Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 2 December 2019

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. Philippians 1:15-17. (EHV).

Ambition is a blessed curse.

I’m a liberty guy.   I think American liberty is one of the most precious things on earth.   It saddens me to know that so many of my fellow Americans are grossly ignorant of the fact that our freedom is a gift from God.   That it is He, not some government, that gives us our rights simply because He loves us.   It saddens me to know that so many people would willingly trade our true freedoms for false security.   And it saddens me to know that so few of today’s generation don’t know what an amazing, blessed, unique and wonderful country America is because they haven’t been taught our splendid history.

But you know what’s even sadder?   What’s sadder is knowing that a critical key to American exceptionalism is how we value ambition.   One huge key to our success as Americans is our notion of independence and self-reliance, of how hard work can launch an American to levels of success and prosperity that most people on the planet can’t even dream.  That can be a wonderful thing but embedded in it is unchecked ambition.   And that ambition can be a double-edged sword.   It can be the healthy, natural outcome of a dream for good more.   Or it can be a lethal tool of avarice.

It really is a blessed curse.

Ambition that isn’t centered in the teachings of Christ is avarice.   It is self-focused and eventually destructive.   Yes, it may lead to temporal success and reward, but those things aren’t eternal or lasting.   It stirs up trouble for others like it did for Paul while he was imprisoned.   Selfish ambition undoes the good things others may be doing and yanks the focus of life away from Jesus.  While our boldness in faith can be a great tool for the Holy Spirit to use in His work, that boldness when founded in selfish ambition can also be a tool for the evil one.

That plays out even in America, and it’s why we need to always be vigilant that our pursuit of our American dreams doesn’t ace out the pursuits of other good people as they pursue their own dreams.   I love our freedoms to say, be, and do whatever we like, but freedom isn’t freedom if it isn’t focused on Jesus.   Only through Him can we truly secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

For further reading:  Philippians 1:18

Lord Jesus, You and You alone are the basis of our freedom.   Thank You, praise to You for this.   Teach me to live out this blessing of freedom today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 31 January 2019

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.  1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV).

Slavery was officially outlawed in the United States on Dec 6, 1865 when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.  That amendment was ratified in less than a year; 309 days, and only 240 days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  Yet 154 years later, slavery is still a sore subject in America for many reasons.

Did you know that, even under slavery, black culture was the most devout, Christian culture in the nation?  As a matter of fact, all through out the history of America, it is the African American community that has held closest to the core values of Christianity.  That’s an amazing fact, and an amazing testament to both the power of Jesus Christ and the strength of character of good people who were subjugated but followed Jesus anyway.   Today, much time in our society, especially in our popular culture, is devoted to doing what we can to make amends for the national sin of slavery, even though it ended so many generations ago.   Why is that?

Perhaps the answer to that is found in re-reading verse 1.  How could any people not feel the guilt of history on them when they see that those subjugated as slaves often kept Paul’s hard advice better than the advantaged population that subjugated them?  Indeed, it’s a tough thing to do, considering your ‘masters’, often regarded as adversaries, worthy of respect.   Yet that’s what Paul asks us to do.

Indeed, slavery was commonplace in Paul’s time.   The Romans and Greeks conquered vast reaches of territory and enslaved those they conquered (if they even let them live).  Every nation in history, up to that point, had practiced and known slavery.   To break the cycle of hatred, Jesus commanded us to respect our masters, giving them honor as God’s representatives.   A slave master God’s representative?   Yes.

That is nether an acceptance nor toleration of slavery.   It’s simply a way of honoring God by honoring the people put over us.   Not many people in America are enslaved today; that 13th Amendment outlawed it.   Yet a dishonorable truth is that slavery – human trafficking, prostitution, drug runners, even people in common workplaces – still does indeed exist in the United States.  In fact, it exists in many areas of the world.   We who aren’t enslaved should use our righteous position to work against slavery.   And when we do encounter it, it’s up to us to remind those afflicted to give God honor in all aspects of their lives so that they may draw nearer to Him in true freedom.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:5 & 8, Colossians 3:22-24, 1 Timothy 6:2.

Lord, Your example is for us to not enslave others.   Help us to honor you by honoring those above us, even our ‘masters.’

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 10 August 2018

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NIV).

Why should we hold onto teachings of a bunch of old, dead, white guys?

