Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 31 August 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.  Hebrews 12, verse 1.

If only it were that easy, right?  Actually, it is.

Last night, I watched “The Alamo,” with John Wayne.   I’m drawn to the story of the Alamo; I was even before I became a Texan.   I believe every American should see the Alamo in San Antonio at least once.   If you’ve never been there, you might be more impressed by the movie set where Mr. Wayne directed his movie; that can be found out in Brackettville, in West Texas.  If you want to sense the Alamo, you’ll find it on a tiny city block in the middle of downtown San Antonio.   It’s almost unimpressive, and it’s difficult to imagine barely 200 untrained ‘militia’ holding off an organized army of nearly six thousand:   the largest attacking force in the Western Hemisphere.  Yet that’s what happened.   They did it for nearly two weeks, buying time for General Sam Houston’s army to gather and prepare.   At the end, all the defenders were killed.   Only a few weeks later, the tables were turned, Santa Anna defeated, and Texas became its own country.

It seems like such an easy choice to make, that is, standing up against a dictator like Santa Anna.   Freedom against oppression; standing up for what you believe instead of living under the boot of an oppressor.  That ought to be an easy choice to make, almost no choice at all really.  Then again, I’m just a spectator, a movie-watcher.  I haven’t yet had to choose death over surrender against an overwhelming army.

Or have I?

If you think about it, we choose death every day.   We aren’t heroes like the men at the Alamo, but we choose to stand up and fight every day simply by believing.  Every day we are given the choice to stand and fight again or sit out the battle and watch events affect us.  Every day we’re given the choice to hold onto things or to throw off every thing, every sin, that hinders and entangles.  Most of the time, we do throw them off; at least some of them.  Others, well, we hold onto them.   Why?   Why hold onto the guilt, the danger, the agony of that pet sin?   What good does it do you?   Or has the hurt of it wrapped around you like an old quilt, enfolding you in false warmth as it actually, slowly, smothers you from within?   For the love of God, and because of it, throw it off already.   Stand up and fight.   You have witnesses to support you.   As Crockett, Bowie and Travis might have said, ‘you don’t have to stand tall but you do have to stand up.’

And that ain’t easy.  Read verse 1 again and you’ll see that it doesn’t promise easy.   But it does promise support.  That support comes first and foremost from Jesus.

I read a blog called “Trusty Chucks” by a Christian lady named Mary Graham (www.trustychucks.com).   Her current posts are agonizing, about how her husband, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, has back-slid.   Their family is right now being ripped apart by something that entangled and hindered, something they, and she, thought had been long ago thrown off.  Why would her husband secretly use these poisons that endangered the happiness and security of all they had built?

Why would you or I?   You know we do the same damn thing.

Yet Christ calls us to stand up and do it again.   Every night when we embrace the cold arms of our sins, we entangle ourselves in all the dysfunction that’s involved in them.   And every morning, Christ beckons us to come to Calvary and die with Him, to put to death the sins of yesterday.  To throw them off, then stand up and start again.   Most every morning, most of us do.   Through that process, He is there.   When all our cards are played, He is still there, supporting us, encouraging us, loving us through the worst and the best.  And when we get the energy to look around, we find we’re one of many fighting on the line.  Christ does that.   He inspires others to stand with us, beside us.

What will you do today?

If you have a few minutes, go read Mary’s blog.   She’s very candid, very real, and a passionate soldier in the army of the living God, and she’s taking fire now.   And make plans to one day go see the Alamo.  The Shrine of Texas Liberty is hallowed ground for us all.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36.

My Lord, You stand with me.   You are my backbone, my spirit, my energy, my rest.  Help me to get up again today, then stand with me to battle these temptations and evils once again.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 July 2017

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.  Hebrews 10, verse 39.

Yesterday we talked about disappointing God.   Today let’s talk about not ‘shrinking back.’   That was mentioned yesterday as well but I didn’t talk much about it.  How about now?   What do those words bring to mind for you?   I think of someone backing up, backing away from something.   I think of someone standing who then sits down when confronted.   Jesus asks us to stand up for Him even if all we can do is sit.  Stand first in the heart.  Here’s a list of ways to do that:

  • Professing “I believe in Jesus”
  • Doing what Jesus says

Stop me if I’m wrong but I think those may be the only ones that matter.   Everything we do in this life should be according to His command.   If we believe then do what He says, then everything we do becomes a reflection of what we believe.  Welding a straight line?   Believe in Jesus and do your best, then thankfully try again when it isn’t straight.   Feeding the chickens?   Believe in Jesus and feed them, tend to them, be thankful for them.   Folding underwear from the dryer?   Believe in Jesus and fold them, being thankful He’s provided them (and that they’re clean).  I’m betting you’re seeing a trend here.

