Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 10 February 2020

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. Philippians 3:3-4 (EHV).

Paul uses much of this first part of Chapter 3 to remind us to have no confidence in our flesh; to not put our trust in this world but, instead, in Jesus.   He does it using a comparison to circumcision.

Reading this in 2020, even I’ll admit:   it’s uncomfortable, especially as a man.   Yet it’s also logical to compare our faith in Christ to being ‘cut around.’   In the Bible, circumcision goes all the way back to Abraham, who was told by God to do it to the men in his life as a mark of devotion to God.   In today’s world, women will (ok, rightfully) joke that a man’s penis is, to him, the most important part of his body.  Even knowing that joke, God is STILL right, then, to have asked men to circumcise it   He’s saying “dedicate the most important part of you to Me.   Serve me this way.”   In that, it becomes an act of love.    Yet the more you read about it, the more you see it isn’t about a physical surgery.

Medically, there are some uses for circumcision but it is still mainly elective. Even going back to Paul’s time and beyond, that was true.   It seems likely that this was something with which Abraham might have been familiar even before God commanded him to do it.   For Jews of Paul’s day, it was part of Mosaic law; something they HAD to do.   Yet, for Paul and we who came after him, it became just another Jewish custom we were no longer bound to obey because our circumcision was one of the heart:   where God was asking us to cut around all else from the start (even in Abraham’s day).

Keep that in mind when reading the rest of the verses in chapter 3.   It’s not about getting your foreskin cut off:   it’s about excising from your heart any prideful sin that hides if from God.   It’s about dedicating to Christ that which really is most important of all:   our soul.  Romans 2 spells it out:   that our faith in God is a circumcision of the heart, where it matters most.  Colossians 2 then takes that a step further, stating that it was Christ himself who cut off our sinful nature.

It is for men and women both to be circumcised of the heart, to have our sinful nature cut away and our souls reconfigured to be someone new.  Only Jesus can do this.

For further reading:   Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 6:15, Colossians 2:11, Philippians 3:5.

Lord Jesus, circumcise my heart and mark me as Your own.   Cut away that which doesn’t matter and make me into a new person to serve You in Your work.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 31 July 2019

Encourage slaves to submit to their masters in everything, to be pleasing to them, not to be argumentative with them, not to steal from them, but to demonstrate their complete trustworthiness, so that they may show the teaching of God our Savior to be attractive in every way. Titus 2:9-10 (EHV).

It’s about submission, not slavery.

Slavery is an off-limits topic in our politically-correct culture.   We aren’t allowed to acknowledge that slavery happened except in terms of denouncing it in the most vociferous tone.  No doubt:  slavery is an abomination and a wrong.   No doubt, too, that more people than just Americans were or held slaves throughout human history.   Indeed, it’s occurring, still, today, on every continent except, perhaps, Antarctica.

How does Paul advise us to deal with slavery?   Encourage slaves to be submissive.  WHAT?   Yep.   Encourage those suffering through the degrading misery of human bondage to submit to their masters as a reflection of submitting to God.   Demonstrate patience and endurance.   Demonstrate honesty and trustworthiness.  Demonstrate these qualities that slaveowners, through their very role, are lacking.   Do so as a way that the slave owners and others may see Jesus through us, through the example of trust in Him.  As Jesus said, “let your light sine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Right on, right on.

God didn’t make slavery, but He allows it to occur so that people may learn to depend on Him.   God didn’t make cruelty but He allows it so that others may learn love for Him instead.   God didn’t invent political-correctness but He allows this modern slavery to ideology so that we might see He’s so much bigger than our nonsense.   We get to see that by first submitting to Him.

It isn’t PC to talk about positive things that resulted from slavery.   Historically speaking, after emancipation, the black community in America was the most cohesive, familial, dignified and faith-based community across all demographics up until the advent of the 1960s Great Society.  Even under the oppression of Jim Crow, former slaves rose to overcome that oppression with dignity and honor; if only those oppressing would have done the same.   Perhaps God’s message (through Paul) to us today is to endure the unendurable with that same dignity and honor.   He encourages us to submit to Christ by submitting to those who would put us in bonds in a thousand different ways.   This so that, to God may be the glory.

For further reading:  Matthew 5:16, Luke 1:47, Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:11.

Lord God, to You be the glory in all things, even the worst that humanity can conceive.  Remind me always to submit to You in all ways.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 28 February 2019

“…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,” 1 Timothy 6:14-15 (NIV).

