Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

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.

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 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.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 December 2016

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Hebrews 6, verses 4-6.

Something else that needs to be said, and this is going to be harsh.

“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”   We do it every day.   It’s why He chose the cross; it’s why, every day, He chooses it again and again when you and I, selfish bastards that we are, keep stabbing him with those Roman nails.   We do it with our sins, small and large, even the ones we don’t think amount to much.   Have you begun to realize all the effects of your God-damned sins?   Yes, I said that.   Your sins and mine:   they’re cause for God to damn us to eternal punishment.   Personally, I think that punishment starts here and now and only gets worse as we go.   God damn us for all of our sins.

Enough of the profanity.   I hope you don’t mind it too much…it’s for effect and I’m hoping that it makes you think, maybe even a little angry.  You should be righteously angry at sin; angry enough to do something about it.   Jesus did.   And yet we keep taking up that hammer and ramming those nails back into His hands and feet.

Every single time you and I fail we nail Jesus back to that cross.   He suffered mortal agony the first time around, and then He suffered spiritual agony being ripped apart from His Divine being (so as to suffer and redeem us) while still being inevitably matched to Him as well.   Then He rose three days later, making death and suffering moot forever.  And yet every minute since, whenever someone has done, said or thought anything contrary to Him, it’s like we have nailed Him back onto that cross.

Here in the first-world, we persecute those who believe in Jesus.   You’ve done it; so have I.   Huh?   You bet you have.   Ever been afraid to speak up and say you’re a believer?   Ever been ashamed of your faith because the ‘cool kids’ didn’t seem to be ashamed of themselves?   Ever felt even the slightest bit sanctimonious when you did speak up, not realizing your proud sanctimony is a disgrace to Him who loves us unselfishly?  Every single time we do things like these, even the tiniest thing, we are disgracing Jesus again.   We are joining in with the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who spit on Him, screamed at Him, hated Him.  You and I already know it’s un-cool to be a believer in Hollywood or even on social media.   That’s persecution my friend, even if it’s soft-boiled.

And REAL persecution?   You know, the kind that gets you killed for being a believer?   It’s happening in every Muslim country on the planet.   It’s happening on steroids in places controlled by ISIS and Boko Haram.   It’s still happening in communist strongholds like Cuba, and China, and North Korea.   Don’t fool yourself:   when you and I sin, we’re joining in the execution squads in Iran who torture you, then stand you up against the wall simply for saying “I believe in Jesus and not Mohammed.”

Like I said, God damn us for our sins.   He can, He will, He doesn’t want to, but He must if we don’t repent of them.   God is holy and must be holy.   Our very lives depend on it.  If He isn’t, even for an iota of a second, then this whole universe comes apart.   The places where the spiritual and physical intertwine would become explosion points of sin if there is no holy and just Lord God Almighty to bind them together.

Thank God that He is the cure for the common damnation.   The cure for damnation is Jesus.   Every time we do the difficult, mature thing and turn from our sins, it’s like witnessing Jesus rise from death again.   We’re the women at the garden tomb, clinging fast to our risen Lord.   We’re the blind man who can see again because He healed us.   We’re Peter, restored to faith after denying Him three times.   If our sins nail Him to that cross every time, then our repentance and re-acceptance of His gift of true salvation is being restored into His resurrection.   Damnation becomes simply a road we didn’t follow when we step back onto the path of following Jesus.   Then and only then do we grasp how He was ready for us all along.   The salvation wasn’t undone by our rebellion even as our rebellion renounced our acceptance of His salvation.

For further reading:   Luke 2:14, Philippians 3:12-14, Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 9:14, John 3:25, Acts 6:6, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:24, Acts 18:21.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for all You did in saving us.   I’m truly sorry for the sins I’ve done that nailed You to the cross.   I’m truly sorry that I’ve kept on doing them.   Live in me and strengthen me to turn from my awful sins and to follow only You.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 December 2014

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Mark 3, verses 1-2.

“Looking for a reason to accuse:”   smack dab in the middle of the beginning of this chapter is a huge statement; it’s one that plagues everything we do today.

Take North Korea:   the headlines this week are full of how the North Korean government has supposedly hacked into Sony’s Hollywood systems and caused the US political aisle) are quick to find fault with the other side, either for Sony’s irresponsible movie-making concept or the US government’s lackluster response to a cyber act of war.

And then there’s the issue of Cuba, where the president of the United States has drastically modified the US’ generations-old policy towards that island dictatorship.   Some have said that our embargo has only hurt the Cuban people; others have countered that it is only the fault of the Castro dictators that the Cuban people live in misery.

Or how about the murders of police officers; the killings of young black men; a bankrupt US government managed by two political parties that shadow box themselves into intransigent positions; Ford versus GM; Mormons versus Baptists; Bush versus Clinton; war on Christmas versus the rights of believers to enjoy the holiday: it seems like our entire lives are lately consumed with people – meaning us – looking for reasons to accuse each other. Sometimes those accusations are substantiated, even justified; sometimes it is propaganda.   Yet especially now we, as a society, seem to be waiting to be offended so that we can look for reasons to accuse ‘the other guy.’

If you’re a Christian, don’t stop reading now because you think you’re doing alright.   You’ve done it too, even if you’re living a ‘good life.’ If you don’t believe me, then tell me about the relatives you don’t get along with. Or the kid who bullied you once and how you hated them for it. Tell me about all the times you envied X, Y or Z, then tell me you haven’t looked for reasons to accuse someone of something.   I’m guilty of it a dozen times a day, maybe more.   My sins are scarlet, just like yours. Welcome to our world, my friend.

Let me remind you that Jesus once said that, if the world hates us, it is because it hated Him first. In doing so, they unjustly accused Him.

The folks who wanted to accuse Jesus were watching Him to see if He would do something we, of today, would generally think to be good. They wanted to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath again, an infraction of their legalistic religious practices. They WANTED to see Him do something so they could have a reason to accuse Him and drive a wedge between Jesus and His growing movement of followers.

Since Christmas is this week, I truly hope you will have a very merry one, and that your holiday will be full of love, hope, and good memories.   Yet I implore you to take this memory with you today and ponder what you intend to do about it:   you and I are the Pharisees sometimes, waiting to accuse others of things they may or may not have done.   Waiting to pig-pile on Jesus instead of being Jesus for them.

Lord, please forgive me for failing You by accusing others.

Read ahead in Mark 3, verses 1-6