Believe and be thankful.   Believe and do what Jesus says.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment of all the law was to fully love God, and that the second greatest commandment was then for us to love each other that same way.  He repeatedly taught His followers to love their enemies and to act thankfully in all they did.   Love and thankfulness are, perhaps, the greatest of the fruits of the Spirit.   They are the tools with which God privileges us to live in the world, to fight the spiritual battles that come our way.

When we believe and are thankful to Jesus in all ways, large and small, then everything we do becomes an act of worshipping him.   You’re welding, you’re feeding animals, you’re folding clothes, you’re doing whatever you’re doing:   if you do it with a heart thankful to God to simply be in that moment, you’re worshipping Him.   You’re using the moments He gives you to do the work at hand that’s part of simply living on the Third Rock.   What’s more, you’re giving Him glory by using that moment for what He has you doing.   You’re praising God for the large and small things with which He’s blessed you in this life.   You aren’t wasting the life He’s given you; you aren’t shrinking back from living fully.

Some moments aren’t memorable; think the underwear and the chickens and maybe even those welds.   Some moments, however, have deeper gravity.   Think when a hostile fellow confronts you.   Think when your grandmother is dying.  Think mentoring your kids, even when they’re in their 20s smoking pot.  Think any number of situations where you really need to stand up and say “this I believe.”   People can see through false words.   Convictions matter; are you walking the walk while talking the talk, or is it simply one or the other?  You may or may not be Martin Luther standing in front of the council, but you still get to stand.   You still get to believe in Jesus, then do what He commands.   You get to not shrink back.

When you believe and do what Jesus says, you get to count yourself as one who’s been saved.  THAT pleases God.

For further reading:  John 3:16, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 22:37-40, John 15:9-12, 1 Corinthians 13:13

My Lord, I believe in You.   Thank You for saving me, for giving me the privilege of standing for You, of trusting You to live life with me.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 17 February 2016

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14, verses 37-38.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak:” no more helpful words were spoken that early Good Friday morning.

Notice how Jesus poses the question to Peter (and, in turn, James and John) that both accuses of slacking but also speaks to their conscience.   Jesus doesn’t slam the Disciples.   Instead, He states a fact – I really need your help – while speaking to the better angels of their nature.   Then Jesus “goes there,” reminding them – and us – of a few key things about humanity.

Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation.   God made each of us with the inborn ability to watch, to be alert, to be cognizant, mindful, attentive, and active in our lives.   God Immanuel tells us to watch around us because the fallen world of sin is the world we live in.   He calls us to be in that world, to hold fast to faith in Him but live in that sinful world with other sinful people like ourselves.   Why does Jesus tell us to watch?   So that we don’t fall into temptation, of course.   Jesus understood temptation; He was fully man while still being fully God.   Yet when Satan tempted Him in the desert, Jesus was literally starving to death.   He was at His physical and emotional lowest and that’s when Satan pressed for advantage.   Jesus was telling His friends that the best way to resist temptation is to watch out for it.

The spirit is willing; words of hope.   Jesus knew the depth of the human spirit; He knew that it was for love that God created each one of us with a spirit.   And He knew that He, in His Spirit, would return to the world after He had ascended home.   When that happened, the Spirit of God would move the spirit of man to faith, to accept this resurrected Lord as the only Savior of mankind.   He knew this would be possible, that it would happen, because Jesus knew that the spirits of men are willing, that we crave God and innately seek God even as we deny Him.

Yet we deny God because the flesh is weak. Even when we watch, even when our spirit is willing, man’s flesh is weak.   We want the sin.   We want the praise, the power, the glory.   All the stuff of comfort?   Want it.   All the adulation and fame and adoration of other men?   We crave them. We want and crave those things because we forget that our flesh is weak.   We’re sinful from birth, weak in the flesh and tempted to seek comfort in the flesh instead of comfort from the Cross.

Jesus ‘got’ all of that, and I marvel at how He spoke with instead of speaking to these men who, being men, fell asleep when they should have been standing watch for Him. Peter and the others should have been keeping guard, attending their friend.   Instead, they did what we would do.   Thank God for His patience with them and us.

Lord Jesus, You are kind, wise and patient with us. Thank You for these blessed qualities, for teaching me about myself.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 February 2016

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Mark 14, verses 32-34.

Jesus and His Disciples went to a rocky garden on the periphery of Jerusalem for some private time and prayer.   The eleven men with Him had lived a long day. So had Jesus, and all of them had to be physically and emotionally exhausted. When they got to the garden, Jesus then asked His three closest friends to continue on a little further.   He was overwhelmed.   You and I can grasp that feeling because, in these stressful times of economic depression, tense relations, and political upheaval, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the world around us.   Then add on personal issues, anything that hurts, bothers, or haunts you and your sense of being overwhelmed increases drastically.

