Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 7 July 2020

After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. 1 Peter 3:19-20 (NIV).

These two verses are deeply mysterious.   In the end, we don’t really know specifically what Peter was saying.  He’s talking about Jesus, of course, yet that’s where the understanding stops.  Even Martin Luther, learned man he was, said (of these verses), “A wonderous text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” 

It could be talking about what the pre-risen Christ did between His death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.  He may have gone to the under-world, to the souls of those who died before His time here.   He may have gone to proclaim His coming resurrection to all who never knew Him in His earthly form.   We don’t know.

Or Peter might be talking about those who were still alive on the earth, people who, since the time of Noah, had seen and heard God’s proclamations about Himself yet refused to believe it in full.   Again, we don’t know.

Or he might be talking about Christ preaching to the angels, though that doesn’t make much sense in terms of salvation, for Christ didn’t die and live for the angels’ salvation.   Yet, once again, we don’t really know.

But one message is understandable:  Christ, being made alive, is for us to believe in.   People saw Him, touched Him, communicated with Him, lived with Him after Easter Sunday.   For at least 40 days after, in fact.   And yet still many people – most people, in fact – didn’t believe Christ was real.   They were like us (or we are like them).   We’re both like the people of the anti-deluvian world, during the days of Noah.   It took Noah and his family over one hundred years to build the giant ark.   And while it’s likely that people questioned Noah of what he was doing, it’s also likely that he answered them, imploring them to repent and turn to God who had promised the end of humanity.

How many listened?   None.   Only Noah, his wife, and their sons and their wives rode on the ark to safety.   Everyone else died; untold millions, maybe even billions.   We don’t exactly know how many people were on the earth back then; we can only guess.   But that guess doesn’t mean much because it’s certain they all died.   They died because they refused to believe they needed to be saved.

Maybe that’s the mystery lesson Peter was trying to teach us, too.

For further reading:  Genesis 6:3, Romans 2:4, Hebrews 11:7, 1 Peter 3:21

Lord Jesus, I believe in You.   Thank You.   And thank You for this strange lesson.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 4 June 2020

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:20 (NIV).

How timely this is right now, when race protests are happening all over America!  

Our nation has writhed under racial crises since the end of the Civil War…that’s 155 years.    Race was the underlying cause that triggered that Civil War, when our forefathers gave up on political compromise to protect their rights as individuals who were enslaving other humans.   Since that was defeated, we have dealt with the aftermath of a sin that we mistakenly assume is ingrained in our American DNA.  

What are we going to do about setting things right in America?   How can we overcome attitudes about race and get to the point where we treat each other as full equals even though we have different skin colors and different backgrounds?   What can we do to change?   I have yet to hear any media culture, protest leaders, or politicians offer anything constructive to address these questions.

The ONLY way to heal our divisions is by embracing Christ.  The ONLY way to implement real change, seek true justice, is to start by following Jesus.  My politics, my views, my defenses of things I believe must all but put under the cross of Christ.   He commends those who are willing to suffer by doing this.   He works through those who are working in His name to spread God’s peace, love, and salvation.   He strengthens people who are weary of standing with the strength to persevere, then overcome.   Only through Jesus shall we overcome some day.

It isn’t an honorable, laudable thing to applaud people who do wrong.   Riots, looting, killing, violence:   anyone who applauds, or even justifies, these things is going against the love of Jesus.  This must be defeated.

But it IS an honorable, praiseworthy thing to stand up for one’s rights, even more to stand up for the rights of people who are persecuted, especially when it isn’t you.  It is Godly, Jesus-like behavior to sympathize with the oppressed and use your life in ways to help them.  You and I can’t change what has happened in the past, but we can make sure the future doesn’t repeat it.

The only way for that to work is for the love of Jesus to be our starting and ending point.   We can’t do it based on politics, or for revenge, or “social justice,” or any other human reason.   If we try anything but going to God first, we will fail and the past will repeat itself.   By truly seeing each other as Jesus sees us – as His brothers and sisters – we will surely succeed.   And then, through Christ, we shall overcome.

For further reading:  Romans 5:3-5, 1 Peter 2:21

Lord Jesus, I’ve sinned against You.  Forgive me, heal me, and teach me again how to truly love my fellow man.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 9 December 2019

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21. (EHV).