That’s a refrain you hear a lot in our popular culture these days.   Mostly it concerns the US Constitution, written over 200 years ago by (now) old, dead, white guys; as if being old or Caucasian alone would either qualify or disqualify someone as reputable.  It’s a stupid argument, really, that we should ignore something because the authors aren’t alive anymore or because they were of a certain race.   It’s foolish.

Yet that same argument is used to justify ignoring the teachings of the Bible.   After all, they’re much older than the Constitution.   And the men who wrote them were men (sexism!) and if not white they were at least Mediterranean and Semitic in nature (racists!).   The purveyors of foolishness would have people believe that being male, white, Semitic, or aged should disqualify things they say.   Perhaps that would qualify much of Hollywood and the leaders of popular culture as well…but I digress.

Instead, here’s a chance to ignore all of what those around us would say and stand up for Jesus.  There’s an old hymn that says just that:   stand up, stand up for Jesus.   Stand up today.  Stand up for what you believe instead of being talked down by the vapid arguments of people with other agendas.   More importantly than standing up, though, stand firm.  Be firm and resolute in saying “I believe.”  Every day is a new opportunity to be your own Martin Luther and say “here I stand” by basing your stand in your belief in Christ.

That isn’t easy, especially when the small minds of popular culture have a loud voice.   When academia, media, and even corporate culture are standing against you.   When it’s easier to give in.   When so many evangelicals make standing up for Jesus a difficult, unpopular, and corny thing.  Our world is hostile to this faith; 2 Thessalonians spends much of its verbiage talking about how faith will be challenged at the end of all things.   Of how the world will do what it’s doing to believers, many of whom overseas are being physically martyred for standing up for Jesus.

Stand anyway.

Stand firm in knowing that who you’re standing for, what you believe, and the Savior who makes it possible is standing beside you.   He is with you in Spirit and inside you.   The strength to stand is the strength of God’s Spirit coursing through your veins.  You may be basing your faith on the words of old, dead, white guys, yet those words are given from God Almighty Himself:  He who has no age, eternal life, no race, and is never foolish.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:16.

Lord, I stand for You, for Your love, Your peace, Your strength, Your kingdom.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 January 2017

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.  Hebrews 6, verse 16.

Oaths.   This idea of an oath, of swearing by someone, was brought up in verse 13.   Let’s a few minutes discussing oaths.

Next week, on January 20, Donald Trump will take the same presidential oath as every other president before him did and he will officially be the President of the United States.   That oath is spelled out explicitly in the Constitution; it’s the only oath in the USA that is.  It will be the power of that Constitution that vests into Mr. Trump all responsibility and authority to be the one and only president.   It is the will of the people as expressed through their votes.   Folks in our country can disagree on that fact, but it’s still a fact even when the outcome of the election isn’t what some wanted.   The oath is a symbol of the power vested in the person.  It’s a recitation of a legal, binding contract between the individual and the group offering said oath and its associated benefit.   In this case, that group is the constituents of the United States, the government we empower, and the benefit is the elected individual’s empowerment with the office to which he was elected.   Mr. Trump can be held accountable by his constituents and by the Congress for any abuses he may undertake that violate that oath and the Constitution behind it.   Yet when he takes the oath, he and only he will be the actual and only president.  Not Mr. Obama; not Mrs. Clinton; not anyone named Bush; nobody in the Congress or the media or in the public peanut gallery.

Oaths mean something.

Consider wedding vows.   They’re oaths.   Like the oath of office, they’re a legal, binding commitment between two people, swearing to uphold the boundaries of their marriage so that they might, in fact, be married.   We value marriage as the ultimate expression of devotion and commitment to each other.  In the vows we exchange – the oaths through which we swear – we promise to love, honor, cherish and other things that reflect our belief in that binding contract of matrimony.  The vows reflect the gravity that we believe exists in marriage, and state things we believe are important, qualities and actions we respect regarding the people we hold dearest.

As Rush Limbaugh often says, “words mean things.”   They aren’t light, and we shouldn’t make light of them.   Celebrity marriages are the butt of many jokes because it seems celebrities don’t take those oaths very seriously.   Donald Trump continues to be the butt of many jokes even though he won his office in the same way every other elected president has.   Both married people and presidents (as well as every other office-holder in the country) understand the gravity of the oaths they undertake.  Candidates undergo the electoral process specifically for the opportunity to take that oath.   Engaged couples plan, anticipate, and modify their lives specifically for the opportunity to take that oath and make those vows.  It’s because words mean things.

