Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 6 May 2019

Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.  2 Timothy 2:17-18 (NIV).

My wife and I went to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky last week.   If you haven’t seen it, it’s a full-size recreation of what Noah’s Ark may have (even probably) looked like; a three-story museum of what it must have taken to create the Ark, then to tend to the animals, then to repopulate the world.   Ken Ham Ministries, which operates the museum, did a great job intertwining this story of how God saved physical life through the Ark with the account of how God saved spiritual life through the Good Friday Easter ark who is Jesus Christ.

At the end of walking through, it occurred to me that I had absorbed the message:  Jesus is the only way.   It was no surprise, but it was pleasantly shocking how much I agreed with it, how easily I identified with it.  Jesus is the antidote to false teaching.   He’s the opposite of all our sinful experiences.  Jesus as He was, is, and is to come.   Jesus as He is presented in the Bible is the only truth that matters.   In Paul’s day, the gangrenous teaching that Hymenaeus and Philetus had spread had already been overcome by Jesus and His resurrection.   All that Jesus said and taught was the highway to heaven.   Whether we receive that teaching in a tourist attraction, our neighborhood churches, online, or in person is all part of our human experience.

Duh.   Better do it while we can.

Back in Noah’s time, nobody other than his family believed that God had told Noah to build the ark because devastation was coming.   After Noah’s descendants repopulated the world, few believed that God would send His Messiah to redeem us from our sins.   In our world, even though there are over 2 billion Christians, there are also over 5.2 billion non-Christians who think our faith in God’s Son as Messiah is foolishness.   Some reject it as that.   Others, like Hymenaeus and Philetus of Paul’s day, spread false teaching about it for ungodly reasons.   Still others would have you and I suffer or die for our belief in Jesus.   Think ISIS or other radical Islamic sects; think Communists in China, Cuba, and elsewhere.  Think even about dilletantes here in the peaceful US of A.

Noah or now, some things never change.  Through it, the message of the Ark Encounter remains:   Jesus is the only ark, the only way to live through this terminal adventure called humanity.  How will you share that message today?

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:19-20, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, 2 Timothy 2:19.

Saving Lord Jesus, You are the only ark into eternal life.  You are the only truth.  Forgive me when I’ve failed You.   Thank You for today in which to do better.   Help me to do so.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 20 March 2019

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.   2 Timothy 1:8 (NIV).

Dear fellow believer, we’re going to suffer for this.   You and me, because we boldly say, “I believe in Jesus,” are going to suffer.   In just these last few days, hundreds of Christians have been murdered by Muslims in several African nations.   In Iran, a pastor was recently detained and will serve 10 years hard labor for talking about Jesus.  Churches in China are being torn down by their communist government.  Here in the good old USA, the Federal government is actively trying to tear down a war memorial in Maryland because it’s the shape of a cross.   In schools, universities, and work-rooms everywhere, talking about Jesus is a no-no while words about the NCAA brackets and Game of Thrones are encouraged.

Let’s be real:   ‘suffering’ in America, for now, is pale compared to the persecution our brothers and sisters face overseas.  That simply means the physical pain hasn’t reached our shores yet.   Don’t be daft about it, my friend:  it’s coming.   Disaster, like grace, can come on us in an instant.

Because that’s so true, we shouldn’t be ashamed to be followers of the one true God.   We should be proud to follow Jesus, proud to let Him work through us.   We have become ‘captive’ to His Spirit and are prisoners of His good news.   He holds the keys to our ‘captivity’ and loves us enough for us to stay in His confinement as long as we so wish.  Fall under the love and gaze of the King of Kings and you’ll want only to remain prisoner in His presence.

But make no mistake about it.  It’ll cost you.   This world, fallen and rebellious to Him, will make you pay for professing your belief in Jesus Christ.  The Romans, at the behest of the Jews (and then later on their own) imprisoned and abused Paul before eventually executing him.  All for following Jesus.   All for the rebellion of saying “no, I believe in Jesus of Nazareth.”   It happened in the past.   Even here in peaceful America, it can – and will – happen again.

