Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 29 March 2018, Maundy Thursday

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NIV).

This is Paul talking about Jesus, about Jesus making the love of the Thessalonians increase and overflow for each other and everyone else.  Class dismissed.

But before you go, of course I have a few words.   Of course, since it’s Maundy Thursday, I’ll try to put them in that context.

Put yourself in the upper room that night.   You’re a helper bringing food in and out.   It’s a simple dinner, a menu that stretches back centuries.   Jesus and his friends, these famous people you’ve heard about, maybe met, maybe listened to, are here and you’re helping them celebrate the holiest night of the year.  You bring in lamb, herbs, unleavened bread, wine; you watch them as they say the words and ask the questions that Jews have said and asked most every year since the exodus from Egypt.

The overwhelming emotion in the room seems to be reverent sadness.   Given that this is the Passover, that’s appropriate.   But there’s something else afoot there, another emotion at work, something you can’t quite pin down but it’s moving and it’s growing.  Jesus is leading His friends in the mystical seder, and talking with them about sad things, about being tortured and persecuted and murdered.   He’s telling them strange things, speaking about His body and blood, and they are listening intently but don’t seem to really understand.

And then He’s talking with them about love, about incomparable love.   He’s talking about God’s love.   He’s telling them to love each other, to serve Him by serving others, to do as He does.  Jesus then stoops down to do the dirtiest job you know of:  He washes His friends’ feet.

That’s when you get a revelation, a light starts to shine in your head.   “He loves them.”  That’s a pretty obvious thought, but it’s miraculous.   He really, truly, fully loves these people the way only God does.   Jesus is talking the talk and walking the walk by both demonstrating and speaking of His love.   His love is expressed in everything He’s doing, and He’s serving them in ways you don’t expect God would.   But Jesus is doing it anyway and what He’s doing is inspiring, deeply moving, selfless and perfect.   Jesus is showing them, and you, the kind of person you want to be.   It’s life-changing.

And it happened on Maundy Thursday.   That kind of love is what Paul was talking about, the love Jesus would inspire and grow in the hearts of the Thessalonians.  It’s the kind of love that would make a wandering missionary long to see his friends.   It’s the kind of love that changes hearts, attitudes, and lives, both then and now.   It’s for you.

For further reading:   Matthew 26:17-35, Mark 14:12-31, Luke 22:7-38, John 13:1-17:26, 1 Thessalonians 3:13.

Lord, all praise to You for Your love, for the lessons You taught on Maundy Thursday.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 October 2016

He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.  Hebrews 3, verse 2.

Moses was God’s servant.   When Moses was a tiny baby, floating in the reed ark in the Nile, Jesus knew him.   When Moses murdered the Egyptian and fled in hypocritical fear, Jesus knew him.   When Moses stood in front of God’s presence and doubted himself and this God, Jesus knew him.   When Moses was an old man dying on top of Mount Nebo and looking into the Promised Land he was told he would never enter, Jesus knew him.  And when Moses, along with Elijah, appeared to Jesus, Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration, Jesus knew him.

You get the picture.   Jesus knew Moses.

And Moses, try as he did otherwise, knew Jesus.   He may not have known Jesus as the man incarnate, yet Moses knew Him as the three in one.  As Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 6 in the great Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”   Moses saw the Three in One personally, as God, as three persons in One.  He knew Jesus was God’s person abiding with Israel as it struggled with its newfound identity.   He knew Jesus as his deliverer and mediator when he stood in God’s presence and pleaded for his rebellious people.   He knew Jesus when He spoke comfort into Moses’ doubting heart.   And, after death, He knew Jesus as Lord, friend, man, and brother, talking with Him on that mountain in the desert where Jesus revealed a taste of His glory to a hungry world.

Through it all, Moses was God’s servant.   Just as Jesus was God’s servant.   Just as you and I are God’s servants.   Noodle that thought for a minute.  You and I have things in common with Moses and Jesus, the two greatest figures of antiquity, the deliverers of millions, the founders of Western civilization, and one of whom is God Immanuel the Savior of all mankind.  It isn’t just similarities, chance behaviors or traits we have in common with figures in history; you could say that about anyone.    No, we have a brotherhood, a familial bond with Jesus and Moses that goes beyond our shared humanity.   By God’s grace, He considers us to be His servants, doing His good and loving will in a world that needs to know Him.

I don’t know about you but I’ll admit that my independent American nature doesn’t like being told the best I can be is a servant.   I’m no slave…and yet I am one.  God forgive, then, my stupid head and ignorant heart.

