Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 8 July 2019

To Titus, my true son in our common faith:  Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  Titus 1:4 (NIV).

As far as we know, Paul didn’t have any children.   Yet he refers to both Titus and Timothy as his sons.   That’s not uncommon.  You and I, perhaps we’ve felt a familial affection for people to whom we aren’t related yet have been caring, strong examples for us.   I’ve had mentors in the Air Force, and at jobs, and in my church and family.   How about you?

It’s the common faith that puts us on common ground.   The bottom line of that is, as always, Jesus Christ.  It seems pretty impossible to think that God, the supreme being, could have created everything and then not consider Him to be the fundamental we all share in common.  It simply defies logic.

And Paul was a logical man, using human experience and reason to appeal to a culture familiar with common experience and human reason.   He lived in a world ruled by Romans but largely shaped by the faith of the Jews and the Hellenistic culture of Greece.   The people of Paul’s day were familiar with faith, both Jewish, this nascent Christianity, and a hundred other faith practices of pagans.   They were familiar with the idea of God, even the common but radical idea that God would make Himself incarnate among us out of love, grace and peace.

That was a radical concept then; it’s still radical today.  It’s still contrary to a world where the strong survive.   Paul saw that real strength, however, came not from a sword or political power but, instead, from the grace of God.   He would greet his fellow believers in the language of their shared faith, and he would then pray over them the grace and peace from God the Father and His Son, Christ Jesus.

Common ground from which Paul would mentor and teach.   Paul’s people needed the common ground of believing there was a God who loved them, who endured their pain, who identified with their plight, who provided a way out.   The people of our time need that exact same reassurance.   Over a billion people (out of 7 billion) currently hold that faith, share that common ground.   That means a huge majority of our world either doesn’t know or doesn’t accept our common ground.   It means that we have a shared mission from Christ.   Share Him through how we live our lives.   Give an answer when asked.   More than that, give an answer by the things we do with and for others.   If we want to invite others onto the common ground of faith in Jesus, let’s do so by praying for them the grace and peace of Jesus by how we live today.   Let’s be mentors in the faith.

For further reading:  Romans 1:7, 2 Corinthians 2:13, 1 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:5

Lord Jesus, help me to share You in how I live today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 4 July 2019

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.  Titus 1:1-3 (NIV).

Why now?   Why have the elect (us) learn about the hope of eternal life (for both now and always)?

Because it’s time.

So today is Independence Day in America.   Seeing as how the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 is now a World Heritage Site, in a way, July 4th is a holiday for the entire world.   It’s the day when man declared his rights by standing up to a tyrant.  King George wasn’t the most evil tyrant in history; think Herod the Great, or Stalin, or Mao, or Hitler for that.   But George III was a tyrant all the same, demanding that all people in his kingdom bow to him as the ultimate authority.

“Not so fast,” was the collective reply of our American forbearers.  If you’ve ever studied the people who wrote our Declaration, you’ll find they are some of the most amazing political thinkers in all of human history.   They were also some of the boldest, willingly committing mass treason in the name of natural law and natural rights given by God alone.   It’s amazing to think that so many people could come together at once and produce a simple statement that says “these are our rights” and defined western democracy for the rest of all time.

It happened because centuries of thought, and decades of experience and preparation culminated in a gathering one Philadelphia summer.   Because God brought them all together.   Because it was time.

Now is your time.   Now is our time.   Now is our time to not only celebrate this wonderful thing done by our ancestors.   Now is also our time to thank God for them and what they did, and to realize that the rights they bequeathed to us enable us to live the lives we do here and now.  God put Paul where He did to spread the Gospel for the first time.   Jesus put His Spirit into Paul, and you, and me, and all of us to do the same, both here in America and world-wide.  Thank God for the American founders on behalf of all citizens of our world.   And thank God for Jesus.

Because it’s time.

For further reading:  Numbers 23:19, Luke 1:47, Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Timothy 1:10, 2 Timothy 2:2, Hebrews 6:18, James 1:1, Titus 1:3

Lord Jesus, You have me where You have me because it’s time for me to do Your bidding.   Empower me, educate me, and embolden me today to declare my independence from sin for the rest of my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 3 July 2019

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.  Titus 1:1-2 (NIV).