You and I will be made to suffer for this belief, for this thing that is protected under our Constitution’s first amendment.   We will emotionally suffer, economically suffer, physically suffer.  In time (and it could happen quickly) the things (like worship) that we think are protected could change and a world hostile to Christ will turn against Him by targeting you.

When that happens, friend, let’s celebrate.   Let’s smile in the face of the adversity, turn the other cheek while standing up for our faith, and be prepared to meet Jesus when our government does to us what Paul’s did to him.

For further reading:   Mark 8:38, Ephesians 3:1, 2 Timothy 9.

Praise to You, Lord Jesus, that I may suffer for You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 12 February 2019

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV).

That seems like a pretty low standard, doesn’t it, just being content with food and clothing?   Unless of course you’re homeless or don’t have a coat in the cold weather.    Or if you’re one of the 815 million people who are, according to the United Nations, starving or undernourished every day (https://www.worldhunger.org/world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/).   If you live in Africa or much of India, you desperately need clean water.   If you’re in the former USSR or Africa or much of South America, you need reliable medical care.  If you’re in North Korea, you need everything.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to be content in all things because, in all things and at all times, God is with us.   He promised to never leave or forsake us whether we’re in plenty or deadly want.  And the writer of Proverbs 30 (most like a man named Agur) tells us that the only thing he really needs is daily bread.   Do the jump to what Jesus said about not living on bread alone but on every word from God and we can quickly see that we don’t even need food.

Sure, you’ll wither and eventually die without food.  Each of us will die someday, yet even as we are dying, God is with us, Jesus is within us, feeling what we feel and dying again a little bit at a time.   As long as we have Jesus, NOTHING else matters, not even food and clothing.   I’ve spent enough time with homeless people to know that Jesus can be found there as well, even among those who desperately need clothing and shelter.

Yet let’s not be irresponsible and not live thankfully for what He provides us.   When we do have food, we have a gift from God and we should be cognizant of that, 24/7.  Disaster can come on us quickly (from weather, a tempestuous planet, or the wiles of hostile government).   When that happens, our needs become even more acute; duh.  That means now is the time to be thankful and content for food and clothing and water and shelter and all the things we take for granted when disasters are far away.

And let’s also keep it real by remembering that, for those suffering in the gulags of North Korea, Cuba, Russia and China, God must seem far away.  Ditto the streets of our cities, the hell-hardship of being trafficked, and in places where people don’t have enough money to pay for food.  Pray for them.   Pray for ways you and I can tangibly help and be used as Jesus’ hands to feed them.   To give them the hope to be thankful as well.

For further reading:   Hebrews 13:5, Proverbs 30:8, Matthew 4:4, 1 Timothy 6:9.

Blessed Lord, I often fail to be thankful for all You provide.  Thank You for everything because You give everything.   Show me a way to share my thankfulness and bounties today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 14 August 2018

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).

If you study the spread of Christianity, you see that Paul’s prayer was answered.   A word of mouth proposition, Christianity spread all over the known world in a matter of a few years.  That’s unprecedented.   The faiths of the Norse, Japanese, and indigenous tribes in the Americas never spread out of local areas due to many factors.  Already an established faith at the time of Jesus, it took hundreds of years for Buddhism to spread beyond India.   It also took many decades for Islam to spread out of Arabia and then it happened only through violence.  Yet it took only a handful of years for the message of Jesus Christ to spread from Jerusalem to Assyria, Greece, Asia Minor and all over the Roman Empire.   Within only a few decades, it spread into pagan Europe and up into India.

Good news travels fast.

Mark Twain and Winston Churchill were right:  A lie gets halfway around the world before truth puts on its boots.  Bad news travels fast, too, especially if you’re on the internet.  Yet I maintain that good news travels faster.   Bad times don’t last but they hurt while they’re here.   Yet when good news travels and takes root, it’s there for good.   True, we can misplace that good news but when it travels fast, it travels fast while establishing itself.