Just this morning at the gym, I spent 10 minutes alone in the sauna.   I often do this at the end of my workout, and today I spent my time praying.   Going in, I decided I would only pray thanks to God for things that crossed my mind.   That and I wouldn’t pray for the same thing twice; it would only be new things that came to me during the prayers.   10 minutes doesn’t seem like that long of a time, but in reality it was.   Yet the longer I prayed, the harder – and easier – it became to pray for things.   By the end of it, I was praying for even simple things I’d taken for granted, things like dry floors and warm showers and clean clothes and even the air I breathed.

When I was done, I was left full.   I felt both satisfied and tired; can you imagine the thrilling exhaustion of praying for days-straight the way Nehemiah did before rebuilding the Jerusalem walls?   As I was walking out, I prayed again:   where would You have me serve today, Lord?   The God who appointed Moses to lead Israel out of slavery and into a new birth of liberty is the same God who sent His Son to deliver all of humanity out of slavery to sin and into the true birth of real liberty.   He is the same God who was with them in their most glorious and most trying moments.  And He is the same God who lives in the fires of the sun, the renewal of springtime, and the simple miracle of a newborn child.  God speaks to us in many ways, but in all those ways He calls to us to serve Him by using our lives and our talents in His purposes here on the Third Rock.  When we do this, we’re channeling our brothers Moses and Jesus, who were also God’s faithful servants:   servants we can know here and now.

For more reading:   Hebrews 3:5, Numbers 12:7, Deuteronomy 34:5-7, Joshua1:1-2, Psalm 105:26, Deuteronomy 6:4.

Lord God, I am Your servant today.   Thank You for blessing me this way.  Uphold me to do Your bidding as we will today, in service to You and Your good Kingdom.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 6 October 2015

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.  Mark 10, verses 51-52.

Before moving on, there’s something else to be said about these two verses that I feel compelled to share.   It’s the heart of them. It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus.

Duh!

No, really, I mean it. There’s nothing Bartimaeus could do to make Jesus love him any more; there’s nothing Bartimaeus could do to be worthy of Jesus’ gift of sight, or even the gift of sharing the same airspace with Jesus Christ for just a few minutes.   It isn’t about Bartimaeus receiving his sight in this fantastic miracle of love.   In fact, it isn’t about Bartimaeus at all. If you or I were in the story, it wouldn’t be about us either.

It’s about Jesus loving Bartimaeus and doing something for him. It’s what Jesus did and not what Bartimaeus did.

If you’re like me, you spend more of your time wondering about you’re angle, about what all this means to you, about how you should think or respond or whatever.   Lost in the shuffle of all that selfishness is that monumental statement “what do you want me to do for you” that Jesus spoke to this blind stranger. The creator of the universe, the man with whom Adam and Abraham and Moses all personally interacted, the advocate of Job, the fire in the burning bush and the whisper of life in every living being on the planet walks up to a perfect stranger in a crowd and asks him how He, the Savior, can serve.

It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus.

Just yesterday, a co-worker and I were talking about how we had led our project with a service attitude.   Not to be beaten-down servants, or to be cowards in the face of weaker people:   we were talking about how proud we were to be on a team where our attitude has been to serve.   To do our best for other people while subordinating ourselves to their goals.   We talked about how this is the true attitude of a Believer, how it’s impossible to be a follower of Jesus without this attitude.   It’s impossible because it’s what Jesus modeled for us.

And because He did it – because He rendered for us the ultimate service of dying in our place, as our punishment – there is nothing standing between us and the majesty of God.   I couldn’t do that; the Apostle Paul couldn’t do that; you couldn’t do that; neither could Bartimaeus, my co-worker, Billy Graham, any Catholic pope, Joyce Meyer or Donald Trump on a good hair day.   Only Jesus could die for us; only Jesus could redeem us.   Only Jesus could show us that all of life is about the supreme gift of love that He is and gave for us and still gives us every day.

Bartimaeus saw that.   He got his sight and immediately followed the first thing he saw, and the first thing he saw was the Savior who served him in his deepest need.   It’s not about Bartimaeus.   It’s not about you.   It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus and all was, and is, and is to come.

Lord, let all my life be my service to You.   It’s not about me.   It’s about You.

Read Mark 11, 1-3.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 24 September 2015

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10, verse 45.

We are happiest when we loser ourselves in a cause.   My dad didn’t give me much advice in life; he wasn’t one to make profound observations on life.   That’s not to say he didn’t say things I remember because he did.   I simply don’t remember him specifically spelling out many things explicitly for me to remember.   Dad was more of the kind to expect my sister and I to learn simply by watching and listening.

