Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 24 February 2020

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  Philippians 3:17 (EHV).

Let’s imitate Paul in how we think, live, and worship.  More than that, let’s imitate Jesus in how we think, love, and live.

And let’s admit it (again):  we stink at modeling Jesus (and Paul).   Jesus is upright and moral; I’m not, even as I know I’m forgiven.   Jesus judges against His standard of loving justice; I’m just ‘judgy.’   Jesus is kind; I’ve been a jerk.  Jesus forgives EVERY sin, even the little ones I’ve forgotten (because, news flash:   there really is no such thing as a little sin.   Sin is sin.   It’s all rebellion against the Lord).   Jesus loves perfectly; I love conditionally, even the people I love most.

So when someone (like me) asks me to follow Jesus better and join together in living better for Christ, I immediately know I have a lot of work to do.   I’m convicted by it; I see my own sins of the past and want to do better now.  Just yesterday, I found out that a long-time friend on Facebook (and in my personal circle as well) had de-friended me.   This is someone I have known for years.   Whether it was an accident or on purpose I don’t know but it made me wonder:   did they see me or harsh things I’ve said online or things that are un-Christian and decide they’d had enough?   Would I want to see myself from that person’s point of view and, if I did, would I like who I saw?   Would I maybe not want to be friends with me, either?

Let’s be real:   being de-friended online isn’t a big deal.   But since all things serve Jesus, maybe this incident is a good thing.  Another news flash:   those sins of the past and my failures or unkind words?   They’re in the past.     Jesus has forgiven them.  Who knows what hostile effect, what harm I’ve done, that I can’t undo?  What should define me now is Christ alone.   In order to cleave better to Him, I (and maybe we) need to do a better job on keeping my eye on Him, on those who model His behavior.   That doesn’t mean compromising who we are (unless who we are compromises our faith).   And that doesn’t mean not taking a stand (unless that stand makes you stand between Jesus and someone else).   But it does mean watching Him and those who live out His behaviors and then changing how I think and act in response.   It means real repentance.   It means honest change and patience and caring.

Maybe it’s a bigger deal than it seems.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Timothy 4:12, Philippians 3:17.

Lord Jesus, teach me today to better model my thoughts and actions after Yours and those of Your devout followers.   And help me to see myself through someone else’s eyes.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 27 January 2020

For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:21. (EHV).

We’re people:   this is what we do.   Our own interests are the reasons for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and every other social media platform we have.    When something happens, our first, our go-to, reaction is to react based on how it affects us; what we think, how we feel, why this affects us and our opinions.

Kobe Bryant died yesterday.   But let’s be real and ask when was the last time you or I honestly considered Kobe Bryant?   He retired a few years ago.  He was another among thousands of athletes and entertainers even as he was surely one of the best to ever play his game.   From what I’ve read, he later became a devout Catholic who spent much his time split between his family and charity work.  Part of me wonders if he was working to make amends for what happened in Colorado years ago.   We’ll never know, so let’s, instead, pray for peace for a family left to grieve.

So what was your reaction when you first heard that this celebrity had died?   Stop in your tracks and consider those words “your reaction.”   Because when things happen, our first natural instinct is to consider how they affect us.   Psychologically, even physiologically, that’s probably a healthy thing.   We need to first safeguard our biological selves any time something happens around us.   Is it a danger to me?   What does it mean, and then what does it mean to me?  Considering things in the light of how they affect ourselves is actually understandable and realistic.

Yet we must not allow our consideration to end there.   Paul rightly cautions us that our self-focus can prevent us from focusing on what Jesus is doing, what Jesus wants, how this affects our lives with Jesus.  If all we do is each consider only our own interests, then this world breaks down quickly.   We have to learn to take our thoughts captive and re-direct them towards God.   The better way is to submit our thoughts, our reactions, our pro-actions to Christ and let Him take the lead in whatever comes next.