The good news of the Good News took root wherever it went.  Moreover, it took root in the face of adversity.   It traveled by word of mouth along ancient roads and trade routes.   It sailed the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and across the Black Sea.   It climbed mountains and was spoken across language barriers giving new-found hope to those who would open their hearts.  People accustomed to the family of Greek and Roman Gods and the plethora of ancient tribal deities heard, for the first time, that the God of all loved them.   That He forgave their sins, and wanted to live through their hearts and hands.   Revenge was replaced with hope; hope could finally spring eternal.

And all because people talked with each other.   Because people took Paul’s letters and shared them, preserved them, used them as a way to get to know this Jesus.   Because God answered Paul’s prayer.  Word traveled fast.   It still does today.   If you don’t believe that, consider that, in less than 4 decades, over 200 million people have come to faith in the dictatorship of Communist China.   In the years to come, there could (and probably will be) more Christians there than anywhere else on earth.   Good news travels fast and it can put down deep roots even in the harshest soil.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:2.

Lord, I praise You for Your word traveling fast!

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 11 July 2018

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 (NIV).

When I was a kid, I spent most of my middle school years in southeast Oklahoma.  During lunch hours, I sat with kids who talked about their churches (really, they did).   It was the late 1970s, and they talked a lot about the end times, about the days and things that will happen when Jesus returns.   I had attended church all my life, the churches I had attended were mainstream northern protestant (Lutheran or Presbyterian), not charismatic evangelicals such as Baptist, Assemblies of God, or Pentecostal.  I had never learned about any of this, and what they said scared the crap out of me, making me question whether I was good enough for Jesus.

I felt angry, upset at how they treated this end-times news as if it was some special information only they knew about.   These teenagers tossed it around as if it was something cool, something given just to them, and when I started asking questions they responded with, “DON’T YOU KNOW THIS?”   I didn’t.   That was the point when I gave up.

News flash:   on our own, you and I AREN’T good enough for Jesus.   We choose other things and separate ourselves from Him.   But it isn’t up to us to do things to become “good enough” for Him.  We can’t.   He’s already done everything necessary to repair our relationship.  At the cross, He replaced our sin with His blood and our uncleanness with His purity.   When His Father sees us, all He sees is Jesus covering one of His beloved children.

Here’s a second news flash:   this is for everyone.   It isn’t just for Christians or evangelicals.  It isn’t just for people who look or think like you, and it isn’t just for the people you like.   It isn’t just for black people or white people, and it isn’t just for Americans or Ugandans or underground believers who defy Communist China.  Jesus is coming back and He’s coming back with holy fire to make all things new, and He wants everyone to know so they can believe in Him first.   It isn’t a secret, and we aren’t to act as if you need a secret handshake to know it.  We aren’t better than anyone just because we know it even if we may be better informed.   Get with the program but don’t be a jerk about it.

For further reading: Philippians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Kings 17:18, Isaiah 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Lord, help Me to witness for You today to everyone.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

We the people tend to remember daring acts of bravery.   Remember the Alamo; remember Pearl Harbor.   We remember times when people do heroic things worthy of memory.  You’ve (hopefully) heard the accounts of people in our world today who are being persecuted for believing in Jesus.  That may seem like something from our distant past, like we of the ‘modern’ world have learned to live beyond such savagery.   But the fact is that we haven’t.   Just last week I read a story about how the communist government in China tore down a large church.  The people who worshipped there are under surveillance, and it’s a good thing to assume quite a few have been questioned or arrested.   Just for believing in Jesus.

And did you know that it is a crime that carries a death sentence to publicly declare or preach faith in Jesus in Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Pakistan?   In Mauritania, Libya, Morocco, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh it is illegal to declare yourself as a Christian.   In the workplace in many cities and states of America it is officially frowned upon to minister to others or even profess your faith (to be fair, not just faith in Jesus, yet faith in Jesus seems to be tolerated least of all).

Outrageous treatment?   To be sure.   Suffering for the faith?   In many places in our world today, yes, this happens.   Stand up for Jesus?   No, that isn’t tough at all…

Those who dare to share the gospel in the face of this treatment are heroes.   Indeed, it is energizing and invigorating to stand up for Jesus in the face of people who oppress you.  It demonstrates courage and a belief in human dignity to act in ways that show the fruit of His Spirit, then to stand up and tell just why you do what you do.   People remember that kind of thing, and I dare say most of them remember it with respect.

