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.

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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.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 November 2017

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Hebrews 13, verse 7.

As I’ve matured, I’ve developed a great admiration for people who are bold in the Word.  Over thirty years ago, I went to a Billy Graham crusade in Washington DC.   Now, I’m not a Southern Baptist and I find some of their methods to be grating.  My upbringing was far from the kind of approach Baptists and Billy Graham commonly use.  When I was a kid, every few months a Billy Graham crusade would take over one of our three channels of TV and I found it to be hard, boring to watch.   It was ironic, then, that I found myself there that day, listening to Rev Graham exhort the crowd to come to Jesus.   It was even more ironic that I found myself compelled by the things he said.  I met Dr. Graham and I was moved, but not moved enough to seriously consider the things he was saying.  It took me decades before I would come around to Graham’s way of thinking.

The older I grow the more I see the truth in Christ’s command to go and make disciples of all nations.  Our first, best task in this life is to reach out to other people and share Jesus.   EVERYTHING we experience in the next life depends on knowing Him here.  We do our part by living our lives, being ourselves, and being ready to communicate when the opportunities arise.   Even including the fire and brimstone sermons, I’m betting Billy Graham would agree.

I was baptized by a pastor named Reuben Youngdahl, who built the largest Lutheran church in America.   I remember well his son, Paul, who is still the benchmark against whom I measure all clergy.   Reverend Ann Haw confirmed me in Oklahoma and she’s one of the most courageous workers for the Spirit I can think of.  Dr. Guy Newland back in Mitchell, Indiana was the most genuine minister I’ve ever known and the one who, at least in my life, convinced me that faith should be an everyday, practical thing instead of that thing you do on Sundays.   Pastors named Vogt and Uhlhorn in Colorado Springs taught me the depth of faith, and Pastor Vogt’s reading of Romans 8 on the night my father died was actually the first time in my life that I fully understood how all the Scriptures were completely true.   I’ve learned much from the wisdom of my friend, Reverend Gauthier, and men named Schaefer, Miller, McKay, Brimer, Kemp, Celia, Radkey, Kaija and Hartjen all inspire me today as peers, friends, and spiritual guides in the confusing, self-focused world of consumerist North Texas.

We put a lot of faith in our pastors, but do we put as much into the God they serve?

The verse today reminds us to learn from and revere called servants of the Lord.   God picked them out especially for the purpose of being Barnabas – the encourager – to people in need of an encouraging Savior.  They have a special calling and unique education to prepare them for the task of ministering.  We do well when we remember that it’s a Godly calling to life a life of faith, of submitting even our aspirations and career wishes to God.  That’s what they do.   It’s also tough work.  Successful churches aren’t the ones with the cool sound systems, the huge congregations, and the rock band in front playing the latest Chris Tomlin mash-up.   No, successful churches are the ones where the parishioners know they’re close to Jesus because Jesus is close to them.   In such places, that usually starts with the pastor.   If you look close, you find that the pastor is simply walking closely with Jesus and all blessings flow from Him.

Yet we can’t think of our pastors as being supermen because they aren’t.   They are sinners.   They’re strugglers.   They like football and beer and music and barbecue (or queso).   Some of them are jerks.  I know some pastors who are recovering alcoholics.   I know some who have done jail time.   I know of some who struggle with identity, sexuality, and crushing depression.   And I’ve known some pastors who I liked in the pulpit but I couldn’t stand out of it.

In other words, pastors are a lot like me.   Or you.

Just yesterday, Pastor Celia (which still sounds weird) was talking about Gideon.   Gideon was an ordinary, even cowardly, man who was called by God to do extraordinary things.   Gideon had the gifts God needed and God empowered him to use them in big ways.   Yet Gideon was also just a man.   He succeeded when he walked closely with God and he floundered when he strayed back into paganism.  I suspect that, like other pastors, if you met Gideon today you’d find he wore his pants the same way as you or I do.   Or Billy Graham, who is 99 now and no longer preaching in crusades.   In his life, he personally witnessed to millions of people, maybe even as many as a billion.   Yet he still says he could do more.   He’s still hungry for the Spirit.   That’s a good quality to have if you’re going to become a pastor.  In fact, it’s a great quality for any of us.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:16, Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 6:12.

My Lord, I am hungry for Your Spirit.  Thank You for the men and women you call as servants here.   Bless their work and their examples to all of us.