I’m not much of a basketball fan, yet even I appreciate the natural talent of a Kobe Bryant. More important than some game or even unproven actions, he later spent considerable time and resources helping inner-city kids succeed.   Yet beyond how this affects our community at large, let’s take captive those thoughts and give them over to Christ, then celebrate that Kobe and his daughter got their “well done” from Jesus yesterday.   For them, like others who died in the faith, yesterday was the best day of their lives and the start of the most important part.  That matters so much more.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 10:24, Philippians 2:22

Lord Jesus, encourage me all the time to submit all my thoughts to You.   Thank You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 14 January 2020

Do everything without grumbling or arguing. Philippians 2:14. (EHV).

Here’s a tough one for me.   I like to debate and I like to argue.   I don’t like to be quarrelsome, and I don’t like not getting along with people.   But I like to talk in-depth about things like faith and politics and topics that are generally off-limits, especially if it’s with people with whom I disagree.   I’m a big believer in people talking it out and agreeing to disagree when, well, we don’t agree.   In fact, I respect people who stand up for what they believe in especially if it’s something with which I disagree.   Mind you, I’m not defending people who believe in the indefensible (things like murder, avarice, violence, etc).   I simply respect people who stand up for what they believe even if it’s something I don’t believe in.

Some people will lend you money, then grumble about doing it.   Some folks will offer to help you move your furniture, then complain about having to do it.   Some good people will itch for a fight even when they know that no good can come out of it.  Got skin?   Got sin.   My arguing, the money-grubber’s grumbling, the Indian-giver who says they’ll do one thing and then take it back later:  all sins.   All contrary to what Paul advises us to do in one way or another.

Instead, Paul reminds us to do EVERYTHING without those petty sins like arguing, grumbling or the like.   Not just work, not just Thanksgiving dinner with crazy Uncle Bernie (or Joe), not just getting along with your argumentative Facebook friend:   EVERYTHING.   Making dinner, cleaning the house, walking the dog, talking on the telephone, talking online, writing blogs, chatting in the narthex on Sunday morning:   EVERYTHING.   Do it all without arguing or complaining.

Yep:   that’s a tough one.   Here’s an idea:   let’s be tougher.   Let’s take up Christ’s light yoke and burden and do everything we do with His attitude.   Serving and serving thankfully; going the extra mile; forgiving when others fail us; giving up on revenge and gossip and getting even:   let’s work to infuse our words and actions today with the fruits of Galatians 5 and the words of Christ’s Gospels.

For me, that starts with watching what I say, online and in person.   I have a friend (with whom I almost always politically disagree) who seems to have an insatiable need to be right or have the last word.   Today I’ll let him.   Instead of being Eeyore the pessimist (someone my wife accuses me of being) I’ll keep quiet.   Rather than focusing on the negatives, I’ll say prayers of thanks for them and good things around them.   It’s about giving praise instead of criticism and thanks instead of something else.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 10:10, Galatians 5:22-23, 1 Peter 4:9, Philippians 2:15

Lord Jesus, thank You for yet another opportunity to retrain my brain to better serve You.   Strengthen me to not grumble or complain or argue.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 7 January 2020

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5. (EHV).

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   That’s Matthew 11:29 and it’s the mindset of Christ Jesus.   The verses after Philippians 2:5 talk about how Jesus humbled Himself to assume the lowliest position in creation.  He, who made all the universe by speaking, had the mind to become what we’d consider to be the worst among us in order to save us from ourselves.  We’ll talk about that more in the coming days.

Until then, tell me:  have you found rest for your soul by being humble in heart?   I’ll admit:   I’m really, really struggling with this concept.   Part of me is chiding myself for not doing more of it, and part of me is actively struggling against it in the name of honor (that sometimes doesn’t seem to honorable).  Here in America, we’re in the middle of a culture war.   It’s more than just our politics:   it’s one side versus the other on seemingly every issue, view, or position you can think of.   I’m sure this has happened during other epochs, but it’s happening now during ours and it has left us more divided than I can remember.

