Practical Proverbial, from Jude, 23 November 2020 Today’s topic: Hey Jude

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Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, to those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept forJesus Christ:  Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.  Jude 1-2 (NIV).

Hey Jude…sorry, I just had to.   But if the Beatles help you get into your Bible, then spin that one more time.   Like Obadiah, Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John, Jude is a book of only one chapter.   Yet its 25 verses contain what seem to be an extension of 2 Peter in how they denounce false teachers and encourage struggling believers.

We don’t know exactly who Jude was.   “Jude” was a familiar name for someone with the given names of “Judah” or “Judas.”   Clement of Alexandria, the renowned second-century church leader, attributed the book to Judas, the younger brother of Jesus Himself.  Both Matthew and Mark mention Jesus had a younger brother named Judas, and traditions all the way up to the time of Clement attributed authorship to him.  Judas (also called Thaddeus), son of James, could also have been the author, though some details of his life don’t seem to line up with the text.

But let’s keep it real:   it doesn’t especially matter.   Someday, when you get to Heaven, ask Jesus.  Or Jude.

Until then, take some encouragement from knowing that there was a man who wrote a short book that prayed abundant mercy, peace, and love to anyone who read it.  We could use some more of that these days, couldn’t we?

After all, nearly 50 years ago, the Beatles sang a song to encourage a young man who was depressed.  Paul McCartney’s voice was the lead, but the song was actually a dedication to John Lennon’s son, Julian.  Other than similar sounding names, there really isn’t a tie between the song and the epistle…

…except this:   it’s about grace, mercy, and love.   A man who grew up beside the living Son of God would have learned about those things, even before the Son came into His own ministry.   A man who spent his adult life following his brother, his Savior, would have believed in Him even up to the point of death.   A young man in 1960s England would have needed to hear about those things at a low point in his life. 

And a reader perusing these words today might need to hear them as well.  If you believe, you’ve been called by Jesus to believe in Him and to follow Him.   Even though you’re a believer, you still get down every now and then, and you need to be reminded of the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus.   Even now, those things matter more than ever.

Hey Jude, take a sad song, and make it better.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Jude 3

Lord God, thank You for a new day to learn about Your grace, love, and mercy.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 19 November 2020 Today’s topic: Right On, Right On

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But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.  2 Peter 3:18 (NIV).

Read that verse again.  It really is a great way to both end and begin a conversation.   It’s a doxology, a blessing, a call to worship, and a call to arms.  “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord because to Him be all glory forever…this is most certainly true.”

Right on, right on.

This is a doxology.   It’s a hymn praising God in Jesus Christ.   Jesus, our God, is the source of all grace and knowledge.   Nothing that is known has been known apart from Him for He is the beginning and end of all knowledge, logic, reason, and truth.   None of those wonderful things are ours by deserving them:   they are gifts from Him.

This is a blessing.   It is a benediction spoken to cherished friends, new believers, and even total strangers.   It is a set of simple truths, namely that the grace and knowledge of Christ are divine gifts given in love from Him to us to each other.  That is worthy of praising Him.

Which means that this is a call to worship.   We GET TO read Peter’s words and then share them with each other.   In doing so, we’re giving praise to Jesus and His Spirit that inspired them into us.   It’s like singing a new song to God, like being part of a church service where you feel that Spirit moving in your heart and know that all is well in your life.

Yet don’t get too complacent because this is a call to arms as well.   Not martial arms just yet, but a call to boldly, soldierly carry these things out into a world full of hostile forces.  The devil who wars against us and our God is the same evil one who deceived Eve.   Who laughed at the slaughter of children murdered by Herod, who reveled in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, who squirms in joy every time we speak anger at each other.   We are called to be soldiers in the army of the Living God and to boldly proclaim the grace, knowledge, and glory of Him against this same evil right here, right now.   Right on, right on indeed.   More like, righteously move right on.

Peter lived his unsettled life in service to his friend and savior, Jesus of Nazareth.  Tradition has it that Peter died in Rome, crucified upside-down in the arena because he didn’t consider himself worthy to die the same death that Jesus did.  Before doing that, Peter spent decades starting new churches and ministering to new believers.  He does it still through the words he left for us in this book.  Read them again, remember, and give praise to the God who inspired Peter to write them.

For further reading:  Romans 3:24, Jude 1

Thank You, Lord, for the words and life of Your friend, Peter.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 18 November 2020 Today’s topic: Your Christmas Carol

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Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  2 Peter 3:17 (NIV).

