Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 14 May 2019

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.  2 Timothy 2:25-26 (NIV).

More about wading into discussions or arguments with opponents.   While the spirit of the idea applies to any discussion, keep in mind that Paul’s advice here regards those who opposed Timothy in  spiritual matters.   There were people in Timothy’s circle who were living in sin, or whose beliefs were contrary to Jesus’ gospel.   Some embraced Gnostic beliefs that were heretical to what Paul had taught; some were perpetuating the traditional Jewish laws in the new Christian church.   Paul reminded Timothy that his purpose was to help them to see their need for Christ and return to Him.

How does this apply today?  It might seem fun to think that ‘the other guy’ and his wacky politics are Satanic, but that probably isn’t true.   And even if it were, it’s better to remember that Jesus wants that other guy in His Kingdom as much as He wants you and I.   Perhaps Jesus has you or I in their lives to spread His Gospel to them.   Preach that Gospel constantly; if necessary, use words.   Remember that ‘the other guy’ is probably as sinful and confused as me and you.   None of this is saying we should compromise godly principles or surrender our faith.   It is, however, saying that we should uphold that faith while being empathetic towards understanding another’s predicament.

We do all this because Jesus wants them for His Kingdom, too.   Your worst enemy is Jesus’ dear child.   The overbearing progressive, the strident conservative, the bully who makes your life awful:  all are precious in His sight.   He mourns their sins as much as He mourns mine, and He wants them to be gently instructed, lovingly reminded that God in Christ loves them, forgives them, believes in them.   Jesus’ enemy, the devil, works overtime to pull down those on the fence.   You and I, soldiers in the Lord’s Army, then, get the mission of running into the breach, of standing between those opponents and the devil who would destroy their souls.   We get to stand up for Jesus because they won’t or can’t.   We get to stand for Him and witness to the devil that he is defeated, unwelcome, cast out.

I suppose that’s pretty far afield from why we shouldn’t wade into foolish arguments, but the bottom line of it is the same.  We’re followers of Jesus, in some cases His called servants.   It’s our place to witness boldly, lovingly, and kindly, especially to those who would oppose what we say.   In doing so, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Timothy 3:7, 2 Timothy 3:1.

Lord Jesus, let Your Spirit put the words in my mouth as I speak for You today.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 1 November 2018

He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap1 Timothy 3:7(NIV).

Let’s talk about reputation.  Paul is talking about an overseer, an elder.   He’s saying that the people selected as elders must be people of good repute.   They must be upstanding citizens in the church of God, believers who are respected both in and out of the church…especially outside the church.   They must be this kind of people because, if they aren’t, they risk disgrace and falling under the influence of Satan.

Tell me:   do you have that kind of reputation?   I’ll easily confess it:   I don’t.   Too many times in the past, by things I have done and said, I’ve disqualified myself from being someone like an elder.   I’ll confess again:   I didn’t set out to do that.   I didn’t set out to become the kind of person you wouldn’t want to be.   It happened because of choices I made, of choosing sin over choosing God.  I fell into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

So I’ll ask again:  do you have that kind of reputation?   Are you the kind of person who praises Jesus one minute and looks in lust at that good looking woman or man the next?   Do you lie?  Are you envious?   Worse than these, are these the kinds of things that people think or say about you?   Bad news, my friend:   you might not be elder material either.  Maybe we’re both due for a reputation gut-check.

Now let’s turn that bad news upside down.   You and I weren’t made for disgrace, bad reputations, or that old devil’s trap.   We were made to be very good sons and daughters of the Most High, the Triune God who Luther celebrated with his 95 statements five centuries ago.   When we believe in Jesus, God sees through our disgrace and poor reputations and sees Jesus living in us.   He sees His Spirit remaking us in His image, replacing our evil ways with His fruits like love, kindness, peace, patience, and self-control.  When God looks at us through Jesus, He sees an elder-kind of person, someone whose bad reputation was remade for a good one.   What the church or outsiders think matters little.

Mind you, the devil is still setting his traps.   He has since Eden and will until the end.   Sin will still hunt us, trying to pull us away from Jesus, trying to tar our reputations once again.   Don’t fall for it.   Love defeats Satan.   The love of Jesus is more powerful than what others think, or what Satan attempts.   Besides, it’s what God thinks of me that matters.   True, we want elders (and all leaders) to be people of good character and better reputation.  But what God thinks of us is far more important.

