Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 January 2019

The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.  1 Timothy 5:4-5 (NIV).

In our world, even one slip-up can be devastating.   It only takes a single one-night-stand to get a disease.   It only takes one rejection to have your hopes and dreams dashed during a vulnerable time.  The world is a tough place and jumping out into it is even tougher.  Keep our eyes on God and not the world around us.  Is this blog-post going to be full of platitudes and bland aphorisms?  No; I don’t like those either beyond them being reminders of truths we need to hear.   Yet there are things in those platitudes that matter because people are in real need all around us.

Losing someone you love is the most devastating thing on earth.  We can deal with almost anything but when the person on whom we rely most is gone, our entire foundation is destroyed.  “I can’t imagine losing your spouse and not having faith.”   My mom said those words to me about a year after my Dad died.  Mom had faith and was still the most independent-minded person I’ve ever known.   And while I don’t think she spent night and day praying and asking God for help, in her own way and time she did those things.   She told me that she prayed and talked with God when she was alone until, one day, she had the thought “Grace, you can do this.”   That was after about six months in the fog of grief.   And, for her, that was the start of getting better, of knowing that God had given her all she needed to keep moving forward in life.   She did for another 16 years.

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us to honor our parents.   That can be extended to assume he’s telling us to honor both our parents and our other forbears and elders.  Then, in Romans, he reminds us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may know the will of God.  I’ve never been completely alone, even during the times when it felt that way.  And I have dived deep into living for pleasure and gotten out of it worse.  In all these cases, it’s because I didn’t extend honor, either to God or to anyone involved.   I strayed from working to let God renew my heart and mind, and I’m not even a widow.

Imagine how much worse off things could have been if I had just lost my spouse.   In that light, Paul’s exhortations are common-sense Godly advice.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:1-2, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 3:5, 1 Timothy 5:6.

Lord, help me to give honor to my elders, to live for You in all I do today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 February 2017

 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Hebrews 7, verses 23-25.

“Save completely.”   Those are some BOLD words.   Before we move off these verses, let’s explore them a little.

Do you remember “Titanic?”   You know, Kate and Leo in post-pubescent ardor aboard the ocean liner doomed to kiss an iceberg.   Near the end, Kate promises to never let go of Leo (and then she immediately lets go of his frozen dead body).   Then, years later, the older Kate recollects that “he saved me in every way a person can be saved.”   Later that night, she throws the Heart of the Ocean down to the sunken ship and then passes away herself.   Kate thought Leo (actually it was Rose thought Jack) had saved her beyond simply keeping her out of the cold water.  But she was wrong.   Her heart shouldn’t have been in the ocean, or in some cheeky necklace.

And since today is Valentine’s Day, I wonder how many of us look to our significant others to save us when we can’t save ourselves?   A pastor friend of mine today lamented the increasing use of the word “partner” to supplant “spouse, wife or husband” as the dominant word used to describe committed relationships.  I agree with his lament:   “partner” isn’t “spouse, wife or husband.”   “Partner” is a poor substitute for the person ordained by God for you in a covenant relationship with them.

News flash, however:  your partner, or whatever you call them (please don’t say “bae”) can’t save you.   For that matter, neither can your wife or husband, or my pastor friend, or me.   In fact, you can’t save yourself, even, except for one tiny action that makes all the difference in the world.

You can say “I believe in Jesus.”   Sure, add on the rest of the religious language if it makes you happy but you really don’t have to do anything beyond giving your confession.   Jesus has already saved you.   He has already done EVERYTHING needed to save you from the eternal penalty for the things you’ve done to rebel against Him.   He and only He has done this because nobody else could or can.   And He and only He can do it completely.   Jesus doesn’t just pull you out of the freezing North Atlantic after your ship goes down.   Jesus doesn’t just promise to love, honor and cherish you even when you’re ugly crying.   Jesus doesn’t just do whatever you can think up to prove to you that He loves you more than just on February 14th.   Once and literally for all, He made saving us whole, finished, containing all that was needed to make salvation a done deal.  He did it through His heroic death at Calvary.

Jesus completely saves us.   He makes it physically and spiritually impossible for the devil to un-save us.   Sure, said devil can hurt and harm us, but there is nothing he can do to undo what Jesus has already done.   Nothing.   Wrap your noodle around that on this Hallmark holiday.   Your Valentine can’t save you from eternal separation from God because Jesus already did.  A warm fire, great meal, wine and chocolate, flowers and a fancy card are all great things but they don’t do diddly squat in determining who really loves you because Jesus already did that.   There is nothing you need to do and nothing you, me, or anyone else could even do to make that more complete, or more ‘saved’, or more yours because Jesus already did everything that was necessary.

I’ll take that over the Titanic any day.

For further reading:   Romans 11:4, Romans 8:34, Hebrews 13:8.

Lord Jesus, thank You for completely saving me, for loving me so fully that there is nothing I want to or could do to make it any fuller.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 May 2015

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. Mark 8, verses 23-30.

Jesus spent a lot of His time testing His disciples.   Brace yourselves because I’m going to say it:   part of me thinks that’s annoying. Yes, it’s annoying and, yes, I think it’s ok and not even sinful to say that I feel annoyed by something the Son of God said.   Annoyance is an emotion that tells us there is something we don’t like; more often, it’s something we don’t want to accept or acknowledge. I would feel more than a little annoyed if someone I loved kept testing me; I might, in fact, start to question that love. It would hurt, like I wasn’t trusted.