Yet one of the things I do remember him saying to me was said when I was a young airman in the Air Force. He told me “Lose yourself in a cause.   You’ll find yourself.”   I remember it for it’s marked difference between his usual observations, and for the fact that it’s spot-on correct.   It’s also something Jesus could have said and, in a way, it’s a derivative of verse 45.

We are hard-wired by Christ to be happiest when we are immersed in serving others.   Serving in the military, serving in church, serving Thanksgiving dinner, serving wherever life takes you:   we as people are happiest when we subordinate ourselves to do things for others.   When we do this, we are living to our fullest potential.

Jesus pointed to the example of His service to the world as the model for our behavior. He lived, taught, died, and would live again as the penultimate lesson on how we should live our lives.   Everything Jesus did was some kind of act of service.   Water into wine in Cana?   Serving the wedding.   Calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee?   Serving the terrified Disciples. Observations on divorce, adultery, anger, and a hundred other topics?   Service to humanity by imparting God’s wisdom.   And dying on the cross?   The ultimate service.

It’s ultimate because it is a ransom for many.   It’s the only ransom that could be paid for our sins.   You or I couldn’t do it; neither could the Pope, Mother Theresa, Joel Osteen, Billy Graham or Donald Trump. Only Jesus could pay the true price for the guilt and punishment that our trillions of sins require.

Yet notice Jesus doesn’t say “ransom for all.”   It’s true:   Jesus’ death and resurrection is the price paid for the redemption of all mankind.   All humankind is given this benefit because of what Christ did, because of God’s grace.   Yet not all of humankind will claim that benefit.   Will those who live this life in disbelief of that miracle benefit from it; will they live eternally with Christ in heaven? It’s a tough answer to hear but you know the answer is “no.”   It’s not me saying that:   it’s Scripture.   I prefer to not play God and judge what He does or does not. It’s enough for me to take Him at His word and believe that, when Jesus says “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” He means it.

And if you want to go to the Father, you must first die to self and live to serve.

Lord, refashion my heart, my thinking, my every action to want to serve You by serving others.

Read Mark 10, verses 46-52.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 September 2015

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10, verses 42-45.

The disciples are pissed off, so Jesus throws down and reminds them of why He came and how they should now act because of Him. As you noodle that thought, don’t lose sight of the immensely profound thing that Jesus just said and did.

Along that thought path, let’s talk work. My project is exactly one week out from go-live.   If you don’t work in business IT projects, that means the new codes and changes we have worked four years to implement go into live business production one week from today. Tensions at the client are enormously high, and my team is struggling hard to get through last minute issues, side-bar white noise, and the sniping that comes with being this close to implementing large-scale changes.   Yesterday, most of us on the team put in a 17 hour work day.

Know what? Jesus could be speaking to my team instead of the Twelve Apostles.  He could be reminding those of us in Minnesota to remember that, in all ways and at all times and especially in times of stress and duress, to serve is to serve Him.   Every thought in our heads and every action of every minute should be spent serving others in ways large and small.

Tell me:   how’s that working out for you?   Does it go against your grain to have someone remind you that you should have the heart of a servant when, sometimes, you want the heart of Conan the Barbarian?   Even if the someone telling you is Jesus, God Immanuel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

You know the answer. We’re fatally, brutally flawed and sinful creatures.   Left to our own devices, we would make constant war on each other.   Thank God that He is playing a long-ball game called “life” and that He is endlessly merciful to creatures who don’t deserve it.

If you want to get past moments of stress, remember to serve.   If you want to have your demands heard and addressed, remember first to serve.   If you want to be served, serve others first.   If we truly want to change the world, let’s do it first by doing it for others just like Jesus. In doing so, we’ll find it’s deeply profound and worthwhile.

Jesus confronts the conventional and reminds us that He didn’t create us for conventionality.   He lived and created us to be unconventional, to address hate with love, to address demands with confidence, to address stress with calmness.   Jesus isn’t giving the Apostles (or us) some cheesy pep talk.   Instead, He is empowering humanity with the tools to address mankind’s deepest need for fulfillment and satisfaction. In doing so, He reminds us that love is more powerful than anything else, and that if we use that love as a willing servant does, then we can overcome anything.   Even a software go-live.

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your servant example and for Your patient mercy.   Teach me yet again to serve You by serving others in wherever I find myself this day.

Read Mark 10, verses 46-52.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 July 2015

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9, verse 35.

Jesus is telling us “put Me before yourself and everything else.”   Walk the walk in the most extreme walk possible.   How’s that working out for you? Probably about the same as it’s working out for me.   We suck at it. Now, we’re not going down a road of guilt-trips here.   You know we’re both sinners and we fall miles short of the glory of God; we get it.   But did you grasp the empowering challenge Jesus laid down?

