Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 11 March 2020

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.  Philippians 4:8 (NJKV).

I had a bad day yesterday.   It was a bad day at work, compounded by a day of bad news, made worse by the matter of being at home alone.  Woe is me?   No, not really, but even as a believer in Jesus, we have bad days.

At work, I had been chastised for work I had never done before on a moment’s notice, without preparation, and with minimal guidance.   I had made several small but correctible errors yet the subsequent upbraiding from my manager struck me hard.   By the end of the afternoon I was both angry and agitated, despairing and depressed.  It kept me up last night.

Then, yesterday, I learned that a co-worker died last week.   We weren’t close; in fact we barely knew each other.   But her death hit me as unfair, cruel.   Not more than an hour or so after learning that, another friend informed me that, just the day before, her own daughter had also died.   That really shattered my mood because, while I never met her daughter, my friend and I worked closely together for several years and I consider her dear.   Death goes beyond simple cruelty:   it is hostile to all we love.

Last, I’m alone at home.   My wife and our temporary resident daughter and grandchildren are gone for the week.   It’s spring break, so we all agreed they should go out and enjoy themselves.   I’m glad they are, but on such a tough day, I feel left alone.   Yes, I know Christ never leaves us fully alone, yet I believe even Jesus must sympathize when our feelings get the best of us.

On days like these, Paul’s words of advice for us to meditate on what is good, pure and righteous are both hollow and uplifting.   In the middle of my dark mood, they seem like sauce for the goose; a waste of time given my gloomy circumstances.   Yet that’s only the evil one attacking me.   In darkness, even a dim candle shines brightly.   In my darkened mood yesterday, Paul’s advice to remind me to focus on the better angels of Christ’s nature is actually what I need to hear most.   Word by word, little by little, the light they cast brightens over the gloomy dark. Thought by thought, they replace the dark with something much better.

And that’s the strength to start again.   It’s Jesus’ strength.

Please pray for the families of Marci Crawford and Janice Blankenship.   Pray for comfort, God’s peace, and balm in this time of grief.

For further reading: Philippians 4:9.

Lord Jesus, grant Your peace to my friends’ families today.   Shine Your light into their lives to overcome the darkness.  And in mine and ours as well.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 11 July 2018

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 (NIV).

When I was a kid, I spent most of my middle school years in southeast Oklahoma.  During lunch hours, I sat with kids who talked about their churches (really, they did).   It was the late 1970s, and they talked a lot about the end times, about the days and things that will happen when Jesus returns.   I had attended church all my life, the churches I had attended were mainstream northern protestant (Lutheran or Presbyterian), not charismatic evangelicals such as Baptist, Assemblies of God, or Pentecostal.  I had never learned about any of this, and what they said scared the crap out of me, making me question whether I was good enough for Jesus.

I felt angry, upset at how they treated this end-times news as if it was some special information only they knew about.   These teenagers tossed it around as if it was something cool, something given just to them, and when I started asking questions they responded with, “DON’T YOU KNOW THIS?”   I didn’t.   That was the point when I gave up.

News flash:   on our own, you and I AREN’T good enough for Jesus.   We choose other things and separate ourselves from Him.   But it isn’t up to us to do things to become “good enough” for Him.  We can’t.   He’s already done everything necessary to repair our relationship.  At the cross, He replaced our sin with His blood and our uncleanness with His purity.   When His Father sees us, all He sees is Jesus covering one of His beloved children.

Here’s a second news flash:   this is for everyone.   It isn’t just for Christians or evangelicals.  It isn’t just for people who look or think like you, and it isn’t just for the people you like.   It isn’t just for black people or white people, and it isn’t just for Americans or Ugandans or underground believers who defy Communist China.  Jesus is coming back and He’s coming back with holy fire to make all things new, and He wants everyone to know so they can believe in Him first.   It isn’t a secret, and we aren’t to act as if you need a secret handshake to know it.  We aren’t better than anyone just because we know it even if we may be better informed.   Get with the program but don’t be a jerk about it.

For further reading: Philippians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Kings 17:18, Isaiah 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Lord, help Me to witness for You today to everyone.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 7 June 2018

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NIV).

Before we move on from verse 15, let’s talk about one more aspect of it:   making sure.  The Geneva Bible translates those words “we desire you.”  The King James says “see that” as does the Living Bible.   And the New English Bible says “see to it.”   You get the picture.   In living our lives, we are to be engaged in others’ lives.   What’s more, in being engaged with others, we are to desire to see to it that NOBODY pays back wrong for wrong.   We are to live to serve others and keep them from doing harm.