Words mean things because that’s how God gave them to us.   He gives us the ability to use words in unique ways that add significance and special meaning.  If you swear you’ll do something, you’re making a blanket promise to do something.   It becomes a matter of record that you’re affirming you’ll do that thing…so make sure you do it.   If you ‘swear on your mother’s grave,’ you’re affirming your word against the actual or eventual death of the woman who gave birth to you.   As one who has lost his mom, I’ll say that means something.   If you “swear to God” that X is so, then you’re strongly affirming that X is actually so against the word and existence of the Great I AM.  Better not mess that up.

In fact, we’d better not mess these things up at all.   God takes our words seriously because He considers them to be expressions of what we think and feel.  He gives Himself to us through His Word, which both shares and describes Him.  To Abraham, God made and oath and, because He wanted Abraham to know it was important, He swore by Himself that the promise would be kept.   And it was.   God gives us language so that we can share Him in His world, and so that we can express ourselves with others.  When we want to or need to ensure something is regarded with special gravity, we are given the gift of being able to affirm it with an oath.   Yet we should regard all of our words as important.   We shouldn’t use them unwisely, or lightly, or be flippant with them.   Our guide should be Jesus’ advice in Matthew 5:  “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.”   Mean what you say when you say it.   Stick with honesty, and wisdom, and a held tongue.   Words mean things.   Let’s remember that, especially in being ‘married to’ this new administration.

For further reading:   Exodus 22:11, Matthew 4:37

Lord, thank You for oaths.   Thank You for Your teaching on using them, and on how we should speak and act.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 March 2016

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews. Mark 15, verses 25-26.

“We hold these truths to be self evident:”   Thomas Jefferson wrote that in the Declaration of Independence. It seems almost crazy to us that the document which founded our nation should contain these words.   It’s like they’re a big ‘duh’ to the world.   Of course freedom is self-evident.   It simply is; everyone knows that…

…except that, in 1776, everyone didn’t.   In fact, Mr. Jefferson’s statement was revolutionary beyond simply fomenting a war.   Neither common people nor government officials looked at the rights of man as self-evident.   They were things that were given by those above to those below.   Specifically, rights and freedoms were what the government or the powerful told you they were.   You didn’t have the right to free speech, or to attend the church of your choosing, or to criticize politicians, be secure in your home and possessions, to assemble peacefully, or any of the other freedoms later protected (from our government) by our Constitution.   The only thing that was self-evident was that the common man or woman was, as we would consider it today, uncommonly oppressed.

It was nothing new.   Jesus was the King of the Jews, both literally (being descended from King David, himself anointed by God) and figuratively (as God and spiritual King).   This was the title with which the Jewish chief priests had mockingly labeled Jesus.   When Pilate questioned Jesus, he asked the Lord “are you the king of the Jews” to which Jesus replied “it is right that you say I am” in a bit of masterful instruction. Pilate, too, seemed to mock Jesus with this title, yet because Pilate was a non-believing Roman, perhaps it really is so that Pilate was as much asking as he was mocking.   This side of heaven, we won’t truly know.

Yet the advertisement which Pilate had nailed to Jesus’ cross was still self-evident.   It simply was a statement of fact.   That was, in fact, what happened.   Pilate had the sign made, then nailed to the cross over Jesus’ head.   It was written in several languages, so that those who witnessed the execution would know both what the Romans thought of Jesus and the Jews, and (unwittingly) that they were executing the one true King. The sign said what it said and meant it.

It means the same thing still. Deist or not, Thomas Jefferson might just agree.

Lord Jesus, You are the one true and only King.   You are the King of the Jews.   You are the King of Eternity.   You are my King.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 March 2016

“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “You have said so,” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Mark 15, verses 2-5

You know that you don’t have to answer questions.   Here in the US, TV crime shows make a big deal out of ‘Mirandizing’ people who are arrested, reading them a scripted statement that informs them of their Constitutional rights. That’s in response to a 1960s-era Supreme Court case where the plaintiff, a man named Miranda, was ignorant that he had the Fifth Amendment right to not say anything to the authorities who questioned him.

Long before there was a Constitution, Supreme Court, or television, Jesus took the 5th.   The representative of the civil government, Governor Pontius Pilate, questioned Jesus about the severe accusations that the Jews brought against Him. The only things that Jesus says to Pilate are statements that speak to Pilate’s heart, things to make him think.   Pilate asks Jesus the mocking question “are you the king of the Jews?”   Jesus responds with word play, both confirming what Pilate says and throwing him a lifeline.   I’ve always wondered what Pilate really, truly thought at all this.   The Book of John sheds more light on their conversation, with Pilate either mocking or questioning (or both) the very concept of the truth Jesus embodied.   Do you think the governor ever really wondered?

