Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 12 August 2019

 For at one time we ourselves were also foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by many kinds of evil desires and pleasures, living in malice and jealousy, being hated and hating one another. Titus 3:3 (EHV).

Been there, done that.   You know that aphorism; chances are you’ve said it.   You’re experienced; you’ve lived; you’ve been around the block.   In the Queen’s English, you’re trustworthy because you can identify with the circumstances we each encounter.

If you say you aren’t sinful, you’re fooling yourself.   But don’t leave yourself hanging out there, on a limb and out of hope.   Every one of us is sinful; we all suffer from that same malady.   It need not define you.   You’ve been there, done that.   Let’s not leave it there.

The Apostle Paul, perhaps the greatest missionary ever, could identify with his friends and fellow followers of ‘The Way.’  He had been foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by evil, living in malice, jealous, and both hated and hating.  He knew that everyone who would (initially) read his letter there in the first century was just like him.   He understood their sins; he understood they were sinful.   He didn’t say these things to guilt them; neither do I.   It’s simply a fact.   It’s simply one side of who they (and we) were.

Let’s not leave it at that.   Paul had been there, done that; so had his friends.   You and I have too.   So has Pope Francis (or Benedict XVI, wherever he is).   So was Billy Graham, and your sainted grandmother, my best friend, and that newborn baby who’s crying to be held.   It’s ingrained into our psyches, part of who we are when we are born, and until we accept Christ’s Holy Spirit into us, it’s who we are, even when we try to do good.  When we’re ‘there,’ doing ‘that,’ ‘that’ is sin.  Yet when we embrace Jesus, EVERYTHING changes.

Holy Spirit redefines us, eliminates the hold sin has on us, eliminates the consequences of death that sin places on us.  He removes it and washes us clean from what tarnished us before.   Where ‘been there, done that’ had once been our mission statement, it now becomes common ground on which we can reach out to others so that they, too, might receive Jesus’ Spirit and all the good He gives.  It’s our pedigree to serve in amazement the God who makes everything new.

Just one verse ago, Paul reminded his friends to be subject to authorities so that others might follow God, too.  Here, in verse 3, he reminds us why we should.   Even the authorities have been there, done that.   Even they need Christ like we do.  So, today, when you’re at work and overwhelmed, or when you’re dealing with your kids and you’re frustrated, or you’re alone and lonely, remember that we’ve all been there and done that.   Jesus makes it all new.

For further reading:  Ephesians 4:31, Titus 3:4

Lord, forgive my sins and wash me clean.

 

Advertisements

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 9 May 2019

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  2 Timothy 2:22 (NIV).

More good Pauline advice that re-iterates or re-enforces statements made in earlier letters.   Paul’s message was consistent:   flee evil and pursue good.

Notice that he doesn’t say “fight the evil desires of youth.”   Let’s face it:   there is no fighting them.   Sin is strong enough to defeat us.   Except for Jesus, it has defeated every human ever born.   Without Christ at our side, we can’t fight evil and we can’t win against it because evil is stronger than we are alone.   With Christ at our side, we can’t lose and evil doesn’t stand a chance.

Instead of fighting it, Paul tells us to flee from evil desires.   So many in pop culture ridicule Vice President Pence for adhering to the Billy Graham practice of not being in a room alone with another woman.   I pity them.   Pence is staying blameless by living out an admirable practice.  Rev Graham did the same and it kept impropriety and gossip away along with any chance to even consider evil desire because even Billy Graham was human.   Ditto President Harry Truman, who once was called to a private meeting only to find it was a set-up with a woman.   Truman immediately turned and walked out, fled.

When tempted to give in to desire, turn and walk away.   Then run.   Rhetorically run; physically run if you need to.   Get away from the situation because there’s danger there.  On your way fleeing, then pray for strengthened faith, love, and peace, calling on the Lord in thanks for the opportunity to flee.   In my own experience, when I’ve done this, instead of desperation, I feel empowered.   I’m betting the same would be said by you.   In my own experience, too many times I wish I had fled; I’m betting you’d echo that as well.

The unspoken result of doing these things is best spoken in Acts 2:21:   the Lord will save those who call on Him.   Live a life that pursues Him and you’ll find He’s calling you.   He’s already saved you, so live a life reflecting that by fleeing evil desires when they come to you.   Others might be inspired to do the same and accept His truth, and that matters because their eternity matters most, too.

