Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 2 April 2019

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.   2 Timothy 1:15 (NIV).

When Paul wrote this verse, he was in prison, awaiting execution.  Phygelus and Hermogenes were assistants, acolytes of Paul who (apparently) had helped him during his ministry in Asia Minor.   Whether they had deserted him there or in Rome we don’t know for sure.   All we do know from this verse is that they deserted him.   Not only, but Paul wrote that EVERYONE he had met in Asia had stopped contact with him, denied him, deserted him; a hyperbole, to be sure, but that probably isn’t how it felt to Paul.   He knew the Romans wouldn’t let him live long and he felt desperately lonely.

That must be how Jesus felt on the cross.   Not long before the end, Jesus must have felt abandoned and alone.   In a mystery we won’t understand this side of heaven, God the Father abandoned Christ there, turning his face from His Son while still being fully one and with and in Him at the same time.   It’s how Jesus redeemed us from our sins.   And we don’t know how long that time lasted, only that it happened.

It must have felt desperately lonely.

I think of Paul under arrest, probably in a cell.   His friends have gone.   His guards denigrate and mock him.   He knows the feeling of the whip and knows what it is like to be bound in chains.   Did Phygelus and Hermogenes abandon God by abandoning Paul’s ministry?   That seems plausible, but we don’t really know; against Paul the intellectual, that might have been the worst thing a person could do.  All we know is that Paul was there in prison, nearing his date with the executioner, and his soul was in pain because these two people, whom Paul had counted as friends, were dead to him.

It must have felt lonely but Paul wasn’t really alone.   He never was, not even once.   Neither are we.

When you’re going through divorce; when you’re fired from your job; when you’re in stage four chemo; when you watch someone die; when the car from nowhere slams into yours; when the IRS audits you; when your friend breaks your heart…when, when, whenever.   Whenever you feel most alone, don’t believe it.   It’s a ruse from the evil one to take your eyes off Jesus, who is with and in and beside you.   When you hurt, He hurts.   When you’re worried, He is saddened.   When you’re in tears, He cries with you.   He did with Paul, too.

I read the verse and I feel sorry for Paul.   But take heart, good friend.   There are better words ahead.   Just as there were better days ahead for Paul, especially after the swing of the Roman axe.

For further reading:   2 Timothy 16.

Loving Jesus, You are never away from me.   Forgive me for forgetting this.   Stay with me today, and help me to help encourage others.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 14 May 2015

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. Mark 7, verse 31.

We need to go with our faith.   What would Jesus do?   Stop stalling by asking that trendy question and pay attention to what He did.   He went.

Now, I’m a big proponent of overseas mission work.   I’ve been on overseas mission trips to Asia and Africa. I’ve done mission work in Minnesota, California, Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma, and here in Texas.   This blog is my mission work every day and it’s my privilege to share it with you, to send it to where you live in the hope that it helps you, and that you’ll send it on to parts unknown.   Between us, over 4000 people a day see these words.

Big freaking deal. It’s what I can do but it doesn’t mean much. I’m capable of more and I haven’t done more. If this is the best I can do then I have let down my Lord.

Yes, I mean that.   There are still so many places in the world where people haven’t heard about Jesus, and there are even more where people don’t want to hear about Him. They’re right under our noses.   My last foreign mission trip was to Uganda four years ago.   My life was in turmoil then, heading out of the most tumultuous year of my life.   My head and heart were upside down; I had turned my life inside out and was destroying people I loved. Ten days in Uganda changed me, exposed me to the heights of faith in the depths of poverty.   I met some of the finest men and women there, and they are my brothers and sisters to this day.   To say the trip moved me was an understatement because I felt I was doing what Jesus wanted me to do:   go on the road and love like He would.

Yet almost immediately after my last foreign trip, a friend of mine upbraided me, saying I shouldn’t have gone overseas. That there are real people really suffering in real ways here in the United States. At first, what she said ticked me off.   The more I thought about it, however, the more I saw her point. Anybody up for doing some outreach this week along 8 Mile, or maybe on Charles Street in Baltimore?   Been to West Philadelphia to hand out tracts, or have you worked in a soup kitchen in Oak Cliff lately?   Me neither.   Indian reservations, prisons that hold 2 million Americans, depressed towns all throughout Appalachia and the deep south, those war-zone urban areas challenged by Crips and Bloods, and the oh so complacent suburbs where consumption is the American Idol of choice:   my friends, right here in the US of A is a foreign-like mission field in itself.   After all, have you read the survey (published by Pew this week) saying how, since 2009 the percentage of people in the USA professing themselves to be “Christian” has shrunk by 8%?   Seventy percent of us still call ourselves “Christian” but 30% not so much.   Do the math and that’s almost 100 million under the red, white and blue who don’t want Jesus.   That’s a ripe field for us to go be Jesus.

Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus led by example?   He didn’t sit on His brains to ruminate, cogitate and contemplate.   Jesus went.   Go we and do the same.

Lord, empower me to go where You lead me.

Read Mark 7, verses 31-37.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 31 December 2013, New Year’s Eve

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.  James 5, verses 1-6.

Let’s take these verses together today because it’s a fitting day to do so.   New Year’s Eve is a good time to take stock of what we’ve done.   This year has been a tough one for folks I know because the economy is in bad shape, prices are high for most everything, and real unemployment is higher than it has been in nearly 80 years.   And yet, we are wealthy.

Now, if you’re juggling bills like we do, you don’t feel very wealthy.   If you’re having a hard time making ends meet, you don’t feel wealthy.   If you’ve declared bankruptcy, or at least missed payments, or are having to pay minimum balances, you don’t feel too wealthy.   In a depression like this one, it’s hard for even the well-off folks around us to feel wealthy about anything.

Here’s part one of your reality check.  Go to rural China.  Or anywhere in India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh.   Visit most of the nations in Africa, or South America.   Even the poorest of our poor in the Yazoo delta, inner city Detroit, or deep Appalachia are shockingly wealthy compared to how the folks in those other countries live.  Here ends the guilt motivation.

What’s more, the important part of checking reality is to realize what real wealth means.   Have you forgotten already?   Wasn’t it just six days ago that we each remembered how Jesus of Nazareth, God Immanuel, Alpha and Omega, King of Kings and Lord of Lords was born unto us in a humble manger?   If the poorest child in Uganda knows that the sovereign of the universe once rose as a baby from similar privation, then that poorest child is wealthier than the richest man at the bank.

Tonight we bid farewell to an old year come to close, while welcoming an untried new one into existence.  Today, let’s close out our business with what’s done, and weep only now for the misused riches of this year.  Let’s lay them at the manger…and at the cross.  Then tomorrow, let’s begin again in a new year knowing that, as long as we’ve got Jesus, we’ve got all the riches we could ever want.

Happy New Year, Lord.   Thanks for Your blessings, a year complete, and a new gift of one to unwrap.

 

What are you doing for New Years?

Which are you:   rich or poor?

Say a prayer at midnight, a prayer of thanks and a prayer of thankful hope…then have fun.