Here’s a little more of why God put it on Paul’s heart to write to Titus; part of the purpose for this letter:   the hope of eternal life.

I think of “The Color Purple.”   Great book; great movie.   In the movie, Oprah Winfrey’s character, Sofia, is strong and determined while Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg, is more withdrawn but steady.  Sofia is bull-headed in everything she does.  Celie is consistently abused, both physically and emotionally, and has resigned herself to that fate until Sofia calls her out on it.   Celie’s response:   this life doesn’t last forever but heaven will.  Sofia’s response to that?   That’s great but what about now?

Wouldn’t that response apply to most of our world.  After all, it’s reasonable, isn’t it?   What about now?   What about me?   Don’t I matter?

Perhaps both Celie and Sofia were right; perhaps it’s a ‘both/and’ situation.   The hope of eternity is a promise, not a wishing well kind of hope.   It’s a certainty, a foundation.   God, who never lies, promised it.   It’s like the law of gravity:   something universal on which we can rely.   It matters now and later at the same time.

God chose mankind to display His grace and His love.  He could have chosen honeybees but He didn’t.  We are the elect, and those who follow Jesus know this.   Why?   Because God, who doesn’t lie, gave Himself in His Son to die for us when we didn’t deserve it.   Because He won forever in heaven for us when we couldn’t.   That means we get to enjoy the peace of that hope right now.   It can change hearts to live with a better outlook…if we let it.   It’s the Sofia moment:   what about now?   Yes, Oprah:  what about now.   The peace of God is for right now, for dealing in love and justice with our fellow man, including those who abuse us.   Including those who are bull-headed.  Including ourselves.

And the peace of God is for our eternity in heaven as well.   It’s for later, for after the elect are given an eternal reward of living in His presence.   Abused people are forgiven by Christ; abusers, too.   And bull-headed people, too.   Jesus did EVERYTHING necessary and possible to open God’s presence to us.  All we have to do is accept it.  The reward for it is heaven, which, as Celie might say, we’ll see in a little while.

For further reading:  Numbers 23:19, Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 2:2, Hebrews 6:18, James 1:1, Titus 1:3

King Jesus, I believe Your promise.   The hope of heaven is mine now and forever.   Teach me today to share that in how I live this gift of my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 2 July 2019

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.  Titus 1:1 (NIV).

Welcome back, you of God’s elect.    That’s right:   King Jesus Himself chose YOU.   Before you chose to believe in Him, or question Him, or even think about Him, He chose you to believe in Him.   To communicate with Him; to understand Him; to worship Him; to receive His eternal blessings of peace and love and joy and fulfillment.

Paul wrote this letter to another of his protégés, a man named Titus.   It is believed that Titus was a Greek, a Gentile, who Paul had ordained as a bishop in Crete.   Titus had apparently been with Paul at the time 2 Corinthians was written, and Titus was also apparently successful in evangelizing the word of God.  Part of that word was learning to understand that he (Titus, as well as Paul and all the other believers) was elect by God:   chosen by God Himself to further the faith and knowledge of people.

That’s our mission, too.   I’m not a bishop in the church; perhaps you are (I know at least one).  Yet we, as followers of Jesus, are chosen by God to help others increase their knowledge of Him.   This is the secondary theme of most of Paul’s letters (the first being to give glory to Jesus).   Paul uses his words to convey to his readers – and to us – how it is our God-given mission to share the faith with other people by how we think, speak, and act.   Some people, like Titus, will do it in leadership positions.   Others, perhaps like us, will do it through our words and actions.

God chose us each for that, we and we alone.  He made us in love to be unique, to have unique thoughts and talents and abilities that nobody else has.   He put us in the time and place where we are to live our lives for service in His Kingdom.   You may not always feel special; I’m betting you don’t think you’re called or even chosen by God for much, at least not most of the time.

That doesn’t change the fact that you are.   God put it on your heart to take an interest in Him, to want Him in your life somehow.   He did that so that you might know Him more, and then so you might share Him with the people in your orbit.   Nobody else on Earth is you; nobody else can do what you do.   That’s because God elected you to be you and you alone.   He wants you as you are, just for who you are.   Just like he did Paul and Titus.

For further reading:  Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 2:2, James 1:1, Titus 1:2

King Jesus, thank You for choosing me, for equipping me to live this life.   Help me do that.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 26 June 2019

Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus.  Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters.  2 Timothy 4:19-21 (NIV).