Sure, these seem like simple, common solutions to complex problems, but first principles are usually the best starting point when trying to address complex issues.   Stick to the simple:  flee from evil when we see it, then seek Jesus in thankful prayer to feel the bliss of protection and forgiveness.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:14, Acts 2:21, 1 Timothy 1:5, 1 Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:22.

Lord Jesus, You are the only desire of my recovering heart.   Welcome me back as I flee desires when they tempt me.   Strengthen me and help me to strengthen others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 7 November 2018

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:  He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.  1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV).

In Jesus’ day, people no different than us believed in Him.  People who were ridiculed, threatened, persecuted, confused believed in Jesus.   Sometimes we read these stories from the Bible and we seem to think that they were unusual people, ‘super-human’ people.   Jesus was.   All the rest of them?   Not so much.  The people who lived and heard and believed Jesus in His time were people just like us.  They looked, they listened, they let go, and they believed.   Why is it so tough for us?

You and I have the same information available to us that was available to popes all through history, to Billy Graham and Mother Theresa, to all the billions who have believed in Jesus since He returned to heaven.  Something about Him opened a window into our hearts and we believed.   Not because we’re special or even have special insight but because He is who He said He was.

And it’s beyond all reasonable doubt.   The words of the Bible are plain and they’re available for anyone who wants to read them.   As Paul says, Jesus is proven to be the Son of God beyond all question, not because Paul said so but because Jesus did so.   The mystery of the trinity and of Immanuel incarnate isn’t much of a mystery at all.  It was plainly proven over thousands of years.  Hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled only in Jesus Christ; if you don’t believe me, consult this site, then read the verses for yourself:  http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html.  Nobody else is possible; mathematically, it is 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 and there isn’t even a named number for that (see http://www.goodnewsdispatch.org/math.html).

When you put your faith in Jesus, you’re putting your faith in the only truly known or possible Savior in all of human history.   He’s fully God and fully man at the same time.  With only a thought He could compel you or I to follow Him.   But He doesn’t do that.

Instead, the Christ, proven beyond all reason and doubt, calls to us in love and asks us to follow Him.   He doesn’t demand it, command it, or force it.   Instead, Jesus introduces Himself and says “Be loved and forgiven, then share it.”   We don’t have to do that:  we get to do that.   Because of Him.  The people of His day weren’t any different than us.   They simply saw and believed.

For further reading:  Romans 16:25, John 1:14, Psalm 9:11, Colossians 1:23, Mark 16:19, Timothy 4:1

Lord, thank You for proving Yourself.   I believe in You.

 

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 2 Thessalonians, 3 July 2018

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV).

When was the last time you had a celebrity thank you, or give thanks for you being the way you are?

Over the weekend, my daughter worked at a celebrity event.   She lives in California and worked an event where there were a great many celebrities present.  She said it was surreal, and she got to meet most of the celebrities attending; she’s a bartender so I’d expect that.  Anyway, according to her, the famous people she met were mostly nice but quite common.   I can’t recall her ever saying that any of them said “I thank God for you because I can see your faith is growing and you love so many people.”

Time to name drop.  I’ve personally met Billy Graham, Louie Anderson, Barack Obama, Jeff Goldblum, James Taylor, Ross Perot, Keith Ellison, Chuck Horner, Alex Trebek, and all of Blink 182.   Up close and personal I’ve seen Bob Hope, Chuck Yeager, Betty White, and I’ve seen every president (except President Trump) going all the way back to Jerry Ford plus more than a few famous performers on stage    Celebrities are just people who are famous.   Their blood is red; their hair gets messy; they have body odor.   As it was with my daughter, I can’t recall any of them saying “I thank God for you.”

But Paul did.   He had gotten to know the members of the church in Thessalonica, and he had become famous throughout the known world of the Mediterranean.  When Paul wrote his epistle to his friends in Thessalonica, he said that he (and Silas and Timothy) always thanked God for them.

Imagine a celebrity saying that about you.   We all get star-struck, and more than a few people in Thessalonica may have been star-struck about Paul.  Yet he said it about them, about their lives, about their faith in God.   Two thousand years later, we’re still reading about it.   Except for Mr. Obama, two thousand years from now it is very unlikely people will read about, or know about, any of the celebrities I mentioned above.   In as little as one hundred years, most people won’t even know about you or I.

