Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 December 2019

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29-30. (EHV).

Was Paul one of these people who said “well, it’s good enough for me so it’s good enough for you?”   From these verses, it sure seems that way.   Paul was in intellectual living in a world where, like ours today, the intellect was daily confronted by the reality of brutish living.   Greece was the home of warriors and philosophers.   So was Rome.   So, in fact, was Jerusalem.  Paul had been educated as a Pharisee, and was taught the entirety of the Scriptures from boyhood.  Like other young Jewish men, he memorized them, took them to heart.  Later, as an adult, Paul zealously lived out the commands of the authorities in the synagogue.   Shut down “the Way” and get rid of anybody in your way.   He enthusiastically persecuted new Christians, even overseeing the murder of Stephen:   the first Christian martyr.  That all changed on a lonely desert road, where Paul learned how to stand up for Jesus.

Now enter his time in Philippi.   There Paul started the first Christian church on the European continent.   He cast out demons.   He preached Christ crucified to the mostly poor and merchant populations of that former Greek colony.  In doing so, he antagonized the powers-that-be who didn’t want to see their businesses or way of life altered.   All through this, Paul reasoned his way through, standing behind the truth that the Lord revealed to him and appealing to his friends and peers any way possible.

The payoff?   Pain and suffering.   Paul was ridiculed and scored:   things tough to bear for one who prided himself on his knowledge and God’s power through him.   By the time he got to writing these verses in Philippians, it would seem he was responding to his friends in Philippi, “well, if I have to suffer then you do, too.”   But read closer, especially in context of the verses around these, and you see that Paul isn’t saying this at all.  Instead, Paul is telling them, “rejoice in these sufferings.   Model me as I stand up for Jesus.”

Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when you lose your job because you won’t do something repugnant.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when your old friends reject you because you won’t go down those same old roads.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when the knock on the door comes, the tap on the shoulder is felt, or you’re led away.   You’re in His company and that of a man named Paul who had to learn how to stand.

For further reading:  Acts 16:19-40, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, Hebrews 10:32, Philippians 2:1.

Lord Jesus, I don’t want suffering.   I really don’t.   But when it comes because of standing for You, I welcome it.   Praise be to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 17 December 2019

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. Philippians 1:29. (EHV).

A scene from a particular movie has stuck with me since childhood.  It’s a scene from a movie called “A Man Called Horse” with Richard Harris starring as an Englishman who lived with an Indian tribe. In it, the man, known to the Sioux as “Horse,” is initiated into the tribe.   His chest is pierced, eagle talons are inserted in the pierce holes and then attached to long straps that are also attached to a center pole.   The man then hangs from these straps until the talons rip out of his chest, proving that his suffering becomes enough to purify him as a warrior for his new people.  The first sequel to this movie contains a similar scene.

Pretty gruesome stuff, eh?   Now think about crucifixion.   If you haven’t read up on just what happens during a crucifixion, go do it.  Or watch “The Passion of the Christ.”   Go watch the kind of thing that the Lord endured on our behalf.  Or go watch “A Man Called Horse.”  There.   That’s what’s in store for you as a believer.   It’s the kind of thing that Jesus had to endure, so if He can do it you or I can, right?

Don’t take it too lightly because I’m actually being serious here.   Saying “I believe in Jesus” may some day take you to that level of physical agony.   Just this past weekend I saw pictures of a woman who was whipped in Iran for professing her belief in Christ.   I’ve read accounts of people in China and Indonesia and Saudi Arabia being executed for believing in Jesus; usually that comes after they have been tortured.

But to live is Christ and to die is gain, right?   Yes, actually it is.  The actual risk of death – or likelihood of it – is part of the reward.   We live to share Him as heaven on earth, being part of heaven right now, here.   It is a privilege to stand for the Most High.  And when we die, we get to spend forever on adventure with Him in the fullest lives possible.   The torture or circumstances of our passing won’t matter.   Indeed, we’ll be thankful for them.

Until then, we may really be made to suffer here for our people.  Whether it’s having our chests pierced to hang from a pole or, like Jesus, have our hands and feet pierced to hang from a tree, we may actually suffer real agony, real torture, real persecution in the name of Jesus.   It would be for His glory, you see.  And our gain.