Read through Scripture to the end and you know that the end of all things is already foretold.  Evil will be vanquished.   God will once and for all destroy evil and relegate Satan and all who reject God to the terror of everlasting existence away from Him.  Yet before all that happens we are told things will get even tougher for believers.   Tough times are coming; you can even feel it in the air, and people are watching.   What will they see you do?   How will you be remembered?

For further reading: Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, thank You for preserving me through oppression and persecution.   Be the steel in my spine and put Your words in my mouth when people challenge me to deny you.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 22 November 2017

 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  Hebrews 13, verse 13.

Jesus earned “street cred” by dying outside the city walls.   That wasn’t the intention of the Jews who murdered Him.   They wanted to discredit Him, to consign Him to a place with the worst of society.   The Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death wanted to erase the memory of Him so that He would soon be forgotten.  To do that, they reasoned that having Him executed as a common criminal would cause people to abandon following Him.   By branding Jesus as a criminal worthy of death, they would so disgrace His name that people would be repelled by even the mention of it.  Within a few years nobody would remember this evangelist from Nazareth.

With anyone else, it might have worked.   After all, there is only a small handful of names we actually know out of the billions of people who lived before, say, one thousand years ago (maybe even one hundred years ago).    The people we know of (like Jesus) earned fame or honor.   Who even knows the names of condemned prisoners from Phoenicia, Babylon, Athens or Rome?   Do we know the names of the men crucified with Spartacus?  Without using Google, who are the people on death row now in Idaho?   Can you name anyone shot for cowardice during the Mexican War?   We don’t know the names of these men because they’re lost to history.

We don’t know their names because we don’t want to.   They died in disgrace.   They died in ignominy and dishonor.   You, me, and our friends don’t want to be associated with their dishonor and disgrace.  It’s like adulterers in church:  nobody wants to be associated with them because we feel like, if we are, we’ll be tainted by their sins.   It’s a stupid, highly irrational feeling even if it is a constructive psychological defense mechanism.

It’s also ungodly.   What would Jesus do?  Not that.  Jesus ran to the cross.   He wrapped Himself in the dishonor and ignominy.  Jesus knew that His sacrifice would bring glory, honor, and love to the Father.  THAT is our better example.

Luke quoted Christ in saying that each of us who wants to really follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross daily.  We must willingly, even gleefully, run outside the camp and pick up the weapon of our own death.  We must embrace the disgrace.  And the writer of Hebrews reminds us that human disgrace for faith in Jesus is worth more than all the treasures in the world.  Joy in being persecuted for believing in Jesus is the street cred of faith.

A few years ago I read the Left Behind books.   I’m not a millenialist, so I didn’t accept the rapture/7 years tribulation idea; to me, getting mixed up in the how & when details of the end of time misses the miracle of being called home to heaven.  But one scene from one of the books (I don’t remember which one) stuck with me.  In it, one of the main characters is talking with a condemned man who is on his way to the guillotine.  The man is about to die for not taking the mark of the Antichrist and instead of being hesitant about it, he is joyful.   Imagine that:   the man is about to be murdered for what he believed and he is enthusiastic about it.   He’s ebullient, joyously embracing the disgrace of dying for the one you love.   And I don’t even remember the character’s name.

But that’s just a book.   The truth of it is that that this happens here and now.   It’s been happening for real to Coptic Christians for years.   It happens wherever ISIS rules.   It still happens in Communist China, and Cuba, and Islamonazi Iran.  A watered-down version of the persecution even happens in American universities and American corporations.  I am challenged regularly online for words like these, and I have lost friends over my faith.   The best response when that happens?   Joyfully thank God and press forward.  The world thinks it’s a disgrace to believe like this.  Embrace the disgrace and advance against an enemy that has already lost even when it costs you everything.

For further reading:  Luke 9:23, Hebrews 11:26.

Lord, let me embrace the ‘disgrace’ of serving You, of loving You, of faith in You.   Teach me and uphold me to better serve you in the world.