Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 November 2016

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Hebrews 4, verse 12.

Read the verses listed below, then wrestle with God at what He’s telling you through them.  He’s dividing your soul from your sins.

I’ll never forget the look on the face of the CIO when she fired me.   I was the temporary IT director at a small HMO in Montana.   A few months before, I had taken the job up there in Kalispell to make a big change after a year of sin, frustration, shame and distraction had nearly wrecked my family.  Montana would be a fresh beginning, a place to start from scratch and move forward.   Nearly from the start, I knew I couldn’t fix all that was wrong in the department there yet I kept trying, doing my best to bail water out of a sinking boat.   Profession dysfunctions, inadequate systems, incompetent consultants, poor configuration, no processes:   it was an IT director’s challenge and my job to clean up someone else’s messes.   To do that, I worked with the company board to hire a new CIO and we found one with all the qualifications we needed.   She was really good.  Now she was letting me go.   I had trained her in all the issues we were facing and what was being done to address them and there I was, called in out of the blue on a Tuesday afternoon and she was letting me go.   “This just isn’t working out,” she said, and without them giving me another reason I was out of a job.

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”  That’s from Jeremiah 23.  I felt crushed.  In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the story of how God’s word is like good seed that farmers sow in various kinds of ground.   Some grows to produce a harvest; sometimes it withers and dies.  What seed had I become?  And in Acts 12 there’s this simple truth:  “But the word of God continued to increase and spread” despite the faithful being scattered, torture and murders of the saints, and all the structural impediments that the Jews and their collaborative Roman friends could build against it.  Fine words to hear but I had people depending on me!

Ephesians 6 talks about us being clothed in the armor of God to carry that word of God boldly into battle against real forces of sin and dark magic. Paul’s sometime friend Peter then says that this word is imperishable, living, enduring.   John is the one who said it is a double edged sword, one he saw in a vision coming out of the mouth of Jesus.  And as you’ve read, that analogy was also used here in Hebrews, stating how God’s word cuts us to the core, slicing away soul from sin so that our sins might be laid bare for the terrible choices they are.

Tell all this to the guy who lost his job.   Here in the real world, tell all this to the man who’s terrified of how he’s going to support his family, pay his bills, overcome the shame of unemployment, talk to the people who thought he was making a fresh start up there in the north woods.   Or in the woods of east Texas.   Or perhaps in the woods where you and I wander today.   Tell all this to that guy, and to you, and to me, and all who will listen.   Speak it loud and clear because, brother, we need it.

Even in what we think must be the worst times, Jesus is still in everything and the Word He gives is that sharp sword.  It is both the weapon to use against temptations and guilt, and the scalpel that excises cancer from the spirit.  It has been years since that day in northwest Montana when Dory fired me for reasons I still don’t understand.   Once again I find myself in a job that seems to be slipping away, and once again I find myself faced with the fears of supporting my family, paying those bills and the frustration of not understanding where things went wrong.   Yet once again I also find myself standing here, sometimes terrorized in the dark until I realize that I’m standing here, not alone, but with Jesus.   He used that door He slammed shut to walk me through others He would open.   He’s doing it again now and, in doing so, He speaks to my heart to cleanse my thoughts and my attitude.   The bills will get paid, we’ll get through the tough times, and that second job is there to help.  What matters is staying close to His side.  He reassures me in the days when the world seems harsh that I should take heart because He has overcome the world.

For more reading:   Isaiah 55:11, Jeremiah 23:29, Mark 4:14, Luke 5:1, John 10:35, John 16:33, Acts 7:38, Acts 12:24, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, Ephesians 6:17, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 1:23, 1 John 2:14, Revelation 1:2, 16

Lord Jesus, I find myself scared and worried about all kinds of things.   Comfort me with Your presence, and equip me to boldly share You where I am today. May Your piercing Word be active in my life today and in the lives of those I reach.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 July 2015

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9, verses 21-23.

These verses and the one that follows are, in my opinion, perhaps the most profound ones in the entire Bible. They’re words that Jesus could speak with anyone of us.

You the situation; we’ve already talked about it.   A man brings his son to be healed because the boy is demon possessed. The apostles can’t heal the boy, so the worried father brings him to Jesus.   The father is distraught, frantic and skeptical after the disciples couldn’t perform up to expected par. He comes to Jesus hoping (think “hesitant wishing”) that Jesus will be able to do something to help the son he loves.

Jesus’ response seems to be shocked and surprised, yet it isn’t. Is Jesus saying to the man “Get on my level!”   “If you can?”   It almost sounds like Jesus is incredulous that the man would even question that He could heal.   But Jesus isn’t Allah; Jesus doesn’t expect us to serve Him or kow-tow to Him to earn His love.   No, Jesus is speaking as an object lesson.   He is educating the man, challenging his unbelief and educating him about its limits.

“If you can:”   those words of power are, more often than not, weapons of doubt when placed in our hands.   We doubt if we can; we doubt that even He can.   It’s even part of our nature to doubt, to question, to be skeptical, especially in the face of miracles.   Taken to an unhealthy extreme, that skepticism can grow into disbelief or unbelief.