Personally, I want to be humble and gentle and kind like Jesus but then I want to stand up for the things I believe in, things that I want to think would honor Jesus as well.   And in doing so, I find myself being anything but humble and gentle and kind.   These days, more often than not, I’m being a jerk to a few people whose reciprocal intolerance is equally egregious towards me and those like me.

Right is right and wrong is wrong, but what good is right when we do wrong in defending it?  What I really want to do is take up Christ’s yoke and be more like Him.   He wouldn’t respond on Facebook.   Jesus wouldn’t stoop so low to argue about things that don’t much matter.   Jesus stood for what He believed without trying to demean or destroy the other guy’s heart.   My politics, our interactions, this culture in which we battle seems hell-bent on destroying the other guy while trying to claim the high ground.

I’m not talking about defending national interests, or the fighting the war that seems likely up ahead.  I’m talking about talking with our friends.   Jesus set His mind to deal with others humbly and kindly, even when He was forceful.  It was a choice to work from a position of love in all things.  Jesus said and did all that He did from this true high ground.  How can we do the same?  I believe it starts with us falling on our knees.

For further reading:  Matthew 11:29, Philippians 2:6.

Lord Jesus, build in me Your mindset, Your heart, in how I deal with others.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 4 December 2019

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. Philippians 1:19. (EHV).

This morning I read a Facebook post from a non-believer friend of mine.   I’ve written about this young man before; how he’s an atheist and thinks the idea of Jesus is ridiculous.   Today he posted a link from a music lyric, one from a death metal song.   The words are pretty hopeless stuff even though, to be honest, the drive and beat of the music itself (sans lyrics) are pretty compelling.

Reading through the lyrics got me thinking:   can God use the hopelessness of death metal to point someone towards Himself?   You know the answer.

That answer gives me hope.   Jesus can come into our lives at any time and use the circumstances of them for His glory and our betterment.   I reject the idea that God starts things in this world and then stands back, disinterested, waiting for the outcome.   Instead, I believe Jesus is active every single second of our lives, working to bring us closer to him.   He works to use the ungodly events of the world to give us opportunities to come to Him instead of simply living.  Without Jesus, our souls are empty.   With Him, they overflow.   It makes me think of a line from the King Arthur movie “Excalibur.”  King Arthur has been languishing, needing refreshment from the Holy Grail.   When Percival brings it to him, Arthur is restored and then says “I didn’t know how empty was my soul until it was filled.”

Right on right on.   King Arthur could have been saying that about my life, about yours, about my atheist friend’s life.

And when our souls are refreshed & re-awakened by God’s Spirit, it’s usually in response to someone’s prayers.   Someone has been imploring Christ to help someone else, to care for them, to make Himself known to them.   Jesus has already redeemed them whether they know it or not.   Now we ask that they accept Him, accept that forgiveness of sins.   Mind you, that doesn’t make God a wish machine; He doesn’t answer our prayers simply because we want Him to.   But He does answer them in His love because it is done out of that love and for good.

Even when the vehicle is death metal.  I hold out lots of hope that this atheist can come to faith in Jesus.   This man acknowledges that there may be a God who made everything, but he won’t go as far as acknowledging who Jesus is.  Yet at least he’s part of the way there.   I’m praying that he’ll open his heart and take the rest of the short walk to Jesus’ side.

For further reading:  Philippians 1:20

Lord God, I pray for You to make Yourself known to all who don’t know You or who reject You, and that they’ll come to believe.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 29 July 2019

Likewise, encourage older women to be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not enslaved to much wine, but teachers of what is good, so that they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, busy at home, kind, and submitting to their own husbands, that the word of God might not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5 (EHV).

Last time, Paul advised older men to exhibit certain qualities.   Here he does the same thing for women.