Yesterday, we watched a recent Christmas movie: “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”  It’s a fictionalized account of Charles Dickens and his struggles over writing “A Christmas Carol.”   You know that story:   Scrooge and the ghosts and Tiny Tim and “God bless us everyone.”  My wife loves Christmas movies; most of her favorite movies are actually Christmas movies, including this new one (which came out only three years ago).  So it should come as no surprise that we’ve been watching Christmas movies for most of a month now.   I kid her all year long that she’s part elf, because she enjoys giving gifts.   “Gifts” seems to be her love-language, how she expresses her heart.

Back to Scrooge.   We’ve already watched several versions of the old story.   One of my favorites is the musical with Albert Finney.   In that, the miserable Scrooge transforms from the money-loving miser into a good and decent man in the space of only a few nightmares.   Nightmares, that is, that warn him of how pushing love out of his heart has filled it with selfish loathing. 

That’s really the same message as verse 17, isn’t it?

Aren’t we all a little bit like Scrooge?  We all need a wake-up-call nightmare now and then, to make us question just what we believe.   Perhaps we could use a visit from the spirits of Christmas to forewarn us of what could happen if we chose to abandon our Lord.  Charles Dickens was a believer in Christ, though one skeptical of most evangelical methods used to preach Him.  Yet Dickens imbued his characters with Christian virtues, especially those involving mercy and redemption.  After all, Scrooge didn’t start out as a heartless miser.   It took a lifetime of spiritually lawless choices to grow his heart cold:   so cold that only the spirit of Christmas – or the Spirit of Christ – could warm it back to life.   At the end of the story, Scrooge was redeemed.   Sort of like Dickens himself.

What say you about that?

Maybe this Christmas season you’ll read Dickens’ book.   Or watch the movie.   Or maybe see a play about it.   No matter, consider it to be a forewarning to you (and me) as well, that we should hold fast to the love of Jesus because He holds fast to us.  Nothing can ever tear us away from the love of Jesus, but we can freely abandon it.   Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.   Instead, let’s hope we each realize the happier invocation for God to bless us every one…for indeed He has.   Especially at Christmas. 

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 10:12, 2 Peter 3:18

Christmas Savior Jesus, You have blessed me so richly.   Thank You.   Thank You and please inspire me to share those blessings – and You – with someone else today.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 17 November 2020 Today’s topic: Who To Believe

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He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.  2 Peter 3:16 (NIV).

Listening to the news this year, it’s been hard to know who to believe.   There’s a deadly virus on the loose that’s going to infect us all; no, the virus isn’t as serious as they’re hyping it up to be.   Biden won; no, Trump won.  We’re on the edge of a meltdown; no, things are just fine.  It’s safe to come out of lockdown; no, it’s getting worse than it was before.

Who do you believe?

In verse 16, Peter recounts how unscrupulous people tried to twist the words of Peter’s friend, the Apostle Paul.   Peter had encountered Paul several times and found him to be a passionate, erudite evangelist for Christ.  Indeed, during one visit, Paul had rebuked Peter, and it made the men respect each other even more.

That’s a pretty amazing thing, considering that both men lived in an Israel that was occupied by a hostile foreign army.   That they were outspoken leaders of a religious sect whose values ran contrary to established norms (both Jewish and Roman).  That most of the rest of the world was hostile to this new “Way” and wanted to see it suppressed.

Those Christians are troublemakers; no, there’s something about them that I like.   It’s impossible for a man to come back from death; but I saw Jesus alive.  That new religion has quickly grown all over the known world; no, there really isn’t much to it.

If you’re John Q. Public in first century Judea, who do you believe?  If you’re John Q. Public in 2020, the same question applies.  When you don’t know who to go to for the truth, who do you believe, especially when clever people seem to distort and twist what’s being said?  Believe it or not, you already know the answer.     

Believe the one who’s preaching the truth about Jesus.   That Jesus is God and we aren’t.   That Jesus is the only way to heaven.   That Jesus is both love and supreme justice.   That Jesus calls us to confess our sins, repent of them, and allow Him to remake our lives for His Kingdom’s good.

In Judea, you would have believed Paul or Peter.   They and their friends had personally experienced this Jesus.   In our world today, believe them still because truth is still truth whether it’s two thousand years old or freshly spoken just now.  There aren’t versions of truth:   there is only truth.  In a time when it’s hard to know who to believe, Christ Jesus is the best and only constant.   Listen to what’s said about Him.

For further reading:  Psalm 56:5, Jeremiah 23:36, James 1:8, 2 Peter 3:17

Lord Jesus, You are the center of the universe, the only truth, and the One in whom I believe.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 16 November 2020 Today’s topic: The Same Message

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Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  2 Peter 3:15 (NIV).

