Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 2 October 2018

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 1 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).

Imagine if God called an atheist to preach the Gospel.  Or if He called Louis Farrakhan (or an Iranian mullah) to preach reconciliation with the Jews. Imagine if a Alec Baldwin went on the Tonight Show to preach for reconciliation in the name of Jesus.

That’s Paul.   Think of the worst possible persecutor, the very harshest, the meanest guy you could meet and it was Paul.   He relished what he did for a living:   killing followers of “the Way.”   He was a zealous follower of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and lived in His temple in Jerusalem.   That is, until a roadside meeting with that one true God shut, then opened, Paul’s eyes.   The persecutor became the persecuted, and every time that happened, he doubled down on it.   He gave thanks to Jesus for picking him, the most unworthy of servants, to become zealous for His message and carry it to places unknown.

Today’s verse changes direction from the last few.  Keep in mind that this change of direction happens right after Paul warns Timothy to avoid false teachers and properly invoke God’s law.  Paul has used the first part of his letter to remind Timothy that not everyone is for him…or Him.   Now he begins a section of different instruction, outlining God’s grace and how it is a unique gift from the King to preach the faith to people who need to hear it.

Not everyone is called to that calling.   I’ve never really felt it, other than the daily urge to write these word.  I can’t do much but I can do this.  Some pastors tell me that they innately knew they should become pastors.   One told me it was like God slamming shut every other door in his life until he walked through the ministry one.   Another seemed to relish being a pastor instead of “just a pig farmer’s son” (as if that’s something to be ashamed of…it isn’t).

No matter, to minister to others in the name of Jesus is a calling that I think each of us gets in our own ways.   Some get it to be a full time job.   Jesus molds our lives in unique ways.   Have you ever thought that there are 7.2 billion ministers for Jesus alive right now?   It’s true.   Yet not all know it, or Him.   So it’s up to us to use the gifts He gives us and the good fruits of His Spirit that are kindness, understanding, and love to help others along their way to Him.  Imagine if God called an atheist to preach.   Better yet, imagine how He’s calling you.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:13, Acts 9:15, 1 Timothy 1:13

Lord Jesus, all my praise to You for putting Your love on my heart to follow and preach You in my own way.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 15 March 2018

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.  1 Thessalonians 3:7 (NIV).

Have you ever thought about the example you set for others?

Stephen Hawking died yesterday.   You’ve probably heard that by now, and how the most brilliant scientist of our age lived his live as a self-avowed atheist.  To many believers this means Mr. Hawking is spending his first full day of eternity in hell.  Other people I know are, like me, hoping Dr. Hawking saw the truth of the Scriptures just before he died and is embracing Jesus in heaven.   Some others I know are angered at anyone insisting we know one way or another.  I’d imagine that more than a few atheists, if they truly don’t believe in God, shouldn’t particularly care.

Me, I’m encouraged when I hear about someone’s faith.

It isn’t up to you or me to know that Stephen Hawking is burning in hell or celebrating in heaven.  That’s up to God.  So I pray God was merciful to this atheist who said God didn’t exist.  We’re supposed to pray for our enemies, right, and unbelievers or dis-believers are, well, enemies of the faith.     Their posture is antithetical to Christ.  If we can’t pray for those people, especially in their greatest moments of need (like dying) then maybe we need a gut check.

So when I hear that there are people in the world who prayed for Dr. Hawking and others like him, I’m encouraged by that.   I’m encouraged to hear about my friend in Uganda who ministers to multiple congregations by both his formal ministry as well as through the way he teaches young people how to farm and garden. I’m encouraged when I think about all the people who celebrated faith not when Stephen Hawking died but, instead, when Billy Graham died a few weeks ago.   I’m encouraged when I meet new people at church who I haven’t seen there before.   And I’m encouraged to teach my grandkids how to say their prayers at night just before they go to sleep.

Because the ways I act concerning these things are examples I set for others.  Other people, like atheists and new followers and grandkids, are watching how I, as a follower of Jesus, act in these times.   The Thessalonians watched Paul and changed their lives to more closely resemble his.   So it is with us today.

I honestly hope and pray Stephen Hawking changed his extraordinary thinking about the truth of Jesus just before he met Jesus.  Scripture is replete with warnings about the eternity of those who reject Christ in this life.   I hope Dr. Hawking “saw the light” before he met the Light. It’s too grim to think otherwise.  One day we’ll each find out.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.

Lord, have mercy on those who are dying without believing in You.  I pray, change their hearts now.  Use my life as a tool to help do that

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 May 2017

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  Hebrews 10, verses 30-31.