It isn’t up to you and me.   Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ, will appear at a time of God’s own choosing.   The Father already knows when it will happen; the Son doesn’t; their Spirit doesn’t.  The Son, Jesus, will appear in the clouds and all the world will see Him, acknowledge Him, revere Him even as many won’t believe it’s actually Him.  You and I (and our world), despite our knowledge and ‘advanced humanity,’ have no say in this in any way.   It isn’t up to us.   It’s up to Him.

It also isn’t up to you and me that God is blessed.   So many folks today spend much of their time hating God.   That isn’t anything new.   It goes all the way back to Cain, even further if you consider the fall of Satan.   Satan hated that God was God and he wasn’t.   So did Cain.   So did every one of us whose sins, small and large, prove we choose anything other than God.  Yet our rebellion from the fact of God Himself doesn’t change the fact that He is blessed to be Himself.   We bless Him with our worship, honor, and love, and He blesses us simply by being Himself, then sharing that with us.   We don’t deserve such goodness, yet He uses our lives to then revere and love others around us.  It’s not about us because it is about Him.   The more we get in touch with that simple fact, the more we become less stressed by the realization that it isn’t up to us that God is holy, blessed, magnificent, just and loving and, well, God.

And it isn’t up to you and me that God is the ONLY ruler, the ultimate king, the Lord above all other earthly lords, the highest authority.   He’s God and we aren’t.   He allows earthly authorities to rule us, or rule over us.   He uses their actions to boundary the lives in which we carry out His work here.   Yet all rulers are subordinate to Him, even the despots.  None is more powerful than the Lord God, and none has the power or dominion that He has.   It’s impossible for them to have those things because we are mere mortals and He isn’t.  God was God and sovereign before the first king, dictator or president, and He will be there when, one day, all bow down in deference to Him.

It’s important to remember these things because we tend to fall away from God if we aren’t frequently reminded.  We fail to show that we know He is God and we aren’t, and we substitute faith in Him with misguided faith in un-divine mankind.

For further reading:   1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Sovereign Lord, You are God, the Only God.   All praise to only You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 27 February 2019

“… to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Timothy 6:14 (NIV).

That’s the rub of it, isn’t it?   Keeping the command (to be made righteous in the sight of God by the love of Jesus) is a tough thing.   We like our control.  Me, I messed it up yesterday in more than a few ways.   You did too.   Let’s not list all the ways we failed yesterday because it misses the point.   Confess your sins to God in private; I’ll do the same.

But remember this:  Jesus saw it; God the Father saw it; God the Spirit saw it.  He/They saw every time me and you did and said awful things yesterday.   He knew them when we thought them.  We repeatedly demonstrated it; He saw it every time.

And He loved us anyway.   He loved us though we spit in His eye.   He felt dirty when we felt dirty because He loves us enough to go through what we go through.  He knew we wouldn’t keep His command, not even the easy one to just love each other.   He knew it, and He loved us anyway.   He loved us enough to provide air, water, food, shelter, and anything you know of yesterday and today.   He blesses us with provision, with His love that we get to share with each other.

He COMPLETELY forgives.  Always and every time.

He loves us enough to come back again to rescue us because He doesn’t want our eternity to be marred.   He promised to come back and He kept all His words the first time around, so His promise is reliable.   He loves us and said He’s coming back, so we can believe it.

When is He coming back?   Look up the details in Daniel, Revelation, 2 Thessalonians, and the other prophecies.   You will won’t find the date and time.   Could be today; could be in a thousand years.   Be ready now.

But also get ready to have your world rocked:   He’s already here.   He came back to you already.   Here, now, in the flesh…your flesh.

Yep:   Jesus will physically come back in majesty the way He said He would.  Yet His Spirit is in us now.   It’s Him, part of Him, part of the Trinity that He is.   He lives and acts and thinks and loves through you.   He’s with us during the secret sins; He’s there to walk us back away from them in repentance.   And He’s there in praise, speaking when we don’t know how to.   Jesus will come back in His body and all the world will see Him, but the world can see Him now through us.

Do they? Do we show Him in us?   Yes, that’s the rub of it.

For further reading:   1 Thessalonians 3:13, 1 Corinthians 1:7, 2 Timothy 1:10, 1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Mighty Jesus, I let You down yesterday; I’m a sinner.  Forgive me and guide me to show You better today. 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 26 February 2019

In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you…  1 Timothy 6:13 (NIV).

Lets’s back up a few steps and break down the verses.   Let’s bask in God’s brilliance.

