Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 12 February 2019

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV).

That seems like a pretty low standard, doesn’t it, just being content with food and clothing?   Unless of course you’re homeless or don’t have a coat in the cold weather.    Or if you’re one of the 815 million people who are, according to the United Nations, starving or undernourished every day (https://www.worldhunger.org/world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/).   If you live in Africa or much of India, you desperately need clean water.   If you’re in the former USSR or Africa or much of South America, you need reliable medical care.  If you’re in North Korea, you need everything.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to be content in all things because, in all things and at all times, God is with us.   He promised to never leave or forsake us whether we’re in plenty or deadly want.  And the writer of Proverbs 30 (most like a man named Agur) tells us that the only thing he really needs is daily bread.   Do the jump to what Jesus said about not living on bread alone but on every word from God and we can quickly see that we don’t even need food.

Sure, you’ll wither and eventually die without food.  Each of us will die someday, yet even as we are dying, God is with us, Jesus is within us, feeling what we feel and dying again a little bit at a time.   As long as we have Jesus, NOTHING else matters, not even food and clothing.   I’ve spent enough time with homeless people to know that Jesus can be found there as well, even among those who desperately need clothing and shelter.

Yet let’s not be irresponsible and not live thankfully for what He provides us.   When we do have food, we have a gift from God and we should be cognizant of that, 24/7.  Disaster can come on us quickly (from weather, a tempestuous planet, or the wiles of hostile government).   When that happens, our needs become even more acute; duh.  That means now is the time to be thankful and content for food and clothing and water and shelter and all the things we take for granted when disasters are far away.

And let’s also keep it real by remembering that, for those suffering in the gulags of North Korea, Cuba, Russia and China, God must seem far away.  Ditto the streets of our cities, the hell-hardship of being trafficked, and in places where people don’t have enough money to pay for food.  Pray for them.   Pray for ways you and I can tangibly help and be used as Jesus’ hands to feed them.   To give them the hope to be thankful as well.

For further reading:   Hebrews 13:5, Proverbs 30:8, Matthew 4:4, 1 Timothy 6:9.

Blessed Lord, I often fail to be thankful for all You provide.  Thank You for everything because You give everything.   Show me a way to share my thankfulness and bounties today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 December 2016

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Hebrews 5, verses 11-14.

Yesterday we discussed how we, as people, are slow to learn.   Today, let’s put that in context of the Hebrews author’s warnings against falling away.  And about Jedi Knights.

In 1 Corinthians 3:2, the Apostle Paul uses an analogy similar to that above, talking about how he ‘fed’ the ‘children’ under his tutelage milk and not solid food.   He did this because they were not ready for solid food as their faith and understanding of it had not yet matured.   That analogy is quite similar to today’s verses.  You can see why, for many years, people thought Hebrews had also been written by Paul, though contemporary opinions today now differ.  If nothing else, we can surmise that the author of Hebrews was familiar with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians or, at least, familiar with what could have been a popular saying.   What does all this have to do with falling away from the faith?

Think about it:  resisting temptation is a difficult thing.   It is a characteristic of maturity, of being able to discern the consequences of choosing right over wrong.  A child, one still developing and able to only digest simple ideas, doesn’t fully know how to do this because they haven’t yet fully acquired those skills.   Time, training, experience, and a ‘diet’ designed to foster those things are the only ways to acquire the wisdom that comes with age.   If man does not live by bread alone, then the ‘bread’ food on which we are fed by God corresponds to our level of maturity.   Thinking that way, then it’s easy to understand how those new to the faith are fed on milk while solid food comes with time.   Thinking further, things like resisting the temptation to sin, fully repenting of our sins, and fully submitting to God’s active will in our lives can more easily be seen as matters into which we grow mature.

So much for the judgy analysis.   Let’s tone it down a little. Just this morning, I was watching a Star Wars movie; Revenge of the Sith, one of the pre-quel movies that sci-fi purists constantly pan.   If you think about it, all seven of the Star Wars movies are morality plays.  The interwoven storylines about Jedi, Sith, galactic warfare tactics, and the rise, fall, and rise of empires revolve around some pretty basic ideas.   Choose good over evil and good prevails.   Choose evil over good and the opposite occurs.  In the movies, the Jedi are trained over many years to embrace the patient ways of good, to learn how to channel the Force for use in serving the greater good.   They start on milk and graduate to steak and potatoes.

