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, 7 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  Hebrews 11, verses 13-14.

I’m a wanderer.   I learned it as a kid.   We first moved in 1969, when I was three, moving from Bloomington to Minneapolis, Minnesota.   That isn’t very far, but it’s a quantum leap for a family from the suburbs.  I went two years to an old elementary school before they tore it down in 1974.   That year, I spent a year in private school in east Minneapolis.   1975-1976 saw me attend two different third grade classes, one in Iowa and the other in Pennsylvania.  From 1976 to 1978 we lived in Pennsylvania, 1978-1980 in Oklahoma, 1980-1983 back in Iowa, and 1983-1985 in southern Indiana, which I refer to now as ‘home.’  After that, I joined the Air Force, and spent 1985 in Texas, then 1986-1989 in Texas, Maryland, and TDY (on temporary duty) around the world.   From 1989 to 1992, I lived in Italy (living in two different towns during that stay).   From 1992 until 2004, I lived in Colorado, residing in six different places in twelve years.  2004-2005 found me in Montana, then 2005 back in Colorado before moving to Texas.   Since 2005, I have lived full time in Texas, but have traveled all over the country (and the planet), and have lived in three different houses in two towns.  After fifty years of wandering, I’m finally in a home I’ve always dreamed of.   Wouldn’t you know that even my time here may be short, in jeopardy, and that there could be more wandering just up ahead.

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking for a country of my own.

I wish I could say that my story is one of deep public faith, but it isn’t.  In fact, more times than I care to admit, my faith has wandered too and has been weak with my practice of it weaker.  I’ve been rightfully accused of being a hypocrite, and Billy Joel could have once described me as “a man with so much tension and far too many sins to mention.”  I’ve tried, but in following Jesus, trying isn’t enough.   You have to “do” to be believeable to other people, and sometimes what I’ve done has been quite opposite of what I believe.

You know what?  I’m in good company.   Abraham was a wanderer and God did wonderful things through Him.   Jacob was a deceitful wanderer and God led him to live an amazing life.  Moses, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus Himself were all wanderers who did incredible, great things in the lead-up to the time of their Messiah.  After Jesus, all twelve of His disciples wandered, going from place to place to spread the Good News of the friend-Savior they knew.  Some of them were murdered for it; only one lived into old age.

I bet all those people were looking for a country of their own.   I wonder, then, if the country mentioned by the writer of Hebrews isn’t actually the nation of Heaven.   Shakespeare called death “the undiscovered country.”  Hamlet lamented that his life was all sorrow and he longed to journey into the undiscovered country of what lay beyond.   Don’t we all, yet here and now are all we know.   This is where we make our bones, discover what it means to live.   And the longer any of us live – and wander – the more we find that the only real meaning in the fallen world is found in Jesus Christ.  In Christ there is no more wandering.   In Christ, the discovery is amazement and it is continuous.   In Jesus Christ there is fulfillment of all of life’s desires, answers to every question, and peace to settle all restlessness.   In Christ, we no longer need to wander.

Christ is the undiscovered country I wish to explore, yet isn’t it wonderful to be able to do so now, as best we can, in this place that’s rife with both life and imperfection?  Until my prayers are answered and I meet Him face to face, I guess I’ll continue to wander, awaiting my endless time in the country of my own that I know in hope is only a short time away.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

My Lord and Savior, abide with me as I wander here.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 April 2017

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.  Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’”  Hebrews 10, verses 5-7

A happy day after Easter to you.   Here in east Texas, it’s pouring rain.   I’m thankful that the rain held off until today because yesterday it would have drowned out everyone’s Easter plans.   On the homestead north of Paris, after church my wife cooked a great dinner while I went outside to do some overdue yard work.   I cut down some nuisance bushes and thinned out plants all around the property, and it gave me time to think about a thought God had put on my brain during church.

Think about Easter Saturday.   Maundy Thursday we understand.  Good Friday we understand.   Easter Sunday:   we get it, and even the days between Easter and Pentecost, when we observe God imparting His Spirit to us so that we can live life as Jesus’ eyes and ears.   Historically we know what happened on those days.   Ecclesiastically we comprehend the meaning of their events.  What about that in-between day?   Who ever thinks about Easter Saturday?

Have you ever really noodled the idea that God provided everything on Easter Saturday?   On Friday, we humans, His ‘very good’ creation, publicly and desperately murdered God who lived among us as a man.   We didn’t just murder Him:   we brutalized Him physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally in the worst ways possible.   If you haven’t watched “The Passion of the Christ,” I urge you to do so because it is as close as you’ll get to actually watching Jesus being crucified.   Me thinks the real thing was even worse.

