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 1 Peter, 28 May 2020

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 1 Peter 2:16 (NIV).

In the Lord, freedom is slavery.   Huh?

We’ve seen rioters on in our country this week; riots over the death of a man at the hands of a policeman.   Rioting isn’t freedom and living under police isn’t slavery.  Yet those police can’t be free to kill people and we of society can’t tolerate it when they do.   To do so would be to be enslaved by the police.

I’ve also been watching a documentary on U.S. Grant.   Grant was the most successful general in the Civil War, and one of the more upright, moral, and effective presidents in spite of the corruption by officials in his administration.  He opposed actual slavery, fought against the government instituted specifically to preserve it, and fought to end the persecution of former slaves.

In Peter’s time, slavery was still a real and accepted norm.  Peter’s people, the Jews, had been slaves in Egypt a thousand years before, and they were enslaved to the Romans in Judea “now.”   Then as now, slavery was seen as a moral evil.   Yet it was accepted that those who were conquered were enslaved.  Their rights were taken away.   They became forced labor, property, unequal.  

And yet Peter tells us to live as God’s slaves; to openly, enthusiastically live as free people because the truth of Jesus’ salvation has set us free.   Indeed, there is no freedom, secular or not, without the saving grace of Christ.  Yet in the very same sentence, Christ’s right-hand-man implores us to live as slaves to Jesus.

Huh?

In the verses immediately prior to this one, Peter tells us to submit ourselves to all authorities, even the police, even the corrupt government that wants to physically enslave us.   Even slave owners.  Peter isn’t telling us to live in favor of slavery, but he’s telling us that God is at work through slavery.   It is we people who tolerate slavery, but it is God who works His will through even our toleration of this and other evils. 

So, Peter tells us to take the example of being enslaved to an evil concept – human chattel – and use it as our example for following Christ.   To be owned by Christ.   To submit everything, body and soul, to Christ.   To give up all freedom, even the freedom He gives us, to Him.   To understand that even when we are abused, we allow this to happen out of submission to Him.

May God today move our hearts to remember this as we try to respond to things happening in our world.   Men like Grant fought against slavery.   And there are those in our world today who are still being wronged, even killed.   We need to stand for them, but peacefully, in slavery to Christ, as He would.  As He does.

For further reading:  Romans 6:22, Peter 2:17

Lord Jesus, I’m Your slave.   Work peace in us today.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 17 March 2020

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  Philippians 4:11 (NIV).

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul also writes “godliness with contentment is great gain.”   Those are powerful words that illuminate both what Paul is saying here in Philippians 4 AND what’s going on in our world today?

Here in the good old US of A, have you been to the store lately?   Have you seen what hoarding and panic and “me-first” and, yes, stupidity look like?   Christ (through Paul) tells us to be content with what we have.   I suppose there are many, many people who are now content with a closet full of Charmin or a trunk full of hand sanitizer.  I sort of hope they’re stuck with it when all this ends soon.  I also know many more folks who know things will be just fine.

No matter where you are, however, it doesn’t seem like we’re very content, either to live in want or to live in plenty.   And let’s keep it real:   here in the land of prosperity, we aren’t really living in want.   We’re in danger of temporary shortages because of foolish panic, but, so far, there aren’t that many people who are lacking much of anything.

So how do we get back to that “being content whatever the circumstances?”   Maybe we should take a cue from Paul, who denied himself most material comforts and rested his pride in being thankful for whatever he was given.   Yes, he encouraged his friends in churches all around the Mediterranean to give generously so that people like himself could continue their work.   Yet Paul also understood that it was Christ, not others, who ultimately determined Paul’s contentment.

That knowledge opened wide the door to peace.   After all, it becomes easier to live through almost anything when you realize that this Jesus has your back.   This Jesus, who happens to be God Almighty Himself and the Savior of all the world, takes a personal interest in making sure people like you, me, and the Apostle Paul have what He knows we need.   Sometimes that’s a lot; sometimes not so much.   It ALWAYS includes Himself.

No matter what’s happening, it becomes easier to remember we can be content because God will provide…because He always does.   He is providing now, even when things are getting scary.  Remember:   many, many more times in history were far scarier than now.   Think AD70 in Jerusalem; or the 1300s in Europe during the Black Plague.   Think April of 1861, or July 1914; there are only a few people left who would remember that.   Think December 1941, of October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis.   God was with people then.   He’s with us now.   Let’s be content with that and the rest will all fall into place.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-8, Hebrews 13:5, Philippians 4:12.

Lord Jesus, I’m content with You.   All with which You bless me is Yours to give.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 5 March 2020

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Philippians 4:5 (EHV).

While we’re rejoicing, let’s keep it in perspective.  We’re to rejoice always, and the closer we get to Jesus, the easier that becomes.  He exudes joy; He is love; He gives peace.   Those are all the ultimate reasons to celebrate “bigly.”