Me thinks that Anakin Skywalker, for all his Darth Vaderness, never progressed beyond spiritual milk.  Neither has George Lucas, for what it matters.

Over time, when we’re immature, we become impatient.   Impatience can be a natural reaction to negative stress, yet when we focus on it beyond a moment, it can become a choice, a way of reacting.  Impatient people are generally immature in some way.  They become intolerant of the pace of things and determine to change that pace.   Not unlike the believers of Hebrews times, we who are impatient today reject the deliberate life of righteousness and choose the impatient impetuousness of unrighteousness.   It takes time to be still and learn about God.   It takes time to learn the ways of righteousness, submission, and faith.   When we are impatient, we fall away from those ways and the choices of evil can become alluring.

Me thinks, too, that these are the ways of the Force.   Note to Star Wars fans:   don’t navel-gaze too long at this idea but also don’t miss these overtones in the movies.   The way of God is the way of righteousness, and the way of righteousness takes patience and time.   Sort of like learning to be a Jedi.

For further reading:   Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 6:1, 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 3:2, 1 Corinthians 14:20, 1 Peter 2:2, Isaiah 7:15, Psalm 46:10

Lord Jesus, I pray You to feed me the food I need.   Feed me milk in my impatient times, and I pray for more substance when You see I am ready for it.   Thy will be done, Lord.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 11 May 2015

“For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) Mark 7, verse 19

No matter what someone tells you, everything you want to eat is permissible. Free choice reigns, baby.

Those religious people who say you can’t drink alcohol?   They’re full of it.   The vegans who say it’s immoral to eat meat?   Not Biblical in any way.   Muslims and Jews and their pork aversion?   Crackpot.   Anyone who says you can’t eat or drink something and tries to hammer you with the Bible as to why you shouldn’t:   go ahead and lovingly hammer back. What Jesus is saying here is “it’s just food, guys.” And, yes, let’s go there:   Jesus had the same bodily functions that you and I had.   His body worked the same as yours or mine; I hope He was in better shape than me. When He consumed food and drink, the same thing happened to Him as happened to us.   It’s just food, y’all. It goes in the body; it goes out of the body.   It’s fuel, not faith or future.

Mind you, you can’t take Jesus’ words out of context. One verse in the Bible here isn’t simply condoning everything the way we might think it is.   Remember:   heart first. The Apostle Paul, echoing Jesus’ commands, reminds us that, if something is bad for you, then it could lead to sin. If something causes someone a problem – say a beer before an alcoholic, junk food in front of a dieter, or bacon and sausage on my plate any time of the day – then we should gut-check (no pun intended) our motivation before offering it or consuming it in their presence.   We need to always check our hearts before we jump into eating and drinking things that may be problematic for our peers. Sin is the problem, not bacon, eggs or beer.

Even the religious folk I mention up above:   we need to do a gut-check in how we respond to them.   My wife and I are hunting for a church to attend here in Paris (Texas).   Last month, we went into a friendly non-denominational church south of town.   It had the contemporary, open vibe we were looking for, and we liked the fact that they were doing things in this small, economically challenged community; be the church, don’t just go to church.   Yet I don’t think we’ll be going back there because the minister spent part of the service decrying demon alcohol.   She kept preaching about how awful and sinful alcohol is, and made this aspiring vintner and wine-business owner feel unwelcome.   How many of us do this with the best of intentions in how we walk our daily faith-walk?

The point of all this is to make sure that, whatever we do in living to carry out Jesus’ commands, we do so with the kind of loving attitude He has.

Lord, bless those who struggle with food issues, and always remind me to do a heart-check in how I respond to others.

Read Mark 7, verses 1-23.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 September 2014

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey– Mark 1, verse 6.

Let’s start this out by saying “so what?” So what if this strange guy in the desert wore camel’s hair, a leather belt, and ate organic natural food?   Half of California does that!   In words that seem to exemplify our time in history, “at this point, what difference does it make?”

Maybe a lot.