Let’s get this out there:   male chauvinism.   At first glance, Paul seems like a chauvinist.   But when you read more of what he wrote and consider it in the context of his times AND in the audiences he was addressing, you find he isn’t.   You find that he’s merely echoing the qualities of the kinds of people God wants us to be.   Paul is no chauvinist.

I follow two Facebook pages that are full of funny memes:   “Mommy Needs Vodka” and “Mommy Drinks Wine and Swears.”   They’re snarky words to say about the conduct of older women.   Perhaps in his experience he had encountered women who drank too much or gossiped too much or whatever.  We don’t really know.

The pages point out all kinds of funny situations where, you’d think, good women would be driven to drink (mainly because of the conduct of their husbands, kids, or things around them).   It’s all in fun, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.   But if you read such pages too closely, you’ll pick up more than a subtle whiff of female chauvinism, bias in favor of a different view.   In the end, perhaps the only thing you can walk away with (from such things) is a laugh, or maybe a tweak on your morality.  They aren’t really chauvinist.

Yet underneath this is the opposite message from Proverbs 31; a message with which Paul would be familiar.   In those verses the author outlines the behaviors a wife of noble character would exhibit.   Read them today; they’re a beautiful passage in Scripture.   And they comport exactly with Paul’s words here in Titus.

Perhaps that means that they both describe the kind of people God wants His perfect creation, woman, to be.

Me, I love a woman who has a drink but tempers her behavior.   I love my wife who lets her hair down without making herself (and me, in the process) undignified.   I love that her character is strong, admirable, and that she’s the kind of woman other women should want to be.  She loves fun and being around friends and family and even likes a little wine, in moderation.   That isn’t God-displeasing.  If saying that makes me a male chauvinist, so be it.   I think not.

For further reading:  Proverbs 31:10-31, Ephesians 5:22, 1 Timothy 3:11, Hebrews 4:12, Titus 2:6

Lord God, You give us examples and qualities of the kind of people You want us to be.   Help us to do just that.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 16 May 2019

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV).

These are harsh words about how people will behave in the end days.   They’re some of the worst qualities of mankind, and Paul prophesies that the end days will bring them out in full.   Whether those end days are now or later, they will be marked by these kinds of behaviors.

These verses apply to Hollywood.   They apply to Wall Street, corporate boardrooms, country club dealing, and the jet set.   These verses could have been written about the American suburbs, or about the ghettos.   They could have been written about people in our universities, in our workplaces, on the road and at the mall and, yes, they could have been written about people who sit every Sunday in a church pew.   They’re HBO; they’re Facebook; they’re Las Vegas; they’re Mainstreet USA.   They’re our living rooms.  These verses could have been written about any of the 7.7 billion people breathing here on Planet Earth.   Two thousand years after He left us, come quickly, Lord Jesus, and set things right again.

Especially if these are the last days.   In fact, I hope they are.   Heaven has much more to offer than our world, which is full of we who could be described by these ugly words.  Those words are a mirror, held up for me and you (and a dog named Boo) to look into and see ourselves as we really are.   Even the best of us is guilty of being like one or more of those words say we are.

Paul told Timothy to avoid people like those he described above.  If Paul met me today, would he see a follower of Christ or a sinking work in progress who loves himself, money, pride and boasting more than Jesus?   Who would Paul see in you?   Even more, if Jesus does come back today, will He see us as we are, or will He see us through the lens of His love?   You know the answer, and thank God Himself for it.   We are guilty of being those awful things Paul mentions, and only a Savior who isn’t could set things right.   Only He could save us.   When He comes back, He’ll see His followers in His own mirror, and welcome us.  Doesn’t it follow, then, that we should use our time today to kindly love on people who don’t know Jesus so that they’ll have the same eternity?

For further reading:  2 Timothy 3:6.

Lord Jesus, come quickly.   These times are as You predicted, full of evil scoffers.   Come and remake all things new.