Sometime in the late 30s AD, Paul traveled to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, James, and the other Apostles.  It was a two-week meet-and-greet.   Some people think it was Paul inquiring of Peter of the latter’s experiences with Jesus.   Others think it was the Apostles inquiring of Paul how he came to faith. 

Years later, Paul and Peter met again.   The church had grown rapidly through Judea, Samaria, (modern day) Syria and Arabia, and was moving into Asia Minor.   At this second meeting, Peter and Paul agreed to present a unified message to potential converts.   Peter would continue witnessing to Jews; Paul would witness the message to non-Jews.

That message?   The same one Jesus had entrusted to His disciples.   Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ.   The only way to heaven that God has given to us is through faith in Christ.   Believe in Christ and live. 

That’s the same message we hear (and share) today.   Over thousands of years, it is the message that gave rise to Western civilization as we know it.   It is the message that spurred the creation of long-lasting representative republican democracy.   It is the message that keeps the spark of hope burning among new converts in Africa, Iran, China, and a hundred thousand other improbable locations.  The work of those early disciples, recorded in bits and pieces through the New Testament, continues in us today.

Someday, in heaven, I’d like to talk with Peter and Paul and ask if they’d share some of the things they talked about.   What I know about the words (and work) God spoke through them has made a huge difference in my life.   Not so long ago, I was a shallow, callous, profane, and hypocritical younger man.   God had been working on me for years, but it took Him stripping me down to my core for me to finally pay attention.

And the message that got my attention was the same one Peter and Paul had been sharing all those years ago.   Believe in Jesus and be saved.   It really isn’t any more difficult than that.   In the times when we feel most desperate, realize that God isn’t done with us yet.   That, as long as He gives us fresh breath and new days, we get to share that same message with others in what we think, say, and do.   Like Peter and Paul did.   Like you and I can today.

For further reading:  Romans 2:4, Galatians 1:18, Galatians 2:6-10, Ephesians 3:3, 2 Peter 3:16

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your saving grace, for Your servants of old and now, for giving me today to share Your message of salvation.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 12 November 2020 Today’s topic: Point to Someone Else

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So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  2 Peter 3:14 (NIV).

Who is “him”?

Of course, the obvious answer is Jesus.   When we turn over our hearts to Him, we become motivated to want to live cleaner lives.   Turn away from sin; resist temptations, even avoiding them; forgiving; listening.   These are evidence of the fruits of God’s Spirit taking up residence within us.

Yet don’t be persuaded by the slippery slope that my original question asks.   We may want to live spotless, blameless lives, but doing so doesn’t make us more justified, sanctified, or righteous before God or men.   We are justified, sanctified, made righteous only by Jesus, not by anything we do.   We don’t do anything to earn His favor, or His forgiveness; we don’t have to pay penance or anything like that.   All that needed to be done to attain forgiveness was done by Jesus already.   He gives us that because He loves us, not because we earn or deserve it.

Knowing that, maybe the “him” we are to make every effort to appear godly before isn’t just Jesus.   Maybe ‘he’ is our brother, our sister, our fellow human being.   Maybe it is mankind that needs to see our spotless, blameless, at-peace lives.   Perhaps it is our fellow man who needs to see that our faith in Jesus changes us, makes us act in different ways.   Just maybe other men need someone to look up to, something to aspire to.

That really isn’t far-fetched.   Jesus doesn’t need our good deeds, even as He wants to see us motivated to do them.   But our fellow people need them.  Jesus doesn’t need you to work in a soup kitchen, but there may very well be a homeless person who does.   Jesus doesn’t need you to be kind to strangers at the gas station, but someone having a terrible day might.  Jesus doesn’t need you to forgive a grudge but somebody just might be yearning to hear from you.  Jesus is at peace with us even if we aren’t at peace with Him.

You get the picture.   Things like those are things that Christ loves to see His people do.   But He doesn’t need them.   Indeed, even our best behavior, if motivated by selfish means, is like a filthy rag in the presence of God.  SelfLESS behavior, however, is a horse of a different color.

Yes, Jesus is the “him” to whom Peter was referring.   Yet perhaps, if you were to ask Jesus about it, you might not be surprised if he asked you who you thought “him” was.   And if that ever happens, don’t be surprised if He points to someone else.

For further reading:  Isaiah 64:6, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Peter 3:15

Forgiving Lord Jesus, direct my heart to always want to serve You by serving others.   To change my ways to better represent You in an unkind world

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 11 November 2020 Today’s topic: Pumpkins Forever

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But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.  2 Peter 3:13 (NIV).