Once again I injected myself into a ‘discussion’ with my friend, the atheist.   Once again I found him both vulgar and offensive, and he said he found my Christian faith offensive as well.   His online thread was about how atheists are deeper intellectuals than most people.   I stayed out of the discussion until the point where he began disparaging to believers.   At that point, I waded in, and once again, I feel sad about it.

I’m sad both because I never feel like I do a good job at representing Christ as a loving follower.   I feel like I let Him down because of my poor words and my proud attitude.   And I’m sad for my friend, who (almost violently) rejects the peace and comforts of faith for the sensuality of this world.  For any of us who reject Him, the Triune God reserves the right to judge, avenge, and repay His people – including both followers of Jesus and atheists – for the ways we rebel against Him.  I’m not comfortable with that fact, but it’s still a fact.   It’s actually a comfort.

The ‘dreadful thing’ verse I mentioned yesterday is found here, in verse 31.   It is the concluding sentence in a paragraph that talks about God’s holiness.  It’s a convicting verse in a convicting chapter of a book about God’s grace.   God, whose nature prevents Him from doing anything unholy, is therefore purely holy and, thus, purely just.   The only true justice in the universe is therefore found in the presence of God.   You can see, then, why it may be a dreadful thing to be found in His hands.

I rarely feel fear anymore, fear here being the terrorizing, angst-ridden emotion of dread.   Yet I have genuine dreadful fear of the power of God and what I deserve from Him (absent the saving atonement of Jesus).   The discussion with my atheist friend yesterday ventured into the subjects of sin, forgiveness, and truth (specifically about science).   Yet every time we have these conversations, I walk away feeling dejected, depressed.   It’s because I don’t like playing ‘gotcha’ with God’s word.   More and more, it isn’t my place to try to use debating tricks to try to change his mind.   Such tricks are unkind and antithetical to the Word.   Besides, they doesn’t convince him of anything except that I seem like a hypocritical jerk.    Yesterday, I simply told him what the Bible said and encouraged him to check it out on his own, told him that perhaps God was talking to him because he was so passionate about the discussion.   He told me to perform unnatural acts on myself and other things.

I know that we have to stand up for what we believe.   And I know that we need to use the talents God gives us to encourage others in their faith walks, even when their faith walk is a walk away from God.  It’s one of the reasons why I would dread to be in His presence, answering for these things I’ve done.   I feel like I’m letting Jesus down.   Even so, I know it also isn’t my place to judge whether or not my friend or anyone would be liable to God’s wrath.  The better way to live would be to witness, to leave it at that, and perhaps also to do what Abraham did.   If you remember, Abraham pleaded for the people of Sodom.   When they had clearly, brazenly, unrepentantly transgressed, Abraham still prayed for, pleaded for them.   We should do the same.

And so I do.   I pray for my atheist friend.   According to his own words, this, too, is offensive.   Yet I do it all the same.   The same God who is over all of us – including him – is also constantly loving us, working for us, living to beckon us back to Him.  Jesus died for atheists too, and He gives my denying friend life, provision, and all things.   While our holy, just God has the power to smite, it isn’t in His nature to desire to do so.   Instead, it’s in His nature to be merciful, caring, guiding, loving.  I hope my friend can come to see this.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 32:35-36, Romans 12:19, Psalm 135:14, 2 Corinthians 5:11, Isaiah 19:16, Matthew 16:16.

Lord, forgive my inadequacies and my sins in how I mess up being a good witness for You.   Teach me Your better ways that I may speak well of You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 October 2016

Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.  Hebrews 3, verses 5-6

Concerning these verses, the Concordia study bible I use as a writing guide says, “The superiority of Christ over Moses is shown in two comparisons:  (1) Moses was a servant whereas Christ is a son, and (2) Moses was in God’s house, i.e. a apart of it, whereas Christ is over God’s house.”

Translate:  Jesus is over you.

So the other day I was talking with my atheist friend again.   We spent 70-80 Facebook posts debating the existence of God.   At the end of our discussion, after he shot in a few pretty vulgar expletives concerning his opinion of the Almighty, he said he thought I had been trolling him, playing him for a chump in the conversation.   Nothing could have been further from the truth as I reiterated to him several times “Jesus loves you just the way you are.  Just the way you are: atheist, hostile to God, full of rage, full of angst. He wants you, as you are, to get to know Him so He can replace anything that hurts you with Himself. THAT is the start of real freedom and peace. And it’s free; costs you nothing. He believed in you so much He died for you so that you don’t have to be separated from His ultimate love, peace and holiness.”

I said that because Jesus is over him.   Whether someone believes in Him or not, Jesus is over him.   Jesus is over everything.  It couldn’t be any other way because, if Jesus weren’t over everything, He couldn’t have redeemed everyone.   His sacrifice would have been incomplete, and that simply cannot be.

