Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 27 June 2018

Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.  1 Thessalonians 5: 25-27 (NIV).

We live in really perilous times.   Our political discourse has descended into shouts, invective, and violence.   From the looks of things, that is going to get worse in the near future.   Our economy is booming but there are real, ominous signs of a serious economic correction dead ahead.   Even in good times, there are still many in need.  Worst of all, we seem to be losing our way.   We are turning away from God’s guidance in so many ways and our society, our lives, are suffering because of it.   Abortion, gun violence, media / political corruption, apathy, anger and hatred:   they’re all negative barometers that are flashing red in 2018 America (maybe even 2018 planet Earth overall).

Pray for us.   Brothers and sisters, if you aren’t already, pray for us.   All of us.   Let’s be real:   the world WAS much more dangerous in 1914, 1939, 1962 than it was now.   There have been many times in history when things were more perilous than they are now, yet now is all we have to contend with.   We need prayer.   We need each other to invite God into our processes, into our lives, to help us seek His better ways.

Let’s greet each other with the holy kiss of our day.   If you come up to me and want to pucker up, I won’t; in this culture, that’s weird.   Overseas it’s pretty normal, and it would have (obviously) been normal in Paul’s culture…but it isn’t here in North Texas (at least not in my circles).   But the kiss isn’t the point:   the point is fellowship of the Spirit.   We should greet each other in ways that show unity in the Spirit and love from the heart.   Kiss, handshake, hug, smile, fist bump, bro slap, whatever:  we are to do that.

Further, let’s spread the Word.  Paul’s letter was indeed read to all the churches; all his letters were.   He was the greatest missionary in history and his letters comprise most of the New Testament’s non-Gospel books.   We should read them again and again, putting Paul’s advice into practice.   We should prayerfully live our lives using these letters and the Gospels they echo as our guide.  God, who is always faithful, will teach us, lead us, and work through us the more we grow in His Word.   Let’s use our lives, then, to spread that Word.

That way, whether the times are perilous or plentiful, we will be living in such a way as to amplify God’s grace to everyone.

For further reading:  Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:3, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Romans 16:16, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 1 Timothy 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:28.

My Lord, let me share You affectionately, with enthusiasm, and with my full heart.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 24 May 2018

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV).

This is the greatest privilege of a believer.   When you follow Jesus, your highest calling, best job, and greatest privilege is to encourage other people.

I’ll brag on my wife.   She’s the best encourager I know.   Quite honestly, sometimes it’s downright annoying that she refuses to let things get her down, even really serious things like illness, crisis, or even death.  When she let Jesus take hold of her soul, she meant it and she took it to heart.  Any time something bad happens, she can always be counted on to look on the bright side and work to find ways to bring the good out of any situation.   It’s hard evidence of the Holy Spirit always at work inside of her.

I like to think the Apostle Paul would pat her on the back and say “keep on keepin on” (or something like that).   In fact, I like to think he would say that to any of us who follow Jesus and use our status as His followers to encourage other people.   That means ‘being there’ when someone has an issue.   It means listening (something hard for me to do).   It means helping out however someone needs help.   It means actively praying for people, especially strangers and people who wrong us, and then doing what we can to help where we can.  It means forgiving.

There was a stink last week when, in response to the Santa Fe, Texas school shooting, the mayor of Dallas said “spare us your thoughts and prayers and do your job.”  In the climate of frustration, fear, and anger that comes with this wave of evil, yes, Mayor Rawlings’ comments are understandable even if they are insulting and repugnant.  Yet the point he’s making – we need to DO something – is a popular one.   Might I suggest to the mayor that praying is the first step to ‘doing something.’   Indeed, any ‘doing’ is meaningless if it is done without the guidance and involvement of the Almighty.  Yet now is also the time when believers get to step up to the plate and encourage each other, building each other up, and build up others.   Being there, listening, comforting, not preaching, are perhaps the best witnesses for Jesus we could offer these days.   They are practical faith, really ‘doing something’ meaningful.

Come to think about it, they’re really the best things we could do any day, any time.  Jesus died for everyone so that everyone might have the opportunity to come to know Him in faith and become part of heaven now.   When encouraging each other, perhaps the best things we can offer are our actions.   They prove our belief instead of simply talking about it.   They are our highest calling.  My wife would agree.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:12

Lord, help me to encourage other people, other believers, and unbelievers every day of my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 October 2017

For our “God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12, verse 29.

My son in law (one of them) is a firefighter; the other is a military police officer.  Josh (the fireman) serves in College Station, Texas, and is combined firefighter, EMT, and paramedic.   He has skills and passion for this kind of work that I can only imagine.   A few years ago, when he was still in training, we were driving around town and saw a house under construction that had just caught on fire.   He was mesmerized watching it, and I was fascinated at how he described what the fire was doing to the building.   Josh predicted that the fire would spill over from room to room and engulf the whole floor; as if on cue, that’s exactly what happened.   The building went from somebody’s future home to a pile of ashes in a matter of minutes.

That’s a consuming fire.

Or there are the wildfires that happen out west every year.   Every year, fires consume thousands of acres of land that is both under-maintained and over-developed.   When we lived in Colorado Springs, I watched one particular wildfire rise from a pillar of smoke to miles-high mushroom cloud almost instantly.   I later read that the fire (the Hayman Fire of 2002) was caused by arson.  I remember driving out Highway 24 west of Pikes Peak and seeing mile after mile of emergency responder vehicles, makeshift responder camps, and mobile command facilities.  According to Wikipedia, that fire burned over 138000 acres and killed six people.

Consuming.

Intense preaching; short-term deadlines; focused workers; heated arguments; passionate evenings:   these are all consuming things that regularly show up on our lives.  They consume our focus and consume our attention.   They’ll consume our lives in obsession if we let them.  Have we ever considered how God is the consuming fire mentioned in the verse?   Is he like the fire mentioned when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, a fire that burned to nothing even soaking wet logs?   Is He the fire in your fireplace that warms your house while destroying old wood?   Is He nuclear fire, both destructive and immensely powerful in its magnitude?  Or is God a candle in the dark, giving the only light to an empty space?

You know the answer.

Our God is an awesome God; ok, over-used platitude and verse.  But it’s true!   God is awe-inspiring, awe-inducing, awe-producing.  His overwhelming power and His understated but equally-overwhelming love are the ultimate sources of the only real awe in the universe.   When we let Christ be the Lord in our lives, He consumes us from within and without.   He changes our heart, He evolves our attitudes, He teaches us better ways to act.   Those become self-fulfilling prophecies because when we display cleaner hearts, new attitudes, and those better ways, things around us change.   People treat us differently and we act differently.   That’s the crux of it (the cross, if you will):  we react more as Christ would have us react.   We pro-act, acting out of His love instead of just our own perspectives.  The world doesn’t change immediately but it does change.

It’s all because Christ consumes us.   He paid the price for our sins, and when we let Him into our lives, He scours out the shame, guilt, anger and hurt that held us hostage.   He replaces those feelings with His love and makes it possible to move forward in better ways.  In this way, He, our God, is like Elijah’s fire; He’s like the fire on top of Mount Sinai.  He’s the fire in our fireplace that helps us survive, comforts and warms us, and provides us with what we need.   And He’s the candle in the dark, replacing (and consuming) the darkness with undeniable light that provides focus, guidance and hope.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 4:24, 1 Kings 18.

Lord, consume me with Your holy love-fire. 

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.

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.