You and I:   we GET TO make ourselves servants.   You and I:   we get the opportunity to change, to turn the page on things that defined us before but we don’t need to let define us any longer.   We GET to let Jesus remold us.

Jesus uses this moment to educate, to love on these twelve men who’ve pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to follow Him no matter what.   They’ve been squabbling over the smallest of concepts:   vanity.   Who’s the best; who is most favored.   Jesus catches them in the act and confronts them over it.   When they blanch, He uses the moment to lay out a bold truth, then lay down the boogie and play that funky music (till He died, in fact).

“My friends, I’m the ball.   Keep your eyes on the ball.   If you want to be greatest, follow my lead and serve.   Don’t just serve Me:   serve Me by serving each other, strangers, those who hurt you, and anyone else I put in your path.   When you do that, you’ll see how your focus on the small matters of life will become even smaller.”

Wow.   Can you truly dig that?   Everything that we value that makes us proud, that makes us feel accomplished and righteous is worth nothing compared to serving other people as God serves them.

“That’s all well and good, Dave.   That was Jesus; then, not now.   What about now?”

Same advice, my friend:   keep our eyes on Jesus; keep our eyes on the ball. When we serve, we are modeling the way He as God selflessly serves us.   He does it through the actions of others; He does it when the milk of human kindness flows.   What’s more, Jesus serves us every single morning simply by our waking up and drawing breath.   Every day is a miracle; the illogical, beautiful thing that is life is a constant miracle. Consider, then, how serving it is for the God who makes that life to give it to us free of charge.   Consider further how He serves us by giving us a way out of the guilt of our countless sins through the serving sacrifice of His Son.   If we keep our eyes on that, if we focus on Him and rebuild our redeemed lives around how He would have us live, then we don’t just have to become servants to model Him: we GET to become servants to model Him.   We get to listen.   We get to use our time to help.   We get to be Jesus for others who may not know Him.

And in it, He is given glory.   That is a tough challenge, one that most folks won’t take up.   What’s it worth to you?

Jesus, I accept Your serving, blessed challenge.   Teach me to be a servant today; help me to act more like You.

Read Mark 9, verses 30-36.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 6 February 2015

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Mark 4, verses 24-25.

My wife and I just watched “American Sniper” and these verses come to mind in describing the movie.   It’s a very compelling movie; I highly recommend it, though if you’re queasy about watching people get shot, this movie will send you over the edge.   When you see Chris Kyle’s story, you can’t help but think about how some people give and are given more (and then they keep on giving, even past the point of breaking), and how some people lose even what little they have.

It’s all because of what we bear in our hearts.

When we love, love grows and we’re given more.   Those platitudes about dying rich without having a cent to your name are true; you know they are. God is love is Jesus is love is the Spirit is love. When we let the love of God re-mold our hearts, we are like the farmer sowing seed in good soil.   The fertile soil of our hearts is ripe ground in which to grow a hundred-fold crop of Jesus’ love.   He harvests that by using us to share it with others.   And then they get to do it.   It’s a matter of the heart, and it – and not the famous and powerful – really does make the world go around.

Consider, then, the poor guy who doesn’t love.   I pity him.   I honestly pity people who don’t love, who don’t know the love of Jesus. I find myself wanting to do something to reach out to them, to share Him with them in some way.   Perhaps the best way is simply to listen, to be a friend, to meet them on their level and be there for when Jesus wants to turn the soil in their heart. When we don’t do this, I pity us, and I pity the people who don’t know love because if they turn their hearts cold, even that coldness will leave them when they catch up to eternity.   And we all do:   death and beyond wait for us all.   To those who don’t know the love of Jesus and don’t share love, eternity must be a punishingly lonely fate. The better way is to find them and love them while we can.

That was one of the take-away’s I got from American Sniper. He loved while he could, and in unconventional ways. Kyle loved deeply:   his family, his country, his brother Seals, and even the strangers.   Being a sniper was a job to him, yet it ate at him with every life he took even when that was justified in protecting others. It tore him up and changed him; in some ways it became an obsession.   Yet he was able to pull away from it and serve in other ways.   That service was what eventually got him killed.   Some may say “what was it all for?”   Some might ask that same question about Jesus willingly going to the cross.

Mind you, I’m not comparing the murder of Chris Kyle to Jesus dying for our sins.   Yet it is good to remember that all gave some but some gave all. For those who give, when the love of Jesus lives in their hearts, giving all is actually a very small price to pay.

Lord, let me give my all for You today.

Read Mark 4, verses 26-29.