Um, let’s not let those things get in the way of gentleness or self-control.   Those Galatians fruits of the Spirit?   As mentioned yesterday, they’re evidence that Jesus has taken up residence in our hearts.  When we experience God through His Son, we’re overwhelmed in one way or another.   He doesn’t just drip living water into our hands:   He turns on the spigot full blast.

But how should we respond?   Honestly, to be sure, and earnestly.  Even vigorously, lively.  Yet in all these reactions, we should let gentleness rule the moment.  We should let His peace remake our hasty attitudes.  Instead of a hair-trigger response, we should each let a Spirit-led contentment show through all we do.   Our smiles, our demeanor, our words and actions:   the best response to a skeptical world is gentleness on display for all to see.   It’s possible to be excited for Christ without being raucous.

But (as Will Kemp would say) that reminds me of a story Jesus told.   Remember when He was entering Jerusalem for the last time, and some Pharisees were imploring Him to silence the “Hosanna”-shouting throngs?   Jesus’ response:   if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.   Message?   There’s a time and a place for excitement.   In a rally, yes.  In a quiet room with others?   Not so much.

In most places and at most times, we should let gentleness lead the way.  Calm demeanor conveys inner strength.   I think about Robert E. Lee, perhaps the most talented of all the generals in the Civil War.   He could be known for a furious, volcanic temper when pushed too far.   But for most of the time, Lee was known for having a calm, controlled, almost gentle demeanor even when preparing for battle.  Think about Martin Luther King, who stared down the hatred of bigots with faith and peace.  Think about Mister Rogers, who taught deep life lessons to children and adults alike while displaying a countenance that could only be described as gentle.

All three of these great men were committed followers of Christ.   And they let His peace and gentleness guide their lives.  I’m sure they’re rejoicing in heaven today where there’s no longer any need to restrain themselves.   Yet until we join them there, our best bet is to quietly rejoice most of the time so that Christ’s message of forgiving peace might best take root in others.

For further reading: Psalm 119:151, Psalm 145:18, Luke 19:40, Galatians 5:22-23, Hebrews 10:37, Philippians 4:6.

Savior Jesus, I’m not usually quiet and gentle.   Help me, today, to be gentler for You to better reach other people.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 10 April 2019

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.   2 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV).

In Roman times, unless you were Julius Caesar, this was true.   In our times, it’s still true.  Twelve of our presidents were generals in the Army, most of them serving during the Civil War, yet no general has been president since Dwight Eisenhower, and out of our last four presidents (including the current one), only one has even served in the military.  Today, the US military is the smallest it has been since the early 1930s even as the ‘military industrial complex’ (a term coined by General Eisenhower during his farewell address as president) continues to have great influence in the affairs of government.  I dare say that this same situation is likely true in most countries of the West.

Despite all this, soldiers, sailors, and airmen don’t usually get involved in non-military matters.   They do their jobs and then go home, eventually returning to civilian status themselves.  Until that day, they serve under commanders who they work to please.   Those who command you have great influence and power over your situation.   They can control your daily work, even your daily routine outside the workplace.   They influence your career with evaluation ratings, future assignment choices, and present duties assigned.   Those in command above you can make your life pleasant or hellish.   And they hold the power to enforce orders that may very well lead to your death.

Suffering in the US military is WAY different from suffering in, shall we say, the North Korean military (where you may still starve and be beaten indiscriminately).  Yet nobody who has seen war could ever say that war – the primary business of a soldier – isn’t suffering, isn’t persecution.   In that knowledge, the analogy makes sense because we of the Lord’s Army soldier on for Him.   Occasionally that means suffering.   Persecution – yes, it really happens – and discrimination (that happens too, especially in corporate America), ridicule, rejection, hatred, and even death:   all of those await the person who stands up to say “I believe in Jesus.”

Yet we march on, refusing to let ourselves be dragged into the ‘civilian affairs’ of living as the world commands.   We learn self-control by submitting ourselves to His control.   We get to live out the fruits of His Spirit as our line advances, overtaking the world’s evil by living His good.   We sometimes fail; sometimes the line falters and we fall back.   Sometimes, when we allow ourselves to be swayed by the world, we suffer.  Yet our cause of Christ always advances, even in adversity, because He walks before us.  We work to please Jesus.  We soldier on.

For further reading:  Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Timothy 2:5.

General Savior, lead me, Your soldier, today.   Command and guide me to follow Your words and not the tempting ways of the world around me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 January 2017

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.  Hebrews 6, verses 19-20.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day.   I didn’t watch much TV, and I didn’t even listen to the radio as much as I usually do, so I didn’t see whether or not there was much coverage or celebration.   It seems that, the farther we get from 1968, the more challenging it can be to remember why we commemorate such a great man.  I was only a little boy when King was killed and I don’t remember it.   I do remember that my second grade teacher, Mrs. Kennon, taught me about him.   Dr. King was one of her heroes; I believe she may have marched with him or met him at one point.  Mrs. Kennon was a highly educated black woman hired as an elementary teacher in a predominantly white Episcopal school in the early 1970s.  Forty five years later, she remains one of my favorite teachers.   Dr. King had already been dead five years when I was first introduced to Mrs. Kennon, but she brought him to life for our class, telling how he lived out his faith in fighting to gain rights that had been won for people in the Civil War over a hundred years before.   She taught us how Dr. King stuck to his principles and protested peacefully against bigots who confronted him in violence.  She taught us that Martin Luther King believed in Jesus.