This verse is one of the key verses in the entire New Testament.   It expresses Christ’s promise of eternal life and temporal peace.   It conveys Paul’s hope and Paul’s confidence.   It gives us today both a purpose and a reward.  Chances are you’ve heard this verse before.   From the viewpoint of a skeptical world, this is foolish braggadocio.   From the view of a believer, it is a profound and confident boast of faith.   Both are true.

You and I:  we aren’t Jesus.   We aren’t God.   We can’t atone for sins.   We don’t have much power on our own.   We are fully human without being any God at all.  On our own, my friend, we’re damned.   The sins we’ve chosen, even the unconscious ones, even the times we thought we were doing good for ourselves, separate us from God.   The older I get the more I believe God isn’t vengeful, that He doesn’t smite people out of anger or revenge.   He can; He could; He doesn’t.   More and more, I believe God simply allows the natural consequences of sin to work on us when sin is the path we’ve chosen.   Those things separate us from Him because He’s holy and we sometimes choose to put off that holiness.

Enter the miracle of Jesus.  Jesus carries us past this.   He looks past our sins to see us, to pull us away from the natural consequence of them.   Fully God and fully man, Jesus searches for us in the dark places of our hearts and shines His light there.   He extends His hand and says “focus on Me instead of where you are.  Believe in Me.   Trust in Me.”  When we do that, things start to change.   The miracle happens differently for all of us.   For some it’s instantaneous release.   For others, it’s a small process, drop by drop, until we’re washed clean.  From that moment on, when we let Him and His Spirit begin to remake us, things are different.

To live becomes to really live, to let Christ’s Spirit work through us in what we say and do.   To be kinder, motivated to serve, motivated to love and be patient and seek to share His peace.   To live is to use our lives in ways we hadn’t before for the increase of His Kingdom.   To live is Christ is to carry the Spirit of Christmas and Easter every day of the year, especially to others hurting as we once did.   To live is Christ because nothing in this world can stop us when we know that our eternity is sealed in Him, that we’re part of heaven now and later.  This is foolishness to the rest of the world.   That is, until the rest of the world allows itself to live for Him as well.

For further reading:  Galatians 2:20, Philippians 1:22

Lord Jesus, to live today for You is my only goal.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 17 June 2019

Do your best to come to me quickly.  2 Timothy 4:9 (NIV).

For those who say that Paul made up the things in his letters, there’s this little nugget of reality.   When you’re in trouble, you call for help.   When things are rough, you reach out a helping hand.   You do it; I do it; we all reach out for help when things become desperate.  They were desperate for Paul when he wrote 2 Timothy.

When you read the entire letter, you pick up on Paul’s attitude of completion, of his resignation to his coming execution.   He’s thankful to have led this ministry that Jesus Himself personally began.   And he understands that the world will kill his body but he as Paul and a follower of Jesus Christ will live on.   Yet you can’t miss the undertones of sadness that Paul transmits.   He’s thankful to be ministering on, soldiering on until the near-term end, yet he seems sad.

He seems sad because his ministry – his life’s work – is approaching its end and there is more Paul wanted to do.  Another missionary journey was desired but would not happen.   Reaching out to believers in Spain, in Gaul and Germania, and deeper into Asia would not be things that Paul would do.  Despite all he had personally done to reach out to non-believers and questioning Jews, Paul probably wanted to do more.   He had personally experienced Jesus Christ and desperately wanted other people to know about Him.   Yet Paul’s work was done and his mission was winding down.   The Romans would kill him and Jesus would call him home.  Paul doesn’t seem afraid to die, just sad that it is going to happen.

Again, realism.   If you or I had lived the life Paul lived, perhaps we would feel the same.   What’s the most logical response?   Paul says, “Help me.   I need help now because time is running out.   Do your best to come to me quickly…because if you take to long, I’ll be gone.   We won’t be able to talk about things that we need to talk about.   There are things the Lord wants to do through this, and I need you to help me while we can.”

Consider how a lie would have been simpler:   “I’m doing ok.   Everything is fine.   No, they aren’t going to kill me.   Everything is peaches and cream.”   Those who knew Paul wouldn’t have accepted that because they knew him, understood him, had grown in the faith with him.   That simpler lie might have fooled a few but, like all lies, would have been hollow and meaningless.  If Paul had simply made these things up, why would he feel sad about them?   Indeed, if his works are all lies, why would he feel anything about them?

