Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 17 January 2018

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  1 Thessalonians 1:6-7.

People are watching.   That’s one of the most urgent reasons why we should walk the walk and talk the talk.   It’s also one of the things I really stink at doing.  If you don’t walk the walk and talk the talk, people quickly notice because people are always watching.  People are quick to find out if you’re a fraud or a hypocrite.

Have you ever had to learn to do something strictly by rote?   There’s a reason.   And have you ever had to watch what you say around kids?   Kids who are learning to talk will imitate what adults say.   They are always watching.   And what about the jackals of the press?   Sure, a free and independent media is crucial to keeping government within its boundaries but it seems like the American press is everywhere these days and reporting EVERYTHING, fact and fiction alike.   What’s more, we the people enthusiastically gobble up what they feed us.

It’s because we’re watching.   We’re watching each other and learning to imitate what we hear, see and do.

Paul praised the church members in Thessalonica for imitating the behavior he and his companions exhibited.  What was that behavior?   Loving on each other; forgiveness; understanding; patience; forbearance; self-discipline; empathy and caring; you know, the behaviors Jesus demonstrated.  These new believers acted the way they saw their ‘prophets’ acting and, in doing so, led a revolution around them.   It was how the church spread so quickly, not by the sword (as happened later with Islam) but by the conduct of these Jesus followers.   And it did indeed spread quickly, in a generation growing from 12 frightened commoners in Jerusalem to millions of followers through Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, north Africa, and up into southern Europe.

Because people were watching.

Got skin, got sin.   We are always works in progress, but there’s always work to be done on this matter.  Folks who don’t believe are watching us for signs of our hypocrisy, whether it’s foul language, philandering, dishonesty, or what we post on social media.   I’m so guilty of messing up in all these areas; how about you?  Do you ever wonder if unbelievers are actually watching, though, more for reasons to believe instead of just how to trip us up?   We mustn’t let them down.  If, like me, you think you’re guilty of not walking the walk, chances are you are.   The solution, then, is to go back to basics and imitate Paul, Silas, and Timothy.   They imitated Jesus.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 4:16, Acts 17:5-10, 2 Corinthians 6:10, 1 Timothy 4:12, Acts 16:9, Acts 18:12, 1 Thessalonians 8-10.

Lord, please forgive me when I fail you by not living what I believe.   Help me to do better today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 18 February 2016

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Mark 14, verses 39-40.

The spirit is indeed willing and the flesh is indeed weak.   Knowing that, we can easily relate to the sleepy Apostles.

Let’s cut a little slack to the Apostles because, well, after all, they’re human.   They were tired.   No, they were exhausted.   These verses occurred very early in the morning, perhaps around 2 or 3 AM. After tramping all around Jerusalem on Thursday, then the last supper, then some incredibly wrenching personal time with Jesus, they were exhausted.

“I would have done better.   I would have stayed up.”

Sure you would, pal.   Don’t forget there wasn’t a Denny’s open at that time.   Around AD33 you couldn’t run to the local QT to get a cup of fresh coffee.   You and I might have wanted to stay awake and keep watch, but in the end, after chatting with our mates, we probably would have quietly sat down and nodded off…just like they did. It’s all the more real when you think that they weren’t sitting there in North Face jackets with thermal sleeping bags.   No, on a cold Judean night in the springtime (think 40-50 degrees), they sat on the hard ground, perhaps against stone walls, wearing thin robes, skirts or tunics and sandals.   I’m thinking they didn’t stretch out to relax.   I’m betting they huddled together to keep warm.

Then they were alarmed when Jesus came back and He was disappointed in them.   They didn’t know what to say.

Now, I’ll confess how I’m getting old by saying that I don’t see how young people can sleep so much.   My kids, they can sleep for hours, sometimes 8-12 hours at a stretch. I don’t think I could count on one hand how many times I’ve slept that long in my entire life and I’m nearly 50. Try waking up one of my kids when they’re asleep and you’ll get a disoriented, probably crabby hot mess. Ask them a question and you’ll likely get a vacant response.   Should it be surprising, then, if that’s the same response Jesus got from His sleeping disciples?   And they hadn’t even been asleep for 10 hours.