God…in the sight of God…what does that mean?   When we read Paul’s words, we are in the blessing he spoke over Timothy.  His words remind us of the fact that we are blessed under the watchful eye and love of God almighty, who made us and all things.   When we pray to Him we are blessed.   When we are doing our secret sins, we are in blessing.   When we are ashamed and hurting, we are in the sight of God, receiving His blessing.   His blessing and sight cover all of us all the time.   His sight is the lighthouse beacon to lead us out of the fog of those secret sins.   And His sight is shining, warm love, not harsh light.

In the sight of God, who gives life to everything:   It is the God who sees us, He who breathed life into everything that lives.   Us, animals, plants, even microbes:   everything that lives is alive because God willed it so.   He breathed life especially to man, His very good creation.   Paul’s words remind us that the God who sees us is the God who chose to give us life, to not just create us but to make us alive.  It wasn’t a random act of nature (itself not random but created) but was, instead, the deliberate choice of the great I AM who saw His magnificent universe as incomplete until He breathed life into you, me, and billions of other very good souls.

Most important, Paul mentions that we are in the sight of God the Father and God the Son, Christ Jesus.   He news-reports the reminder that Jesus confessed His Kingship to Pilate, His earthly judge, the earthly authority to whom He would submit.  The only person with whom Jesus conferred personally while He was being tried was the conflicted man who would give into temptation and condemn Him.   Think of it:   He who created everything by speaking, who as God and man together, who could read Pilate’s mind and heart, this same Jesus reasoned with him, spoke with him as a peer instead of as a subject.   Jesus testified, told Pilate the straight scoop, the news.   And Pilate still condemned Him.

That Jesus, that God who gives all life to all creatures, who sees everything inside and out, is the One who sees, loves, and saves you and I today.   He offered it to Pilate.   He created the world in six days.  He gave life to you and me.  He is.

For further reading:   John 18:33-37, 2 Timothy 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Magnificent living Jesus, thank You for seeing me, for blessing me, for all You do.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 October 2018

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV).

I’ve been in a week-long discussion with people who dearly love the traditional Lutheran liturgy and worship service.   That’s the kind of environment in which I was raised; I love it, too.   These days, I worship in a place that is pretty non-traditional but still within the Missouri Synod structure.   Our services contain all the same elements of doctrine used in more traditional settings.   Yet our church focuses on Jesus’ mission in our lives, on being ‘disciples who make disciples who make disciples.’   On being in mission and worship every day, not just for an hour on Sunday.

Come to our church and you’ll find most people in jeans.   You won’t find hymnals but you’ll find both new and traditional praise music.  You’ll say the same creeds (though not as often) and hear the same Bible.   And you’ll be introduced to the living Christ.  Yet the focus isn’t on Lutheranism but on Jesus.  The letters “LCMS” are on the door but they aren’t where the emphasis is.  The folks with whom I was debating would be aghast at this.

Paul affirmed what others in the early church already knew:   there is one God and one Savior, one mediator between God and man.   That mediator is Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ.   He Himself is God and man, Savior and one representing those who need to be saved, fully man while being fully God at all times, and the Son in the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Spirit.  THAT is the message of the faith.

How we proclaim that message is somewhat up to us.  Lutherans (and others) call anything not commanded by Scripture “adiophora:” neither God-commanded nor forbidden.  In many settings, traditional, liturgical worship works.   It faithfully proclaims Christ while encouraging believers.   Yet in other settings (such as where I live), a different approach works.   My church’s non-traditional methods still faithfully proclaim Christ while encouraging believers.  As long as the focus in on proclaiming Christ, we’re arguing about window dressings.   One isn’t better than another.   They’re simply different ways of accomplishing the same goal, that is proclaiming the one God and one mediator.

If your church uses a generations-old liturgy, traditional hymnals, pastoral robes, and clings to worshipping the same way that generations have, then God bless you!   Keep doing it; God is pleased with that.   And if your church uses other methods like hymns on the screen, contemporary music, non-traditional schedules, and blue jeans, then God bless you, too.   Keep doing those things because they please God, too.   Something borrowed, something blue: it’s contemporary tradition.

For further reading: Deuteronomy 6:4, Romans 3:29-30, Galatians 3:20, Matthew 20:28, 1 Corinthians 1:6, 1 Timothy 2:7

Lord, bless our worship of You, the one and only God and one and only mediator.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 19 July 2018

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 2 Thessalonians 2:3(NIV).