Because Paul shared these things in so few words, his genuine feeling comes down through the years.

For further reading:  Acts 17:1, 2 Corinthians 2:13, Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24, 2 Timothy 4:10

Thank You for Paul’s mission work, Lord.

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, 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 2 Timothy, 15 April 2019

The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.   2 Timothy 2:6 (NIV).

This verse, along with the previous ones, should be considered all together to get their full impact.  Together, verses 1-6 say “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.”

Think of it this way:   keep your eye on the ball because the reward for this is better than anything else you can imagine.

Sometimes I wonder where I fit in.   I’m working at my fifth company in three years.   To be honest, that sometimes shakes my confidence, especially when your work is done or the client moves in a new direction.  The reasons for moving around so much are many, but they all end at this place:  I’m currently employed at a great company, and I’m so thankful for it.   Yet even here, after so many moves, even when I’m thankful to be working and working where I am, I wonder where I fit in.

I wonder if farmers feel that way.   It must be a challenge to stay motivated to get up every day and work patiently at growing crops, husbanding animals, and maintaining your homestead.   It’s good work, peaceful work, rewarding work I’m sure.   But it must also be frightening at storm times, or when the rains come too early, too much, too little or late.  Athletes prepare for competition; farmers prepare for the harvest (and then for the rest months, and then planting, weeding, and the next harvest).   Like athletes who are always preparing for the next competition, or consultants who are always implementing the last version of software in anticipation of the next future implementation, farmers prepare now for the next harvest and the times after that.

Sort of like Jesus did for us, preparing us now for the next harvest after this life.   That means we need to heed Him, let ourselves be prepared, and keep our eyes on the ball of His presence, His teaching in our lives; let Him reward us as He sees best.  It prepares us now for both living here in the fallen world and the harvest in heaven when the full crop of His believers are brought together in eternal praise and celebration.  THAT is the place we’ll fit in best.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:10, 2 Timothy 2:7.

Awesome “farmer” Jesus, prepare me now, I pray, to serve You better.  

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 12 March 2019

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.   2 Timothy 1:3 (NIV).

Ministry is a family business.   I know more than a few ministers whose parents and even grandparents were also ministers.   Me, I’m not a pastor, minister, reverend, or called servant of Christ.   Except for the desire He puts on my heart to help others and write these words, I’m not much of any kind of minister at all.   I’ve simply never felt that kind of a calling.   Nobody in my ancestry ever did, either.  Yet I know many ministers whose family history is service to God.   Multiple generations going into ministry; spouses, children and siblings all working in various kinds of ministry.   They put their all into it, usually for many hours of low-paying but Godly, satisfying work.

So I thank God, as my ancestors did, that there are men and women who feel God’s personal call into ministry.   They are formal, recognized servants of His Word.  They do a tough job so others don’t have to.  They actually do spend long periods of time, usually daily, in communication with the Lord.   Sometimes it’s formal, private, on-your-knees kind of prayer; sometimes it looks more like self-talk   But it’s the kind of activity that even we of this skeptical age would call “constantly remembering us in their prayers.”  That’s a big deal, you know.   Prayer isn’t just a wish list or some psychological panacea designed to make you feel better.  It’s a vital tool in the arsenal of a Christian warrior.   It’s involving God Almighty in everything for which we pray.   Pastors aren’t bystanders in the daily battles of life:   they’re warriors, leading from the front (as all good leaders must).

Our society favors those who work in a family business.   Farmers, military officers, politicians, stockbrokers, academics, factory workers, even athletes:   some of the most famous names in these fields come from families where multiple generations live, earn and serve in the same field.  It should be no surprise that Godly ministry favors the same dynamic.   Nobody in my family has ever gone into called ministry, though I do have an uncle who worked in prison ministry for many years and he’s the strongest believer I know.  Some of my best friends are pastors; it might surprise you to learn I’ve even partied with them…on multiple occasions.   Pastors are people too.  I thank God for them in my prayers because, long ago and over and over again, they’ve thanked Him for me in theirs.

For further reading:   2 Timothy 4.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for calling women and men to serve you in ministry.   Uphold them, strengthen them, give them courage and health and wisdom.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 October 2018

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV).