For further reading: Mark 4:11, 2 Timothy 2:26, Galatians 5:22-25, 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Lord, all praise to You that You see Your beautiful Son in me.   Thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 5 March 2018

But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 (NIV).

Satan played a large role in my weekend.   Maybe not the way you’re thinking, although I’m the worst of sinners I know.

On Saturday my wife and I attended “The Thorn” along with friends.  If you’ve never seen it, The Thorn is a Christian stage production telling the story of the Passion in music, narrative and dance.  We really enjoyed the show, and my wife and I agreed:   the most interesting character in the show was Satan.   The actor/dancer who portrayed him did so in a slinky, sly, debauched way.  He looked evil, he acted evil, and every time he was on stage he was bathed in angry red light.   In a word:   memorable.

Then, yesterday, the main subject of the sermon at church was telling Satan to go away.  Pastor Mark even called up my wife, who spent all her years in school playing softball, to play umpire and yell “YOU’RE OUTTA HERE!”   Message me, I have video.   Anyway, the gist of the message was that we have full power to tell Satan to take a hike whenever he threatens, cajoles, intimidates, manipulates, or generally gets on our nerves and tries to separate us from God.   “Devil” even means “divide,” something I didn’t know until yesterday.  Yet throughout history, Satan has made dividing us his number one job.   It’s how he garners power, how he tries and tries and tries – and fails – to take God’s place as, well, God.

Satan is that slinky divider and he always has been.   There’s nothing cool or hip or edgy about Satan or darkness or evil.   He always brings destruction when he shows up in front of you.   He always tries to block your way, blocking your view of God because if he can wedge a divide between you and God, he can win the moment…

…even as he’s already lost the war.  The end of all things has already been foretold.   God wins; love prevails; truth and justice and peace rule eternity because God is and always will be God in His heaven.  You’d think Satan would have learned that message already but it’s not so.   He’s still dividing us, still trying to block our way from being united with Jesus.   On your own you can’t defeat him and he will block your way.  Through the name of Jesus, though, you can’t lose.

For further reading: 1 Corinthians 5:3, Colossians 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Isaiah 62:3, Philippians 4:1, 2 Corinthians 1:14, Matthew 16:27, Luke 17:301 Thessalonians 2:19.

Lord, stand between me and Satan.  I pray, defend me, never leave me, forgive me when I sin against You, and fight the divider for Your glory.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 September 2017

If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Hebrews 12, verse 8.

Yesterday we talked a bit about discipline, and how discipline is done through both tough words but also mentoring, listening, and a number of other positive but strict behaviors.   That’s the “what,” maybe even the “how.”   Today we get “why.”

If you aren’t disciplined, then you’re a bastard.   Know that I use that word here for effect, not as profanity.   A bastard is “a person born of unmarried parents; an illegitimate child; spurious; not genuine; false.”   That’s from dictionary.com.  If you aren’t disciplined, you’re fake and illegitimate.  Your birth is beyond your control, but claiming a birthright that isn’t yours isn’t.  You have no right to be an heir to what’s good.   Taking it a step further, if you don’t allow yourself to be disciplined by God – made a mentored disciple – then you’re that fake, that illegitimate false person.

That’s rough.  You could use the slang of that word to describe it; you might even describe me with said word.   Fair enough.   I’ll throw down another hard truth:   this isn’t teaching for lightweights, for the weak of mind.   This is serious business.   I think of myself as a serious man.   Sure, I’m lighthearted, joking, and I try to get along with most folks.  But that’s the method brought about from within.   If you strip away everything I think or believe, at the very core of it you’ll find I seriously believe in Jesus and I take that belief seriously.   It’s the bedrock of my existence.   I take it seriously because it merits serious investment of the heart.   Faith in Jesus is a matter of life and death.   Embrace the faith and live; reject the faith and die.   It really is that simple.  I want to live, so I take it seriously.

That matters because our opponent does too.  Jesus cautions us through His close friend, Peter  to “be self controlled and alert” because our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”   Those are powerful words, figurative in language yet packed with realistic power and warning.   The devil, a very real bastard, is a miserable demon.   He’s false.   He isn’t heir to anything.  He covets endlessly, destructively, viciously.  He wants company, and he uses every means at his disposal to lure in followers.   I don’t know what they see in him; perhaps none of us does.  Jesus called him the father of lies and Peter cautions that he’s mortally dangerous.