That’s where Jesus meets the upset man, confronting his unbelief.   And then He takes Him a step further, refusing to leave the man in his unbelief.   “Everything is possible for one who believes.”   It’s a statement of such power and profundity and it changes everything.   It’s a flavor of “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.”   It’s not just healing that is possible:   it’s EVERYTHING.

Noodle that for a minute.

Everything becomes possible when we believe in Jesus.   Got cancer?   Jesus can heal it.   Got terror?   Jesus can comfort, then overcome it.   Got hurt that’s hard to let go of?   Jesus can walk you through getting rid of it. There is nothing in this entire universe that isn’t smaller than Jesus; everything is under His dominion.   Because He gives us Himself, through faith, then everything is possible.   Move that mountain, heal that disease, grow those crops, right that broken heart:   everything becomes possible.

Profound, my friend. More profound than anyone else you could think of on their best day. Read ahead in your Bible and see how Jesus rocks the world in the very next verse.

Lord, I believe that, through You, everything is possible.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 June 2015

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.). Mark 9, verses-5-6.

Let’s talk about terror again, about feeling terrified.   And let’s do so without getting all judgy or preachy about it.   You and I can say, from the vantage point of hindsight and so-called ‘modern’ thinking, how small the disciples were; how they should have been elated instead of scared to see what they were seeing in Jesus’ transfiguration. Of course we would be wrong.   We’d be wrong because we’re terrified all the time and in some ways that may not be a bad thing.

Here is a partial list of things that I, as a 48 year old man, still give me pause and fear: spiders, being alone in the dark, losing my family, burning to death.   Wake me out of a sound sleep at 3 AM with loud sounds and you’ll have me completely terrified in an instant.   This kind of terror isn’t what one would feel if confronted by ISIS, or the kind that a politician would feel when he realizes the press is no longer interested in him.   Instead, it’s simply feeling startled, intimidated by the sudden ferocity of having one’s senses assaulted by matters out of your control.

Is this irrational?   Absolutely it is, and I freely embrace that; some would say I embrace irrationality too freely anyway. No matter, I think it was the sheer irrationality of the transfiguration that had Peter, James and John terrified when they saw what was happening before them. I can’t blame them.   Their senses would have been overloaded. Their intellects would have been challenged by past and present, eternal and earthly, all crashing together in an observation of what God’s world really looks like when time and the ephemeral no longer matter.   They must have quickly realized that this man they knew as friend and teacher really was the all-powerful God of all the earth.   Can you imagine how that would have made them feel?

And yet, these were the same all too human men who would return to humanity in all too human ways.   When it ended, they would return to their friends, sworn to secrecy until the time was appointed to tell others. John would see Jesus die and rise, and provider for Jesus’ mother for the rest of her life.   Peter would deny he even knew Jesus before knowing the worst of despair and then the heights of forgiven elation. James would one day die a martyr’s death.

Thus, maybe it’s unfair if we look down on the three apostles for feeling terrified and frightened to see Jesus as He really was.   If Jesus suddenly appeared to me, I doubt I would react any different than the Apostles did if, indeed, I reacted so well as they.

Lord, forgive me my fears, strengthen my faith, and thank You for any way in which You reveal Yourself.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 June 2015

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark 9, verses 2-9.

Have you ever read about the Transfiguration?   The first part of it is listed above.   Read it again and then consider what you think about it. Then consider how very, very much in it we can unpack.

There are friends. Jesus was close friends with all twelve of His disciples, yet it’s safe to say that Peter, James and John were His besties. When He walks up the mountain, Jesus doesn’t take just one witness but those three besties so that their testimony would be considered reliable when they were finally allowed to tell about it.   Think about that.   Was it that He didn’t trust the others?   Doubtful. More likely, I think it was because He cared about them.   Perhaps they weren’t emotionally ready to carry this knowledge of the amazing thing that happened.   These three were the leaders.

Speaking of leaders, there are Moses and Elijah.   Moses had died many hundreds of years before, and Elijah had not died but had been taken while alive also centuries before.   Yet there they were with Jesus, and they were instantly recognizable to Jesus’ friends.   These were great figures in Hebrew history, as pivotal as George Washington and the other Founding Fathers are to Americans today…and maybe just as remote, as much for their ancient age as for the almost mythological things they did.   Yet, again, there they were in person: alive and well.

Naturally, the three Apostles were terrified.   I would be too, both in awe of what I was seeing and in the stark proof that it all just got very real. Heaven opened up a little and the three mortal men got to see a glimpse of Jesus in His heavenly attire.   It was a vision of what would come, as well as a realization that the God-man really was exactly who He said He was.  What’s more, it was all clearly supernatural; more than just out of the ordinary. That might seem a little scary.

Finally, God the Father speaks.   There are many instances in the Bible of God speaking to men and we attribute them to God as triune, or even as Jesus in a pre-incarnate form. Yet there are actually very few of the Father Himself speaking in His own person to men.   Here is one; Jesus’ baptism is another. He clearly identifies Jesus as His beloved Son and those who were there to hear it – Peter, James, John, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Himself – all heard it.

That’s a lot to unpack in just a few verses.

Jesus, thank You for Your transfiguration.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.