Next year, Dr. King will have been dead for 50 years.   In the 30+ years since the start of his national holiday, legend has started to overtake history in describing him.  To some, King is practically a civil rights Jedi knight.   To others, he was just a great but flawed man who said and did the right things that needed to be said and done.  He has almost become an untouchable idol to our society.  I suspect the real Martin King was somewhere in the middle of all that.   He was a fighter for justice.   He was a preacher schooled in Scripture, Ghandi, and non-violence.  He was a husband and father.   He was a sinner who had multiple extramarital affairs.   He was a Nobel laureate.  He was martyred by people hung up on hatred.  He was a man who simply did the best he could.  MLK wanted the best for all of us, and he died living out that best desire.

Yet before anything else in his life, Martin Luther King wanted folks to have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  It was his sworn duty as a minister of God’s word.   It was the truest reflection of why he fought and died for equal rights for black people.   It was the best expression of everything he held dear in life.   Dr. King unswervingly believed that the real hope of mankind was in Jesus, that only by firm and secure faith in Jesus that lives deep in the human soul.  MLK fought for equal rights as an American because he already knew that he had equal rights before God as a human being.   He fought for what was guaranteed to all people, and that included civil rights.

That’s worth dying for.

It’s worth dying for because Dr. King understood that Jesus was our ultimate judge and ultimate intermediary.   A minister of the cloth himself, King understood how Jesus was our true minister, the only priest who could enter into God’s presence on our behalf and plead for our souls.  Jesus pleads for us in God’s presence because we are His intimate brothers and sisters.   We are His friends and His followers.   Jesus was willing to give up His life for we the people who He loved so dearly.  He did it so that we could have a personal, intimate, just relationship with Him and His Father.  Martin Luther King understood these things and lived the life he did working so that others could understand them as well on an equal footing with all our peers.

Mrs. Kennon understood them as well.  I Googled her and found that she retired from the school in 2013 and has been a very active citizen all her life.   I have no idea where she is now, but I do know I’m one of thousands she touched in years serving at Breck School.   I learned about Dr. King from her, and that Dr. King lived as he did because he followed Jesus before anything else.

For further reading:   Leviticus 16:2, Hebrews 9:2-7, Hebrews 4:14.

Lord Jesus, thank You for heroes of the faith like Dr. King.   Thank You for being our true priest, our Savior, our friend, and our teacher.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 20 June 2014. Today’s topic: ending at the start

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20, verses 2 and 3.

So we end here at the beginning. We end with first principles:   God is God.   We are not to worship anyone or anything else. In reality, this first commandment goes with every other one.   There is no sin that doesn’t start without first making something else more important than God.

Let’s not gloss over that slavery thing, though.   You and I: we are still slaves.   Paul said we believers are slaves to righteousness; that’s true. Yet it’s also true we are rhetorical slaves to many other things.   I’m a slave to my job; you’re a slave to your children; we slave out in the yard every weekend; my wife slaves in the kitchen.   Blah, blah blah. As we talk down a pretty powerful word, let’s not lose sight of what it really means.

Slavery is having no freedom.   It is being under the complete control of another.   It means someone can beat you, abuse you, work you, and kill you without your being able to do anything to stop it. For over 200 years, in colonial America then into Constitutional America, slavery was legal and normal.   It took a civil war and drastic societal change to rid the nation of slavery; even then, hatred found ways to perpetuate its effects for another hundred years.

Don’t kid yourself: slavery still exists in this world.   There are still whole parts of Africa in which men enslave each other.   The sex trade is run on slavery in every nation in on the planet. Every government, even benevolent ones, has the tendency to move from liberty to tyranny to enslaving its people; it is only we the people who prevent that.   Slavery is alive and well in 2014.

The Israelites had been slaves for over 400 years, since the death of Joseph and the kind pharaoh he served.   They were subjugated, beaten, tortured and worked until God delivered them into His freedom. Quickly they learned that slavery, however, needs no taskmaster.   Slavery can exist when you’re enslaved to your sins, to your temptations.   God understood this, so He gave them this first commandment to remind them that He is God. That He redeemed them. That He is more powerful. In Him there is only love, justice and true liberty.   In God, there is no cruelty of slavery.   In God, there is only the true freedom of divine redemption. We were created for that loving freedom.

That’s where we end this series. God started it by reminding us of His true, free redemption, then gave us reminders of how to cling to that honest liberty. How much freer could we be if we simply took His commandments at His Word, then lived our lives accordingly.

Lord, You are my only God.   You are the only source of liberty, truth, and love.

 

Read Exodus chapter 20: the full Ten Commandments.