Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 17 June 2020

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.  1 Peter 3:5-6 (NIV).

For the last few verses, Peter was talking mostly to women.   Even as there are lessons for us all, let’s make no mistake:   Peter’s advice was predominantly for women; here he’s obviously talking about and to an audience of women. Submission and modesty were foundations of faith, yet key in on the very last word of verse six and you’ll find the theme that underlies the entire section.   That applies to everyone.

Our church is in a series discussing fearlessness.  In a nutshell, we, as believers in Jesus, need not live in fear, especially during these times of political upheaval and supposed viral pandemic.  Even when the world around us is falling apart, we need not live in fear, anxiety, and dread over what’s happening.  Faith is more powerful than fear.

Idolatry is really at the heart of every sin.   If you murder someone, you aren’t just wantonly taking a life:   you’re doing that and putting yourself in God’s place.   If you steal, you’re both stealing and putting your desires ahead of God.   If we curse or lie or sleep with someone else, we’re doing those things but also giving the proverbial finger to God.  Every sin is one of both action and idolatry:  expressing our adoration for something other than God.

I’d submit that happens because of fear.

Because we forget our reverence for God.  Because we cast off our knowledge that He is God and we aren’t.  Because we misplace the sometimes distant love of Jesus to embrace the lie of temporary satisfaction right now.   Because we are afraid of what might happen if we’re caught but we’re caught up in the thrill anyway.   Large or small, every sin we do has an element of fear wrapped around it.

The antidote for fear is faith.   Jesus always beckons us back, even in the middle of sin.

We’re talking on Tuesdays (and Sundays) about ways to confront our fears, about what the Bible says about it.   Listen, lament, pray; seek, reflect, listen, act:  all these are actions that Jesus’ Spirit enables us to do to suppress fear.  No matter where we are in life, Jesus ALWAYS abides with us, especially when we’re challenged by fear to ignore Him.   Our modesty should reflect our reverence for God but also display our confidence, through Him, to defy the pettiness of fear.  Yet each of us must face our fears.   We must stand up to them to defeat them.  The only way to overcome them is by living through Christ.

For further reading:  Genesis 18:12, Esther 2:15, 1 Timothy 5:5, 1 Peter 3:7

Lord Jesus, help me face fear today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 14 May 2020

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”  They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.  1 Peter 2:6-8 (NIV).

Remember that part from yesterday about me and you being stones, and how stones can be broken or crushed?   Yeah, it’s true.   And it may be why Christ selected you, specifically, to follow Him.

We aren’t supposed to be jerks about our faith.   Sharing it with someone should be a bold thing but NOT bold to the point of hurting someone else.   Share boldly but temper boldness in sensitivity.   And if confronted, be ready to answer why you believe what you do.   Yet when someone complains you’re infringing on them, yes, respectfully consider your options.   We must not be ashamed of what we believe, or lie about it, or let ourselves be silenced without standing.   We also must practice our faith in healing, understanding and grace to others.  We must not weaponize faith lightly.

Because…

…Because this is life or death.  Because what we believe actually may crush someone.   It may be a stumbling block they can’t get around.   It may be an obstacle they can’t overcome without confronting it.   Our faith may so convict other people that it may change everything about them.   Jesus loves and wants them, too.  We may be where we are for His reasons.

Or our faith may crush us.   There are those who work to silence or persecute the faithful and will use any opportunity to do so; you know this.   You may have even been subject to it.  As with those who would be confronted by us, so it is that, before time, Jesus also willed it to be so that we would suffer for Him in faith.   It’s not that He wants us to hurt:  it’s that He wants us to be purified, refined in Him so that we may stand stronger.   He wants this knowing that our praise of Him during our afflictions will spread His glory and Name far and wide.   That more will know His love and believe.  This has always been so.   Where man persecutes the body of Christ, the body of Christ grows.

Sometimes the cost of that is paid in blood.   It was paid in His blood first; mankind may also require ours.  But glory is why Jesus selected you and me.   Let there be more of it no matter what it takes.

For further reading: Deuteronomy 10:15, 1 Samuel 12:22 Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 28:16, Isaiah 62:12, Romans 9:22-23, 2 Corinthians 2:16, 1 Peter 2:9

All praise and glory to You, Lord Jesus, no matter my circumstances.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 4 May 2020

Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God1 Peter 1:21 (NIV).