Last night, I did something I really enjoy:  I processed 10 bags of pumpkin.   Crazy, eh?  I processed 10 bags (containing 2 cups of pumpkin puree each) that are now safely ensconced in my freezer.   I’ve been doing this for years.   Every Halloween, we get one or more pumpkins for decoration and, every year, when we’re done with those decorations, they get processed into food.

The process isn’t difficult (so even I can do it).   You cut up the pumpkin, scooping out the seeds.  Cut the large pieces into small pieces, put them on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 for an hour or so, until the ‘meat’ is soft.   Let the pumpkin cool.   When cool, cut off the peel, cut up the ‘meat’ into small pieces, and puree it in a blender (or food processor).   I usually add a cup of water (to make pureeing easier), so I empty the puree into a sieve (to let the water filter out).   Label bags, measure 2 cups into each bag, and put it into the freezer.   For the next year (or more), we’ll have our own pumpkin ready for breads, pies, desserts, and even chili (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it).

For several years, I even grew my own pumpkins at our farm in northeast Texas.   Since we sold the farm, we’ve had to buy them at the store.  To me, there’s something wholesome, something righteous, about growing and “putting up” your own food.   When I die, I hope Jesus lets me be a farmer.  I don’t know if there’ll be food (or farming) in heaven, but I think it would be the most worshipful, God-glorifying vocation to tend to His creatures and to His garden by farming it.   It’s something I love doing.

Imagine doing that for eternity.   If you like surfing, imagine surfing forever; imagine Jesus surfing with you (Laird Hamilton watch out).   If you like painting, imagine painting with Jesus; Bob Ross watch out.   Imagine singing with Him, or cooking, or sewing, or whatever it is that brings you closer to God.   Imagine doing that forever as a way to worship and glorify God:   by using for Him the gifts He freely gave to you.

That isn’t some figment of your imagination:   it’s a promise.   Peter says as much.   So did Isaiah, who prophesied that God would measure to us what we had measured in devotion to Him.   Imagine offering our best to Him here, then receiving immeasurably more in return in eternity.   In a new heaven and new earth, they will be ways for us to worship God in all we do.

That includes pumpkins, growing or ‘putting them up’ for food.   Don’t believe me?   Come see me next fall and we’ll do it again.

For further reading:  Isaiah 65:7, Isaiah 66:22, 2 Peter 3:14

Lord God, thank You for the gifts of vocation that I cherish.   Help me to use them in worshipping You.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 10 November 2020 Today’s topic: Transitory

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Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  2 Peter 3:11-12 (NIV).

My Concordia Bible says “the transitory nature of the material universe ought to make a difference in one’s system of values and one’s priorities.”   Have you ever really considered that where we live is “transitory?”

I haven’t.   Really haven’t.   This planet is all humanity knows.  Twelve men have walked on another celestial body.   Other than them, except for Jesus Christ, every one of the billions of us who have ever lived has walked only here on the Third Rock.  Face it:  this is the only home we’ve got.

And it’s a rental.   Yep.   We’re only temporary occupants of the fallen world.   Once upon a time, the first two inhabitants of it lived in perfect harmony with both their God and His nature.   Then, they chose sin and everything changed, even the nature of nature itself; ‘unnatural’ became natural.  Since then, everything has been corrupted by mankind’s sins.  

In the end, it will be restored.   The coming purification will wipe out all vestiges of sin.   Those made righteous by Christ will reside in a world made clean, free of corruption, free of temptation, free of the pathetic, sad nature of unnatural sin. 

The elements of sin – rebellion against God – won’t be able to withstand the heat of that purification.   Like Linda Blair sprinkled with holy water, sin will cry “it burns!”   Yet that fury will cleanse away all impurities.   The dross will fall away; only the gold of Christ’s people will remain.  

Knowing that, shouldn’t we temper our thoughts, words, and actions with that knowledge?   This place, the only home we know, will be made new, made perfect again.  Knowing this, shouldn’t we live in ways that show we want to be a part of it?   Shouldn’t we be eager to cast off our sins, to take ourselves away from temptations, to learn to be slow to speak, slow to react, and quick to follow Christ?

Face it again:   I’m betting neither you nor I have thought much about that.  Most times, we let ourselves become too busy living our lives, following X in pursuit of Y, to consider that the end will come (and soon).   That we should choose to submit our following to Jesus instead of that X or Y.  Everything we have or know here is transitory, temporary, terrestrial.  Everything up ahead is forever.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:7, 2 Peter 3:13

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry that I have messed up, that I forget how You save me despite my rebellion.   Thanks for not abandoning me, for loving me when I don’t deserve it.   And thanks for the promise to make all things new.

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