Now, my atheist friend and I share a distrust of our government.   We believe our government has grown too powerful, too corrupt.   While we differ on what should be done, who should be in power and other points, we share this common distrust about that expanding and seemingly unchecked growing power-cancer.

Here’s where we would disagree again:  Jesus is over the government.   In fact, nothing the government does, not the most corrupt politician or the worst unindicted crime occurs without Jesus seeing it and factoring how He will work the outcome for the good of His Kingdom.   In this contentious election season, that matters greatly because, no matter what some imperfect human candidate may do, Jesus will still be in ultimate control.   No matter how Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton further tangle the spaghetti-tangle of the Federal government, none of it will happen without Jesus’ oversight.   And no matter whether our economy succeeds or fails, whether we’re in war or peace, or whatever comes down the pike, Jesus will still be King.

He will be King over our house.   And here’s the kicker:   our house isn’t just our home, our building, or our country.   We are His house.   We are God’s house.   The church isn’t some building:   WE are the church.   God has built us up as His permanent movement, the structure through which He will reach those, like my friend, who don’t know Him or who have willfully turned away from Him.   We are the foundation for that and, as the old hymn says, ‘the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.”  We are Jesus’ church here on planet Earth.   Jesus is over this church because He is over us.  He’s even over my atheist friend.

For more reading:   Exodus 14:31, Numbers 12:7, Hebrews 1:2, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Timothy 3:15, Romans 11:22.

Lord, You and only You are Lord and master of my life.   I’m Your house here.   Let me be Your shelter, Your home, Your provision, Your fortress for Your church of my brothers and sisters wherever I am.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 September 2016. Today’s topic: over the angels, too

 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Hebrews 1, verses 5-6

Another quick dive into these verses; today we’ll talk more about the angels.

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”   My Concordia NIV study Bible says this verse is a continuation of Psalm 97:7 which says “worship him all you Gods!”   That Psalm talks about both angels and pagan gods, stating how the Lord is over them all. Really consider that last part.   Take it to heart and remember it because it’s the wide umbrella that covers our entire existence even when we don’t fully understand it.

Over the weekend, I had an online discussion with an atheist friend of mine.   He and I have known each other for decades, and he’s a pretty rabid un-believer.   He posted a video of a young girl being slapped, and insisted that, because God didn’t intervene to stop it, God obviously doesn’t exist.   We spent most of a day going back and forth trying to convince each other of our respective points (his that there is no God, mine that there is). In the end, I said my peace and walked away from it. Neither of us was convinced of much. Last night, I shared the account with a life group my wife and I attend.   All I or anyone can really do is hope that my friend realizes the overture God is making to him through putting these matters on his heart.

Then I come here and re-read the verses and realize that the argument we had is moot.   It’s moot because, argument or no, intervention or no, God is still over all of this.   He was two thousand years ago and He still is today.   One way I know this is because I believe in angels and this verse says even the angels worship God.   I’ve shared my story about how I believe an angel intervened with my son and me.   This verse says that even that supernatural creature, whoever he was, is lesser than God and that even he worships the Lord Jesus.

How amazing is it, then, to consider that God’s angels are more powerful than we are, that even they (like us) are under God’s dominion and love, and that even they worship Him despite their awe-inspiring power and ability. But Jesus didn’t come here to die for angels.   Angels aren’t saved by Jesus’ resurrection and forgiveness.   God didn’t sacrifice Himself for the angels.   Indeed, He cast out of paradise those angels who rebelled against Him.   There’s no salvation awaiting Lucifer and the angels who rebelled with him:   for them, it is only the abyss. God gave angels the choice to love Him or leave Him and many left, and for them there’s no repentance and forgiveness of sins.   But there is for us.

So consider, again, my friend the atheist.   In this world, real problems really hurt, and whether we like it or not, there’s nothing in Scripture and nothing in Jesus’ words that says “believe in Me and I’ll make it all go away.”   If you’re looking for that, you won’t find it in the Bible. After our day-long wordfest, I thing that was part of his point.   It wasn’t just to spout his belief in unbelieving:   it was to point out how there are terrible things in this world that still happen.   That’s true; undeniable in fact.   Yet these verses give me a little respite from that all too terrible fact. God is over those terrible things as much as He’s over the good things.   He doesn’t always intervene in ways we want or even understand, and sometimes He doesn’t intervene at all. Yet He could if He chose to, and He could send His powerful angels to do His bidding any place, any time.   In doing so, they’re subject to Him.   Yet He loves us more than even them. He loves us all, believer and atheist alike whether we choose Him or not.   What consequence will there be to our choice?

For more reading:   Psalm 2:7, Matthew 3:17, 2 Samuel 7:14, John 3:16, Colossians 1:18, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 97:7.