He who bore that torture had only come to do His Father’s will.   The man Jesus lived perfectly to do that perfect will, then died perfectly on a gruesome torture tree to do that same holy will.  He came to atone for all the things He never did wrong because we, as a people, simply didn’t ‘get it.’   Animal sacrifices, burnt grain offerings, good works, even clean living didn’t atone for sins.   They still don’t and never will.  Yet people clung/cling to them as if doing so will please God and bring us closer to Him.   Perhaps it’s just another way we try to be God instead of living our lives to reflect Him.   Jesus understood all that and yet He still chose the nails so we wouldn’t have to take them.

And still, on the day when Jesus’ body lay cold and dead in the Arimathean’s tomb, God again provided.   Air, water, food, shelter, love, friendship, vocation:   for everyone living on planet Earth that day God still showed up.   Just as He had every single day since He spoke life into being, God provided all that people needed to get through the time between midnights.  The Roman soldiers who flogged Jesus then nailed Him to that cross?   Alive and thriving.   The Sanhedrin that had cajoled a death sentence?   Alive and kicking with hot food in their bellies.   The crowds who cheered and cried as Jesus agonized along the Via Dolorosa?   Alive, breathing, going on about their business.  God.  Still.   Provided, and He provided to those who deserved it least.  Can we even begin to comprehend that kind of love?  In the whole story of Easter and the miracle God provided through it, perhaps that’s the most overlooked miracle of all.  God showed up when we least deserved it.

Like He’s showing up now in the miracle of rain pouring down outside my office door.   It’s filling up my pond, the same pond I wasn’t sure would ever fill again.  Nature really is a miracle, you know.   Watching trees bud and bring forth leaves.   Fish swimming in the pond and young chicks just hatched growing feathers in just a few short weeks.  The sun that warms us and brings weather to nourish and rejuvenate the planet.   These are all daily miracles we see.   They’re all ways God still provides.   If you try to count all the ways God provides for you in just one day, you won’t get anything else done.   That’s a miracle, too.   In the days when we deserve it least, God still provides everything we need.   And after living, dying, and then rising on that day we commemorated just yesterday, He still lives on in our hearts, minds and hands, still saying “here I am” as both identification and proclamation.   That’s the biggest miracle of all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 1:6, Hebrews 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, Ezra 6:2, Jeremiah 36:2, Psalm 40:6-8, Matthew 26:39, .

My risen Lord, thank You for providing for me when I’ve so not deserved it.   Thank you for life, air, food, shelter, and love.   Thank You for dying for me, then living for me.   Teach me ways to live for You today and every day.

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.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 February 2016

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Mark 14, verses 17-21.

“Every weld is different.”   My son told me that just yesterday.   He attends a small college in Sherman, TX where he’s learning to be a welder. We were talking about his classwork and he remarked that every weld is unique; like fingerprints, no two are the same.   The best a welder can do is to be able to say “that’s a good weld,” then go on to the next one.

Profound.

Really, it truly was a profound statement and I’m proud to be the dad to a son who connects those particular dots (and pieces of metal). Re-read his quote, then consider it in the context of today’s verses.

We’re all different; God made each of us individually and “very good” in His perfect eyes.   Each of us has things that are unique and can serve God’s purposes. Even those who are disabled, dying, downtrodden, no-damn-good-dirty-dog-sinners, and, yes, even politicians have unique abilities and talents that are just as valuable as those of the beautiful people and sanctimonious churchgoers who assume they have it all together. Everything we have is a gift from God, and Jesus as God gives to each of us beautifully.

Even to Judas Iscariot.

It wasn’t that Judas’ gift was his place to betray Jesus.   It wasn’t that Judas was pre-ordained to be a sinner, to be the betrayer of Christ.   That simply isn’t true, and an honest study of these verses and others that corroborate and explain them will lead you to the inevitable conclusion that God never creates us to sin.   God didn’t create Judas to betray Jesus, but when Judas did so, God used it for His redemptive plan.   “But if Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus then who would have?”   Answer:   I don’t know.   Neither do you, or your pastor, or the pope, or Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, or Barack Obama. The only thing we can assume is that God would have found a different way to redeem His people because that’s what He promised to do.

Jesus loved Judas.   Judas had unique abilities, and was a very good weld. Is it any wonder, then, that such a devoted God would mourn the woe that would come to the man He had created as an individual to love but who would send Him to a cross instead?

Every weld is different and God is a master welder. My son taught me that the way you test a weld is to try to break it.   You drop your welded metal onto the floor and if it breaks, then it wasn’t a good weld and you need to re-do it.   At the Last Supper, Jesus dropped Judas on the floor, and Judas broke.   How unfortunate for him that there wasn’t time for a re-do.   How fortunate for us is the same.

Lord, I pray for the soul of Judas Iscariot.   And I thank You for making me individual, and for loving me that way.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 October 2015

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.  Mark 11, verses 1-3.

