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, 24 August 2017

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.  Hebrews 11, verse 30.

After yesterday’s entry, let’s fast forward a few generations.   In the space of a few months, Moses went from a shepherd, to renegade troublemaker, to general and judge, to leader of a nation.   In the space of a few months, Moses followed God through the Red Sea, then led the Israelites into the desert of Sinai (likely in today’s Saudi Arabia).   Not long after, Moses disappears onto Mount Sinai (to receive the Ten Commandments), the Israelites rebel, Moses loses his temper, and God punishes Israel for its disobedience by making them wander in the deserts of Midian for forty years until all the rebels died out.  When that generation is gone, Moses dies and Joshua, Moses’ lieutenant, takes over as leader.   God then commands the Israelites to march around the Canaanite city of Jericho for six days, praising God each time and blowing their trumpets behind the Ark of the Covenant (minus Indiana Jones).  On the seventh day, they marched around Jericho seven times, and on the seventh time, they screamed out in praise of God that God had delivered Jericho to them.

Which He had.  On that seventh march, the walls of Jericho that had protected it for decades, maybe even centuries, tumbled down and the Israelites took the city.   Jericho had been a military, economic and political threat to Israel.   More than that, they were a city full of pagan’s who gave the collective Canaanite finger to the great I AM.   I AM brought justice and the threat was removed.

Great story, eh?

It is great, and it’s history, not just a story.   It really happened.   Excavations at Jericho confirm a cataclysmic destruction of an ancient city there:   an account that lines up with the book of Joshua.  All if it happened because the Israelites believed that God would deliver the city to them.   If it doesn’t make much sense to you, then you’re probably in good company.   The story seems illogical to us today because we focus on the improbability of it.   Marching around the city, blowing trumpets, no conventional military attack to achieve a military objective:   it all seems preposterous.

Thee focus of the story isn’t on the unconventional (though effective) military tactics.  The focus of the story is on the faith the people had that God would do what He said He would do.  God had told Joshua to lead his people to do these things and then the city walls would collapse so Israel could take the city.  That’s exactly what happened.  Imagine the curiosity, then anxiety, then terror felt by the pagan ‘haters’ who lived in Jericho as they watched this foreign army surround their city.   Imagine watching thousands of these marchers, coming back day after day.   How would you have felt?   Would you have laughed at first but, by the end of that sixth day, been thankful for the stone walls that kept the invaders out?   And how would you have felt when the walls came down?

What is Jesus saying with the account of what the Israelites did after Jericho fell?   If you don’t know, they killed every living thing there.  How can God be merciful in that?   Before you get all judgy, remember that God asks for faith, invites us to faith, proves the worth of faith.   Jericho had heard about these Israelites.   They knew what had happened since the time of Abraham.  They knew and ignored it.   More than ignoring it, they flaunted God.   How could God spare them?  Friend, it isn’t our place to judge God but to heed Him and obey His Word.

Tell me, my friend:   what walls have you built that need to come down?   Have you walled off parts of your heart?   Have you walled off your emotions, your feelings, your past, your dreams?   More than this, have you walled out God from your life, thinking there’s no way He could love you, forgive you, want you?   Do you hate yourself and your life this much?

Perhaps its time to march around your heart a few times and then blow the horns.   The purpose of the account of Jericho is, for you, to do what God asks of you and open your heart to change.  Watch what happens when God keeps His word.

For further reading:  Joshua 6: 12-20.

Lord, thank You for what happened at Jericho.   Thank You for the faith of the Israelites, and for the promises You make.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 August 2017

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mis-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.  Hebrews 11, verses 24-26.

Moses isn’t Charlton Heston.   Remember “The Ten Commandments?”   Cecil B. DeMille’s last picture, which is one of the most famous movies of all time?   It’s a tradition in America to show it every year around Easter, and it’s one of the movies I don’t (yet) have on DVD (or should I do Blu-Ray?   Get all 2010…).   Here’s a true confession:   most of what I know about Moses, I learned from watching Charlton Heston.   He was manly, gutsy, stoic; if you wanted a statue of Moses, you’d want it to look like Chuck Heston.  But Moses isn’t (as my father called him) “the blue eyed Jew.”  Or Christian Bale (in the not-as-good re-telling from a few years ago).  The movie took a great many liberties with Biblical history, so much so that, when I actually read through Exodus through Deuteronomy, I felt let down.   Only after doing further study did I feel impressed, again, by the story of this great man.   The mis-understanding was mine, not Moses’.

However, make no mistake about it:   no movie star I know of – not even Charlton Heston – would choose to give up Hollywood to be treated like a slave.  Moses was brought up in the palace of Pharaoh.   He was treated like a grandson, even a son, even though he was the known child of Hebrew slaves.   His mother, Pharaoh’s daughter, lavished him in luxury.  She raised him to educate him, to teach him how to rule a nation, master a court, prepare for royalty.  Born a pauper, Moses grew up into a prince, a prince of Egypt:   the heir apparent to rule wealthiest, most splendid and powerful nation on Earth.  It wouldn’t have been unprecedented for a Hebrew, a foreigner, to rule as the power behind a throne.   After all, Joseph had done so.

Yet when Moses came to a crossroads in his life, he unwittingly chose God.   One day, he saw an Egyptian mistreat a Hebrew and he killed the Egyptian.   Long before God forbade it, Pharaoh forbade killing as a way to preserve order in society.   Moses hid the body, until the next day.  He saw two Hebrew men fighting and, when questioning one of them, learned that his crime had become known.   The brave prince of Egypt turned quickly into a coward on the run.   He fled Egypt and didn’t return for forty years.

During that time, Moses went from prince back to pauper.   He became a shepherd in what is possibly now western Saudi Arabia.  He actively shunned his past, perhaps out of fear, but perhaps out of humility.  Moses fled Egypt at about age forty and he lived in the desert another forty years.   He raised a family, worked from his in-laws, and disappeared from public life.   What did he do during that time?  What did he think?   What visions filled his dreams?  Surely Moses must have used much of that time to wonder why his life had gone off track.   I wonder if he had a crisis of faith, perhaps wrestling with faith for the first time in his life.  Eventually, he accepted that his life wasn’t off track but had, instead, traveled on to a different one.  He who had been born no ordinary child now lived the most ordinary, unrecognized of lives and what had it all been for?

But God recognized him, and Moses chose to accept the invitation.  He saw the burning bush on the mountain and hiked up to see it.   From then on, all history changed.   Moses definitely did.   God shook Moses out of his navel-gazing rural complacence and called him to the task God had prepared for him (and prepared him for).  He knew that the generation which had wanted him called to Egyptian justice was dead, but that the mission God had called him to perform might also get him killed.   Yet He went.   After some grumbling and stalling (in front of God Himself; can you imagine?), Moses went.   And then everything changed.

All because Moses looked heavenward.  All because Moses believed.   Charlton Heston couldn’t have done any better.

For further reading:  Acts 7:22, Exodus 2:10-Luke 14:33, Hebrews 10:35, 1 Kings 4:30, Isaiah 19:11.

Lord, thank You for the example of Moses.   Thank You for guiding Him, and for delivering Him from the slavery to his past while You delivered Your people from the injustice of real slavery.