The most celebrated villain in history has already appeared and he’s here among us now.  He’s you.   He’s me.   He is antichrist.

It seems like a fantastic proposition, the stuff of apocalyptic fiction, yet Paul says it’s true.  Perhaps he will be a single person.   John mentioned many “antichrists” meaning false leaders, people who lead others to reject Christ because he (and they) are anti-Christ, against Jesus Christ.   Yet, in this verse, Paul mentions one man, the worst of the worst.   It won’t be Satan; it will be a human; verse 9 corroborates this.   Millenialists and tribulation believers look for the coming of this one man as the definitive marker that humanity has entered the end times.   They’re probably right.

Yet you and I are men of lawlessness.   You and I are against Christ.   You and I are still steeped in our sins and daily rebelling against God.   Hopefully we aren’t leading legions of gullible people away from Jesus, but when we lead lives of hypocrisy we lead one or a few.   When you think about it, that may be even worse.  I’m a hypocrite; so are you; so is Pope Francis, Franklin Graham, your aunt Myrtle, and everyone we know.

We’re sinful.  We commit lawless acts every day, things that try to tear us away from the redemption of Jesus.   As we get closer to the actual end times, things will get worse.   Things that society used to forbid will become acceptable.  Heinous events and unspeakable evils will become more and more common.   People will lead lives that directly contradict even the small things Jesus taught.   We will embrace petty evil and reject common good.  Come to think of it, maybe we’re in the end times after all.

Or maybe not.   Yet in those coming days, the worst of the worst of humanity will rise up and cause unheard of destruction.  Nuclear war, widespread murder, the most vile kinds of apostasy you can dream up:   whatever it will be it will be awful.  And the thoughts that give him birth are the ones that tempt and hurt each of us now.  We side with the man of lawlessness with every sin we undertake.   Our roles may not make us world leaders, but perhaps people are even more effective one on one, at a personal level.   If we’re anti-Christ, that can have deadly consequences.

The way out of that?   Cling to Jesus; cling to faith in Him.   Do whatever it takes to turn from temptations by growing closer to God.  Turn our everyday lawlessness to everyday righteousness by letting Him make that change in us.   And that’s a tougher road to follow.

For further reading:  Mark 13:5, Matthew 24:10-12, Daniel 7:25, Revelation 13:5-6, 2 Thessalonians 2:4, 9

Again, come Lord Jesus and quickly.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 June 2018

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NIV).

Paul isn’t talking about himself here:   he’s clearly talking about God.   Some folks have used verse 24 to say “see, it’s Paul saying it, not God.   He isn’t speaking for God.”  Let’s just go there:   that’s dumb.  Of course Paul is talking about God and of course he’s talking for God (specifically, it’s God talking through Paul).   The proof?   “The one who calls you is faithful.”

Face it:   other than God, anyone who “calls” you isn’t faithful.   We’re human; we’re people; we’re fallible.   We make mistakes, even when we’re motivated by love and good intentions.   At some point, any person who calls you to do something, change, be, or whatever will fail you.   Why?   Because they’re human, people, fallible:   just like you.   And me.   At some time, we fail each other.

God never fails us.   Even when we don’t see or understand His actions – and especially when we don’t like them – He is always faithful in keeping His word to us.   He doesn’t change; God doesn’t evolve.   His love is always where He says it is and is always powerful, faithful, and true.   If we feel disconnected from it, chances are we have listened to the call of something or someone other than just the Lord.  Whether we feel Him or not, however, He’s still reaching out to us and always does.

He will always do it because He is always love and justice for us.   He is always faithful.  When we feel those times of disconnect, we can ALWAYS go back to God and repent.   “I was wrong.   I did X and I’m sorry.   Forgive me.   Help me to change, to turn away and follow You better.”   Say something like that from the heart and you’re on the road back.   When you ‘get there’ you find God never left.   In fact, He was there in and beside you even when you thought He wasn’t.   He is ready to help you transform.   He is there to give you His peace, to sanctify you, to keep you blameless, to DO in your life.   How He does that differs for each of us, but He does it all the same.   Why did He let us suffer?   Maybe the better question is “why did WE let us suffer?”   God always rescues because God is always faithful.

Satan can’t do that.   You can’t do that.   The invented ‘gods’ of Asatru can’t do that.  Your friends, your sainted Aunt Sadie, and your most devout churchgoer can’t do that because they aren’t God.  Only God can be truly faithful to us.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:25-28.