Last time we talked about what the world would be like without Jesus.   All we can assume is that it would be bleak, much different from what we know today (even on our world’s worst day, which is yet to come).   A world without Jesus – a world without love, hope, justice, honor and so much more – would be a terrible nightmare in which to exist.

One thing we can know, however (because Peter’s words remind us):  we wouldn’t be able to believe in God.  There would be nothing to believe in because He is God.  And it is only through Jesus that we have come to believe in God for it was only through Jesus that God sent the part of Himself who is His Holy Spirit.   When we know Jesus, we do so because His Spirit first touched us.   Yes, we choose to ultimately follow Jesus but that choice comes only after He, first, reached out to touch us in some way.  When we grow in faith it’s because He started and is causing the growth.  Think of us as good soil and Him as seed, light, air, and water.   The growth happens because of Him, not us.

If you put your faith in other men, you aren’t putting your faith and hope in God.   If you put your faith in Allah through Mohammed you aren’t putting your faith and hope in God.  If you put your faith in your abilities, in chance, in your fortune (or what a fortune teller says), or in anything other than God, you aren’t putting your faith and hope in God.

Neither Allah nor a thousand Hindu gods raised themselves from death.   No other man has ever done this.   Our money, our possessions, our history all pass to others when we assume room temperature.   Go check the tomb:   Jesus isn’t there, because He rose from death then ascended into heaven later.   Somewhere on this planet you will find the mortal remains of Mohammed, the Buddha, your ancestors, and eventually us.   But Jesus isn’t here.   He isn’t here because He said He wouldn’t be bound by death, and He wasn’t.

You and I can’t know this to be true if God Himself, through His Spirit-inspired Word, had not reached us in both spiritual and intellectual knowledge.  He made it happen so the He could inspire it into our hearts and minds.   You and I put our faith in the reliability and honesty of His Words.  It’s true because He said it and made it so.   It’s simply the truth.

For further reading:  Romans 4:24, Philippians 2:7-9, Hebrews 2:9, 1 Peter 1:22

Lord Jesus, You and Your Word are the ultimate truth in our world.   In this fallen place, they’re really the only reliable word.   Thank You for inspiring them into my faith.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 8 April 2020

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time1 Peter 1:3-5 (NIV).

Living hope.   In 1 Samuel, Hannah (the mother of Samuel) sings that “(the Lord) will guard the feet of his saints.”   Even when misfortune, disease, and death attack us, the Lord is guarding what matters most about us.   Our hearts and the faith that flows from them are guarded by God and protected by His Son for the guarantee – the living hope – of eternal life.

Last night, our Tuesday night Bible group was talking about how God’s greatest gift to us is His peace, that His peace gives us reason to rejoice.  Even in the worst moments, when we reach to God for help, He imparts His peace to us, and that makes things turn for the better.  Sometimes, we even tell ourselves “well, I suppose that’s better than nothing” and miss noting how true this really is.

That’s because God’s peace is the antidote to nothing.   Nothingness is what’s promised to those who reject His saving grace.   In the life everlasting, those who reject Him here are promised nothing of Him, that He will remove His protection over the feet of saints who reject Him.   That includes His love.   Where He has always provided us with peace, love, and hope here, if we have rejected these things, He turns us over to the nothingness of life without Him.   Life forever without Him.   Oblivion would be welcome compared to living forever without any hope of God’s love of even looking at us.

Imagine going through something like an epidemic without God’s peace.   Imagine facing the dread of every day without knowing there is a living hope, a living guarantee, of God Himself shielding us from the best attacks of the evil one.   Imagine living a life so self-centered that we can only think of giving ourselves praise instead of God.  Imagine the ultra-desolation of living without love.

There are people who live like that now.   In times like these, they’re even more desperate.   Today, even in quarantine, let’s find a way to reach out to someone to share a little living hope.  Peter wanted us to know that, even in the worst of times, we get to shine because God has given us Himself as our true inheritance.   He wanted us to know we’re never alone, that we’re bound for glory, and that our best is yet to come.

Because of living hope.

For further reading: 1 Samuel 2:9, John 10:28, Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 1:6

Lord Jesus, You are my living hope.   Thank You today!

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 February 2020

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Philippians 3:12 (EHV).

If you’re reading this, you’re still alive here on the Third Rock; duh.   You and I:   we are still pressing on to take hold of eternal life.   Paul has already entered there; he’s in heaven.   That’s the reason Jesus came to him and remade his life.   It’s the reason why Jesus did the same thing to you and me.