In our age of social media, that’s getting tough.   We are each “all right all the time.”  Too many times I get caught up in the argument and try to be right instead of trying to help; how about you?   Jesus doesn’t tell us to back down when we’re wronged, but He does tell us to do all things being mindful of His example and the needs of others.  That includes online.  It’s hard to call out our friends when they step over the line.   It’s tough to back away from an argument without stooping to insults.  It’s difficult to know when to stop and let someone else have the last word.

Actually, though, it isn’t hard, tough, or difficult to do any of those things.   It’s Godly.   It’s what Jesus did.   It’s what Paul is imploring his friends to do.

And he’s imploring them to ALWAYS do it, to make sure we use our time, talents, and treasures to ensure we always treat others in a Christ-like manner.   We can’t be treating others in a Christ-like manner if we aren’t willing to politely, faithfully engage them where they are.   And we can’t be treating others in a Christ-like manner when we get wrapped around the axle of arguments, (largely unimportant) small points, and petty things.

Perhaps the root of it is pride.   Just yesterday, I read a Joyce Meyer devotion that talks about how a proud heart isn’t marked with having to get the last word, or always trying to be right, or always being argumentative or stressing others.   I’ve been proud; too proud.   Again, how about you?

The cure for that is to humbly walk back from my pride and focus on what Paul is echoing from the Lord.   Be engaged in other people.   Love, be patient, listen, seek understanding, be empathetic.   Above all, use your life to try to do good for others, to help them avoid doing wrong or being harmed.   No, it really isn’t hard at all to do any of those things.   We should desire for each other to see to that.

For further reading:  Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9, Ephesians 4:32, 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Lord, forgive me and teach me Your better way for living with people.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 2 April 2018

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.   1 Thessalonians 4:1 (NIV).

Happy day after Easter, my friend.   I have a confession to make:   this Easter is the first one in a long time when I feel that, well, everything is cool.   We had a meaningful celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord, and I got to hear Him say some things to me that I needed to hear.   I spoke back to Him, and, as He does, He responded by loading some peace onto my heart.   Everything is good.   No, the stresses of the world haven’t gone away.   Yes, calamity could (and may) rush into my life at any time.   Yes, I’m very much still a work in progress in walking my walk of faith with Jesus.   Yes, I still struggle with being a hypocrite and a judgmental jerk.   All that’s true, and it’s cool.   Through Him, I know I can do better.  I know my Lord has my back.

He told me through words like Paul’s how He wants me to live out the life He gave me.   It’s as if He’s saying “Follow me and do what I do, live as I live.”   Listen, learn, understand, forgive; empathize, believe, help those who are afflicted, spend time with Me every day.   I’m working on those things and what improvements happen through me are glory to God who deserves the credit.  Paul’s words taught me these things.  So did my wife, my parents, my kids and friends, my pastors and mentors.

They’re valuable lessons, you know, because it’s still a damn hard world we’re in.   When Jesus rose on that Easter Sunday, He didn’t wipe out all things and start with a clean slate (even though, in a way, He did).  No, He equipped His followers to stand in the world and tell others of His peace, His justice, His mercy, His love.   That’s what Paul had passed on to the Thessalonians:  equipment for following Jesus and succeeding in Him.   The mark of a successful believer is that other people see the attitudes of Jesus showing through what they say and do.

And that’s why I feel things are cool.   For the first time in a long time, I get it.   It’s a gift, and I’m not worthy of it, but He gave it to me anyway because He made me worthy.   On my own, I wasn’t good enough.   Through Him, everything is always so much more than good.

For further reading:   2 Corinthians 13:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Ephesians 4:1, 2 Corinthians 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:2.

Lord, I thank You for Your resurrecting, for Your love in my life, for equipping me to follow You.   Help me to do Your will for others.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2016

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  Hebrews 2, verses 2 and 3.

What does that mean?  It sort of seems like two different thoughts ‘smushed’ together.

My NIV concordance says that “the message spoken through angels” references God giving the Commandments to Moses at Sinai.  Some reading from Deuteronomy tells that “myriads of angels” accompanied God in giving Him praise when He revealed His law to Moses (who then shared it with the world).  A little online research corroborates that opinion.  What about the rest of the verses?

Yesterday at church the theme was “good enough.”   Pastor Mark talked about how we, as people, constantly strive to prove we’re good enough.   Every religion on earth is a choice between following Jesus or not.   If you aren’t following Jesus, then you’re doing something, anything, to prove you’re good enough.   Good enough for Allah, good enough to reach nirvana, good enough to prove your worth, good enough to make up for things you’ve done, just good enough:   that’s the point of all faiths other than following Jesus.  You’re either a following Christian or you aren’t.

