and God.

“Be still and know that I am God.”   That’s Psalm 46. It’s the basis for my friend’s five minutes activity. No doubt, it was one of the things Jesus had in mind when He would get up early in the morning, while it was still dark, left the house and went off to a quiet, alone place to pray.   What did Jesus pray, or pray for?   We’ll never know. Did He pray to Himself (being the Son of the indivisible triune God)?   Did He pray for others?   Jesus was fully man and fully God, both at the same time.   What did He pray for and why did He need to pray?

Truthfully, we may never know; to us, the content might not really matter.   The lesson does, though, and for a few reasons.

Jesus was fully man.   He fully needed communion with the Father through prayer.   It was a physical as well as emotional and spiritual need. As a human, Jesus felt the need to turn His concerns, His ailments, His thoughts, His praises over to the Three in One who could tackle them.   Jesus understood it was something we needed to do, as well as something He wanted to do.   In this respect, we’re no different from Him.

He taught us that we are praying to God the Father.   Would you pray to yourself?   Again, truthfully, we may never know nor fully understand the mystery of the Trinity.   Was Jesus praying to Himself?   I think not; it could have been construed as vain.   No, I think He was praying to the Father, knowing the Father listens and is active.   It tells us that, when we pray, we’re praying to the listening active Father as well. That’s good news.

He modeled how we should pray.   Where, in the Lord’s Prayer, He modeled what we should pray, here in Mark He models how we should do it.   Go.   Be in a private place.   Assume a reverent posture, both physical and emotional. Get to a quiet place where you can clear your mind, where you can open up to Him.   By ‘going’ we make it a discipline, setting aside something personal but special for God and ourselves.

All by taking just five minutes to be still and know He is God. Just like Jesus did. We NEED to do the same.

My God, I pray to You, praising You for Your love, forgiveness, creation, and the life You’ve given to me.   I’m sorry for the bad things I’ve done.   I’m thankful for all the blessings You give.   I’m concerned for others; please help…

Read Psalm 46, verse 10, Matthew 14, verse 23, Luke 4, verse 32, and Luke 9, verse 18.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 15 January 2014

 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  James 5, verse 12.

Simple solutions and first principles:  that’s what God is all about.  It really isn’t that hard to understand:   when you’re hurting, turn to God.   When you’re happy, turn to God.   When you’re enjoying your morning coffee (or biscuits and gravy), turn to God.   When you’re bored, turn to God.

Just turn to God.  

Remember that, in the last verse, Jesus extolled us to keep our talk simple, letting ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and ‘no’ meaning ‘no.’  Now He expands on that advice, telling us simply come to God for everything.  To pray when we’re in trouble and sing when we’re happy.   It’s so simple that many folks may ask the (logical) question, “so what?

So what, because it’s a simple matter of first principles.  Our first reaction should be to go to God for everything.   It’s why the First Commandment says that we should have no other God but Him.  Worried about bills?   Seek God.   Working on your car?   Talk with God.   Just woke up in the morning?  Pray.  In trouble, seek God’s assistance through prayer.   In happiness, seek God’s ear through praise.   In anything between the polar opposites of trouble and happiness, the obvious choice is for us to simply seek God.

And another not so obvious lesson James is teaching is for us to be active in our faith.  Don’t just realize you’re in trouble and need Jesus’ help:  do something about it.   Pray and invite Him to be the solution, to teach, correct, encourage, and guide.  Don’t just bask in your happiness:   do something about it.  Share your happiness with God (and others) by singing.   These are activities, real tasks to act upon our faith instead of simply talking about it.   Taking God’s words to heart, pondering them, then changing our behavior according to what His Word says.  Our faith is only words if we don’t do something about it, doing what we can and should.

All that starts with simply turning to God.

Lord, I turn to You in trouble and in praise.

 

How often do you turn to God?

Are you one who prays just in need or just in praise?

Do you only pray when you’re in trouble?