Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 28 May 2019

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.  2 Timothy 3:10-11 (NIV).

Paul always provided full disclosure and full credit to God in his letters.   It’s one of the things that, 2000 years later, still gives him credibility.  Paul genuinely suffered at the hands of unbelievers, Jews, Romans and even friends; read 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.

Do you and I really suffer?   I mean, REALLY suffer.   Paul was tortured on the command of his fellow Jews.   Paul was beaten and flogged (and think “Passion of the Christ” type of flogging, not just a few lashes with a bullwhip).  Everyone who had cherished him in his life prior to conversion had turned on him.  Everything he owned was gone.   He who was used to being admired and adored was now rejected and scored.   He had been imprisoned, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, and admonished for saying and doing the right things.

Has that ever happened to you or me?   Probably not, at least not in those ways.   Yet there are places in our world today where that happens, where people are tortured and murdered for believing in Jesus.

The Lord rescues all of us.   He has rescued you and I because we live in relative comfort, away from such terrors.  He rescues those who are tortured and murdered by staying with them and welcoming them home after these things have ended.

Granted, in this verse, Paul was talking about how God had physically rescued him from his own terrors; how Paul had physically survived them and stayed faithful to Jesus.   Yet the bigger lesson comes in remembering that Jesus allowed Paul to endure those trials and yet He stayed with Paul during them.   Christ endured with him; Christ suffered again with him; Christ gave Paul the strength to endure and forgive and preach Him crucified despite what was happening.

That bigger lesson matters most because it’s also what Christ does for us today.   He speaks through your conscience, through your experiences, through things around you, in your heart.   When you are down, His voice is the encouragement you hear at just the right moment.   When you’re in need, His voice comes through the kindness of a friend or stranger.   When you’re questioning, His voice hears the questions and stays true in its response, not leading you further into despair or loneliness.  Jesus gives us answers, sometimes through more questions, but always in His truth.

Centuries after Paul wrote his words, he and they still reverberate in our lives, not because of Paul but because he, in full disclosure, always pointed to Jesus.

For further reading:  Acts 13:14, 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Romans 15:31, Psalm 34:19, 2 Timothy 3:12.

Jesus, my rescuing Savior, You rescue me every day.  You are true and kind and strong.

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 Mark, 3 December 2015

You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. Mark 13, verse 9.

Jesus was personally predicting for His best friends what would happen to them.   He was fore-telling their fate and telling them that, as they neared their end, for His sake they would be persecuted and tortured. He’s also telling us the same thing. The same thing can happen to us.   In some ways, the same thing WILL happen to us.   You and I will meet opposition, struggle financially, and likely struggle physically, maybe even violently, for standing by Jesus.

Well isn’t that just great!

Actually, it is.   It really is.   You see, thinking about torture that way can lead you to think only “all glory to Jesus.” AGTJ if you will.   Jesus was telling His friends that they would suffer like He would suffer. In doing that, He was promising them eternal rewards that would fulfill their deepest desires for true communion with God.

So that’s great?   Of course it is.   You get to have spiritual peace here on earth by being in union with Jesus here, by reordering your life around His priorities and learning to think and act in different ways.   Best of all, you get to share that peace in ways you can, in ways He empowers you to do. When this life is done, then you have the peace of knowing Him forever because you get to be with Him in paradise, where there is no sin, no sadness, no anger, no complications to life.

Of course, there’s that whole torture thing.   No way around saying it:   that sucks.   Being flogged:   painful; excruciatingly painful.   Handed over to the government:   terrifying. Standing before the leaders to witness Jesus to them:   daunting at best.   Seeing your friends and family persecuted, denying you, denouncing you: wrenching. Sometimes the thought of all that makes me feel afraid, and I can honestly say that I fear nobody in this world.

Here’s where I think of Aragon, turning to his friends as they face the armies of Mordor.   He smiles, he raises his sword, and he says “for Frodo” before defiantly running towards the battle to do justice on the unjust.   I’m no Aragorn; perhaps you aren’t either.   But I’m jazzed by the idea of standing for Jesus, of ‘taking it to the man’ who works to keep me down and wants to destroy what I have because I believe in Christ.   I was a warrior once and stood tall in ways some may not have imagined; it was all so improbable.   Yet, in Christ, I’m a warrior still, armed with His confidence, His words, and His faith.   I’m armed with Him and dangerous to any without faith.   Devil be damned, I send him on his way.   I stand for Jesus and I’m ready to fight.   What say you?

So when Jesus predicts that, to follow Him, I will suffer, then like the Apostle Paul I’ll rejoice in those sufferings.   Bring it, baby.   That’s not gloating.   It’s simple faith. And it’s pretty great after all. AGTJ.

Lord, I stand in You.   I’ll admit:   I’m sometimes afraid of what could happen to me. But I know that You are with me, that You will never put me someplace or in some way beyond what I can bear.   Help me to stand. Help me to righteously defy the world for Your sake.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.