Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 26 February 2020

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  Philippians 3:19 (EHV).

There’s an ugly truth that we need to talk about:  not everyone will end up in heaven.   It’s true.   It’s not Dave Terry saying it:   it’s the Bible.   Jesus talked about hell, damnation, and eternal punishment over sixty times in the Gospels.   Later on, in verses like verse 19, Paul expands on it.

Yet Jesus talked so much more about heaven, the kingdom of heaven, and the love of.   Indeed, if you read Christ’s words about hell in their context, you see they were said as teachable points; as lessons that contrasted the mercy of God.   It’s not a “do this or else” proposition:   it’s “God loves you so much more so why choose any other way?”

Yet now that we’ve gotten past the “Jeopardy” part of our reading (where we can pass around trivia), we can’t gloss over an important fact:   Jesus means what He says.   He means that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that nobody goes to the Father except through believing in Him.   He didn’t say things just for effect or to hear Himself talk:   He meant them.

That means He meant the part about eternal punishment for rejecting Him.  It’s uncomfortable for us to acknowledge, but it’s true.   I’m in a men’s Bible study by David Platt about how something has to change.   We have to find ways to get the Gospel out to the world because the world desperately needs it.   Because if we don’t, then many, many billions of people may be damned to hell.   He who died to live to prove He is enough for us also wants those unknowing billions to live with Him, too.   They matter.

“But but but,” you may think, “God wouldn’t condemn someone who doesn’t know Him, would He?”   Yes, He may very well.   A friend of mine (who is a pastor) told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if God didn’t find a way to rescue even those who were never introduced to Christ in this life.   That’s most of humanity.   I believe that now, too; at least I’m hopeful it’s true.   Yet if it isn’t, if He insists on what He said about being the only path to a heavenly eternity, then we’re wasting time debating this point of trivia as well.

If Jesus means it – and we have every reason to believe He does – then we had better get crackin soon.  There’s no time to waste in sharing that Jesus loves us.   That He forgave everything.   That anything except Him isn’t of Him.  There’s no time to lose in sharing the truth that eternity doesn’t have to be hell.  Because Jesus means it.

For further reading:  Ephesians 2:19, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 12:22, Philippians 3:20.

Lord Jesus, You mean Your words.  They are truth.   Let me share You with someone today.

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, 13 June 2019

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NIV).

If you don’t believe in Christ, these verses together are complete nonsense.   It’s understandable why non-believers would think this; it really is.   No honest person could blame you for feeling that way, thinking that way, and, yes, believing that way (because un-belief is a conscious belief.   It’s a choice.).   If you reject these things taught about Jesus Christ in the Bible, then none of what Paul says here is sensible.   There is no crown of righteousness.   The Lord doesn’t judge because there is no Lord or post-existence judgment.  Jesus Christ, if He existed, was just a man.  Those who long for His appearing have wasted their time because there’s nothing.

And you’d be right about that last point, how there’s nothing…for those who unbelieve.

You’d be wrong about the rest.   Not only does the Bible provide countless examples of life after death, of God being the God of both living and dead people (meaning the dead still exist), of those who once had physical life returning (such as Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration), but the Bible talks about the after-life being a very real, tangible thing for those who reject Jesus as much as for those who accept Him.   “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth:”   there are six specific times in Matthew and Luke when Jesus talks about how eternal separation from God – weeping and gnashing of teeth in anguish – is a real thing.   When we die, we don’t simply stop functioning or transform into oblivion.   There are consequences for what we believe here and now.   For those who choose to reject Christ, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And for those who choose Him?   For us, there will be the ultimate graduation ceremony.   The communion of saints that is living in Jesus’ presence is where we will be crowned with His righteousness.   He will meet us, embrace us, bestow on us His eternal life and peace.   We’re part of that eternity now, part of heaven now even while we’re here on the Third Rock.   We get to embrace His peace, His honesty, His righteousness, His love now…and we get to share that with others, especially those who struggle with that.   Not out of compulsion:   out of caring, out of love.

We get to do that.  Christ doesn’t force us:   He invites us.   Will you take up His invitation?

For further reading:  Matthew 8:12, Matthew 13:42, Matthew 17:1-8, Matthew 22:13, Matthew 24:51, Matthew 25:30, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36, Luke 13:28, 2 Timothy 4:9

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 7 May 2019

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”.  2 Timothy 2:19 (NIV).

