Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 1 August 2019

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. Titus 2:11 (EHV).

Consider why this verse says what it does, where it does.   We’ve already read verses 1-10 of Titus 2.   You’ll remember that they talked about sound doctrine and sound, upright behaviors of those who teach that doctrine; that they talked about encouraging people, especially believers, to exhibit these upright behaviors so that God may be glorified.

Why?   Because His grace has appeared and it brings saving to everyone.   EVERYONE.

Jews?   Saved.   Muslims?   Saved.   Liberal Democrats?   Saved.  Buddhists?   Saved.   Conservative Republicans?   Saved.  Donald Trump and Barack Obama?   Saved.  You?   Saved.   Everyone.

God gave His undeserved gift of salvation to everyone who would accept it.   Not accepting it doesn’t negate that He gave it.   Rejecting it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  It’s available even to those who reject it and Him.   All they have to do is submit, to believe.

The most amazing words in this verse are “appeared” and “bringing.”   They denote God having taken it upon Himself to come to us in an amazing way.   He wasn’t just born:   He appeared.   He came on the scene, fulfilling hundreds of prophecies and ancient predictions.  The mathematical odds of it happening are staggeringly impossible, but He did it; 10^157 or 1 in 10 with 157 zeros behind it (see https://www.empower.global/the-mathematical-probability-that-jesus-is-the-christ/).   God found a way to come to us as His Son, Jesus, in a way that would make Him the central figure in all of human history but without being a tyrant.   He who could be all the CGI spectacle that Hollywood could ever imagine appeared as a humble servant boy who grew into a humble servant teacher.

And when He appeared, He brought salvation with Him.   He saw in us a terminal fault.  We were sin-soaked.   We couldn’t save ourselves on our own.   A thousand years of instructions to the Jewish people on how much they needed God couldn’t save them from their own sins.   Billions of people lived before Jesus and billions have lived since and not one of them could save themselves from the desolation of living without His hope.   But He could.   He could do what was necessary to make it possible for people to live in peace with Him forever.   He alone could vanquish death; He alone could redefine life.

Jesus didn’t have to do it but he appeared to bring salvation.   He who powerfully but plainly spoke everything into existence didn’t have to appear and bring salvation, but He did it anyway.  Out of love.  Because of love.   Because of His perfection and His merciful nature, He chose to give us a gift that could never be deserved, never earned, never repaid.   He didn’t ask for repayment.   He only asked for our love.  When you consider that this verse came on the heels of others about behavior and submission, perhaps that’s the most grace-filled miracle of all.

For further reading:  Romans 3:24, 2 Timothy 1:10, Titus 2:12.

Savior from eternity, thank You.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 11 February 2019

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  1 Timothy 6:7 (NIV).

Donald Trump will die with nothing.   Nancy Pelosi will die with nothing.   Warren Buffet, George Soros, Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and every other billionaire and millionaire on the planet (as well as every politician, factory worker, and blogger) will die with nothing.   You will die with nothing; me too.  When we die, we will return to God as He sent us:  with nothing of this world in our hands or hearts.

Go ahead and have a happy Monday, now.   Especially if the weather is gloomy and cold.   Have fun with that.

No, really.   Have a lot of fun with that.   If you re-read Paul’s statement, you’ll find it’s liberating, maybe the most freedom-loving thing you’ll read all week.

If you love to have every surface in your house gilded in 24 carat gold, you’re in for a surprise because heaven will be full of golden beauty.   If you love being able to use every resource at your disposal for the betterment of society, you’ll be thrilled with heaven because that’ll be one of our primary jobs there.  If you want to hobnob with real power, you’re going to love heaven because you get one on one time with the ultimate power in the universe, God Almighty in His three persons.

All for being buck naked.

Yep.  We are usually buried in some kind of clothing, and who knows if we wear those same outfits when we meet God in the hereafter.   But we are each born naked, without knowledge or possessions or history, and we will each exit this world going back to God who made us without possessions.   Our history will get us to that moment, but it won’t matter when we’re with Jesus.   Our knowledge will culminate in our deaths, but it won’t matter when we meet Jesus, the source of all knowledge.  That’s a good thing because there are things here – like sickness and anger and war and pain – that have no place in heaven.   The things of this world, the stuff, won’t matter either.