If you want to stand against a dangerous foe, you need discipline.   You need to be trained up in the ways of doing so.   Most of all, you need something to believe in when the foe attacks and knocks you back hard.  You can’t be false; your belief must be legitimate, honest, firm.  Jesus can give you that truth, that legitimacy, that honesty, firmness, and genuine quality that you need to stand fast.   When He gives it to you, He’s disciplining you as His brother, sister, son, and daughter.   Faith takes courage; faith requires steel in your spine.  Growing in faith is serious business, even as He honestly says that His “yoke is easy and burden is light.”  Jesus knows that and knows it can be tough.  When He disciplines us, it’s like He is drawing us closer to Himself as family.   That makes us bona fide, legitimate.

Am I disciplined?   In some ways, yes; in others I’m very much a work in progress.   Some folks might call me a bastard, though, and many of them wouldn’t use it as a compliment.  They may have a point.  If you want to not be called such things, then retool your life in such a way as to make those words inappropriate when used to describe you.   Why?   Because Jesus makes you His own.   He was serious enough about believing that that He willfully bled and died for you.   That’s serious.   After all, in Jesus there are no bastards.

For further reading:  John 8:44, Matthew 11:30, 1 Peter 5:9.

Lord, holding on to You can be tough, but You have made me legitimate.   Thank You for loving me that much.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 December 2015

You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. Mark 13, verse 9.

Jesus was personally predicting for His best friends what would happen to them.   He was fore-telling their fate and telling them that, as they neared their end, for His sake they would be persecuted and tortured. He’s also telling us the same thing. The same thing can happen to us.   In some ways, the same thing WILL happen to us.   You and I will meet opposition, struggle financially, and likely struggle physically, maybe even violently, for standing by Jesus.

Well isn’t that just great!

Actually, it is.   It really is.   You see, thinking about torture that way can lead you to think only “all glory to Jesus.” AGTJ if you will.   Jesus was telling His friends that they would suffer like He would suffer. In doing that, He was promising them eternal rewards that would fulfill their deepest desires for true communion with God.

So that’s great?   Of course it is.   You get to have spiritual peace here on earth by being in union with Jesus here, by reordering your life around His priorities and learning to think and act in different ways.   Best of all, you get to share that peace in ways you can, in ways He empowers you to do. When this life is done, then you have the peace of knowing Him forever because you get to be with Him in paradise, where there is no sin, no sadness, no anger, no complications to life.

Of course, there’s that whole torture thing.   No way around saying it:   that sucks.   Being flogged:   painful; excruciatingly painful.   Handed over to the government:   terrifying. Standing before the leaders to witness Jesus to them:   daunting at best.   Seeing your friends and family persecuted, denying you, denouncing you: wrenching. Sometimes the thought of all that makes me feel afraid, and I can honestly say that I fear nobody in this world.

Here’s where I think of Aragon, turning to his friends as they face the armies of Mordor.   He smiles, he raises his sword, and he says “for Frodo” before defiantly running towards the battle to do justice on the unjust.   I’m no Aragorn; perhaps you aren’t either.   But I’m jazzed by the idea of standing for Jesus, of ‘taking it to the man’ who works to keep me down and wants to destroy what I have because I believe in Christ.   I was a warrior once and stood tall in ways some may not have imagined; it was all so improbable.   Yet, in Christ, I’m a warrior still, armed with His confidence, His words, and His faith.   I’m armed with Him and dangerous to any without faith.   Devil be damned, I send him on his way.   I stand for Jesus and I’m ready to fight.   What say you?

So when Jesus predicts that, to follow Him, I will suffer, then like the Apostle Paul I’ll rejoice in those sufferings.   Bring it, baby.   That’s not gloating.   It’s simple faith. And it’s pretty great after all. AGTJ.

Lord, I stand in You.   I’ll admit:   I’m sometimes afraid of what could happen to me. But I know that You are with me, that You will never put me someplace or in some way beyond what I can bear.   Help me to stand. Help me to righteously defy the world for Your sake.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 11 August 2015

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’  Mark 9 verses 43-48.

Do you think Jesus is talking about hell here?   If you didn’t answer “yes,” perhaps you need to read it again.   Is He talking about eternal burning in an unending fire?   Maybe; there isn’t enough information to know whether this is direct reference or a metaphor.