Yes, they should have kept a better watch; so should we.   Could they have eased Jesus’ anxiety over what was happening?   Perhaps; we’ll never know. Jesus wanted them to keep watch with Him just like He wants us to keep watch with Him every day of our lives.   He upbraided them to watch out and resist temptation because He knew that their best defense against a Satan on offense was to watch and be ready when sin tempts. He’ll do that same thing for you and I, speaking to our hearts, speaking to us through conscience.  When we are tempted, He’ll speak to us in ways that appeal to our hearts.   “Don’t do it.”   “You shouldn’t.”   “Stop now.” Those are good things to know because we will each find ourselves in moments of temptation every single day.   It’s a fair bet to assume that, like the Apostles, we won’t know what to say when that happens.

Lord Jesus, abide with me.   Remind me to avoid temptation and help me to resist.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 17 February 2016

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14, verses 37-38.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak:” no more helpful words were spoken that early Good Friday morning.

Notice how Jesus poses the question to Peter (and, in turn, James and John) that both accuses of slacking but also speaks to their conscience.   Jesus doesn’t slam the Disciples.   Instead, He states a fact – I really need your help – while speaking to the better angels of their nature.   Then Jesus “goes there,” reminding them – and us – of a few key things about humanity.

Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation.   God made each of us with the inborn ability to watch, to be alert, to be cognizant, mindful, attentive, and active in our lives.   God Immanuel tells us to watch around us because the fallen world of sin is the world we live in.   He calls us to be in that world, to hold fast to faith in Him but live in that sinful world with other sinful people like ourselves.   Why does Jesus tell us to watch?   So that we don’t fall into temptation, of course.   Jesus understood temptation; He was fully man while still being fully God.   Yet when Satan tempted Him in the desert, Jesus was literally starving to death.   He was at His physical and emotional lowest and that’s when Satan pressed for advantage.   Jesus was telling His friends that the best way to resist temptation is to watch out for it.

The spirit is willing; words of hope.   Jesus knew the depth of the human spirit; He knew that it was for love that God created each one of us with a spirit.   And He knew that He, in His Spirit, would return to the world after He had ascended home.   When that happened, the Spirit of God would move the spirit of man to faith, to accept this resurrected Lord as the only Savior of mankind.   He knew this would be possible, that it would happen, because Jesus knew that the spirits of men are willing, that we crave God and innately seek God even as we deny Him.

Yet we deny God because the flesh is weak. Even when we watch, even when our spirit is willing, man’s flesh is weak.   We want the sin.   We want the praise, the power, the glory.   All the stuff of comfort?   Want it.   All the adulation and fame and adoration of other men?   We crave them. We want and crave those things because we forget that our flesh is weak.   We’re sinful from birth, weak in the flesh and tempted to seek comfort in the flesh instead of comfort from the Cross.

Jesus ‘got’ all of that, and I marvel at how He spoke with instead of speaking to these men who, being men, fell asleep when they should have been standing watch for Him. Peter and the others should have been keeping guard, attending their friend.   Instead, they did what we would do.   Thank God for His patience with them and us.

Lord Jesus, You are kind, wise and patient with us. Thank You for these blessed qualities, for teaching me about myself.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 February 2016

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Mark 14, verses 32-34.

Jesus and His Disciples went to a rocky garden on the periphery of Jerusalem for some private time and prayer.   The eleven men with Him had lived a long day. So had Jesus, and all of them had to be physically and emotionally exhausted. When they got to the garden, Jesus then asked His three closest friends to continue on a little further.   He was overwhelmed.   You and I can grasp that feeling because, in these stressful times of economic depression, tense relations, and political upheaval, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the world around us.   Then add on personal issues, anything that hurts, bothers, or haunts you and your sense of being overwhelmed increases drastically.