Lord, forgive me for when I’ve been unfaithful to Your heart.   Help me to always know You are with me.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 12 June 2018

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV).

I’m always amazed at how much power God packs into short verses.  Good writers will tell you to not waste words.   Go easy on the adjectives, use adverbs sparsely, watch the prepositional phrases.  Above all:  brevity (which, said William Shakespeare, is the soul of wit).   God is the wittiest writer of all.

Rejoice always; noodle those two words for their power.  Not “don’t worry be happy” but “rejoice.”  Not “when you feel happy” but “always.”   Freaking always; as in “all the time” or “every minute of our lives” or “without ceasing” or even “wholeheartedly.”   That’s not wimpy.

Pray continually.  Be in 100% communion – in spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual union – with God at all times and in all ways.   Prayer is an active conduit; a transmission line of the most real, visceral matters of the heart.   Paul isn’t lobbing more human weight on us.  He’s imploring us to hook our lives up to God’s lifeline and channel Him into every second of our lives. The way to do that is prayer, praying in all that we do.   Make it second nature.

Give Thanks.  Give thanks when we awaken.   Give thanks when we fall asleep.  Give thanks for victories and defeats and challenges and setbacks and love and hurt and family and even enemies.   Give thanks in all circumstance for all circumstances serve God’s better purposes.

For this is:  for this is God’s will.  “This is.”   Think of those as a way of saying the I AM, the ultimate etre, to be, is being in your life.   What is is because He wills it to be so.  If something is, it is because of God, not because of any other reason for God is the only reason, God is the only being and ultimate truth.  We get to rejoice, pray with Him, and be thankful for Him.   Because of that, life has meaning and purpose.

Paul uses this benediction to remind his friends of the actions a follower of Jesus would want to take.   It isn’t easy:   doing these things – rejoicing, praying, giving thanks, accepting the fact of God – requires deep personal commitment.   Faith in Jesus isn’t for the faint of heart.   Indeed, not believing is the coward’s track in life.   Atheism and agnosticism are the easy paths even as they result in dead ends.   Yet Paul’s friends – and us – got to take these simple steps in a faith walk that continues to this day.

And God says it all in just a few simple words.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:7, Luke 18:1, Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:19

Lord, thank You for the power you pack into your words.  Make them the constitution of my life.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 April 2018

Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.   1 Thessalonians 4:8 (NIV).

Do atheists go to hell?   And what about suicides:   do people who commit suicide go to hell?

Let’s get the bad news out of the way:   if atheists say they don’t believe, actively reject believing in Jesus, then, yes, they are rejecting God Himself and absorb those consequences now.  Pascal’s wager plays out:  if you believe in God and He exists, or you believe in God and He doesn’t exist, or you don’t believe in God and He doesn’t exist, you are rationally better off than if you don’t believe in God and He does exist.  God offers the proof of His existence in many ways and it’s not only irrational and illogical to actively disbelieve in the miracles of nature, but it’s spiritually dangerous.   Jesus came to build relationships with every person, especially folks who don’t know Him or deny Him.   If any of us rejects the offering of salvation from Him, they do so at their own peril.

Ditto you and I with our pride because, let’s be real:   neither you nor I know other peoples’ hearts.   It isn’t our place to judge the heart.   Only God can know whether someone truly shuns Him or only claim to reject Him but secretly don’t.   Perhaps the best we can say in the matter is to simply say “we don’t know but the Bible says” and leave it at that.  Woe to the man who rejects the Son of Man.   Woe, too, to the man who judges the man who rejected Jesus.

What about suicides?   What about people who reject God’s ultimate gift of life by ending it themselves?   Same answer:   the best we can say is “I don’t know.”   Nowhere in the Bible does is say people who commit suicide are damned.   We could what-if the situation endlessly and still be left at the conclusion of saying it’s really up to God because only God knows the heart.   If someone rejects life, perhaps they are rejecting God; that isn’t up to me to decide.   Who knows a person’s last thoughts except God?  Perhaps it’s a whiff at the question but, in fact, it’s above my pay grade.

A called servant of Christ – a pastor, reverend, minister, priest – is someone who received a personal call from God to teach and proclaim Him.   Paul reminds us today that those who reject the words of called servants are rejecting God Himself.   Yet even called servants are fallible, sinful, human.   Only God has the answers we all seek.

For further reading:   Ezekiel 36:27, Romans 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Galatians 4:6, 1 John 3:24, 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

Lord, I believe in You.   Help my un-belief.   Help those who don’t know you, or are hurting to the agony of death.