Why am I asking this?   I’m on the bandwagon of people who decry our nation’s ignorance of hell.   Just this past month, a group of Satanists unveiled a statue in Detroit of Satan; it’s their 1st Amendment right, just as it’s someone else’s to call that “dumb.” Don’t these people fear hell? ISIS murders innocent people by the thousands in ways that are, um, creative and titillating:   don’t they fear hell?   People do unspeakable things to little children, or even to defenseless animals that are part of God’s creation for our enjoyment:   don’t they fear hell?

I live in the south, so there’s no shortage of churches that will give you your fill of hellfire and brimstone preaching that will, in the least, motivate you to contemplate the domain of the devil. Let’s face it:   it’s a sobering yet healthy thing to confront the idea that there really is evil in our world. The place our just and loving God has reserved for evil once our world has ended is hell.   The previous verses in this chapter are only a few of some throughout the Bible that tell us of how damnation awaits those who consciously refuse to believe in Jesus. Whether it’s literal fire, the absence of love, or something else, it will be more unpleasant than anything we could imagine.

But here’s where I’d like to go in a different direction.   Instead of just asking again “don’t they fear hell,” perhaps we could better serve our world by asking “how can I introduce them to Jesus?”   The presence of evil isn’t evidence of the absence of Jesus so much as it is the acceptance of the consequences when we turn away from Jesus.   The longer I live, the more I see Jesus is with me every minute, even when evil prevails. He’s there even when evil shows up on our doorstep, in our hearts, throughout our words and actions when we turn in even subtle ways.   Satan can only exploit us if we let him.

Just like he can only exploit those folks who let him have his way in their lives. Jesus is with us throughout. Instead of standing by, watching while others choose destruction, how about we bridge their self-made gap to Christ?   “Do you know Him?”   “Can I take a few minutes to tell you about Him?”   Those words might mean the difference between someone using their Jesus-given gift of free will to move forward for Him instead of downward towards the realm of the evil one.

Lord, keep me from temptation and forgive my sins.

Read Mark 9, verses 42-50.

 

Daily Proverbial, from James, 10 December 2013

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  James 4, verse 7.

In my opinion, this is one of the most powerful verses in all of Scripture.

Now that we’ve gotten the obvious out of the way, have you really considered what this means to you?   It’s right up there with Jesus telling us that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains.   It’s right up there in impact with Paul, telling us that not even the most powerful forces in the world can separate us from the love of Jesus.   It’s up there with Jesus telling us “behold, I am coming soon.”

Submit ourselves to God.   How difficult is that, yet how empowering!   We agree to give up everything, be willing to do anything, even give up who and what we love most, even to die, and God promises us more power – HIS power – than we could dream of.   And the beautiful thing about it is that we won’t be wielding that power to destroy, rule, or have dominion over others.   We use the blessed power of God to share His love, to help others gain His power.   And we doing it by submitting, by surrendering, by giving up all we have done, are, or could be and letting Him take fully control over us.

In doing that, He empowers us to resist.   I like that word:  resist.   I can’t overcome sin on my own.   I can’t overcome the consequences of the wrong I’ve done, or the junk I’ve brought into my life, or the hurt I’ve caused.   But God can.   He can and, in doing so, he empowers me when I submit to Him so that I might resist the devil.   Resisting is standing against.   With God’s help, I can stand against Satan.  When I’m tempted, God empowers me to say no.   When I’m falling, He empowers me to step back.  When I’ve messed up, He empowers me to stand up.   When I’m standing, he empowers me to resist again, to try harder, do better, live for Him.  And turn from my old ways.

And in doing so, the devil will flee from me.   When God empowers me, I’m a badass.   I’m a badass who can tell the devil to get his hell out of my life.   When I speak with the delegated authority of the Most High, the devil is powerless.   Against little old me.  Against me who has been freed from all the bad stuff I’ve done.   Simple, humble, submitting me can stand up high in my faith in the Most High Jesus of eternity, my brother and savior and friend, and tell the prince of lies to beat feet.   And he will do so.

Consider that.   It’s the best and most important news you’ll ever hear.

Lord Most High, You forgive my sins, empower me to live, and enable me to stand.   Help me to stand for You, and to resist the devil when he comes calling.

 

Have you stood up for Jesus?

How does He make you into a spiritual badass?

In what ways do you need to ask for his help to resist?