Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 8 November 2018

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demon1 Timothy 4:1 (NIV).

We are a divided world; the division goes far beyond just the United States.   Muslims against everyone else.   Rich against poor (or at least ‘not rich’).  Protestants against Catholics.  Conservatives against progressives.   You get the picture.   We line up against each other over imaginary lines of offense.  Perhaps every generation thinks it has seen things ‘worse than they have ever been.’   I and others of my middle-aged generation seem to be saying that now.

Many of us line up and, in doing so, put our faith in things that aren’t Jesus (or aren’t of Jesus).  It isn’t just new age religions (many of which are actually rooted in ancient pagan religions), and it isn’t just embracing sensuality, materialism, atheism, or even apathy.  Many people just ignore the voice of Jesus’ Spirit talking to them.   He speaks through our conscience, through our knowledge of right and wrong, through nature, through others, through the Bible.   God has a myriad of ways that His Spirit can talk to us and convince us that He is talking.   Yet many people turn off that voice, chill it and drown it out.   Some people don’t even realize it’s Jesus’ Spirit talking to them or moving them in a direction.   Many don’t even think to ask.

How can we tell if something is of Jesus or from Jesus or about Jesus?   You know the answer.   Compare it against what is said in the Bible, especially in the New Testament.   And if you doubt that Jesus is who He said He is, then the first place to stop is your own heart.  Open it and pray.   Talk with God about exactly what you’re feeling, what you think, what you do or don’t believe.   He can take it and you’re worthy.

Start by asking God.   If you don’t feel or sense an answer from Him, go to the Bible.   Find a concordance or go to Biblegateway.com.   Any search engine can give you instant answers to most any question about Scripture you have.   Finally, if your head is wondering, remember those links I shared yesterday:  the first is about how Jesus fulfilled 300+ prophecies about the Messiah (http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html) and the second talks about the logical odds that Jesus is who He said He is based on those prophecies  (http://www.goodnewsdispatch.org/math.html).  His words are always true, even when we don’t know.

We may or may not be witnessing the ‘later times,’ but we are witnessing people abandoning faith for whatever scratches their itches.   In the face of that, test what you believe against what Jesus said and did.   If those things line up, it may just be Him talking with you.

For further reading:  John 16:13, Acts 8:29, 1 Corinthians 2:10, 2 Peter 3:3, Mark 13:5, Timothy 4:2

Lord Jesus, I open my heart and ask Your Spirit to talk to me.   I’m listening.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 20 September 2018

Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 1 Timothy 1:6 (NIV).

It’s a risky thing to take Bible verses out of context and dissect them on their own without considering the context around them…so we won’t do that.   Yet this verse is also like its own proverb.   It is advice on its own.

Years ago, I started this blog to meditate on the book of Proverbs while I was going through a time of repentance and healing.  Eight years (and ten books) of exegesis and hermeneutics later, my tiny attempts to analyze the practical meaning of these Bible verses does, sometimes, turn to meaningless talk.   In fact, it concerns me.   More and more, I strive to avoid having this happen, trying to keep the focus only on Jesus.   Sometimes I fail.

It happens.

Yet when it happens, the thing to do is to turn back to God, ask for help, and jump back in.   Why did Paul say this?  What was the context for saying it? What does it mean to us now?

For this particular verse, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Paul was ministering to Timothy and telling him to be careful.   To not get ‘wrapped around the axle’ with things that pull away from God (things like meaningless pedigrees and focusing on other than Jesus’ love).  In this verse, he’s warning Timothy that there are good people who have turned away from that love (including pure hearts, good conscience, and sincere faith) and decided to cling to other things.

You know it still happens to us now.  We get wrapped around things that distract us and pull us away.   Anything can become our idol and try to pull us away from Jesus.   Job, spouse/significant other, kids, sports, tasks, even the Bible itself:  anything can supplant Jesus’ rightful role as the primary focus of our lives.   It happens.

The way back always leads first to the Cross.   “Lord, I’ve been wrong.   Forgive me & help me.”   Starting there helps us to identify our own meaningless talk & meaningless idols, then to turn from them.   It helps us to see again that “He’s got this.”  We are able to test what we think and do against God’s Word and adjust accordingly.  Sometimes God speaks to our hearts through those distractions, and we shouldn’t be too quick to turn from change, or even things that can distract us, without checking in with Him first.  Yet when we stray away from the straight and narrow, there’s always an exit ramp we can take that reminds us Jesus is actually there beside us, beckoning & guiding us back to His better Way.   We get to be careful because we get to filter what we think & do through the filter of Jesus Christ.

