Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 13 January 2020

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13. (EHV).

Be careful about reading these verses because part of verse 12 – “work out your salvation” – is easy to misconstrue if you forget the rest of verse 13.  This isn’t about me or you doing it ourselves.   It isn’t about us doing the work of salvation for ourselves.   Jesus already did all of it, everything necessary, for salvation.   Instead, the verse is about our faith, our letting God’s Spirit work through us.   The good things we say and do are God Himself working through us as His Spirit guides our thoughts and actions.

That’s easy to forget, you see, because sometimes it feels like there is something we have to do to feel worthy or be worthy or involve ourselves in our salvation.   Mark this and remember it:   the only involvement we have in salvation – being saved from damnation – is saying “I believe.”   All the atonement, all the work, all the actions, all the bloodshed, all the spiritual healing was done by Jesus and only by Jesus.   As Madeline might have said, that’s all there is; there is no more.

Yet here on the Third Rock we get confused.   We fill our lives with busyness (and business), and we spend most of them learning, striving, working to attain.   If you’re in America, you’re also imbued with the concept of personal liberty and independence.   It’s our God-given right to exercise our liberties because we’re free.   That’s where it should stop but all too often it doesn’t.  We get our independence here mixed up with our dependence on God for His saving us from ourselves.   And the worst part is that we don’t want to admit when we’re wrong.   That He’s God and we aren’t.   That we don’t, we can’t, save ourselves from the consequences of our sins.

Faith is a choice.   We choose to accept what Christ has done for us.   When we do that, He sends His Spirit to live and work through us.   Our hands may do the physical lifting but it’s His heart that gives us the motivation to do it.   Our eyes do the seeing, our lips speak the words, yet it is God’s Spirit seeing what we see, speaking words we speak in order to do our part in His Kingdom work.   This is where ‘working out our salvation’ occurs and where we meet the water’s edge.

For further reading:  Ezra 1:5, 1 Corinthians 12:6, 2 Corinthians 7:15, Galatians 2:8, James 2:18, Hebrews 13:21, Philippians 2:13

Lord Jesus, continue to work Your work through me today.   Help me to know You better so that all my words and actions may be ones Your Spirit works through me

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 7 January 2020

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5. (EHV).

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   That’s Matthew 11:29 and it’s the mindset of Christ Jesus.   The verses after Philippians 2:5 talk about how Jesus humbled Himself to assume the lowliest position in creation.  He, who made all the universe by speaking, had the mind to become what we’d consider to be the worst among us in order to save us from ourselves.  We’ll talk about that more in the coming days.

Until then, tell me:  have you found rest for your soul by being humble in heart?   I’ll admit:   I’m really, really struggling with this concept.   Part of me is chiding myself for not doing more of it, and part of me is actively struggling against it in the name of honor (that sometimes doesn’t seem to honorable).  Here in America, we’re in the middle of a culture war.   It’s more than just our politics:   it’s one side versus the other on seemingly every issue, view, or position you can think of.   I’m sure this has happened during other epochs, but it’s happening now during ours and it has left us more divided than I can remember.

Personally, I want to be humble and gentle and kind like Jesus but then I want to stand up for the things I believe in, things that I want to think would honor Jesus as well.   And in doing so, I find myself being anything but humble and gentle and kind.   These days, more often than not, I’m being a jerk to a few people whose reciprocal intolerance is equally egregious towards me and those like me.

Right is right and wrong is wrong, but what good is right when we do wrong in defending it?  What I really want to do is take up Christ’s yoke and be more like Him.   He wouldn’t respond on Facebook.   Jesus wouldn’t stoop so low to argue about things that don’t much matter.   Jesus stood for what He believed without trying to demean or destroy the other guy’s heart.   My politics, our interactions, this culture in which we battle seems hell-bent on destroying the other guy while trying to claim the high ground.

I’m not talking about defending national interests, or the fighting the war that seems likely up ahead.  I’m talking about talking with our friends.   Jesus set His mind to deal with others humbly and kindly, even when He was forceful.  It was a choice to work from a position of love in all things.  Jesus said and did all that He did from this true high ground.  How can we do the same?  I believe it starts with us falling on our knees.

For further reading:  Matthew 11:29, Philippians 2:6.

Lord Jesus, build in me Your mindset, Your heart, in how I deal with others.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 2 December 2019

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. Philippians 1:15-17. (EHV).

Ambition is a blessed curse.

I’m a liberty guy.   I think American liberty is one of the most precious things on earth.   It saddens me to know that so many of my fellow Americans are grossly ignorant of the fact that our freedom is a gift from God.   That it is He, not some government, that gives us our rights simply because He loves us.   It saddens me to know that so many people would willingly trade our true freedoms for false security.   And it saddens me to know that so few of today’s generation don’t know what an amazing, blessed, unique and wonderful country America is because they haven’t been taught our splendid history.