Now think of Jesus at that point.   All those things were swirling around Him.   Add to them the fact that He had released Judas to go get the men who would start the process of killing Him. He knew it was happening.   Jesus knew that a criminal’s death was only a few hours away, and that in-between these early morning hours and that Good Friday afternoon, He would be beaten, flogged and tortured.   He knew the physical agony that was ahead and He knew there was no other way.   His followers would turn on Him. What’s more, He was assuming onto Himself all the sin of mankind, knowing that His Holy nature and the Holy Father and Spirit who comprise His Trinity could not abide that.   Jesus knew they would abandon Him and yet they wouldn’t.   In a mystery too deep for us to comprehend, Jesus understood the depth of the sin penalty that He would take upon Himself knowing that He would be all alone yet never alone.

He was overwhelmed with sorrow over all of it.   He was overwhelmed in ways that you and I can’t even begin to comprehend. All He asked was that His closest friends would simply be with Him. “I’m scared, guys.   Just be with me while I go through this.”   He said it knowing that Peter would soon deny even knowing Him a minimum of three times.   He said it knowing that James, John and the others would scatter when the temple guards came to seize Him.   It wasn’t much to ask and He asked it.

They failed Him.

So do I.   So do you.

All Jesus asks of us is that we let Him drive. He wants us to allow Him to bless us, to allow Him to bear our burdens, to mentor us, to surrender our control to Him so that He can teach us a better way.   He wants to teach us to stand for Him so that He can fight for us. I fail him every day at this; so do you.   Yet we have a duty to Him to stand that watch, to stand up for Him and stand against what is wrong in our world.   We don’t have this duty to work out our salvation:   we get to bear it as fidelity to our Savior. So did the Disciples.   So do I.   So do you.

Lord, please forgive then strengthen me to stand for You. Thank You for your sacrifice, for dying for me.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 December 2015

You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. Mark 13, verse 9.

Jesus was personally predicting for His best friends what would happen to them.   He was fore-telling their fate and telling them that, as they neared their end, for His sake they would be persecuted and tortured. He’s also telling us the same thing. The same thing can happen to us.   In some ways, the same thing WILL happen to us.   You and I will meet opposition, struggle financially, and likely struggle physically, maybe even violently, for standing by Jesus.

Well isn’t that just great!

Actually, it is.   It really is.   You see, thinking about torture that way can lead you to think only “all glory to Jesus.” AGTJ if you will.   Jesus was telling His friends that they would suffer like He would suffer. In doing that, He was promising them eternal rewards that would fulfill their deepest desires for true communion with God.

So that’s great?   Of course it is.   You get to have spiritual peace here on earth by being in union with Jesus here, by reordering your life around His priorities and learning to think and act in different ways.   Best of all, you get to share that peace in ways you can, in ways He empowers you to do. When this life is done, then you have the peace of knowing Him forever because you get to be with Him in paradise, where there is no sin, no sadness, no anger, no complications to life.

Of course, there’s that whole torture thing.   No way around saying it:   that sucks.   Being flogged:   painful; excruciatingly painful.   Handed over to the government:   terrifying. Standing before the leaders to witness Jesus to them:   daunting at best.   Seeing your friends and family persecuted, denying you, denouncing you: wrenching. Sometimes the thought of all that makes me feel afraid, and I can honestly say that I fear nobody in this world.

Here’s where I think of Aragon, turning to his friends as they face the armies of Mordor.   He smiles, he raises his sword, and he says “for Frodo” before defiantly running towards the battle to do justice on the unjust.   I’m no Aragorn; perhaps you aren’t either.   But I’m jazzed by the idea of standing for Jesus, of ‘taking it to the man’ who works to keep me down and wants to destroy what I have because I believe in Christ.   I was a warrior once and stood tall in ways some may not have imagined; it was all so improbable.   Yet, in Christ, I’m a warrior still, armed with His confidence, His words, and His faith.   I’m armed with Him and dangerous to any without faith.   Devil be damned, I send him on his way.   I stand for Jesus and I’m ready to fight.   What say you?

So when Jesus predicts that, to follow Him, I will suffer, then like the Apostle Paul I’ll rejoice in those sufferings.   Bring it, baby.   That’s not gloating.   It’s simple faith. And it’s pretty great after all. AGTJ.

Lord, I stand in You.   I’ll admit:   I’m sometimes afraid of what could happen to me. But I know that You are with me, that You will never put me someplace or in some way beyond what I can bear.   Help me to stand. Help me to righteously defy the world for Your sake.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 December 2014

Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. Mark 3, verses 3-4.

