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.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 22 June 2018

reject every kind of evil1 Thessalonians 5:22 (NIV).

Reject evil; every kind, not just the kind we can see.   We are to reject every kind of evil from the Exorcist-in-your-face-head-spinning evil to the subtle evil that lives in our ungodly good intentions.

A few years ago, a preacher friend of mine mentioned that he thought the suburbs were the most evil places in America.    His point makes perfect sense because the suburbs are the homes of easy temptation, taken-for-granted affluence, and the lackluster practice of faith.  Affairs, apathy, lying, deception, greed, uncaring attitudes, animosity:   hardly fruits of the Spirit but all rampant in the bedroom communities of our cities.  My friend’s point seems undeniable.

Maybe you haven’t considered it before but the areas of your life where you’re most comfortable may also be your most vulnerable points.  They’re the places where Satan is most likely to present petty evil to you in ways that you’ll accept.   “Just one more drink.”   “We really shouldn’t be doing this.”  “Nobody will ever know.”   “It’s not as bad as that other guy.”   If you’ve said these things, you might just be under attack.   They’re sly evil creeping into your life.

Evil doesn’t just have to present itself as Damien the Omen child.  It’s in the things around us that we read, what we do, and eventually in what we think.  A few days ago I mentioned staying with friends who, I believe, are under attack by the devil.   During the stay, we had a blow-up, a fight over believing in God.   I’ve never felt such rage from another person, but when I looked around and saw the dark influences in which he lived – books, posters, habits, etc – it’s understandable why he’d channel these evils.   This young man is bathed in anti-God thought by folks closest to him and doesn’t even realize how badly he’s under siege.   At the end of the argument, I left the house and broke down sobbing.   It’s desperately sad to see people being devastated.

What’s the point?   We are to reject all evil, not just the things we consider to be really bad.   Affairs, cheating on expense reports, anger at your neighbor:   reject them.   Books by Aleister Crowley and the Necronomicon:   reject them.   Pride that tells you how you know better than anyone else:   reject.  What we take into our heads we take into our hearts.   ANYTHING apart from God:  it’s evil; reject it.  In this verse, Paul reminds us to test each idea and to reject those that even hint at evil.   It’s not just a Godly behavior:   it’s a tool for surviving.   Evil seeks to destroy us, and whether we acknowledge it or not, evil is real.   We are to reject it and stand against it.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:23

My Lord I reject evil and embrace You.   You prevail in all ways always over evil.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2017.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12, verse 14.

Here’s another tall order:   live in peace and be holy.  How does that fit in with America’s NFL controversy this week?   Or our political discourse in general since the start of this century?   How well are we living in peace with our enemies and even our allies?   Is there peace in Detroit or St. Louis?   Is there peace at your table on Thanksgiving?   And are you and your spouse at peace (if you’re married)?

Let’s get this out there:   peace is NOT the absence of conflict.   Don’t think that just because we don’t have conflict that we’re at peace.   Yes, I mean that.  Sure, not shooting each other in war is indeed “peaceful” yet there’s all too often no real peace in that.   It’s a good thing to not have someone shooting you, attacking you, berating you, and that condition is indeed conducive to overall peace.  But it isn’t real peace.   There isn’t peace along the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula:   there is only a cessation of hostilities that has lasted since 1953.  There isn’t peace in Sudan.   There isn’t peace in Ukraine.   There isn’t peace in Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, or most of America’s inner cities.

You can only have peace if the Holy Spirit is working within you.   The bumper sticker meme “no Jesus no peace.   Know Jesus know peace” is spot on true.   The only real peace you can know in this world is when you open up your heart and let Jesus crowd out all the rest of the noise.  Sure, there are some true believing folks in all the areas listed above (even in North Korea) but without God’s Holy Spirit in control, the peace we will know is uneasy, tenuous.

That isn’t easy to do.   I have a schedule to keep.   There are Facebook posts that require my brilliance.   My wife and kids aren’t doing what I want them to do.  That guy who passed me on the right was a real jerk!  DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE TIME FOR PEACE?  Actually, Dave, if the truth is told, you don’t have time to NOT have peace.   Without the peace of Jesus, you got nuthin.

You’ve got nothing without Jesus because, without Jesus, the second half of verse 14 is also impossible.   I’m not holy; you aren’t holy.   Neither Franklin Graham nor Pope Francis (nor even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are holy.   We’re all dirty sinners on our own.  Without Jesus, we still own our sins; owning our sins, we are unholy.   Without Jesus we still own the consequences of our sins.  What’s more, without Jesus you won’t see the Lord.   You won’t see heaven.   You won’t be there.