But you know what’s even sadder?   What’s sadder is knowing that a critical key to American exceptionalism is how we value ambition.   One huge key to our success as Americans is our notion of independence and self-reliance, of how hard work can launch an American to levels of success and prosperity that most people on the planet can’t even dream.  That can be a wonderful thing but embedded in it is unchecked ambition.   And that ambition can be a double-edged sword.   It can be the healthy, natural outcome of a dream for good more.   Or it can be a lethal tool of avarice.

It really is a blessed curse.

Ambition that isn’t centered in the teachings of Christ is avarice.   It is self-focused and eventually destructive.   Yes, it may lead to temporal success and reward, but those things aren’t eternal or lasting.   It stirs up trouble for others like it did for Paul while he was imprisoned.   Selfish ambition undoes the good things others may be doing and yanks the focus of life away from Jesus.  While our boldness in faith can be a great tool for the Holy Spirit to use in His work, that boldness when founded in selfish ambition can also be a tool for the evil one.

That plays out even in America, and it’s why we need to always be vigilant that our pursuit of our American dreams doesn’t ace out the pursuits of other good people as they pursue their own dreams.   I love our freedoms to say, be, and do whatever we like, but freedom isn’t freedom if it isn’t focused on Jesus.   Only through Him can we truly secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

For further reading:  Philippians 1:18

Lord Jesus, You and You alone are the basis of our freedom.   Thank You, praise to You for this.   Teach me to live out this blessing of freedom today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 6 June 2019

They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:4 (NIV).

Another thought about this verse:  belief is a choice.

You and I don’t have to believe what we do:   we choose to.   Yes, we’re compelled by faith from within.   We can’t begin to believe in Christ unless He first (through His Spirit) plants the thought in our receiving heart.   We can’t follow a political leader or ideology without watching it, learning about it, experiencing it.   And as much as I believe some people quickly fall in love, we don’t do that, either, without first being moved about the other person.

We choose those things.   Faith, following, love:   they’re choices. Just like turning away from the truth.   That, too, is a choice.

Nobody forced the Canaanites to follow their pagan gods or demonic, detestable practices.   They chose.   The Jews of Jesus’ day weren’t forced to conspire against Him:   they chose to.   Germans of the 1930s weren’t forced to follow Nazism (at least not at first):   they chose to follow evil.   Parishoners at Jonestown, followers of Elijah Mohammed, members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Manson family:   they weren’t forced to do the things they did.   They chose.

So it is with those who turn away from God’s truth and turn aside to myths.   To be honest, it’s another person’s American right to follow Zoroastrian mysticism, follow the Maharishi Yogi, or run around naked in the forest to celebrate Mother Gaia.   It’s their right to turn aside to myths.   In America, our Bill of Rights preserves our right to believe or not believe what we want.   In other words, what we choose.

So it is with God as well.  Even God respects that right.   God doesn’t force us to believe in Him.   He asks us to.  He asks us to, then teaches us through His word and our experiences why His teaching is the true way.  His word, the constant miracles of nature and our world, the tangible results of faith in the lives of those who believe, our own experiences, love:   all of these scream proof that Jesus is who He said He is.  It’s up to us to believe or not believe, to choose what we will take to heart about it.

Sure, NOT believing is easier said than done.   It isn’t easy to stop believing in something without a drastic event occurring.  Yet that, too, is a choice.  It was this way in ancient Judea; it is the same today.   In the days that make up the end times, it will only get worse.   Even obvious proof won’t sway the choices of those determined to not be swayed.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:4, 2 Timothy 4:4.

Lord, use me and what I say and do to witness You to those who choose unbelief.   Help me to not judge.   Help me to live out Your word better.   For them.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 7 February 2019

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV).

Contrast this with the admonition Paul shared in the previous 5 verses, especially verse 5.  In those verses, Paul advises Timothy that we can be slaves to many things, but that we should respect our ‘masters’ while shying away from anything that causes controversy and strife.   Including love of money.

We aren’t going to obsess about the so called nobility of poverty.   If you’ve ever been financially poor, it doesn’t feel very noble.   Yet there is a quality about not having something, about being in want, that is clarifying, constructive, even godly.   You know it:  contentment.

I’m going out on a limb and saying that we of the 21st century, and not just Americans, have a hard time with contentment.   Go into any American town and you’ll find people who, when they get satisfied, quickly then get un-satisfied.  Yet that’s the case in most other countries as well.   We aren’t content with what we have.   We want more, and ‘more’ can have many meanings.   Money, possessions, status, jobs, relationships; you get the picture.  It’s no stretch to say that we as the human race spend much of our lives discontented.  We’re dissatisfied because we want more; sometimes we’re even in want, poor.

Paul tells us to hold the mirror in front of us and fix our eyes on Jesus.   He has put His soul inside us to live through us and act through us whether we’re poor or rich, satisfied or dissatisfied, content or not.  He asks us to be content with who we are, where we are, what we are given (and what we achieve) because He then wants us to live godly lives in service to Him.   He asks us to use our talents for His work and let Him take care of the rest.   Part of “the rest” includes how we feel about it.  If we let Him take control, it doesn’t take long before we discover we’re content.   And that’s when He really gets down to business.   His work can take off when we realize we can be content with Him at all times because He’ll never leave or forsake us (see Hebrews 13).