For further reading:  Matthew 5:11, Acts 5:41, Acts 14:22, Philippians 1:21, Philippians 1:30.

Lord Jesus, let it be Your good will if I am to suffer here for You.   Thank You for the privilege.   Abide with me through the pain into Your glory.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 March 2019

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.   2 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).

The “whom” Paul believed in is obviously Jesus; duh.  What about the rest of the verse?   What is it that Jesus is “able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day?”  What does it mean to you?

By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he knew the executioner’s axe was imminent.   Can you imagine the emotional suffering?   This letter is his farewell to both his protégé and his earthly ministry.   Years before, Paul vowed to live out the years of his life in service to the Lord Jesus, who met him on a desert road to Damascas.  Paul had spent years prior to this fully committed to destroying the nascent church of “the Way”.   He had been responsible for destroying numerous small congregations and torturing, even killing, some of their leaders.

The Apostle knew what was in store for him when he agreed to follow this Jesus who struck him blind, then healed him.   Paul would live out his life as a herald for Christ, proudly, boldly, confidently, and wisely.  On that road, Paul entrusted his entire future – both temporal and eternal – to Christ because he had personally experienced who Jesus really was.   That which Paul had entrusted to Jesus was simply everything, only his life, only what mattered most.   Paul saw things as they were, perhaps for the first time in his life, and reasoned that the only real reason for living was to follow this Jesus who was exactly who the prophets and other apostles said He was.

What does that mean to you?

I get uncomfortable when people talk about their ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ.’   Or when they outline how He talks to them (and they talk back).   That simply isn’t my experience with Him.  I’ve said it before:   I don’t recall any particular “saving” moment in my past.   I simply know I was saved because He did it.   My parents had me baptized when I was a baby.   My family regularly attended church, where I learned the basics of the faith.   As an adult, I was blessed to learn more.   I can’t remember when Jesus saved me in my own timeline but I’ve felt His peace in numerous times since.   I always wanted “God-moments;”  I’ve been blessed to know many.

And like Paul (and hopefully you), I entrusted to Him that which matters most:   everything.  It’s really quite liberating to realize He’s in control and we never really are.   If the future means suffering, so be it.   If it is celebrating, so be that too.   I’m all in.

For further reading:   Mark 8:38, 1 Timothy 6:20, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Timothy 13.

Lord Jesus, I again today give everything to You.   It’s Yours alone.

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.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 June 2017

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  Hebrews 10, verses 32-34.

Is this calling us to actively give up our possessions?  Is it telling us to be content in all circumstances, even when we’re being mistreated?   Actually, yes it is.   It ISN’T saying “be happy about it.”   God doesn’t tell us to enjoy suffering.   But He does tell us to put our trust in Him alone and be content with Him because He is more than enough to overcome any suffering.  He doesn’t promise Easy Street:   He promises to abide with us on any street.  Is this also telling us to turn the other cheek?   Again, yes it is.  When suffering happens, we should focus our joy on it’s true source, Jesus.   Instead of focusing on hurt, to stop the ‘bleeding’ of our suffering, we should focus on He who is with us even to the point of turning the other cheek to the one who is making us suffer.

A few days ago, my Billy Graham devotion reminded me that “joy” doesn’t equal “happiness” as the world defines happiness.   Brother (and sister), I understand this.   I’m sure you do, too.  Without divulging too many whines, my family is going through a difficult time.   For the moment, my wife and I are unemployed.  Just as He did the last time we went through this, God has a plan in all this.   To be honest, we don’t know what that plan is right now, but we do trust Him and His daily provision.   We’re still eating; we’re still breathing; midnight to midnight, we are still above the dirt.   Everything else is a gift from Him, even the struggles.  We pray the time will be short, and we’re blessed to be able to use it to do things that need to be done here on our farm.   God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Yet it can be a struggle to see happiness or joy in this.   “How could it” you might ask?   “Dave, you’re on the unemployment line again; you expect to be happy?”  Happy no, joy yes.   Every struggle, even unemployment or financial struggles, is an opportunity to make a choice for Jesus.  The verses aren’t saying that my problems will disappear.   It’s only saying that my unseen baggage from them can when I fix my eyes and hope on Christ.  If nothing else, why not ease that emotional burden?