Don’t get mad at me for pointing that out:   it’s what verse 14 says.  Without knowing Jesus we can’t be holy and if we’re unholy we won’t be going to heaven.   The ONLY cure for that is to put your faith in Christ.  And the way to do that is to say “I believe” and then start walking the walk.  Read your Bible.  Pray constantly.   Be with other believers and be built up by your fellowship with Jesus and each other.   Tithe from a giving heart.   And, most of all, practice what you preach by starting to live your life in ways the Lord has told us to.  Once again, that’s a tall order.   It means giving up the porn, holding your tongue, confessing your dark secrets to the unseen God, and changing the way you act with other people.   Pick your pet sin:  you and I GET TO give up these things and follow Jesus closer so that His holiness can be imputed to us and we may stand with Him in paradise.   These are simply the practices of a follower of Jesus.  If my tone seems preachy, I apologize.

I have no illusion that everyone turning to Jesus would immediately solve the world’s problems.  Perhaps we would still have conflicts, arguments, and hurt.   Or, perhaps we wouldn’t.   Si Robertson once said “it ain’t gun control we need.   It’s sin control.”   Right on brother.  If we all embraced Jesus more and did what He asked, perhaps we’d have more control over those temptations that lure us in.   If we all did better and walking the walk and talking the talk, perhaps the world’s problems would indeed be solved.   Sin control looks a lot like Jesus.

For further reading:  Romans 14:19, Romans 6:22, Matthew 5:8.

Lord, thank You for giving us Your righteousness, for making us holy.   Help us to believe in You more, to practice our faith.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 1 November 2016

That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’  So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” Hebrews 3, verses 10-11

This morning my daily online devotion was from Jeremiah 7:28.   “Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction.   Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.’”  I’m NOT getting into politics here.   And yet, any assessment of our current political situation, especially this 2016 presidential election, brings to mind Hebrews 3, verses 10-11 AND that verse from Jeremiah.  Indeed, it’s more than our politics.   At the risk of saying “back in the day” or “in the good old days,” I’ll say both and sum up what seems to be a common complaint here in the U S of A:  things aren’t what they used to be.  And God is watching.

You know why:   sin.  To paraphrase Si Robertson, we don’t have just any problem.   We have a Jesus problem.  Our problem comes from our not focusing on Jesus, following Jesus, obeying Jesus, loving like Jesus, learning from Jesus, living more like Jesus and like He asked (and commanded) us to do.  The root of that is sin.

Have I tired you out yet?

Sorry, friend, but the truth is the truth.   I’m not a fire and brimstone kind of guy.   I’ve always thought the hellfire-is-coming-so-get-right-with-God approach isn’t for me.   I don’t like other sinners, especially hypocritical pastors, harping to me about my sins.  I know my sins and they bother me greatly; get off my back already!  I mean, Luke 4:23 and Matthew 7:5, please!   I don’t need that kind of aggravation in my life…I get it!

And did you catch how many times the letter “I” was used to talk about me in that last paragraph?   Yes, there’s a reason.   It’s part of the problem.  Perhaps the problem starts with me, with the man in the mirror as Michael Jackson would have said.   Perhaps the good old days became the bad day today because people like me and you screwed up.   I have spent so much time in my life ignoring what Jesus says to me and running after everything else that I’ve done my share to define deviancy down for all of us.

Defining deviancy down:   that’s a Daniel P. Moynihan term.   He coined it to describe how society changes its definition of ‘deviancy’ to accept widespread behavior that previous generations would have condemned so as to avoid, shall we say, rocking the boat.  Yet in today’s verses (and those just prior to it), the author of Hebrews reminds us that defining deviancy down is a fool’s game because God holds us accountable when we stray from His path.  He is just and He is interested in our lives.   He’s paying attention, and still we choose the sins over the Son.  Our ancestors did it, specifically the Israelites of antiquity.

And we’re doing the same thing today.

God had delivered the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt and still, on a few months removed from that deliverance, the Israelites started back to ways that would have made the Egyptians pious.  Idolatry, greed, hatred and malice and anger, sexual sins of all kinds, stealing:  you name it, they did it.

Welcome to America 2016.

God has provided for His people – ALL His people – every day of their/our lives.  If you woke this morning and are reading this now, God has provided for you.   If you have food, air, water, a job, friends, a place to live, and even just a heartbeat, God has provided for you.  Sure, some days seem worse than others; got skin, got sin.   Yet they’re worse to us NOT because God hasn’t provided more but almost always because of human choices.

Welcome back to America 2016.

Most of all, Jesus – God Himself- came here and gave every one of us a free path to eternal life, to living forever in redeemed peace, unending grace, and beautiful lives of perfect worship.   We get to live in harmony with our maker, get renewed perfect bodies, and we get to live as mankind was intended to live.   Even more, before any of that wonderful life even commences we get to let go of our hurt and guilt here and now, and we get to live lives in peace, learning to make amends where we’ve done wrong and learning to live in peace with people just like us.  All we have to do is believe and He does the rest.  And yet we all do everything we can to reject that, to turn from it, embracing the definition of deviancy down while rejecting the divine call of Jesus.

This is America 2016.

Be advised:  is it any wonder that, eventually, God would wash His hands of us?   He’s done it before.   With a heavy heart, I’m betting He would do it again.

For more reading:   Jeremiah 7:28, Hebrews 4:3-5, Deuteronomy 1:34-35, Psalm 95:7-11, Luke 4:23, Matthew 7:5.