Yet we need to work to maintain our grip on our faith in Him when we’re tempted and laid low in this fallen world.   Have you ever considered that, when you feel beaten down because you’re been attacked over and over again, you’re being attacked precisely because your faith is stronger?   Satan has to work even harder to get you.   Some people roll over easily; they’re an easy conquest.   Yet others require more effort.   If you’re being attacked again and again, perhaps you aren’t one of those easy conquests.

Perhaps you believe more in this goal for which Christ Jesus took hold of you.   Perhaps you struggle harder, fight tougher, beat back the evil one more precisely because you ARE tougher for him to overcome.

Paul understood that.  For decades after his conversion on that Syrian pathway he struggled against attacks from the physical and spiritual realms.   Yet he learned quickly that the only way he could continue to press forward – to really work for eternity – was to submit himself to Jesus.   To double down in his faith.   To come to Jesus when he had prayers of both anguish and thanksgiving; when he had anything at all to say.   As long as he lived here on good old terra firma, Paul pressed forward with one eye on where he was and the other on the road forward.

He did it for the same reason we should:   eternity matters most.   Jesus came here to make eternity with Him possible for us, knowing full-well that we would be challenged, tempted, burdened, stressed-out, and attacked every day by the unseen world that was hostile to His love.  Jesus pushed all that to the side when He pushed aside the rock in the garden and walked out of His tomb.  He knew we would be savaged every day, so He wanted to give us something worth fighting for, worth struggling over, worth pressing on towards.

That was then.   This is now.   Here and now, we’re still alive, and since we woke up today, we GET TO fight the good fight again.   To ask forgiveness for yesterday’s sins while giving praise for a new day today.   Then we get up, look forward, and press on.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 13:10, 1 Timothy 6:12, Philippians 3:13.

Lord I need you and struggle for You.   Abide with me, strengthen me, forgive me, and teach me again today Your better ways.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 29 January 2020

 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. Philippians 2:23-24. (EHV).

Prudence is a good thing.   We should be wise and judicious with the talents & resources that the Lord puts in our paths, even when we’re motivated, excited and generous.

But confident?

As far as we know, Paul never made it back to Philippi.   He worked for thirty years after his conversion on the road to Damascas, and Philippi (an old Greek, then Roman, trading center) was where he drove out the demon from a girl who was being exploited by local merchants.   He had been staying there awhile, and when he drove out the girl’s demon, he was dragged before Roman authorities.   In exchange for his kindness and faith, Paul was beaten and jailed, then driven out of town.  Years later, Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, praising God and telling them of his plans to return to them soon.

Again, we don’t know if Paul ever made it back to Philippi but it’s possible, even likely, that he didn’t.  He had first visited Philippi during his second missionary journey (approximately 51 to 53 AD), and likely visited it again during his third journey (approximately 54-58 AD).   It is thought that Paul wrote Philippians sometime in the early 60s AD, possibly in 62; during that time he was imprisoned in Rome.  Some people think Paul journeyed back to Greece one last time, between 63 and 64 AD, before returning to Rome and dying in 67 AD.

All that just for the chance that he might not make it back to visit friends.  Was Paul’s confidence in the Lord misplaced?   Answer:  only if you think it was about actually showing up.

We know (from his words) that Paul believed God would lead him back.   Paul believed God would lead him EVERYWHERE, that every place Paul visited was because God had led him there and Jesus had orchestrated his life to these ends.  He had confidence in Jesus that, wherever Jesus led him, Paul would prosper.   That his fondest wishes would be best realized in the growing faith of his friends, not just in another working vacation.  Paul was confident in Christ that Christ would do whatever was necessary for God’s Kingdom.

It’s a good thing for us to make plans wisely, to line things up, best as we can, in order to make the most use of what we have been given.   Yet perhaps more important than this prudence is having confidence in Jesus that He will do the right thing in our lives.   Like Paul, we may want to journey to see our friends, but Christ knows what is better for us and He’ll line things up so that can happen.

For further reading:   Philippians 2:25

Loving Jesus, all my praise is to You for doing Your work in my life.   For letting what’s best happen.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 6 November 2019

 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:4-6. (EHV).