And let’s get real:  the author of Hebrews wasn’t talking about a First-World situation like unemployment or paying your bills online.   He was talking about struggles like being tortured in Roman prisons.   About living in a world with astronomical infant mortality, real starvation, life expectancy of 45 years, and a host of other problems that most of us can’t fathom.   The first audience for verses 32-34 was comprised of people who lived in the primitive first century nations of the Mediterranean.  He was telling them to put all their trust, their hope, their everything on the shoulders of Jesus and let Jesus take the heat.   The author was telling his reader to rejoice in Jesus even when the branding iron struck your flesh, or you were kidnapped to row in a galley, or your family was sold off into slavery because you couldn’t pay your debts, or when they nailed you to a cross.

My puny problems pale compared to those things.   If our ancestors could trust Jesus through things like that, I can too.

I’ll admit:   it’s a struggle.   We are having to ‘skinny down;’ going through possessions, putting our farm up for sale, applying for jobs (literally) all over the world.   It’s hard to face being let go and rejected; it’s hard to face doing without things you’ve worked for or desire.   It hurts to go through this.  Jesus understands that.   He’s with us during these times and is calling us to put our faith in Him.  When the tough times are past, the lessons He’s teaching us today will come in handy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 6:4, Philippians 1:29-30, 1 Corinthians 4:9, Philippians 4:14, 1 Peter 1:4-5.

Lord, help me to trust You in all things.   Forgive my weakness and how I’ve failed You.   I trust You in Your teaching, Your provision, and Your discipline.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 December 2016

Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.  Hebrews 5, verse 8.

Suffering teaches you obedience.  When you lose your job, you immediately look for ways to both gain new employment and reduce expenses until you do.   When you are in physical pain, you surrender your abilities to do certain things until that pain is relieved.   When you lose something, make a bad choice, are in danger, commit a secret wrong, or do any other kind of thing that produces suffering, you immediately know it.   You react to the thing that causes you to suffer.   In short, you obey whatever is made necessary to alleviate the suffering.

Suffering is one of God’s means of grace.  Huh?   God imparts His grace through suffering?   You bet He does.   Consider Romans 5:  “not only so but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.   And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  God uses our suffering as a way to both tear us down and build us up.   He teaches us lessons that, in a non-suffering state, we might not absorb in meaningful ways.  In doing this, He teaches us to endure the bad for the outcome that can be good.  In that endurance, we receive character and hope.  I’d submit, as well, that the hope of which Romans 5 speaks isn’t a wish, either.   It’s a sure promise of God’s blessing.

And when you’re suffering, it’s ok to cry out.   It’s ok to cry, scream, hurt, vent, anguish.   Jesus did.   He vented righteous anger against wrongdoing in His ministry.   And, in true agony on the cross, He cried and screamed in pain.  We have all heard how people who are depressed or suicidal will find ways to cry out for help.  The message from Scripture is “you should!”   It’s a healthy thing to let the world know you’re in pain.   Maybe the world will help.

Or maybe not.   In Jesus’ case, you know the scoop.   We’ve already seen how Jesus ‘got to’ do the things He did, how He is a priest forever like the legendary Melchizidek.   Wrapped up in that is the fact that Jesus ‘got to’ die on the cross.  He genuinely suffered a torturous death that you and I can only imagine.  He who was fully man and fully God at the same time got to endure the physical mutilation of scourging and crucifixion as well as the emotional torture of rejection.   And as if that wasn’t enough (and it wasn’t), in a mystery we don’t fully understand, He who was fully man and fully God at all times got to endure the spiritual abandonment of the Father while at the same time remaining fully part of Him.  He did it alone, and together, and because we couldn’t.

Whether we like it or not, we also ‘get to’ endure our suffering, allowing that which could defeat us to, instead, transform us by stripping away some traits while replacing them with others.  Yet God doesn’t abandon us even when we find it hard to see Him.   You know this deep inside.   Don’t let suffering rob you of that knowledge.

So what was it that Jesus was obeying?   You know the answer to that as well.   He obeyed God’s will.   In reality, doesn’t everything (at least indirectly) obey God’s will?   If God uses all the world’s sins in ways that result in good for His kingdom, doesn’t this mean that everything is subject to God’s will?  Of course everything is subject to God’s will, His patient and perfect will.   Believe it or not, God doesn’t will for us to suffer needlessly.   Read the verses below and understand that Jesus’ suffering as well as that of the believer can build others up while giving us the courage that’s needed to see the thing through.