Do you think churches who excommunicate members want them to be saved in the same way Jesus wants ALL people to be saved?  Call me skeptical but I’m betting most congregations practicing excommunication do so with an emotional mix of sadness and anger.  In the middle of that mix it is difficult to remember that the purpose of dis-engaging someone from Christian fellowship is to do something to help heal a breach in their faith.   Congregations don’t enter into this practice lightly, but I’m pretty sure there is un-righteous anger involved in most cases.

And what is Jesus wanting us to be saved from?   If you believe that we are sinners, the answer “sin” comes easily.   Yet there are so many people who posit that, once saved by Christ, we aren’t able to sin again.   Last night, during a Bible study, this subject came up.   We are saved once for all and walk forever in a state of grace no matter what we do, even when we sin.   We are foolish to think that once-saved believers also can’t harden their hearts or disavow the faith they embrace.  Or to choose sin instead of that grace.  Thank the Lord for His Way back.

What good is the knowledge of the truth?  Pontius Pilate is famously quoted as saying “veritas?” to Jesus when Jesus tells him that He is the truth.   It isn’t just the foundation of honesty to which Jesus is referring:   it is Himself.   Paul re-iterates this when he says that our Savior wants all people to have a knowledge of the truth.   In other words, Jesus wants all people to know Him.

Finally, does pleasing God (by praying, or doing other things) earn us points with Him?   To be frank, I can’t answer that; neither can you.   When something pleases God it’s up to Him what He does with it.   We don’t earn salvation; it is freely given by Christ to us because of who He is and not anything we’ve done.   We don’t have to pray for our leaders, but we should as a way to support them and to exercise our faith.   We don’t have to do good works, but we should because this pleases God and demonstrates our faith.   We don’t have to go to church but we should to worship, to build up others, and to be fueled ourselves.   I don’t know if this earns points with God, but I do believe living our fruits of His Spirit pleases Him and spreads His Gospel.   It means we choose Him, choose life.

Choose life; choose Jesus.   That’s the answer.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 5:4, Luke 1:47, Ezekiel 18:23, Titus 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:5

Lord, there are so many questions that I have.   Help me through them and thank You for my life of grace.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 5 April 2018

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.   1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NIV).

Buckle up, my friend.   It’s gonna be bumpy for the next few days because Paul is saying, with the authority of Jesus, some uncomfortable things.   He’s speaking in love, but he’s saying things that are unpopular, things we don’t want to hear.   They’re convicting, and you might be convicted.   Your first impulse might be offense, or even anger, so buckle up and stay on the ride because it’s worthwhile.

One of the dangers of “chunking down” Bible verses is taking them out of context.   It’s a dangerous thing to randomly pick a verse, read it, and draw huge conclusions from it even though every verse in Scripture is God’s real word.   So, here, it’s wise to remember that, in many of Paul’s letters, he reminds his friends to flee from sexual immorality.  Run away when you’re tempted.  Sexual purity is a theme in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (just to name a few), and anyone who has remotely heard of Genesis has heard of Sodom and Gomorrah:  the ultimate lesson on sexual immorality.

Every ancient culture except Israel focused in one way or another on sex, including idolatry of sex, sexual activities, or fertility.   When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he wrote to people familiar with Eros, Aprhrodite, and the lascivious practices of Roman worship.  He reminded them that Christ gave Himself as the bridegroom for His bride, the church.  Is it surprising, then, that God asked His bride to be virginally pure for that Bridegroom?

How do you think that worked out for the Thessalonians?

They were people just like us.  They thought about and focused on sex as much as we do.   They had emotions and sexual needs.  Paul cautioned them that they were to be sanctified, set apart and consecrated as holy.   The first way to do that was by changing their behaviors on sex.   Commit to monogamy; end adultery; save your sexual activity for your marriage; retrain your brain from thinking about sex and lust and the idolatry of it.   Let Jesus do work His way in you.  Paul’s command is to revere faith in Him and the gift of life He gave, and it’s awful hard to revere Christ when you’re (literally) screwing around with someone.

I’ve spent a lot of my life cherishing sex, even worshipping it.   I’ve misused it and that caused problems for me and others.   Paul is speaking to me here, cautioning me that Jesus beckons me to a better way.   Thank God He did this because you and I need His help if we are going to master this emotional, biological and even spiritual drive in our lives in a world determined to misuse it.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 7:2-9, 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

Lord, forgive me for the ways I’ve misused Your gift of sex.   Help me to revere You through my sex life.