Notice, too, how Jesus is checking out of the conventional wisdom.   He isn’t playing the expected game. His priestly accusers expected that Jesus would buckle under the intimidation of the governor, who (literally) held the power of life and death in his hands.   It’s as if they expected that the man they couldn’t get to talk would sing like a canary under the sway of Rome’s military authority.   Jesus flipped their CW and they didn’t even notice. That’s sad, if you think about it. It’s pathetic because not only is it obvious that they don’t understand who Jesus us.   It’s obvious, too, that they don’t want to.

Yet consider how Jesus turns His accusers’ words around, not as weapons but as tools with which He can teach.   What He does with Pilate He does to give Pilate the chance to contemplate the miracle of God standing before him. It’s one of those moments when Jesus proves how God loves everyone, not just his chosen people. Jesus even does this with the priests by not responding to them.   It’s as if He lets their empty accusations hang in the air, speaking for themselves in the hope that they will see the gross sin of it all and turn away.

Finally, notice how Jesus still amazed those who held His fate. Pilate’s words in this drama tell me that he was both mocking and genuinely torn over this Jesus.   There were political, social, military, and ecclesiastical aspects to consider over what each player said and did; Pilate was well aware of this.   Through it, Jesus amazed him.   Pilate seems moved by Jesus’ reaction, almost incredulous at how Jesus kept His composure knowing full well that doing so would result in His death. It wasn’t just that this rabbi was brash.   It was His countenance, His authority coupled with His peace that impressed the Roman governor to try, again and again, to free Him.

All because Jesus took the 5th.

Lord, I’m constantly amazed by You.

Read Mark 15, verses 1-15.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 June 2015

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Mark 9, verse 7

Hello again, my friend.   I took last week off to spend time with my family at a beach house in south Texas. During that time, the Supreme Court mandated that same sex marriage was legal under the Constitution.   No, I’m not going to discuss that issue here, and no I’m not going to expound on my views concerning it.   I’ll simply ask this question:   would we listen if God was talking to us about His Son?

Just tonight, I was reading online about famous atheists like Brangelina, Jodie Foster, Seth McFarlane, Kevin Bacon, Julianne Moore, Morgan Freeman and others. They supposedly wouldn’t listen to God because they don’t believe He exists; this from their own words. I wonder if they’ll listen when He talks with them once their days here on this Earth are done.   By that time it’ll be too late.

Does that mean we should listen to God in part out of fear about what would happen if we didn’t?   In part, yes. Do you obey traffic laws in fear of getting caught if you don’t, or do you do so sometimes because it’s just the right thing to do?   I’m betting your answer is “a little bit of both,” and that seems about right.   I’d say it even seems Godly because God says ‘trust me’ and that’s hard to do when we can’t even see the One who’s asking us to trust Him.   It’s natural to feel some hesitation about believing without seeing, but we do it every day.

How comforting (and shocking) it must have felt, then, for Peter, James and John to hear God the Father Himself proclaiming “This is my Son, whom I love.   Listen to Him!” We’ve talked about how they must have felt fear and trepidation at the transfiguration.   But how must it have felt to have God the Father actively talking to them? I’m betting it was moving, and intimidating, and maybe even humbling.   Do you think they listened?   Their actions later bore it out.

So would we listen if God was talking with us about His Son?   Atheists pose this question over and over, and I’ve always wondered where they go for comfort when terrible things happen to them. Gay activists have been posing it all weekend, many of them throwing the faith of believers right back in our faces (to be honest, that kind of a gut check isn’t all bad).

Perhaps in reading today’s verse we can find that God is ALWAYS talking to us about His Son.   He does it in these words.   He does it in civil debate over contentious issues, imploring us in silence to always come to Him first for any and all answers.   He does it in the magnificence of nature, in the random safety of a million interactions in the city, in the miracles of living, and in every wave that washes up on the beach.   He may even be speaking to us through this debate on how to follow Him through the tangled mess we’ve made of marriage. God the Father may not speak to us in His own voice to our ears, but He does speak to us directly to our hearts through His Word and these verses.

Lord, I hear Your voice even when I don’t always listen.   Thank You for Your voice and Your patience with me.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.