Strange and prophetic verses; in reality, Jesus is directing His disciples to do something that will fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9) as well as to identify Himself as the one true King.   There are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that talk about the Messiah; this was simply one of the more public ones.   It was something Jesus understood even as the Apostles apparently didn’t.

Now consider what they were actually doing. The cynical part of me says “yeah, try doing it in downtown Baltimore today.”   Or maybe inner city Detroit (or inner city anywhere).   In fact, try doing it in the suburbs of any American city, or out in the redneck woods of East Texas where I live.   Try going up to some stranger’s house, taking one of his prized possessions, and then just saying “it’s for Jesus.”   You can imagine the reaction awaiting you; hope you’re wearing Kevlar.

That same emotional reaction would have awaited the Disciples as they walked up to a stranger’s house and took away his property (in this case, a donkey). Do you think the owner would have been irate?   Do you think his go-to reaction would be to confront the disciples with a weapon, or an argument?   Perhaps some more focused questions would be ‘are we so different from the people of Jesus’ time?   Are we any less protective of our belongings, or skeptical of God Himself? Do we honestly think that our modernity makes us superior or truly different from these people who first knew Jesus face to face?’

Noodle that for awhile.

If a stranger came up to me and said “I need your car but I’ll bring it back in an hour,” I wouldn’t let him have it.   In today’s America, it wouldn’t even be safe.   Yet Jesus told the Apostles that they could get this donkey and no harm would befall them and that’s what happened.

Tell me:   do you think Jesus asks us to do things that will make us inherently unsafe?   The only honest answer has to be “yes, sometimes He does.”   But consider that word ‘unsafe.’   Jesus is asking us to trust Him, to cast away our notions of safety and security (and property) and trust Him with all that’s most important to us.   He may very well ask us to inject ourselves into things, postures or positions that will challenge the safety of all we know, yet what Jesus is really doing is saying “trust me.”   He said it to the Disciples, to the owner of the colt, and maybe even to the colt itself; we’ll never know about that last one.   What Jesus puts on our hearts is more real than our distrust of the world around us.

And all of it was foreseen centuries before it ever happened.

Lord, when You ask, help me to hold nothing back, to give everything to You, to trust You completely.

Read Mark 11, 4-11.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 July 2015

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Mark 9, verses 33-34.

Two days ago, my wife and I drove from Texas to Minnesota.   If you’re counting miles, that’s over 1000 of them in one day; it took us just over 16 hours (with several stops along the way).   We talked about many things along the way, and we listened to a lot of music.   Sometimes she napped and it got very quiet (and sleepy) in the car.   During those times, I thought about many different things, including things I probably shouldn’t think about.   Where I’ve gone wrong in the past, my tawdry sins, fantasies about how things would be different if we had just a few dollars more in the bank, things to say in meetings this week (and things I wish I had said in past meetings):   a hundred different thoughts go through your mind when you’re driving that far while fighting white line fever.

I wish I would learn to use that time to pray more.   In truth, I did some of that, too, and that’s a good thing.   But rather than thinking about other things, it would be better if I simply talked to Jesus about those matters on my heart and brain.   If you’re like me, I don’t always do that because I don’t want to air my dirty laundry to God. It’s kind of a stupid thing because, ya know, He knows about it anyway.   It’s not as if I can hide them; I couldn’t if I tried.   He’s Jesus and He knows all my thoughts and memories inside and out.

Yet hide my thoughts I do.   I think that, out of respect for me, God doesn’t pry into my brain and use my sinful thoughts against me. He does that for all of us. Instead, He lets those thoughts nag at us through guilt and a guilty conscience, working to turn guilt into motivation.   This is one of the beautiful gifts of faith. I say that because there’s something healthy about confessing to Him the things we’ve done wrong.   One of our couples’ devotions this week talked about confessing a blanket of sins instead of every one individually.   The devotion derided that blanket confession, and I voiced my disagreement with it.   The confession depends on context and timing, I think. Sometimes maybe all you can do is confess everything.

No matter how it’s done, there’s value for us in rooting out our sins and confessing them to God.   They point out our inadequacies and when we’ve chosen failure.   They point out our desperate need for Him in our lives. Self-reflection then self-confession allows us to talk to God in a personal way, re-establishing the bonds with Him that He seeks out even though we had shut them down.   And it lets us get things off our chests, enabling us to better let go of guilt that could plague us into depression instead of motivating us to do better.   This is why Jesus questioned the disciples, giving them a chance to reflect and confess instead of simply hammering them with their shame and guilt. They knew they had done wrong, so Jesus met them in their sin and gave them an opportunity to reflect.

And they didn’t have to drive 1000 miles for it to happen.

Lord, thank You for the gift of confession and prayer with You.

Read Mark 9, verses 30-36.