That happens too.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:7

Lord, keep me between “Your lines.”   Help me to avoid meaningless things and meaningless talk and act only as You would have me.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 September 2018

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith:  Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  1 Timothy 1:1-2 (NIV).

I’m no Apostle Paul; perhaps neither are you.   Yet our purpose here is the same:   we’re proclaiming the grace of God.   We’re in good company, my friend, hanging out with Paul, Peter, St Augustine, Luther, Billy Graham and every other pastor or evangelist in history.

We’re here again to proclaim Christ Jesus, our hope.   As my Concordia reference Bible says, that’s a declaration, not just a throwaway phrase.  Paul refers to his mission as commanded by God Himself and his mission was to proclaim the hope – the promise and the guarantee – of Christ Jesus.

When you say “I believe,” you’re concurring.   You’re putting your dearly held beliefs in line with Jesus, saying “I believe in You.”   “I trust You.”  “I submit to You.”   “I believe everything You said.”

That’s tough.

It was tough for Paul to do, I’m sure.   Jesus called him to turn from persecuting the church and to follow the path of an apostle.   He gave Saul the mission to proclaim Him in a world hostile to Him.   He took Saul’s livelihood, his background, his career, and He even changed his name to Paul.  Even though Paul had been personally visited and changed by Jesus Himself, it still must have been tough.  He had to learn to live out his life as Jesus wanted him to after being turned completely upside down.

Then he found a protégé, an apprentice.   Timothy was a young man who Paul met during one of his missionary journeys (to what is now Turkey).   Timothy had a unique background, training and talents that Jesus could use to reach out to other believers in Macedonia.  So Paul took the young man under his wing and instructed him on ways to better proclaim the risen Christ.   1 and 2 Timothy are Paul’s letters of instruction to his apprentice, who went on to proclaim Jesus long after Paul was martyred in Rome (before he, too, was murdered for the faith).   They’re the basis of today’s seminaries.

Because part of the promise and hope of proclaiming Jesus is accepting the call in to His service whatever it takes, whatever it involves.

Paul knew this.   Timothy knew this.   Augustine, Luther, and Billy Graham knew it, and so do we.   Jesus is all love and His burden of love is both light and deep.  Paul wrote two letters to encourage his apprentice and they’re here for us to read.   And following that encouragement can be awfully tough.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 1:1, Titus 1:3, Luke 1:47, Colossians 1:27, Acts 16:1, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Timothy 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:3

Lord, praise to You for the word You gave to Paul to share with Timothy and us.   Thank You for their words and experience.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 2 May 2018

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NIV).

This is the central by-product of the entire Bible.   The central fact, the central event, the central purpose of the Bible is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Every verse in the Old and New Testaments testifies to this centrality, specifically the death of Jesus.   God’s plan for salvation was fulfilled – “It is finished” – in that moment on Calvary when Jesus ceased to breathe.   Everything since the fall of Adam and Eve had led up to it, and everything that has happened in history since has happened because of it.

Including the resurrection of the dead.  No, of course that hasn’t happened yet, but it’s coming.  Our loved ones who have died believing in this Jesus they haven’t seen are coming back.   When you and I die in that belief, we’re coming back too.  Make bank on it.   How can you know?   Why can you be sure?

Because He died.   Because He lived and said He would be killed and that He would rise.   Then He died and rose exactly as He said He would.  If the central fact of the Bible is the death of Jesus, then the first by-product effect of that is resurrection.

There’s more proof of this central fact of history than there are of the 18 missing minutes of Richard Nixon’s tapes, what happened on the Grassy Knoll, of Russian collusion, or of what really happened at Roswell.  The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are better corroborated than the lives or deaths of nearly every ruler in the ancient world, of nearly every celebrity before modern communication, of nearly every professor or bureaucrat who has ever lived.   If you say you need proof, there is more proof in the four Gospels of the life of Christ than there is of nearly any other person, alive or dead, in all of human history.  That doesn’t even count the works of Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, dozens of Jewish critics, and hundreds of people of the first and second centuries.

Jesus said He was real and it was proven.   He also said He would die and rise, and that those who believed in Him would live with Him forever.   It was a statement; it was a promise; it was a guarantee.   It was proof that His word was 100% reliable in all ways at all times.  When Jesus comes back, He will raise the dead who have died believing in Him and we will live with Him forever in in a world of wonder that we can’t begin to fathom.

Believe it.   Believe in it.