Yet Jesus will because He always does.   Paul the celebrity thanked God because Jesus the Son of God lived and died for him, and for the Thessalonians, and for you and me.   Jesus, the creator of the universe, knew you and me before we were even born.   He knows us now.   He knows us intimately.  One hundred years ago and a hundred years from now, Jesus knew and loved each of us.  When Jesus name-drops, He drops YOUR name, and Jesus is the ultimate celebrity.

For further reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:4.

Lord Jesus, thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 13 March 2018

In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.  1 Thessalonians 3:4-5 (NIV).

Several verses are mentioned below to help explain these for today.   Perhaps, however, they are best explained in Mark 4, which is the parable of the sower.   If you’ll remember, Jesus is teaching a crowd so large that it forces him to stand in a boat to speak to them.   He tells them a story of what the kingdom of God is like.   It’s like when a farmer sows seed and we are the soil.  In some of us, the plant grows shallow and it withers, or it is destroyed, or it is neglected to be choked out by weeds, which are troubles in life.   But in some of us the seed finds good soil and the seed takes root to eventually produce a good crop.

Paul was concerned that he had planted God’s word – good seed – in soil where the troubles of this world had choked out a good crop.  He was afraid that Satan had come to distract the Thessalonians and pull them off the straight and narrow path that Paul had set them on.

You know that happens to all of us, right?  Billy Graham was one of the modern heroes of the faith, but the tempter tempted him all through his long life and tried to pull him off God’s path.  Mother Theresa was a modern hero of the faith, but the tempter tempted her all through her long life and tried to pull her off God’s path.   You get the picture.  If it can happen to great heroes of the faith, people with strong public faith who gather millions to follow God, it can happen to little old you and me.

When this life is over, even heroes stand before Jesus individually just like anyone else.  Paul was concerned for his friends that they would have been led into sin, that the seed he had planted that had grown in good soil had withered.  How wonderful it would be to have a friend like Paul, who thought about us this way.   How good it is, then, to have friends who are more than just worldly friends but who also are concerned about our spiritual well-being, about how we’re walking our walk with Jesus.  Do you have someone like that in your life?  Do you have a Paul?

For further reading: Mark 4:17, John 16:33, Romans 5:3, 2 Corinthians 1:4, 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 1 Thessalonians 3:6.

Lord, I praise You for the people you put in my life to support me in faith.   Bless and encourage them, and let me be that someone for somebody else, too.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 21 February 2018

 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  1 Thessalonians 2:9 (NIV).

Usually I write these blog posts the night before I post them.   Last night, I was busy calculating my taxes so I didn’t get to write until morning.   I take that as yet another proof that God knows what He’s doing and is active in even the little details of our lives.

Word came this morning that Billy Graham has died.   I think of a few things when I think of Rev Graham, mostly that I met him once, saw him twice, and turned off the TV when he was on dozens of times when I was a kid.   Today I think that 1 Thessalonians 2:9 is a fitting verse by which to remember him.

The words I write and share here won’t reach 2 billion people, but Billy Graham’s did.   I’ve never met 9 presidents and witnessed the gospel personally to them, but Billy Graham did (indeed, George W. Bush credits Graham for personally ministering to him in a way that let him turn cold turkey from alcoholism and never turn back).   I never traveled behind the Iron Curtain for the specific purpose of talking about Jesus, but Billy Graham did.  I never did this or that or one or the other but Reverend Graham did.

So what? Through it all, Mr. Graham was just like you and me.   He was a sinner.   On his own, he wasn’t worthy to lick God’s bootheels.   Without God’s intervention, he was damned.  Because of Jesus, none of that mattered.   Because of Jesus, Billy Graham got to meet Him face to face today:   just like you and I can when our lives are over.

I once went to a Billy Graham crusade; I once met him in person.   In those days, that was simply another happening to me, another check box I could fill about having done something for God.   I didn’t realize that Graham, as a speaker, was using his platform to tell me what God had already done for me.   In time, I came to admire that, came to better understand it.   There was no decision for Christ I made other than simply acknowledging what Jesus had already done in full.  Yet when that understanding came, it made all the difference in my life.

Today you’ll read a great many things about Billy Graham, then tomorrow the world will move on to its next big thing.   That’s how it goes here, and really that’s how it should be.  But for today, celebrate the kingdom work of a man who used his time to tell us all “Jesus loves you.”  The longer I live, the more I see that’s the most fitting epitaph of all.   Rest in peace Reverend and welcome home.

For further reading: Thessalonians 2:10.

Lord, thank You for this good servant.