All we have here will be for nothing.   Your prized bird’s-eye maple furniture:  can’t take it.   The books you’ve published, written or read:  can take them.   Land you pay for:  it stays.  The car in your garage, duds on your back, bling on your bod:   they all stay here.

We take nothing with us to the afterlife just as we brought no possessions into this world.   And that’s a good thing because the only thing that will matter then is Jesus.   Everything that comes after meeting Him will be extra, will be a blessing, just as it is here, will be a gift from Him.   Thank God we go there with nothing.   THAT is true freedom.

For further reading:   Job 1:21, Psalm 49:17, Ecclesiastes 5:15, 1 Timothy 6:8.

Thank You Lord Jesus for taking me home without anything from here!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 October 2018

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV).

After talking about excommunicating wayward members, Paul then shifts to urging Timothy (and us) to pray for authorities.   The church leaders of then (and now) are authorities in our lives.   So are police, governments, the UN, bosses, corporate CEOs of companies whose products we use, pastors and leaders, and senior family members (in fact, all senior citizens).

Tell me, progressives:   when was the last time you prayed for President Trump?   Or my conservative friends, how often did you (or do you) pray for President Obama, or Ms. Pelosi, or George Soros?   If you’re like me, in this regard, you’ve failed.   You and I don’t usually pray for those with whom we disagree (or just don’t like).   If you don’t like President Trump or his policies, you may not be praying in thanksgiving for him.  If you didn’t like President Obama or his policies, chances are you didn’t pray in thanksgiving for him, either.

That’s a shame.   We’re losing great opportunities here because Paul recognized that prayer and thanksgiving (especially) are active, vital ways to participate in peoples’ lives, even those of far-off, remote leaders.   They are pure “get to” activities.   We get to pray for the president, our employees in Congress, and others we elect to do things for us that we can’t do ourselves. We get to pray for our bosses, managers, and executives that they would make good use of the time we entrust to them.   We get to pray for our parents, and for seniors who have lived long, useful lives that can teach us many things.

We should take every opportunity to pray in thanks for those who are above us in any way.  Sure, it’s altruistic but even Ayn Rand (who rejected religion) would have supported the idea of supporting leaders who are working for the betterment of all.   I don’t know Donald Trump, but I get to be actively involved in his life when I pray for him.   I don’t know Barack Obama, but I’m actively involved in his life when I pray for him.  Bill Gates, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Dalai Lama, the owner of your company, your pastor, that stranger who flipped you off on the road, and starving kids in India:  you may not know any of them, but Jesus gives you the opportunity to be part of them by actively praying for them.

We spend so much of our time excommunicating other people from our lives.  How about we re-communicate with them by first praying to our Lord for their benefit?

For further reading:  2 Timothy 2:17, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 2:1

Lord, today, help me to pray for leaders, and show me today just one person for whom I can pray.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

These are the same verses from yesterday, but I’ve added in the last sentence in verse 2.   It’s one of the most famous, most quoted verses in the entire Bible.  To get the full effect, you really need the previous words.  “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Read that to yourself over and over a few times, and try to let it sink in.

Yesterday we talked about Franklin Graham and his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse.   Neither Franklin Graham nor anyone in Samaritan’s Purse set aside pure joy to endure pure torture for you or anyone else.   We talked about volunteers and first responders fighting fires and rebuilding after hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes.   None of them ever set aside joy, endured the cross, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father.  Your neighbors haven’t done this.  Barack Obama never did this and can’t; ditto Donald Trump.   Neither can Brad Pitt, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Benny Hinn, Miss America 2017, nor your saintly little old lady grandma.

Jesus did.   He didn’t just do it willingly:   He did it lovingly, fully, without hesitation.   It’s the theme of the entire Bible and the central event in all of human history.   Everything that every is or was or will be hinges on Jesus dying on the cross, then rising to live forever.

