Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 21 May 2019

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.  2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV).

Game of Thrones is done.  It’s over.   We now know the outcome of the struggle for the Iron Throne.   My wife and I were late-comers to the GOT hysteria, but we enjoyed the show and are both sad and glad it’s done.  At first I thought there were so many reasons to reject the show because its not-subtle themes of violence, sex, and intrigue were antithetical to Christian views.  Yet there are also lessons people of faith can learn from shows like Game of Thrones.   In fact, I challenged a pastor friend of mine to do a sermon series on several of the show’s storylines.   I’ll be interested to see if he takes up the challenge.

The more you think about it, the truer it becomes for every TV show, every activity in life:  ‘the faith” is our benchmark for EVERYTHING.   Whether it’s a fantasy TV series, the new Alabama abortion law, where to get gasoline, or what to do over Memorial Day weekend, if faith in Christ isn’t highest on our list of filters through which we judge our activities then we’re doing it wrong.

We can have the argument about a TV show being or not being a Christian activity.   Yet the shield of faith is the shield that resists for us when the themes of violence, sex, intrigue, or anything else threaten to worm their way into our homes and gain control over gullible people like us.  People who oppose the faith with their parsing of Christianity or the droning, ever-constant labeling of Christians as killers and hypocrites are actually the people standing on quicksand.   They scream loudly, perhaps not knowing that projection is a psychological condition, and those who would worm their way into our faith-lives are sick with it.  Faith in Christ is the foundation of resisting that sickness.

I won’t spoil the end of the show in case you haven’t seen it.   Personally, the more I think about it, the more I like the way it ended because it ended with a note of hope.   That’s the greatest gift of all from following Jesus in faith:   hope.   Without Jesus, there is no hope.   With Him, there is.  I enjoyed the show, and I’ll miss it.   But there’s always the hope of re-runs.

For further reading:  2 Timothy 3:6.

Lord Jesus, YOU are my shield and my hope.   Help me to resist those who would worm their way and try to divide us.   Help me to stand in love.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 20 March 2019

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.   2 Timothy 1:8 (NIV).

Dear fellow believer, we’re going to suffer for this.   You and me, because we boldly say, “I believe in Jesus,” are going to suffer.   In just these last few days, hundreds of Christians have been murdered by Muslims in several African nations.   In Iran, a pastor was recently detained and will serve 10 years hard labor for talking about Jesus.  Churches in China are being torn down by their communist government.  Here in the good old USA, the Federal government is actively trying to tear down a war memorial in Maryland because it’s the shape of a cross.   In schools, universities, and work-rooms everywhere, talking about Jesus is a no-no while words about the NCAA brackets and Game of Thrones are encouraged.

Let’s be real:   ‘suffering’ in America, for now, is pale compared to the persecution our brothers and sisters face overseas.  That simply means the physical pain hasn’t reached our shores yet.   Don’t be daft about it, my friend:  it’s coming.   Disaster, like grace, can come on us in an instant.

Because that’s so true, we shouldn’t be ashamed to be followers of the one true God.   We should be proud to follow Jesus, proud to let Him work through us.   We have become ‘captive’ to His Spirit and are prisoners of His good news.   He holds the keys to our ‘captivity’ and loves us enough for us to stay in His confinement as long as we so wish.  Fall under the love and gaze of the King of Kings and you’ll want only to remain prisoner in His presence.

But make no mistake about it.  It’ll cost you.   This world, fallen and rebellious to Him, will make you pay for professing your belief in Jesus Christ.  The Romans, at the behest of the Jews (and then later on their own) imprisoned and abused Paul before eventually executing him.  All for following Jesus.   All for the rebellion of saying “no, I believe in Jesus of Nazareth.”   It happened in the past.   Even here in peaceful America, it can – and will – happen again.

You and I will be made to suffer for this belief, for this thing that is protected under our Constitution’s first amendment.   We will emotionally suffer, economically suffer, physically suffer.  In time (and it could happen quickly) the things (like worship) that we think are protected could change and a world hostile to Christ will turn against Him by targeting you.

When that happens, friend, let’s celebrate.   Let’s smile in the face of the adversity, turn the other cheek while standing up for our faith, and be prepared to meet Jesus when our government does to us what Paul’s did to him.

For further reading:   Mark 8:38, Ephesians 3:1, 2 Timothy 9.

Praise to You, Lord Jesus, that I may suffer for You.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 14 March 2019

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.   2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV).

The other night, during our Tuesday night online Bible study, we were talking about sharing our faith.   About how this can be a difficult thing to do, especially in our age of trepidation over what to say in public (lest someone else be so easily offended).  One of the participants brought up that talking about faith is a way of planting a seed.  We speak honestly (without being a jerk about it), and trust that Holy Spirit will do whatever He needs to do in order for our words to help His work.  At the time, we probably won’t know if we’ve helped someone.   But later, in some time of need, perhaps what we say will have taken root and lead them in some Godly way.   That part isn’t up to us.  It’s up to Him.