Now think of Jesus at that point.   All those things were swirling around Him.   Add to them the fact that He had released Judas to go get the men who would start the process of killing Him. He knew it was happening.   Jesus knew that a criminal’s death was only a few hours away, and that in-between these early morning hours and that Good Friday afternoon, He would be beaten, flogged and tortured.   He knew the physical agony that was ahead and He knew there was no other way.   His followers would turn on Him. What’s more, He was assuming onto Himself all the sin of mankind, knowing that His Holy nature and the Holy Father and Spirit who comprise His Trinity could not abide that.   Jesus knew they would abandon Him and yet they wouldn’t.   In a mystery too deep for us to comprehend, Jesus understood the depth of the sin penalty that He would take upon Himself knowing that He would be all alone yet never alone.

He was overwhelmed with sorrow over all of it.   He was overwhelmed in ways that you and I can’t even begin to comprehend. All He asked was that His closest friends would simply be with Him. “I’m scared, guys.   Just be with me while I go through this.”   He said it knowing that Peter would soon deny even knowing Him a minimum of three times.   He said it knowing that James, John and the others would scatter when the temple guards came to seize Him.   It wasn’t much to ask and He asked it.

They failed Him.

So do I.   So do you.

All Jesus asks of us is that we let Him drive. He wants us to allow Him to bless us, to allow Him to bear our burdens, to mentor us, to surrender our control to Him so that He can teach us a better way.   He wants to teach us to stand for Him so that He can fight for us. I fail him every day at this; so do you.   Yet we have a duty to Him to stand that watch, to stand up for Him and stand against what is wrong in our world.   We don’t have this duty to work out our salvation:   we get to bear it as fidelity to our Savior. So did the Disciples.   So do I.   So do you.

Lord, please forgive then strengthen me to stand for You. Thank You for your sacrifice, for dying for me.

Read Mark 14, verses 32-41.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 December 2015

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. Mark 13, verses 7-8.

Watch out and be ready.   Read the signs.

Every day we are looking for signs for the second coming of Christ.   As you can read, it’s something that Jesus Himself told us we need to do.   Watch out and be ready.   Look for the signs and heed them.   Heed them to be ready.

Now, I am not going to speculate on whether or not we are in the end times.   Dozens of generations before ours thought they were because they saw wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines and violence.   Remember the fall of Jerusalem less than a generation after Mark’s Gospel was written?   Or the fall of Rome a few centuries later.   The Crusades a thousand years ago, the Muslim invasion of Europe in the 1400s.   The Hundred Years’ War; The Thirty Years’ War; World War I and especially World War II. The generations that lived through those things must surely have thought they were witnessing the end.   So it is with ours.

Maybe it’s never happened in my lifetime or maybe I’m just paying attention to it now but the signs are appearing again.

And the moral of the story is still “watch out and be ready.”   Right now; today.   That’s what Jesus told us.

I can honestly say that I hope it happens.   I honestly hope for the time when this life can end and the life without time can begin.   Perhaps it will indeed happen in my lifetime.   Just today, with ISIS on the move again and with Russia threatening nuclear war with Turkey, wars and rumors of wars are abounding.   I heard a radio ad (not a preacher, an advertisement) speculating on whether or not we are witnessing the start of the war prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel over 2500 years ago. High profile radio hosts are openly talking about how we are in the beginning of World War III but we haven’t faced up to it yet.   Some are saying “end times.”

Watch out and be ready.

Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you.   Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you into thinking they are the returning Jesus. He is coming and soon but none of us know the date or time.   All we can understand through our view of the trees is that only Jesus can truly see the whole forest and He will return to govern it when God the Father deems it to be the time. Until then, we have only one job.

Watch out and be ready.   Watch out and be ready by helping others to do the same.   Help others to do the same by using the talents Jesus gives each of us to His glory, for His purpose, in His ways.   Share our stories, use our abilities, do what we can to be Jesus for other people so that they, too, may ready themselves for Jesus’ imminent return. Heed the signs by reading and interpreting the signs.   Be ready to stand, then to leave, when Jesus comes back for you. Watch and be ready.

Lord, I anxiously await Your return.   Until that happens, help me to understand the signs and be ready for You.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.