My Concordia Bible is held together with duct tape and it’s falling apart again.   For the third or fourth time, I need to carefully remove the existing tape, re-glue the spine, and re-tape the cover to hold it all in place.   I have read this Bible most every day for over 25 years now, and it has traveled with me to over half the states in the US and three continents, including into Communist China.  Not long ago, I saw a meme that said ‘a Bible that is barely held together is usually owned by someone who isn’t.’   That’s true.   I’m better, different because of God’s word.  Tattered or torn, the foundation in God’s book stands firm.

I’m His.   He knows I’m His.   He has taught me that I’m His and that I need to turn away from wickedness to heal.   It’s not just that God is holy and can’t be defiled by my sins; my God isn’t puny enough to depend on sinful little me for His own well-being.  No, my God taught me through my ragged Bible that He loves me and wants me to be healthy in spirit and body both.   Turning from wickedness is the only way to be that healthy.   It’s the only way to change behaviors to better walk through life with belief in Him.  God doesn’t depend on me, but I definitely depend on Him.

So I read every day in my threadbare Bible that goes with me when I hit the road.   I read it in this troubled world that seems to be getting darker and darker how His light overcomes that darkness without much trouble at all.  I’m in His light.   He saved me by dying on the cross, then rising three days later.  He marked us who profess our belief in Him as His own, as believers who follow Him in devotion.  In a crowd of thousands, He could identify us instantly because we identify with Him.   And when we identify with Him, we don’t want to be sullied any further with the dirt of the world that we used to bathe in.   This is the way of the follower of Christ.

I’m no better than you.   My Bible isn’t better than yours if you don’t read yours as often.   More than a few folks who read these words actually study their Bibles more and better than me.   I applaud them and admire them.   If you haven’t consulted your Bible in awhile, now’s a good time to change.   Pick it up.   Start in the Gospels and work your way back.   Follow Him.

For further reading:  Isaiah 28:16, Exodus 33:12, Numbers 16:5, John 10:14, 1 Corinthians 8:6, 2 Timothy 2:20.

Lord Jesus, I follow only You.   Only You are the Christ, the Savior.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 29 March 2019

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.   2 Timothy 1:13 (NIV).

Sound teaching lasts a lifetime.   When you consider that we humans were made to live forever, sound teaching can therefore last forever.   The oldest of the Bible’s books are Job and those of the Pentateuch, each of them between 3400 and 3500 years old.  The newest of the Bible are nearly 2000 years old.  That you and I are still discussing them today seems to verify that they’re sound teaching, especially since it is the Bible that gave rise to the monastic culture (that preserved ancient knowledge during the Dark Ages), the Reformation and Renaissance, and even western democracy.

That’s sound teaching.   It has lasted for centuries, even millienia.   Paul understood that.   He had had a very personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ, who set him on an informed path of evangelical mission.   People won’t do those kinds of things without believing in them, and the fact that so much constructive good happened because of it seems to also verify the sound teachings of Christ.   Sure, you can sell your soul to Satan, believe in the magical paganism of Wicca, or follow Mohammed into jihad.  In the end, those teachings lead to separation from the God of our fathers, to the second death.

There is a better way.

There is a better way that Paul exhorted Timothy (and us) to follow.  Keep true to the teachings of Jesus.   You’re only human and you’re going to screw up; so will your friends and congregants.   And when you do, run right back to Jesus and confess your failings.   Receive His forgiveness, soak up His Spirit and His strength, and begin again (and again and again).   Talk about it with everyone you can.  Live it out.  Run this good race set before you and preach Christ crucified in all you say and do.   Go all in on this faith because it’s the only faith that matters, and the only one that will save your immortal soul.   There will be hardship and suffering, but remain true to Christ and you will wear a crown of peace in this life, then a thankful crown of reward from Him in the next.

THAT is a better way.

And it all stems from learning that sound teaching.   We teach our kids morals, basic math, language skills, and how to get along with each other at a young age; we spend years doing it.  Generations past did those same things using God’s Word as the foundation.   It isn’t that they knew something we don’t:  they simply did better than we’re doing.  As long as God permits day and night, there is still time to turn to that better way.   How about we start now?

For further reading:   Romans 8:9, 2 Timothy 14.