Reading today’s verse, that discussion becomes a little clearer.   In verse 4, Paul talks about remembering Timothy’s tears.   Here Paul says that this memory reminds him of Timothy’s sincere and honest faith in Jesus.   Timothy obviously walked and talked the same message, and something he did – crying – was an honest expression of that.  What’s more, Paul goes on to praise Timothy’s grandmother and mother, who had been the first people to express this faith to Timothy.   Maybe they cried a little, too.

Seems like they’d have lots of company.   What they did was to share their faith and their honesty about it.   Our outward posture often reflects our inward positions.   For Timothy (and probably Paul, Lois and Eunice), tears were an outward posture that reflected the inward position of a rock-solid faith in Jesus.  Timothy knew the Gospel was all true, that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life.   He had seen it for himself in the faith of others; he lived it out as he ministered to believers in Asia Minor.

That faith matters when the chips are down.   Times of need are one of the reasons why we’re encouraged to grow our faith in Christ because, through Him, we can have the strength to endure and overcome them.   People who see that know it.  Paul wrote 2 Timothy when he was imprisoned and knew he would soon be executed.   There could be no time of greater need, so sincere faith mattered deeply.   It matters the same to us, day by day.   Indeed, our daily practice of faith is perhaps more essential if we are to act on it when those critical times arrive.

For further reading:   Acts 16:1, 1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 6.

Lord Jesus, when times are tough, abide with me.   Strengthen me to strengthen others to stand true and firm in our faith in You.   Most important, teach us to live that out in love so that others might come to know You as well.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 February 2019

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  1 Timothy 6:11 (NIV).

Has anyone ever called you “man of God” (or “woman of God”)?   That hasn’t happened to me very often, and that’s ok.   I’d much rather wait to hear God say it to me Himself.   In the meantime, I hope I don’t dishonor Him with what I do going forward.   There isn’t much that can be done about bad things I’ve said and done in the past except pray with God and attempt restoration where possible.  But going forward is unwritten paper.   You and I can fill it with Godly pursuits.

Paul reminds us that those pursuits should include righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.   In fact, if I could impart just one good lesson to my kids and grandkids, except for “love God, then love your neighbor,” it would be verse 11.  Flee from unwholesome things because they’re trouble that can bring you down.   While fleeing from them, pursue other things that are wholesome, and do it in a way that has you pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

That’s a recipe for a happy life, probably a long one.   Yet whether it’s long or short, it’s using our time and talents in living the way God intended for women and men to live.

Pursue righteousness.  Pursue every task in life being Christ-like, just, rightful, honest, and true.

Pursue godliness.   Follow Jesus.   Act like Jesus would.  Model thoughts and behaviors on Him.

Pursue faith.    Faith always provides hope and enough to get through even the toughest days.

Pursue love because anything done without love is done in vain, without God (because God is all love).

Pursue endurance.   Endurance requires honest courage, and honest courage is a gift from God.

Pursue gentleness because even a hard man should be able to relate to others in love, faith, and godliness.   Indeed, perhaps gentleness is the best way to deal with other people because even when toeing a hard line, one can do so gently.

All these things are the opposite of the love of money, or other petty behaviors Paul describes earlier in the book.  Just think of how peaceful our daily lives could be if we conducted our work, home lives, or social (media) interactions by adhering to Paul’s verse 11 advice!   I fall short in measuring up to Paul’s standard; how about you?

If we fall short, perhaps it’s time to admit that, seek forgiveness, then move forward in better ways…better ways described here today.  Maybe if we did that, more of us could describe each other as “man” or “woman of God.”

For further reading:   Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Timothy 3:17, 1 Timothy 2:2, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Timothy 6:12.

Forgiving God, I have failed to exhibit these good behaviors.   Forgive me, and thank You for an opportunity to do better.   Guide me in doing this today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 9 August 2018

He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ2 Thessalonians 2:14 (NIV).

My daughter got married over the weekend.  The dress, the cake, the dancing, the reception, the walk down the aisle:   it was time for the whole shootin match.   If I do say so, it was a great party where everyone (over 150 people) had a wonderful time.   Check out the Youtube of just before the bride walked:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LDOH8OB3hI

But big fancy weddings aren’t why we’re here.

And over the weekend, too, we also had a party for my wife, who has a milestone birthday this month.  At the VRBO we rented, a large group of family and friends gathered to celebrate her birthday, our fellowship, and just enjoying life (and Texas barbecue) together.   Again, if I do say so, it was another great time, a great birthday bash!

But that’s not why we are here.

Big parties, our jobs, our churches, shopping at the mall (or at the grocery store), working hard in school, the next big vacation:   none of those are why you and I are here.   We are called to enjoy life and to be good stewards of all the things that God gives us to do.   We are motivated, even inspired, to do our best in all things, and that is a good thing, even a Godly thing.

But NONE of those are what we are called to in this life.   In all of them, we can indeed give glory to God, and we can even share in His glory through doing them.   But make no mistake about it:   we aren’t called to DO things here just for the sake of doing them.   We aren’t called to simply live, even if living means a rich, full, eventful, or moral life.

