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 Mark, 20 February 2015

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High GoGod? In d’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”   “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. Mark 5, verses 6-10.

The demons knew who Jesus was; we talked about that yesterday.   If demons knew who Jesus was, then so do Nazis, ISIS terrorists, KKK racists, the LRA in Sudan, atheists in college towns, and any other kind of petty or large evil person…even you and me.   Jesus is self-evident even to those who deny it and want to replace Him with themselves or some other shoddy image.

What’s more: those same demons acknowledged Jesus as God.   True, there’s a fine line between this statement and the one in the last paragraph, but isn’t it also true to say that there’s a difference between knowing who Jesus is and publicly acknowledging the fact? The demons in the man cried out through him that they not only knew Jesus but acknowledged Him as God.  Thoughts became words and actions.

Still, many kinds of demons meant that the man endured many kinds of torture. I have only known a few truly schizophrenic people but those I’ve known are the closest thing I can imagine to being demon-possessed.   The voices in the man were indeed real and they tortured his thoughts, his actions, his dreams, his every emotion and movement. Can you imagine living like that?   It’s not even a life, really.   It’s more like simply existing.

So what did Jesus do about it? Jesus commanded the demons to stop and they did. The demon (the representative of the ‘legion’ which might have been one or thousands) was told to come out of the man and it did. It couldn’t resist the simple command of the simple Man from Galilee.

Now comes the big question:   so what?   To some, this is a nice story about how Jesus did a kind thing for a stranger.   So what?

Well, for starters, you can either accept that line of reasoning or accept that the story is true. It either happened or it didn’t.   And if it didn’t happen, then, yes, it’s just a nice story.   But then that’s all you’ve got.

Or…

…Or, you can accept that it really happened. That the story is an account of something that really happened a very long time ago.   That there really was a man living in a cemetery.   That He really was tortured by imps of hell.   That there really was a man named Jesus who really did command the demons to come out of the man, and that they did.   And if all that is true, then whatever else is said about Jesus must also be true; you can’t simply cherry pick the Bible.   And if the rest of His life is true as well, then it’s also true that what He did for the stranger in the land of the Gerasenes He can do for you or me today.   Now that is a good thought for the day.

Lord, I believe all that is said in Scripture concerning You. Thank You for what You did for the man living among the tombs.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20.