Are you content?   Do you feel unsatisfied with where you are or what you have or even who you are?   Have you taken your thoughts and feelings about this to God?   Rich or poor, achiever or still a work in progress, there is great value in being content with whoever you are and wherever God has you.   You’re there for a reason:   HIS reason.   And that’s always something with which to be content and satisfied.

For further reading:   Philippians 4:11, Hebrews 13:5, 1 Timothy 6:7.

Wonderful Lord, I confess I’m not always content.   I lose my focus and take it off you.  Thank You for a new day to re-focus on you, to realize contentment because of You, and I ask You to help me help others with the same.  

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 4 October 2018

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:13-14 (NIV).

Reiterating verse 13 helps to better understand the impact of verse 14.  Even though we were once despicable, God, through His Son Jesus, gave us everything out of the love in His heart so that we might live.   Even though we spend so much of our lives thinking, saying, doing things that are against God, God still unceasingly pours love into us through our faith in His Son, Jesus.

Everything you want to know about Christianity is there.   If you’re satisfied, here endeth the lesson.   Go have a great day.   Naturally I’ll keep talking…

“Amazing Grace;” you know the song.   The man who wrote it, John Newton, was a slaver.   He carried slaves from Africa to Europe and the Americas.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, Newton was terrible man, the most profane man one of his ship captains had ever met.   Newton blasphemed God, mocked other men for displaying faith in God, and even denounced his own faith in Jesus at one point…

…until a terrible storm off the Irish coast brought him to his knees and Newton cried out to God for help.   That was the start of a conversion that took most of a decade.   Newton turned from slavery and the sea and became an evangelical minister.   And a songwriter.  Paul and John Newton might have found commonality in their past; they weren’t so very different in character.

Sort of like you and me.

When we were still very much obsessed with our sins and mired in the dysfunction that results, God reached to us through His Spirit and touched our hearts.   We can come to know Jesus as the opposite of sin, as the antidote for what ails us.   Sin isn’t love and love overcomes sin.   When we learn the love of Jesus that He gives us through His Spirit, we can be remade, reborn, renewed, and refreshed to undertake something better.

That happened to Paul.   It happened to John Newton.   It’s happened to me, and I hope it has happened to you, too.   If it hasn’t, open up and let Him in.

Everything you need to know about Christianity, about following Jesus, is summed up in the concept of grace.   God loves us through grace and we get to love others this same way.  Paraphrasing Newton, it’s an amazing, sweet sound to hear God speak to your heart and impart that He loves you.   That He loves you just the way you are through His grace.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 4:15, 2 Timothy 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Timothy 1:16

Lord above, come to me here below and touch me with Your grace.   Grow my faith and help me to better share You.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 4 July 2018, Independence Day

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (NIV).

Because today is Independence Day, a few words about the United States.

We persevere through faith.   Scratch the surface of the veneer that is our popular culture and you see that we, as the United States of America, persevere.   We persevere because our nation was founded on the idea of human liberty that is a gift from God.   That having faith in God is what makes us successful and able to persevere.  Those who would tear down that notion and replace it with twisted ideologies like socialism miss the point.   Our rights, our liberties, our blessing as a nation can’t be taken away by men.   It was given to us by God.   Knowing that, we persevere.

This isn’t to say that we are better than anyone else because we as a people aren’t.   It’s true that our institutions, our history, and our dedication to freedom do indeed set us apart from every other nation in human history.   Nobody else has done the things our nation has, and that makes America special.   We are indeed a place set apart where you can be what you want to be.   But let’s not get too big for our britches and say we’re better than other people because we just aren’t.

What makes us special, however, comes from the Almighty.   On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare America’s independence from Great Britain.  On July 4th, those same traitors signed the instrument of treason that made it official.   The primary author of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged that man’s rights were given to mankind by “Nature’s God” (Thomas Jefferson’s words, not mine).  Thus, the first nation in history conceived on the idea of liberty was conceived acknowledging that liberty originates with God.   242 years later, informed Americans still believe this is so.

The idea of God-given liberty isn’t in vogue today.   Indeed, the protection of liberty must always be upheld by each new generation if it’s to endure.   We have persevered to overcome the challenges of settling a continent, throwing off the evil of slavery, throwing off the slavery of economic calamity and governmental dependence, and the ongoing challenges posed by evil enemies who hate us because we’re free.   Because we believe in God.   There are nations in the world with deeper faith than the US, that express faith better than we do.  Yet there is no place on earth that has been so uniquely blessed by God  as the United States of America.   We have always persevered because of God.   As long as acknowledge that we are free only through our God, we can continue to do so no matter what persecutions and trials are ahead.

For further reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

Lord, thank You for blessing my home, America.   Help us to always see You as the only source of our liberty.