Lord, I believe in You.   I’m truly sorry for my sins, for the times I’ve embraced the things of the world instead of You and Your love.   Forgive me, I pray, and renew me to do better, to follow You and You alone.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 19 November 2015

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Mark 13, verses 1-2.

I grew up near the city.   We were always ‘townies’ whether the town was large or small.   Until just this past March, I never lived in the country even though I always wanted to.   Now, my house in the country is nothing fancy.   My wife and I specifically rented it because we wanted to live in a temporary place where we could decide if this was the place where we wanted to live.   It’s my hope that we’re close to being able to buy that land, to build up our business, to plant a vineyard where we’ll grow wine grapes, and, most of all, to establish a new means where we can carry to a new level the ‘second chance’ ministry that has been put on our hearts.

And, at the end of all things, none of it will be left standing.   Jesus said so.

But I’ll confess:   I still enjoy the city.   I grew up in Minneapolis where, in the early 1970s, the IDS corporation (which no longer even exists, I believe) built its headquarters building downtown.   I once thought it was the biggest building in the world, but it obviously wasn’t. Anyway, not long ago I walked by the front of the building and looked up at the top.   It’s impressive to see something so tall and magnificent rise up to the sky.   I’ve done the same thing at the Empire State Building, the Bank of America building in San Francisco, the (former) Sears Tower in Chicago, and even the old World Trade Center buildings before Osama took them down on 9/11.

At the end of all things, none of them will be left standing.   Jesus said so.

Cities are mankind’s monuments to commerce, community, and hubris yet they pale in comparison to even the words spoken by the Son of Man.   He who spoke the universe into existence and created us from dust still has dominion and power over the same creation.   I’m sure even Jesus is impressed by the Burj Khalifa but even that building is nothing compared to the simple power of Him.   Everything was under His control from the beginning; everything still is.

I find that thought comforting as the world around us seems to be spinning out of control.   War in the Middle East, a country (even a world) divided like never before, hard times that don’t ever seem to end; you name the crisis.   If you let it, worry about these things can overwhelm you, especially if you’re alone in the big city.   So I find it comforting, especially when my wife and I are “porching” in our rocking chairs near Paris, that Jesus is still Lord of Lords even over the most magnificent and imposing of human creations.   No matter where you are, no matter where you’re from, all you see around you there and now is still under the control of the same Jesus who was there at the start.

And He has big plans for it all.

Lord, You are so much more magnificent than anything else I can imagine.   Thank You for your grace, mercy and peace.

Read Mark 12, verses 13-17.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 July 2015

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. Mark 9, verses 14-15.

The crowd in these verses could be a crowd in America today.   Media fireflies swarm around Candidate A because they’ve anointed Candidate A as the Next Big Thing…until something bigger comes along.   In high school, the in-crowd picks on the new kid until a newer kid comes along…and then he isn’t what they expect.   At work, you’re swarmed by people who just want someone to help them get their work don, someone with a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of leadership initiative.   Crowds are crowds no matter where you find them in time.

To me, the reaction of the law-teachers is natural.   The teachers of the law were the Judean power structure (and they knew it).   If anyone came along, they were a potential threat to that structure.   Of course the teachers of the law would question, pivot on, and marginalize anyone whose words or actions could cause ripples in the carefully constructed pond. You can almost picture how the news traveled. “Have you heard?   Some of those Galileans who follow that Jesus are here in town.”   “Really?   Go find out what they want.   Take X and Y with you.”   And then it would start.

But that crowd?   They’re like any crowd.   They want to be fed, want to be led, want someone, something who is truly genuine.   When they saw Jesus’ followers, they swarmed them because they saw that ‘genuiness.’ When they saw the teachers of the law cornering Jesus’ disciples, they got even more interested.   And when they saw Jesus Himself, they dropped everything they were doing and ran.

Don’t gloss over that phrase “they were overwhelmed with wonder.” Politicians, former senators, and political straphangers don’t impress me.   Ditto the beautiful people from the red carpet.   I’ve met enough famous people to discover they use the bathroom the same as the rest of us; the same as Jesus did, in fact.   Yet this crowd in Judea saw something unusual in Jesus.   They had heard the rumors about Him; they had seen the miracles He performed.   Many of them had likely heard His teaching, which was spoken in kindly authority, words of love with a velvety steel core.   Forgive, love, be patient, be ready, be strong, love your enemy, love your neighbor, love God:   these weren’t the rote-lessons that the law-teachers taught.   No, the people were overwhelmed with wonder because Jesus was wonderful.

So, I say it again:   this could be a crowd in America today.   This could be us at the State Fair, or at your local mall. Despite how things are tough all over, despite how the mores of society seem to be devolving quickly, despite the worry, the unemployment, the endless cycle of crises both real and manufactured, we still long for something real, something genuine, something kind but with loving authority. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we still very much long for Jesus.

Lord Jesus, I long for You. I want to be where You are, like You are, live my life like You ask me to.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.