Lord Jesus, YOU are the better way.    Forgive me my sins.   Thank You for today in which to proclaim You.   Guide me today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 23 January 2019

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.  1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NIV).

God keeps it real.   There’s a real temptation to think of the Bible as a bunch of quaint and helpful ancient stories but not applicable in our time.  Check that temptation at the door, my friend.   Your God, your Savior Jesus, is real.   He’s in your face and heart  He deals with contemporary problems in our day and time the same as He did in His own day and time in 1st Century Judea (indeed, all the way back to Eden).   It’s impossible to think that Jesus’ Spirit lives and works through us and not accept that He’s dealing with the issues we’re dealing with as we deal with them.

One of those is that some of our church leaders – indeed, our leaders in any group – are sinners like me and you.   Some of them (us) have done some pretty awful things.

There’s the teacher who’s having an affair.   There’s the treasurer who occasionally dips into the till because bills are tight in their home.   There’s the pious elder who’s a model of propriety but gives the single-finger salute to that guy in the left lane.  There’s the leader who teaches Sunday School but is also known for some pretty colorful language with their ‘posse’ or online.  Could be you, could be me; could also be the people we’ve entrusted to run our churches, projects, and other endeavors.   Sometimes truly destructive behavior intersects with our lives.

How does Paul remind us to deal with that?  Matthew 18:  go to them privately and confront them with what’s on your heart.   If they won’t listen, then gradually escalate, yet do so with the heart of wanting to be Jesus’ representative.   In all this, we are to act in love, in respect.   We can despise what someone does without disrespecting them.   There’s usually a side or story we don’t fully know.

For these times, God gives us those instructions (from Jesus Himself) in Matthew 18.   Speak privately, take a witness, and if there’s no repentance (or worse), go public.   Again, do it all with caring, no other motivation.

Allah wouldn’t do that.   Buddha would have you ignore it.  Many churches would say it isn’t enough.  But God gives us practical ways to deal with delicate situations while doing so through the love of His Son in His Spirit.  Got skin?  Got sin; we sinners do some wicked things.  Jesus loves us anyway, then moves our hearts so we may change.   How real is it, too, that He doesn’t simply smite us but offers us a path home instead?

For further reading: Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Timothy 4:2, Acts 11:30, Titus 1:13, Deuteronomy 13:11, 1 Timothy 5:21.

My Lord, You are worthy of praise for giving us ways to deal with each other!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 9 January 2019

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely.   Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.  1 Timothy 4:15-16 (NIV).

“God alone saves but Christians can be the instruments God uses to bring about the salvation of others.   Salvation is both an event and a process.”   That’s a quote from my Concordia study bible, the one to which I most often refer when writing these blog posts.  The process I use to write here is fairly simple.   I pray, then I research which verses (the Concordia says) are similar to the one for today.   After that, I read those verses, sometimes in several bible versions.   Usually that brings out some thoughts about the topic, so I begin to write.   I try to refer to previous posts so that the new one builds off the old one because the verses in of the Bible are part of a larger picture as well.   I read draft post aloud several times to make sure it sounds ok; I keep it to 500 words or less.  Then the end product is posted to WordPress, then to social media, and finally to email.  At the end, I copy my work for next time.

Why go to all this trouble?   You.  You’ve entrusted some of your valuable 24/7 to reading these words, so I want to give you my best.  And I want it to be doctrinally sound.  It’s not about me; it’s not for me.   It’s for you, so that you might be encouraged, strengthened in some small way in your walk with Jesus because we all walk with Him.

He’s walking in life with each of us, providing for all of us, loving all of us even when we don’t love Him.   Our foremost job here on Earth is to worship Him, and one of the ways we do that is by using our myriad gifts from writing to welding to talking on the phone.  Everything we do can be an act of worship if we do it with reverence for God.   The more we do this, the more we see that it’s not about me.   It’s Him, for you.  It’s serving Him and that strengthens us.  As we learn that life is about Him and eternity, we see how His salvation really is both a thing He did for us and then a lifelong process of following Him.

You’ll do that in your own way because you have your own gifts and walk.   God has saved you through His Son, Jesus, yet He wants to use you to live your life, use your talents, to serve His kingdom as only you can.   It’s because of others, because this is also a living, life-long thing.   How will you do your part today?

For further reading: Romans 11:14, 1 Timothy 5:1

Lord Jesus, help me to do my part for You today.