Lord, thank You for loving me differently from how You love and provide for the angels.   Thank You for the salvation You give, for sending beings I don’t understand to help here, and for being over all of it.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 June 2015

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Mark 9, verse 7

Hello again, my friend.   I took last week off to spend time with my family at a beach house in south Texas. During that time, the Supreme Court mandated that same sex marriage was legal under the Constitution.   No, I’m not going to discuss that issue here, and no I’m not going to expound on my views concerning it.   I’ll simply ask this question:   would we listen if God was talking to us about His Son?

Just tonight, I was reading online about famous atheists like Brangelina, Jodie Foster, Seth McFarlane, Kevin Bacon, Julianne Moore, Morgan Freeman and others. They supposedly wouldn’t listen to God because they don’t believe He exists; this from their own words. I wonder if they’ll listen when He talks with them once their days here on this Earth are done.   By that time it’ll be too late.

Does that mean we should listen to God in part out of fear about what would happen if we didn’t?   In part, yes. Do you obey traffic laws in fear of getting caught if you don’t, or do you do so sometimes because it’s just the right thing to do?   I’m betting your answer is “a little bit of both,” and that seems about right.   I’d say it even seems Godly because God says ‘trust me’ and that’s hard to do when we can’t even see the One who’s asking us to trust Him.   It’s natural to feel some hesitation about believing without seeing, but we do it every day.

How comforting (and shocking) it must have felt, then, for Peter, James and John to hear God the Father Himself proclaiming “This is my Son, whom I love.   Listen to Him!” We’ve talked about how they must have felt fear and trepidation at the transfiguration.   But how must it have felt to have God the Father actively talking to them? I’m betting it was moving, and intimidating, and maybe even humbling.   Do you think they listened?   Their actions later bore it out.

So would we listen if God was talking with us about His Son?   Atheists pose this question over and over, and I’ve always wondered where they go for comfort when terrible things happen to them. Gay activists have been posing it all weekend, many of them throwing the faith of believers right back in our faces (to be honest, that kind of a gut check isn’t all bad).

Perhaps in reading today’s verse we can find that God is ALWAYS talking to us about His Son.   He does it in these words.   He does it in civil debate over contentious issues, imploring us in silence to always come to Him first for any and all answers.   He does it in the magnificence of nature, in the random safety of a million interactions in the city, in the miracles of living, and in every wave that washes up on the beach.   He may even be speaking to us through this debate on how to follow Him through the tangled mess we’ve made of marriage. God the Father may not speak to us in His own voice to our ears, but He does speak to us directly to our hearts through His Word and these verses.

Lord, I hear Your voice even when I don’t always listen.   Thank You for Your voice and Your patience with me.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 March 2015

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.  Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.  The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”  And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”  She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”  “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.  At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.  Mark 6, verses 17-29.

Following Jesus may cost you everything.  Don’t we see that in the story of John the Baptist?   How about in our lives?

Over the weekend, I was talking online with an atheist friend.   This man and I worked together nearly 30 years ago, and I posted an item on his Facebook page, agreeing with the Christian aspect of a particular subject.   My friend completely launched his rhetorical missiles in return; really harsh, in some cases vile statements about faith, Christianity, God, the Bible and Jesus.   My temper usually gets dandered up at such things but this time I think I heard God’s better Spirit telling me, “let it slide.”   I simply wished him a good night and logged off.

And, in a way, my friend also opted for the apparently lowest-impact response to this fact, namely to say “um, God, no thanks.”   In doing so, he chose the course of least resistance.   Disbelieve in God and check out from all the God-circumstances (as far as he knows).   Perhaps he doesn’t want the feelings that come with following God, and in the eyes of the world, perhaps that’s even a good thing.   Look at what happened to John the Baptist.   He was Jesus’ cousin, friend, and prophet.   All John did was do his job and it cost him his life.   Look at the Apostles, Jesus’ closest friends.   All of them but one died horrible deaths for doing nothing more than following and proclaiming Jesus.   Look at what’s happening to Christians in the areas that ISIS has overrun today.   They’re being murdered wholesale:  all for following Jesus.   IN the eyes of the world, can you blame people like my atheist friend for wanting to run away from God?

Yet what m friend fails to see is how Jesus is working on and in him already.   How he couldn’t even contemplate God (let alone disbelieving in Him) if God hadn’t first planted that knowledge & spark in him.   How there is no peace in this tortured world without the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.   How, in Christ, there’s so much more than meets the eye.  How, to die for Christ is to live for eternal gain.   How losing everything the world offers for Jesus is to take hold of something so much more valuable, something that will last forever.  John the Baptist understood this.   I pray my friend learns it as well.

Lord, let me live only for You.

Read Mark 6, verses 30-44.