But it’s not for lack of trust that God tested these 12 men.   Just yesterday I was reading about Abraham and Issac, how God (that same Jesus) tested Abraham by asking him to slit his son’s throat. Would you or I be as trusting as Abraham was? In an era where we are inculcated at all levels to trust our feelings, I think not. Yet we also know that we live in a world that constantly tests us in so many ways.   Do you set up project controls to gauge the performance of others? Do you check and re-check your calculations when you make a budget or file your taxes? Do you give kids extra responsibility to see how they handle it? You know that not all these tests are done out of insecurity or doubt.   More often, we do them in love.

Perhaps, then, Jesus posed this test to the Disciples out of love as well. Instead of an annoyance, perhaps He said it to get them to admit to themselves things they had been considering but maybe had not coalesced into a single concept. I think He did it to help them see the obvious truth of who He was proving Himself to be…and then to prepare them for the hard days ahead when they finally understood what that really meant.

Perhaps, too, you need to ask yourself the question Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say I am?” When you get fired from your job; when you call your wife early in the morning and she already seems angry at you for reasons you don’t know; when you get an unexpected windfall; when you are promoted; when your parents die, who do you say Jesus is?   Is He the loving Lord, Messiah, friend, Trinity and Savior?   Is He real or a fable? Is Jesus just another guy who said and did nice, maybe even great, things but still couldn’t get you out of whatever trouble or success is plaguing you? Who do you really, really believe Jesus is?

That’s the toughest test we will ever take, and we take it daily.   Even when we doubt, those doubts are a test; that kind are the worst of all. Yet we have to remember that Jesus does it out of love, to build us up and constantly prepare us as well, in this case for the eternity up ahead. That matters most of all.

Lord, in times of test, I cling to You.

Read Mark 8, verses 31-33.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 May 2015

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” Mark 8, verses 22-26.

Another healing where Jesus doesn’t want the guy to talk about it.   He doesn’t even want the man to stop and talk to anyone.   Instead, He sends the man home. Gee, what do you think Al Sharpton would do in the same situation?   Or Joel Osteen?   How about you or me?

But we aren’t Jesus and it’s a dangerous fool’s game to presume we would know His mind or His will.   If we cling to the ways of the world, the ways of our past, we can’t.   Believe it or not, I think that’s the message Jesus was sending to this (formerly) blind man.   Give up the past and focus on me.   He was telling the man to go home and get started on living a new life using the gift Jesus gave him.

The man must have been beloved in Bethsaida; he was known. Since it says Jesus ‘restored’ his sight, perhaps the man had once been able to see. That makes sense since he describes people as looking like trees:   something that a man who had never seen either trees or people would be unable to easily do. Jesus gives the man a gift and tells him to go home, to return to the place the man knows best, and then to begin again.   Do you think the man kept quiet?   From these verses, we don’t know.

But think about what Jesus is telling the man to do.   Start at home; go back to what you know , and only there start telling people what God has done for you.   Isn’t that the same thing He usually tells each of us?   Where it matters most, be unafraid to share what God has done in our lives.   After all, it is in our homes that people know us best.   The mission (for others to accept Jesus) stands a much better chance of success if those receiving the news do so from someone with whom they’re familiar.

Jesus healed my life. You’ve read before of my marital problems from several years ago.   I’d give anything to go back and not hurt people the ways I did, to un-do those terrible things.   But I can’t do that.   What I can do is talk about how Jesus brought my wife and I back together and how He healed our lives, how He helped us to build a new life instead of going back to just live in the old one.   In a way, I was once blind and Jesus opened my eyes.   Then He told me to get to work honoring Him by honoring my wife, then my kids, then friends and so on. It made all the difference.   These days, I’ll tell anyone who wants to listen my story.   If it helps to connect just one more person to the Lord, it’s worthwhile and it started at home:   just like the blind man.

Lord, thank You for healing me.

Read Mark 8, verses 27-30.

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 7 February 2014

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” Ruth 1, verses 8-10

‘When you love someone, you set them free;’ we’ve each heard that old canard.  And when they love you back, amazing things happen.

But I have to tell you the obvious truth:   it’s rare to find someone who won’t desert you.  Someone who is truly a ‘forever person;’ someone who will stay with you no matter what.  Four years ago, my wife left me.   It wasn’t a matter of me setting her free:   she left me.   She set me free, for our own good.  I was a down, dirty dog with the way I had acted, the things I had done.   She couldn’t take any more of my lies, my dysfunction, and my lack of devotion.  So she left.   In fact, I helped her pack.   I helped her move furniture out, get the kids and herself set up, and then she left.   Without compare, it was the worst moment in my life.

Several months later, she came back.  Through up’s and down’s, many days of talking, and simply trying to get to know each other again, she came back.  Things had changed; she had changed; I had changed.  God had changed us by being there all along.  Counseling helped, and so did friends, and so did she, mostly by praying and showing me that God wasn’t done with me, or us, yet.  It took me awhile to see that she never really had abandoned me.   She never wanted to, and had only gone away to be whole, to show that she was worth more than the terrible way I had treated her.   That our relationship was worth more and she would do anything she could to prove that, whether we (as a couple) survived together or not.

Why say all this?   Because Naomi found people like that in her in-law daughters.   Naomi found women who thought she was worth more, worth everything.  They loved Naomi and were devoted to her.   She must have been an extraordinary person.   More than that, they must have been extraordinary women because, when set them free and implored them to go home and be loved, they tried to stay.  Pretty soon we find out how that turned out.

Isn’t that a picture of what God does for us?   We should be imploring Him to stay, yet we drive Him away consistently.   And He doesn’t leave.   Jesus doesn’t give up on us.  When we beg Him to leave us alone, even when He sometimes stands by silently, He still stands there beside us.   And wherever we go, He goes there as well.

Jesus, thank you for never giving up on me.

 

Read Ruth 10-18.

 

Have you ever given up on someone?   Why?

Has someone ever driven you away?

What do you think of how God sees you?