I don’t say this to denigrate other faiths.   It’s just a fact.   If your faith isn’t put in Jesus, you aren’t putting your faith in the only one who can save you from your sins.  You’re striving to do something, most likely to prove you’re good enough to rise above the wrongs you’ve done.   And be real:   everyone does something wrong.   Wrong equals sin.   We all sin; we’re all thick with sin.  There’s nothing we can do to undo the consequences of those sins, both against other people and, as believers, against the righteous justice of God.   If you aren’t following Jesus, you’re doing something to overcome those sins.  THAT point segues directly into verse 3, where the verse talks about salvation.

Only Jesus has atoned for your sins.   Only Jesus can save me, you, or anyone from the eternal consequences of our sins.  God is perfect and just and righteous and all love.   He made us to love us and for us to live in perfect harmony with that love for all time.   Yet, to maintain that just, righteous, perfect love, God can’t tolerate our sins.   He gave us the free will to follow completely or sin.   Being a loving parent, He allows us to choose what we do, including the consequences.  But to maintain His perfection He can’t allow our constant imperfections to taint Him.   If He did, He wouldn’t be perfect, He wouldn’t be God.  That can’t be allowed, and let’s keep it real:   we wouldn’t really want it.

I am not perfect and I’m not just or righteous on my own.   I can’t atone for myself.  I can make some amends for the wrongs I’ve done to God and other people, but in truth I can’t atone for everything.   As an absolute, if I can’t atone for everything then I really can’t atone for everything.   I’m not God.  Neither are you.  We can’t save ourselves from the punishment we deserve:   damnation and separation from God.

Jesus did.

He did and He did it as fully man and fully God all at the same time.   It’s a mystery, THE mystery of the ages, how Jesus lived, died, and atoned for all sins.   He took on Himself the eternal damnation that even the least of my sins deserves and He made it right.   He made unclean man right and righteous again so that we can again live in the harmony with God that God originally intended.   The truly good news of all history is how He saved us from the eternal consequences our sins deserve.   All of Scripture is God testifying through men how He did this.   Those twelve men who Jesus taught during His ministry here inspired dozens, then hundreds, then millions of others to share this good news with others.   The Bible does this.   Pastors, ministries, whole lifetimes do this.   Even our words here together do this.   It’s all because of what Jesus did those thousands of years ago.   On my own, I’m not good enough.   Jesus is and with Him, He made me good enough.

What do two verses really mean?   As it turns out, quite a lot.

For more reading:   Deuteronomy 33:2, Romans 11:22.

Lord Jesus, I follow You.   Thank You for saving me, for forgiving me, for doing what I can’t.   Help me to live in ways to share this message with the world.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 August 2015

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” Mark 10, verse 17-21.

Do you grasp the enormity of what Jesus is saying to the man?

This stranger runs up to Jesus while Jesus is walking to Jerusalem.   Jesus is walking to Jerusalem knowing He will meet adulation and crowds who will, five days hence, watch Him be murdered. This man doesn’t know any of that.   He has heard about Jesus and wants to meet Him.   Perhaps the man is full of himself and wants a little of Jesus’ fame to rub off on him.   Perhaps the man is a spy from the Sanhedrin, sent out to size up Jesus before He gets to the city walls.   Perhaps the man is genuinely curious, confused in life and looking for a meaningful existence.

In truth, we don’t know.   All we know about the man (at this point) is that he ran up to Jesus and assumed a position of worship. The man then tells Jesus He is “good.”   Jesus’ reply:   He doesn’t say He isn’t good.   He simply reminds the man of the depth of his words, that if He’s saying Jesus is a ‘good teacher’ then he is insinuating that Jesus the Good Teacher is God because “no one is good, except God alone.”

Enormous.   That definitely falls into the “get more than you bargained for” category.

How do you think the man felt when Jesus said this to him?   Do you think he was bewildered, shocked to be called out and called back?  Based on later verses, we learn that the man is wealthy and conceited; it’s likely that he is trying to test Jesus for some unknown purpose not the least of which is pride. Jesus knows all this and yet He doesn’t smite the proud man.   Instead, He offers the man every chance to come clean and have a genuine relationship. “You say I’m God. Tell me:   what do you REALLY believe?”   Can you imagine Jesus’ penetrative stare?

I don’t know about you, but that’s daunting for me.   All too often, I try to hide my sins from God, thinking that if I do x, y or z, Jesus won’t know about it; ludicrous. When I read verses like these where Jesus makes Himself known obliquely yet boldly, I’m reminded that He does the same thing to me every day.   He is always beckoning me in His word, my conscience, my schedule and a thousand ways every day to come to Him with everything. Instead of smacking me down, which I deserve, Jesus blows my mind by letting me come to the conclusion that He is who He says He is and He’s made it ok for me to come to Him.

That’s one of the things Jesus did for the man in these verses.   He tipped His hand just a little in order to let the man know that He was in the game to win, specifically to win the man’s soul.   He does the same thing for you and me.

Lord, I believe You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.   You are Him and You are good.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.