Matthew described John this way as well.   Some scholars think that means Matthew took his testimony from Mark’s. Some think that the wearing of camel hair and eating wild insects signified living an ascetic life of denial; hold that thought.   And some others think that John might have been on to something because a diet of natural sugar and protein is highly recommended for anyone who wants to lead a lean but active lifestyle.

God’s provision is where I think it goes. I mean, if you trust God to provide for your basic needs, then that gives you much, much more time to focus on what’s important (namely, your mission to herald the soon-to-arrive Messiah). I wonder if John decided that he didn’t want to sweat the small stuff, like food and clothing, and focus, instead, on confronting the sinners who came to see him and telling them about the deliverer who was well on His way.

In reality, perhaps the way it matters a lot is because all of those things could be true. We don’t know whether Matthew copied Mark or who wrote first:   the veracity of the testimony is what matters.   And centuries of analysis and comparisons show that the Gospels are remarkably complementary to each other, not contradicting while each granting perspectives about Jesus that other witnesses couldn’t provide. The ascetic claim has merit.   If you live a life of self-denial in service of your God, others take you seriously. John had standing because he publicly, strenuously, vociferously walked the walk while talking the talk. And we can’t discount that God provided highly nutritious natural food to a strident worker who always needed quick energy. In survival training, instructors teach you how to live off the land.   Two of the foods that are highly recommended are honey and insects.   John the Baptist knew this and he wasn’t exactly a modern day prepper.

Yet it is because of these descriptions of John that, centuries later, we remember him as a serious and committed man.   His testimony is reliable because he was down for the struggle as shown in how he lived past the basics. John didn’t have to focus on where his next meal would come from because he kept that part of his life simple.   He trusted God. It allowed him to focus all his energy on Jesus. THAT, perhaps, is the most important aspect of all.

Granted, it might be entertaining (to others) if you dropped by Buffalo Wild Wings to order locusts and honey; the reaction you get may not be what you expect.   But if it helps you skinny down to only what matters most (like John the Baptist did) then perhaps those locusts wouldn’t be too bad if you dipped them in the honey first.

So what indeed.

Lord, help me to follow John’s example by giving up all worry over simple things so I can focus on the mission You give me today.

Read the descriptions of John’s habits in Mark 1 and Matthew 3.

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 6 February 2014

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.  Ruth 1, verses 6 and 7.

Usually, it takes awhile to move.   If you remember the beginning of the story, Naomi and Elimelek just moved.   I assume it took a little while to prepare, but in truth we don’t know that.   The story says they simply left.   Not so now.   Now that she is a widow with widowed daughters-in-law, she prepared to return home, to Bethlehem, from Moab.  That takes time.  For most people, it takes weeks, maybe even longer, to pack up and get ready to go. 

Do you think it was bittersweet?   It must have been.   Her husband and sons were buried in Moab; it must have been difficult to leave their graves, knowing they would likely never rest together there for eternity.   And it was hard work for single women to do anything back in those days; hey, it isn’t easy today.  Think, then, of a Bronze Age world in which women had no status or power.  Then consider them taking a journey, on foot, of a hundred miles or more without protection or escort.   It took planning, preparation, and prayer because they knew they would be making the journey all by themselves.

That is, until you consider that they had all the protection and escort they needed in the Lord.   The specific reason Naomi had for moving was that she heard how God had provided for his people by sending food.

We are in the same situation.

You mean God will send us food?   Perhaps; it’s up to Him, not me.   You mean God will protect us in times of need?   Absolutely.   In spirit and in physicality, God will do whatever He deems necessary to protect us where it matters most.   Whether we’re frozen cold in the latest winter storm or deep in trouble in which we’ve left no path for exit, God will always protect us and provide for us.   True, it may not be what we think it will be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for the best because God’s provision, in whatever the form, is always for the best.  All of it starts with trusting Him, believing Him, putting faith in Him.   Naomi did, and what came next were words worth living for.

Lord, protect and provide for me even in ways I don’t always understand.

 

Read Ruth 1, verses 1-10.  This is the whole story of Naomi moving to a strange place, then deciding to move back home.

 

Who depends on you for their provision?

Have you ever made a move of faith, ‘a leap of faith?’

How has God provided for you already today?