Gutless cowardice makes me so stinkin mad. It infuriates me because, to be honest, I’ve been a gutless coward too many times in my life.   I can’t begin to tell you about all the times I stood silent – like the Pharisees – when I should have spoken up.   Or all the times I was bullied in school and did nothing to stop it. I can’t even remember how many times I used to be scared of things that really shouldn’t scare us; things like the dark, or confrontation, rejection, telling the truth, my faults and sins, deadlines, or even getting caught in a traffic jam.   I look back on those times and see myself has having been so much less than I knew I should have been and it makes me feel ashamed.   Ashamed and yet so amazed even more that Jesus wants me just the way I am, gutless cowardice and all.   There’s nothing I could have done, or could do now, to change that, or earn it, or make myself worthy of it.   It’s that agape love He has to which we all aspire but from which we remove ourselves so woefully far.

So it makes me mad to read about this story for the umpteenth time, about how the Pharisees were such damned gutless cowards when they were confronted by the Son of Man. Here they are in person with Jesus Christ, the one whose coming has been foretold since Eden, and they’re looking for a way to trap Him in His words.   Yet when He does something confrontational yet loving (like healing someone with a physical deformity), do they speak up?   Do they walk the walk?   You know the answer.

Gutless cowards.

Tell me:   would we be any different?   I’ve already confessed my sometime-cowardice.   I pray it would never return but, to tell you the truth, I don’t always know.   How about you?   What are you hiding from?   What bad things have you done, or are going on in your life, or are going on around you, that you refuse to stand up and face?   Are you walking the coward’s path in some way?

I bet you are.   Not to insult you; please understand, I respect you for who you are. So it’s in friendship and even admiration for you that I tell you I bet there are things you’re afraid of, things that make you cower in pusillanimous, irrational fear.

The antidote to fear? Let’s return to where Jesus is in verse 3 and stand up for Him.   Let’s be the man with the shriveled hand; the man who couldn’t help Himself but knew Jesus could.   Let’s let Him take our hand and make us understand that ‘He’s got this.’   That, cowering and fear or not, He wants us just as we are, that we don’t need to do a thing – that we really can’t – to make Him love us more for just who we are.   That in Him there is power to stand so that no weapon – or fear – will prosper against us. During Christmas week, that’s such an important thing to remember because that is the reason He came.

Lord, forgive me my fears and doubts and the times I’ve been a coward.

Read ahead in Mark 3, verses 1-6

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 18 March 2014

And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.  Ruth 3, verse 11.

It doesn’t take much to destroy a reputation.   Ask me; I know.   I’ve built, destroyed, and re-built my reputation several times over.  Not everyone knows me well, and those who do sometimes wish they didn’t.   I work hard these days to live out my faith, but I don’t always live it well, especially if you get me talking about politics.   That hasn’t always been the case because the cliché is true:  a good reputation takes a long time to build while it takes only a few minutes to tear it down.

My grandfather (himself a man who had strong good and bad sides) used to say that you should always tell the truth because then you never have to worry about what you told someone.  Perhaps he spoke from experience.  He worked hard all his life to build a family and a business, yet in some of his weaker moments, he dove head-first into tearing that down.   It took him many years to recover from that; in some cases he never did, and he was still one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.   Yet he strived to be honest, to be no-nonsense while being just himself.   That isn’t easy.

He was a far cry from Ruth.   Since her arrival in Judea, she had worked hard to be known as a follower of God.   Ruth’s reputation was solid.  Her words and actions aligned; she lived out her faith.  That isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when you’re dealing with abject poverty as Ruth was.  She had stood by Naomi; she had worked hard.   Ruth had lived honorably and had done nothing to bring shame on herself, Naomi, or Naomi’s family.  Word gets around in a small town, even if it’s a good word.   Boaz knew about Ruth, and he understood her to be a woman of good, Godly character.   A decision to marry is hardly a ‘no brainer,’ but it’s made much easier when you know your prospective partner to be the kind of person you can admire.

Like Ruth.

Not so much me.  Or my grandfather.   Or most people, maybe even you at times.   Admit it:   we have good points, but we aren’t Ruth.  We usually work hard to develop character, and we struggle with the things that could derail it.  I can’t picture Ruth struggling with feelings of hatred, or temptations to steal, or to lie, or sleep around or shoot heroin.   But she was a sinner too, and she had her own pet temptations that we don’t know about.   She found strength to stand in her new-found God.   So can we.

Lord, I thank and praise You for giving me another day on Planet Earth to build a reputation for following You.

 

Read Ruth 3.

What are some kinks in your reputation?

Would people have a hard or easy time believing you are a good follower of Christ?

Who do you need to forgive?