We are called to serve in God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus.    We are called to believe in Jesus in everything we do.   We are called to share this belief, this faith in His saving death and resurrection, by living it out.   We are called through the gospel, given to men like Paul, Matthew, Peter, John and others, to share Jesus with what we say and do so that others who don’t know – or reject – Him might come to know Him too (and then repeat the cycle with even more others).  In doing these things, we share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ because that’s how we do the work of the God who sent Him.

I loved the wedding; I loved the party.   I love time with family, friends, and even strangers.   But without Jesus, they’re just meaningless events.   There’s no morality without Jesus, nothing good.  Involving Him transforms life into something more, something meaningful, something we are called to live.

For further reading:  Romans 8:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

Lord Jesus, thank You for faith, for letting me share You in all these ways.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 1 August 2018

For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 (NIV).

Tough words to understand and even tougher ones to hear.  Does God set us up for failure?   Does He cause us to not believe?  Of course not, but read these two verses without reading anything else and it would seem that way.   Yet, even while doing verse-by-verse exegetical hermeneutics (now THERE is a phrase!), we can’t forget context.

Don’t forget that these two verses come in the context of discussing the man of lawlessness.  At the time of the end, it’ll become even more apparent that God provides us with EVERYTHING, including opportunities of testing.   You and I don’t have to do the things we do.   Nobody forces you or I to go to work, or argue with our spouse, or get up at 5 AM.   In survival training the instructors teach you that “you can win a battle of wills but not a battle of wits.”  Nobody can force you to say or do anything, and deep inside of you, nobody can take away your faith unless you let them.

God does indeed test us, yet those tests are refining, not destructive.  They are to build us up and bring out our character.   That faith nobody can steal?   God does indeed put us in situations to refine it, enhance it, strengthen it, teach us to lean on Him more.   Is it surprising, then, that God would also test those who reject Him, allowing them to steep in the powerful delusion of unbelief so that even they might find Him waiting there?   Every day of our lives, God provides us with (at a minimum) life, breath, and body.   He does these things (and much more) to plainly make known how He loves us and wants to always provide for us.   Even folks who reject Him.

Thus it’s also plain how He provides the means to condemn those who reject Him.   “I don’t need you” one might say.  So God turns them over to the consequences of their choice (even as He still gives life, breath and more).   The lawless one will make himself plainly known, and the plain proof of that is found in Scripture.  We have all we need to also plainly tell the difference between him and the real Jesus.   For those who look at the two and choose the lawless one, they make the choice fully knowing the alternative.  After all, as C.S. Lewis said, “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.”  That’s a tough survival test to willfully fail but the failure won’t be on God.

For further reading:  Romans 1:28, Romans 1:32, Romans 2:8, Matthew 24:5, Mark 13:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

Lord, You make Yourself so plainly known to us.   Help us to always choose wisely.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 31 July 2018

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 (NIV).

Are you easily deceived?

Cards on the table time:   I’m easily duped.  I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to discerning peoples’ intentions.  I’m quick to trust and sometimes quick to put my trust in people and things that I shouldn’t.   I’m also somewhat co-dependent, and that can make for a poisonous mixture if we aren’t careful.  Yet I believe in God without question and believe that, if the lawless one arrives during my life, I’d be able to summon the neurons to perceive and reject him.   Yet would that be the case?

So many people today are tempted to cry out “God, why do you let this happen to me” when things go wrong for them.  Cancer, financial struggles, joblessness, divorce, temptations, loneliness, mental struggles:   every time something plagues us it’s so easy to blame God first before getting down to the nub of what’s actually happening.   I wonder how many who are quick to blame God would be easily deceived by the evil one when the man of lawlessness begins to reveal himself.

If the ‘man of lawlessness’ doesn’t appear in the exact way Jesus said He Himself would, then the man of lawlessness will have revealed himself to be the fraud he really is.  It won’t be hard to tell.  False Christ?   Man of lawlessness.   Unexplainable miracles that don’t attribute to God?   Man of lawlessness.   Takes credit for things seemingly miraculous things he didn’t do?   Man of lawlessness (or candidate for Congress).  Flowery words without substance, leading people down primrose paths, the left hand not matching what the right one does:   man of lawlessness (or another politician).

And many will believe him.  Willingly.  Enthusiastically.

People are so hungry for meaning that they will jump at the first chance they see, thinking they are placing their faith wisely when, in fact, they’re laying it at the feet of a devil.  Billions of people alive in that day will believe in that person and think he is Christ incarnate when, in fact, he won’t be.   Will you be one of them?   Are you easily deceived?

The way to know is to follow the word of God.   Get to know Christ one on one.   Converse with Him.   Read about Him.   Make Him a priority.   Follow Him.   Trust.  When you do those things, it’ll be easy to tell the difference between the real thing and a phony imitation.

For further reading:  Matthew 4:10, Matthew 24:24, Revelation 13:13, John 4:48, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Proverbs 4:6, John 3:17-19, 2 Thessalonians 2:11.

Lord, help me always to cleave close to You and to examine all things through Your words.