Neither you nor I wants to suffer.   We hate hurting and we hate it when others around us, especially loved ones, hurt.   We weren’t made for hurting and suffering, but those are two consequences of sin in our world.   How good it is to know that God is with us through all of it.

For more reading:   Romans 5:3-5, Luke 22: 41-44, Matthew 27: 46-50, Luke 23:46, Psalm 22:24, Mark 14:36.

Lord God, transform my suffering into perseverance and let it bring glory to You and lessons for myself and others.   Help me to reject hurt and bitterness.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 5 October 2016

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.  Hebrews 2, verse 10.

One of my favorite hymns is “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”   In it, the lyrics paraphrase Hebrews 2 with the poetic lines “How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the chosen One bring many sons to glory.”

Magnificent.

Indeed, isn’t it true how so many verses in Scripture are memorable because they are poetic?   This one especially sticks with me.   “Bringing many sons and daughters to glory” inspires in me thoughts of mission, and brotherhood, and mercy.   The thought has an almost Gaelic feel to it, as if there are thousands of mournful believers moving through the fog towards a dim light in the distance.  The closer you get to the light, you see Jesus is the light, and that His arms are open, His heart of love on display, His presence evaporating the fog of sin and unbelief.

For years now, I’ve thought of my Christian walk as an active thing, a living, ongoing event.   It has seemed like a movement.   I’ve learned that we’re in a spiritual war, one in which battles are fought on a personal basis every day.  The battle manifests itself in resisting temptations, professing faith, encouraging others in the face of sin and despair.   On one side stands Satan, general of the armies of the fallen.   He uses evil to manifest itself in every dark emotion with which we can be plagued.   Lies, pain, and anguish are the carnage he leaves on the battlefield of human souls.

Yet on the other side is Jesus, meek and mild yet overwhelmingly powerful.   He is humble yet strong, quiet yet unfathomably deep, all peace yet all martial in protecting the peace, justice and love that stream from His very presence.  He only tolerates Satan because Satan allows that peace, justice and love to shine in ways that build up His cherished creation, humanity.  With a thought He could vanquish evil forever.   With depth we cannot fully understand this side of heaven, He gave Himself up as payment for all the evil we embraced and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory.

I also love that phrase “pioneer of their salvation.”   In my walk of faith, my daily war against the spirits of evil, I get to follow Jesus as a pioneer.   Your life and mine are unwritten; thank you Natasha Bedingfield.  Today isn’t fore-ordained and tomorrow isn’t here yet.   We’re writing our lives as we live them.  What we do in our lives today pioneers the ground on which we build our lives.   We get to use the free choice God gave to each of us to do with what we will.   It’s God’s hope that we’ll look to Him, to Jesus, first and always, as the pioneer who blazed a trail for us.  It wasn’t a wagon train trail through the prairie or a lonely ride across uncharted ocean.   It was living a life without sin, loving all others as He loved His Father, and then dying the death of just, noble sacrifice so that others might live forever.  Jesus and only Jesus blazed that path to God for us.   Buddha didn’t; Mohammed didn’t; L. Ron Hubbard didn’t; our ancestors didn’t.   We don’t today.   Only Jesus.

Only He, who fulfilled ancient prophecy and was incarnate a little lower than the angels, pioneered the path into paradise and, in doing so, poetically brought mankind into that glory.  He did it how?   Through suffering.   The physical torture, the spiritual agony, the abyss of separation from God:  only Jesus did those things and only He persevered in true character through them to guarantee us the promise of hope that is His salvation.  You and I can’t imagine the suffering He endured.  Not even the horrors of concentration camps or the monstrosities of ISIS in our world today can compare to the terror, agony, and pain Jesus endured for our benefit.  It’s simply beyond our compare.   Yet endure them He did and, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory forever.

For more reading:   Romans 11:36, Luke 24:26, Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 7:28, Romans 5:  3-5.

Lord, I thank You and praise You for bringing us to glory, for pioneering the way into eternity.