The creator of all things, the most powerful being imaginable, who created everything simply by speaking; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (as both Isaiah and Handel called Him):   He, the omnipotent and omniscient God willingly, enthusiastically let sinners He created nail Him to the most humiliating device of torture ever devised in hell.   He did it with gusto.   Jesus not only took the worst mankind could throw at Him:   He ASKED for it.  He ran the race of life fully, to its end, to show us where we were going.

He did so because Barack, Donald, Brad, Francis and the rest of us can’t.   We simply can’t.   We aren’t Him; we aren’t God.  He is.   We desperately needed Him to do it, too.  All too often, we don’t throw off those entangling sins.   Too often, the race seems like too much for us.

Yet there He is in the race, running ahead of us, drawing our gaze, our focus.  He’s in there to pace us, to give us someone to run toward.  He beckons us to persevere, to endure because He endured much tougher things than our day to day lives.   Notice that Jesus doesn’t take us out of the race.   He doesn’t pluck us from the middle of the world, removing us from our sins.  No, Jesus stays with us to give us a reason to push forward.   The reason is Him, sitting as equal with His Father in heaven, beckoning us to persevere, to run the race day by day.  With Him there is peace now and a meaningful forever.  In Him is the victory; in Him is the goal of running the race.   All of human history prepared for His coming, and when He came, all of history after Him was set on a different path.  No empire could prevent His resurrection; no ideology can refute it, deny it, or withstand it.  Every Christmas, memes and cards say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   That’s true, but don’t bottle that up until the Holidays.   Jesus is the reason you run your race today.   He’s there in every step, not just every December.

Get up and get back in your race.   Your goal is dead ahead.   For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   He did it so you could run your race.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I lift up Your Name to praise You for running my race with me.   Abide with me, push me forward, and help me to finish in Your strength.

 

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 Hebrews, 13 December 2016

…and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.  Hebrews 5, verse 9.

What does “made perfect” mean?   Is it referring to Jesus being immaculate of His Father’s Spirit and the woman Mary?   Is it the work-filled nature of His ministry here?   Is it how he endured temptations and trials here to make a perfectly-lived human life?  Does this refer to how He endured the terrible suffering of crucifixion without falling into any kind of sin, even the seemingly irresistible sins of thought?

Answer:   yes.   See, that was easy!

Make no mistake:   Jesus the Christ is eternal.   He has always been and always will be.   Though born of a human here, He was not created before that.   Being God, He simply is, and was, and is to come.   Jesus wasn’t ‘made’ whether it’s made perfect or made anything else.   Yet, for our understanding, we need to consider how He lived that perfect life here and, in doing so, made something that had never been made before.   That perfect life He lived here:   that’s indeed one thing that the author is referring to.

What’s more, that perfect life was made for something else that mattered even more:   perfect salvation.   God used Jesus’ perfect existence as the only way to reconcile a rebellious humanity to Himself.   He required perfection; He required blood of atonement; He required willing sacrifice of everything to His perfect will.   No ‘very good’ person ever had or ever has since; only Jesus could do it.   In willingly submitting to God’s will to atone for all sins, Jesus made perfect salvation for all mankind.

Think about that.   Perfection done for you.  It’s for eternity.   It is for you and me and everyone we know and everyone who has lived.  That perfect salvation was all that’s required for all of us to spend forever with Jesus in communion with Him.   We get to share in His graceful blessing of joy, peace, happiness, and even work all because He did all the work that was necessary in living, in making, a perfectly lived life.   We get to do this here and now, then for eternity later.  Only Jesus could offer Himself perfectly as the exactly perfect sacrifice necessary to do away with the consequence of sin that is eternal death.   Only Jesus did it; only Jesus offers the path to eternity today.   Mohammed doesn’t; Buddha doesn’t; Shintoism doesn’t; the Kardashians don’t.   Neither does Donald Trump, a brand new pickup truck, the Democrat or Republican Party, or Chunky Monkey ice cream.   Only Jesus.