You and I can’t even have faith in God without Him first planting it in us.   That’s a standard of evangelical belief because, well, it’s the truth.   We aren’t vassals; we aren’t powerless; we aren’t slaves or nobodies or without impact in our lives.   We have free choice, and God stands back to respect our choices even as many of them end up enslaving us in destruction and pain…and God respects us anyway, asking that we respect Him likewise.   Because He reaches out to us first to plant faith in us when we refuse to do it ourselves.

Think about that for a minute.   He plants the seed of faith in our lives, provides for us so that it might grow and bear fruit in us and in the lives we touch.   He tends to us even when we thumb our noses at Him, and welcomes us back when we repent and return to Him.   And He continues to do it all the days of our lives until we either die or He comes back at the end of all things.

Think about that, too.   Even back in Paul’s day, believers anticipated that Jesus would come back, that “the day of Christ Jesus’ would appear in time for them to see it.   I wonder how shocked they would feel to find us, two thousand years later, still awaiting that day.  Would they be discouraged?   Would they be surprised?  Would they lose heart?

Or maybe would they be excited?   It’s safe to assume that there are many more people in the world today than there were in Paul’s day.   According to https://www.prb.org/howmanypeoplehaveeverlivedonearth/, it is estimated that there were about 300 million people on earth during Paul’s life.   Today there are over 7.7 billion, and over 2/3 of those are not Christian or haven’t heard about Jesus.   That’s quite an opportunity for us to share the Good News with people who really need it.   Perhaps Jesus hasn’t planted faith in them yet, or perhaps He has yet He’s working to arrange it so that the sun and water of you and I might nurture that particular seed.  This side of heaven we probably won’t know.

But what we do know is that God has planted His faith in Him within us now.   It’s a living and growing thing that remakes broken hearts.   Faith in Him makes beautiful things out of we who are dust.  What will you do with that today?

For further reading:  Ecclesiastes 3:11, Psalm 138:8, Acts 2:42, Romans 1:8-10, 1 Corinthians 1:8, Philippians 1:7

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, yet use me to share Your Word until you do!

 

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 7 August 2019

Keep telling people these things. Continue to encourage and rebuke with full authority. Let no one ignore you. Titus 2:15 (EHV).

Finally, a summary.  After Paul has spent the chapter giving instructions on what must be taught to various people, he wraps it up with a brief commission.   “Keep on keepin on, Titus.   Don’t let anyone stop you.”  Remember what you’ve been taught.

Right on, right on.

Especially today.   I work in an industry where there is an unwritten code that you may not openly talk about Christian faith, conservative politics, current events outside a given viewpoint, non-supportive gay rights, or even, in some places, an out-of-town sports franchise.   Seriously.  If you want to survive in this well-paying industry, those are simply the rules of the road.

I wonder what Paul would say about that.   Given Titus 2:15, he might be upset.   Yet given something he said in 1 Corinthians 9, perhaps he wouldn’t.   Perhaps he would tell Titus to keep telling people these things yet doing so in a way to relate to them in their own manner.   Paul said he would become all things to all people to do whatever he had to do to win some people for Jesus.

That’s important to remember here.   Keep preaching but relate.   Paul is telling Titus to stand fast and stick to the truth.  Stand with Jesus:  anything else, you can let it go.  Yet do so in a humbler, serving way to meet their needs, relating to peoples’ circumstances.   Some need encouragement, some need rebuke.   God put these things on Titus’ heart (and Paul’s) to use them for the greater good of God’s Kingdom.

“Keep on keepin, on, Titus.”  Remember what you learned.  Stand and speak.  Minister in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.   Help folks.   Inspire justice and wisdom.  Do what you need to do to be heard…by them.   By the people Jesus puts in your path.  In ways they can understand.   In matters they need to hear.

And the people of 1st century Crete needed to hear that Jesus had overcome evil for them.   That He lived, died, and lives again so that they, too, might do the same.   Theirs was a brutal world of short lives lived in hardscrabble poverty and oppression.  The people of Crete needed hope and a leader to impart it.   They needed Jesus.

So do we.   So do all the people wandering in darkness after the terrible things that happened last weekend.   So do all the hurting people who reject Jesus and the prayers to Him as too little, too late.   So do our coworkers.  So do I.   So do you.  There is a time and place for words, and every time and every place is the right one for living out this faith the Savior put into our hands.   Keep on keepin on with it.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:22, Titus 3:1

Risen Lord, help me today to keep on acting, speaking, and living for You, for others in this world.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 25 July 2019

Encourage older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, love, and patient endurance.  Titus 2:2 (EHV).