This seems like a Southern goodbye.   My wife frequently notes that people from the American South take a long time to say goodbye.   You (or they) say “well, I have to get going” and you may start for the door or intend to hang up the phone.  Yet the person on the other end of the conversation then says “Yeah, me too,” pauses, and then continues with :….and then I was in my kitchen…” or something like that, extending the conversation through a protracted goodbye.   A five-minute talk easily stretches to a half-hour or more.

That’s a Southern thing.   True, you see it in other places.  I was born a Yankee.  I have northern friends and family who do this.  But it’s almost a way of life in the American South.  Maybe it’s the way we’re raised (see “Southern thing”).  Or maybe they tell you the same thing several times.   The older I get, the more I find myself doing this.   Either way, it takes longer.

When you think about that, think about Paul.   It reminds me of how Paul signed off his letters.   In Paul’s time, letters were the only long-distance means of communication.   That means that you’d have added greetings to your letters, sending greetings from or to people you knew lived near the recipient.  Paul often did this:   it’s how he signed off Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, here (in 2 Timothy), Titus, and Philemon.  In all his letters, Paul sent (at least) generic good-bye’s.  But in most of them, he sent greetings from and to the people mentioned above as well as others he knew would be nearby.

Paul might have fit in in North Texas.  He’d understand the Southern goodbye.  Sure, it can be time-consuming and, yes, it can even be annoying.   But it’s great that people want to be involved in our lives.   It makes me want to be involved in theirs.  It’s love and mutual affection, mutual respect.  I like the art of conversation, and I like that someone wants to talk.   In a way, I feel sorry for folks in our electronic world because that art is changing. Text messages are so brief, so impersonal, so incomplete.   Emails are intended to be direct and to-the-point.   My wife is constantly urging me to go back to writing letters and cards; perhaps she has a point. Paul might agree.

So let’s keep talking.   In fact, my best to you, to your X and Y.   In the name of Jesus.

For further reading:  Acts 18:2, Acts 19:22, Acts 20:4-29, 2 Timothy 1:16, Titus 3:12, 2 Timothy 4:22

Lord Jesus, thanks for long goodbyes, for people who want to send their love to us, and for ways of communicating.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 25 June 2019

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  2 Timothy 4:16-18 (NIV).

Adding in verses 17 and 18 makes the previous blog entry more complete.   It’s not enough to think Paul thought himself alone.   The more important point is that Paul KNEW he wasn’t alone, that Jesus was with him, that Jesus and His message did and would prevail.  That Jesus delivered Paul.   That Jesus WILL deliver Paul (and us) from the evils of this world so we will triumph with Him.

So let’s talk those evils.   I know a young man who was hit by a car two months ago.   He’s a star athlete at a west Texas college who has a bright future in sports ahead of him, likely in professional baseball.  Out of the blue, a stranger did a hit and run on him.   One minute my friend is sitting at an intersection; the next minute he’s paralyzed in a crushed car.

He’s spent the last two months in the hospital, learning how to walk again.   As of today, he’s not only walking:   he’s doing wind sprints down the hall.   As his mom put it, ‘it was like God flipped a switch.’   He had been told he might never even move his toes again, the damage to his spine was so severe.   Physical therapy was long, torturous, and critical.   And all of a sudden, things fell back into place and he’s not just walking again but running.   He’ll be discharged this week to continue outpatient therapy and gradually return to full activity.

Miracle.   A miracle of God.   There’s no other way to look at it.   The Lord allowed this disastrous accident to a believing young man and the young man still believed.   The Lord rescued him through the accident, then through the process of rehabilitation, then into health again.   The Lord’s grace, mercy, and healing were displayed in ways it hadn’t been before.   And the Lord is with the man still, carrying him forward into a promising future, not just with sports, but to display God’s grace and tender mercies.

My friend has never been alone.   Family, friends, and doctors have tended to him since the accident.    Yet I’m sure he FELT alone at times; even Paul must have felt deserted.   In those times, faith that Jesus hadn’t abandoned him sustained both Paul and my friend.   And in living out that faith, they both provide shining examples for the rest of us.

For further reading:  2 Timothy 4:19

Lord, thank You for healing Aaron.   Keep it up!