Have you ever made something that is so good that you’re busting your buttons that you’re so pleased with it?   Have you ever felt proud of things you’ve done, or said, or written, or even thought?   Have you ever felt joy at times in your life, or maybe joy with family and friends?   I imagine that’s how God must feel all the time when He considers all Jesus did.   I imagine it’s how He must feel when He welcomes a believer into eternity and sees that redeemed believer through the prism of Jesus.

Jesus was born and ‘made’ human in an unusual way that neither compromised His divinity nor took on human sin.   He spent a life working with His hands, and His heart, building a life that could be used ultimately in service to God.   All through that life, He perfectly resisted the temptations that ensnare the rest of us, knowing that even a tiny thought of sin would ruin God’s plan for perfect atonement.   And He willingly went to die in our place, knowing that, when He had finished the painful trials of agony and torture, God’s wrath would be satisfied and mankind could be at peace with Him.   All of that means “made perfect.”  All we have to do is obey…and believe.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:10.

Glory to You, my Lord and Savior, for Your perfection, the perfect life You made, and for the perfect love who is You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 November 2016

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.  Hebrews 4, verses 1-2.

This is going to sound simple, maybe even goofy, but walk with me on it.  When you hear something, when does it become of value to you?  Let’s say you hear a juicy piece of news.  Does your mind immediately begin to process it, figuring out possible meanings and implications?   Of course it does.   And if you learn something new – if your light bulb lights up – do you start to think of ways that new information means something to you, perhaps connecting the dots between it and other things?  And can your mind or your heart continue to process words long after you’ve learned them, long after their first meaning took hold?   You know the answer.

You now understand Hebrews 4, verses 1 and 2.   God’s word goes to work on us as soon as we hear it.   What’s more, it can work in different ways at different times in our lives.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 reiterates what Hebrews 4 says: “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”   Unpack that verse and you’ll find it means a few things.   One (obviously) is that Scripture is the word of God.   Two, it isn’t only a human translation (though men are scribes and interpreters of it).   Three, the word of God can do work, and four, that work happens in those who believe.

But above all, it means that the word of God you heard was something you accepted, as it is, immediately and that it started working on you immediately.  The second you’re baptized you’re identified as one of God’s chosen people.   The second you say your marriage vows you’re married.   So it is with the second you accept and believe God’s Word, whatever part of that Word you hear.   It begins to work on you that very moment, like bleach on a stained cloth, like alcohol scouring out a wound.

Tell me:  if you hear something positive and it begins to work on you immediately, do you think that negative things can do the same?   Of course they can.  This morning, folks like me (who went to bed before election results were final) woke to find out Mr. Trump was the President-Elect.   It takes time to soak in but, whether it’s soaked in or not, the moment his opponent officially conceded, Mr. Trump was indeed the President-Elect.   For many folks, that’s the worst news possible.   It’s incredibly negative, incredibly dangerous to their ideas of self and country.   Yet no matter whether they like it or not, it’s fact and it’s at work.  Be careful that it does not ruin you.

Through it all, whether the news is positive or negative, the meaning is effective now.   God saved You IMMEDIATELY from the moment you professed your faith in Him.   You did nothing to earn it, make it happen, fashion it, make it so.   All that had to be done was done by God and God alone.   All you did was believe yet the instant you did so you gained the benefit of it.   This sets you apart from those who don’t believe, who choose to not believe in Jesus.   Don’t go off thinking that faith in Jesus makes you better than anyone else because it doesn’t.   Faith, like college, makes one a better person but not better than other people.   Indeed, God wants all people to come to the faith in which you believe, especially those who reject Him in word or deed.

So let’s be thankful that God saved us, that He did all that was necessary to save us even when we were living in unbelief.  Let’s hold fast to that faith, insisting that it’s real here and now, today.   Let’s cling to it when things get tough because brother things do get tough!   And let’s live our lives, say our words, do everything that we do right now as a reflection of those words “we believe.”

For more reading:   Hebrews 12:15, 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

Lord Jesus, I believe in You!   Thank You for saving me, for giving me the promise of hope in You in whom I can believe.