For further reading:  Romans 14:9, 1 Corinthians 5:3, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 1 Corinthians 15:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:15.

Lord, I believe You will resurrect me.   Thank You for dying the death I deserve, and for promising to bring us all back.

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 Mark, 31 March 2016

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.  Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. Mark 16, verses 9-14.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most eye-witnessed events in antiquity.   More people gave corroborating eyewitness accounts of seeing Him alive after He was dead than people who witnessed the assassination of Julius Caesar, William Wallace’s victory at Stirling, the driving of the Golden Spike, or even the attack on Pearl Harbor.   Legends don’t have that kind of evidence.   Legends aren’t spoken of by multiple unconnected sources within a generation, but the death and resurrection of Christ was.

All too often people couch their unbelief (or dis-belief) in Jesus by saying “there’s no proof” yet I hope you’ll see that this just isn’t the case.   There are more post-resurrection accounts of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there are of the ancient kings of England, yet nobody disputes there were kings before the Anglo Saxon invasion.   In the four gospels there are more corroborating proofs of the life, death, and post-death life of Jesus than there are descriptions of Abraham Lincoln’s mother.   In the words of those who saw Him up close, there is more convincing evidence of the real existence of Jesus the Christ than there is existing evidence that proves who shot JFK.

Yet we don’t doubt any of these things while so many people doubt Jesus. What more proof do you need?

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, according to my study Bible, the earliest versions of Mark don’t contain these last few verses.   They may indeed have been added later, and they may (or may not) have been added by John Mark himself.   Like so much else in the world, we don’t know. If this bothers you, perhaps ask yourself why.   And consider this:   Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence most likely didn’t say “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Lincoln’s first draft of the Gettysburg Address may not have said “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Over a thousand years ago, at the council of Nicea, it was decided by scholars of the day that (today’s) ending of Mark fit with the rest of the book.   That’s good enough for me.

Yet when you boil down the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the proof isn’t the majesty and beauty of it.   The proof is that, by faith, you receive the miracle of His redemption.   For that no proof is needed.   It’s proof enough of itself.   Legal evidence is impeachable and potentially corrupt. Jesus isn’t.  He proved it so.

Lord Jesus, I believe in You because You are who You say You are.   Nothing more is needed.

Read Mark 16, verses 9-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 July 2015

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”Mark 9, verses 25-29.

Yesterday I read an article from CNN that berated Pope Francis for talking too much about the devil.   Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, whatever name he goes by:   he’s so First Century.   Here in our post-modern world, we’ve outgrown Satan.   CNN is tired of hearing the pope talk about the prince of demons. For whatever reason, they claim, the pope should stick to helping the poor, attacking capitalism, scouring out pedophile priests and a bunch of other things. Satan is so yesterday, so pre-Internet and today’s techno-marvel world.

Dangerous, my friends:   it’s dangerous to turn your back on Satan.   It’s just what he wants us to do.

On the other hand, if you read a great many web sites or listen to many Biblical preachers today, you hear over and over that Satan is winning.   These people think the exact opposite of CNN; they agree with Pope Francis that Satan is a very real being who is really, truly working against us in everything we do.   According to this thinking, Satan is winning on homosexual marriage, appeasement of enemies, defining down pop culture, misuse of the law, misuse of the church, and a hundred other things.   Varying degrees of concern are furthered even more by saying how these kinds of things are signs of the end times (and they are).   Should we worry if we start seeing things like this happening, knowing that the end of the world may be nigh?   Maybe…

…But first let’s step back from the tree and take a look at the forest; at this point, we need to.

In looking at this particular forest I would remind our friends at CNN that all of Scripture tells us how Satan is a real being.   Il Papa is simply reiterating the Bible and we would do well to follow his lead, at least in this case.   Satan isn’t a construct, and he isn’t a figure of a colorful imagination, and he isn’t anyone to be trifled with.   Satan is real and really is up to no good.

Yet I would also reiterate to my doom-crying friends that Jesus commanded a spirit to come out of tortured child and it did. The fact is that Satan is already defeated.   His imminent and eternal defeat won’t stop him from continuing to try to yank people away from faith in Jesus; sorry, y’all, but that’s our burden to bear. In bearing it, we would do well to remember that Jesus can drive out demons. Demons (and Satan) are terrified of Jesus because of what they’ve done. Even when we fail to drive them out, we should still cling to Jesus because in Him is found the power to make Satan cower as evidenced by what He did for this boy.

Lord, watch over me and protect me from the demons that cower before You.   I believe You are more powerful.

Read Mark 9, verses 30-36.