Just the other night, I had a conversation with my uncle.  He’s 84 years old and in mixed health.  I’ll try to not puff him up too much since he reads this blog, but in my eyes, he’s the kind of man the Apostle Paul was describing in verse 2.   He’s temperate (of attitude and disposition), worthy of respect (because he’s worked hard to live an upright, Jesus-led life), he’s self-controlled (which is amazing considering the volcanic temper of his father:  another of my heroes), and sound in faith, love and endurance (all of which he has always modeled for those who know him and even those who don’t).

When I get to be 84 (IF I live to be 84), it’s my hope that someone will say those same things about me.   But I doubt it.   I’m not the man my uncle is, and that’s ok.   I’m my own man with my own experiences thanks to the life God has given me to live and the talents with which He’s blessed me.  Perhaps in my own way I’ve made a positive impression on other folks.   It’s my best hope that, if that has happened, they will turn around and do the same for someone else.   That’s how Jesus’ Kingdom grows.  It’s a lesson I have learned, in part, from my uncle.

But no matter what someone thinks of him, me, or anyone else, Paul’s standard is still solid gold.   We want our older men to be men we can look up to.   Both in the church and out of it, we want grandfathers and mentors who we can model, copy and honor.   It’s especially true in the church, where elders are supposed to be worthy of respect and the kind of people we want to be.   Especially the elder men.   But it matters in all walks of life.   Just ask my son, who has been taken under the mentoring wing of a rough cowboy boss who’s teaching him valuable work and life skills.   It’s a pleasure to see.

Perhaps that “patient” quality is the one that makes the most impression.   Patience is the culmination of those other five attitudes.   It’s the demeanor and behavior that both identifies experience and implements reason.   I think of the best leaders I’ve ever known, especially in churches, and, to a man, they’ve all been patient.   There’s a time and place for quick action, even impetuous action.   But in most things, patience is preferred.   Work well and work deliberately, then let’s let things unwind as they will; as God wills them.

I’m thinking both my uncle and my son’s mentor would agree.  And it would make Jesus happy.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 5:1, Titus 2:2

Lord Jesus, thank You for living out here through good men.   Help me to better model their behavior because I’m modeling You when I do that.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 10 July 2019

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  Titus 1:6 (NIV).

Our goal should be to want to serve the Lord with honor.   Our conduct shouldn’t detract or distract from His purpose, His work.   Our lives as leaders in the church should be upright, and bring great credit on ourselves and the united church of Jesus Christ (that last phrase is actually very close to every Air Force medal citation I’ve ever read).

Good luck with that.

Years ago, I was asked to serve as an elder but I pointed out that my conduct (at the time) would preclude that; Paul would have agreed.  Nobody has asked me since, and all glory to Jesus in all things, including humbling one’s self to serve the Kingdom in unconventional ways.

How many of us are truly blameless?   Many couples deal with infidelity, either physical or emotional.   And where are today’s families whose children are not a little wild and disobedient?   When I left home, my faith drifted and I didn’t attend a formal church for most of a decade.   I believed in Jesus, but I wasn’t sure about many things, or what faith really meant.   I can say the same thing about all three of my kids.   And, as a proud Dad, I’ll brag that all three are coming out of that fog just as I did.   All three have faith-journeys of their own with the Lord, both in and out of formal congregations.

They aren’t blameless.   They aren’t angels.  They aren’t perfect.   Neither am I.   Neither are you.

Could you or I be an elder?   Some people who read this blog are; some are pastors and evangelists; some are teachers; some serve in other ways.   It isn’t a clique or a club or some group where you get a secret handshake.   It’s a way to serve God’s church in an orderly position.   And the elders, pastors, evangelists, and teachers I know who serve the church are flawed human beings, people who make mistakes, sometimes cuss like sailors, and do things that bring discredit on the family of Jesus.

Got skin?  Got sin.   The cure for the common sin is Jesus.

Who then is ‘fit’ to serve?  Certainly not the leaders in my church, or yours.   Or me.   Or maybe you.  None of us but all of us.  “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”   Jesus said that.

I don’t know if you’re truly blameless, or if your kids are wild (or even if you have any).   What I do know is that God can use your life in His work, maybe as an elder, but definitely in some good way.

For further reading:  Matthew 19:26, 1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Timothy 3:1, Titus 1:7

Lord Jesus, use me in Your service today.   Forgive my sins, and help me repent to move forward from them to better serve You.