Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 15 August 2019

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 (EHV).

Let’s add one last sentence because this is the why.   If the five ‘why’s’ are who, what, where, when, and why, then verses four through six (from “But” through the second mention of “Savior”) are who, what, where and when, and verse 7 is the why.

We’re justified by Jesus’ grace so that we might become heirs with the hope of eternal life.   He sprinted to the cross to die, and then to rise from death, for us.   Because He loved us.   Because He saw the complete depravity of sin and knew it couldn’t be tolerated.   Because He understood that sin had compromised us, that we’d let that happen, and that we couldn’t do anything about it.   Jesus opened eternal life because of His love for sinful you and me.

To do that, He made us just.  He made us righteous, clean again.   God demanded an atonement for how our sins had violated holiness.   Jesus, God-Himself, said “there’s only one way to truly make them righteous again” and so He did it.  The choices we made – sins – voided our righteousness.   We couldn’t be in the presence of holiness again without being destroyed by the loving, beautiful perfection of Him.  So Jesus made Himself the atonement for our sins and, in doing so, transferred righteousness to us.   We didn’t deserve it; we couldn’t do it.   But He did it anyway.   He loved us to provide for us as the Father.   He loved us to die for us as the Son.   He loved us to live through us as the Spirit.   Three in One through this miracle called “resurrection,” God did this thing to make us justified in His presence.

Because of His mercy.   His justice, His love, His patience, His kindness:   He wanted to share them, to give them, to pass them around.   He wanted to give us things to live for more than just existence or achievement or property.   God wanted our lives to have meaning and His meaning was the only one that matters.   So, in His righteousness-making mercy, He made us heirs in His promise of eternal life.   Of eternity now and later.   Of being part of the spiritual world today.  Of sharing His supernaturality now, and always.   Because of His mercy.

That’s why.

For further reading:  Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 4:35-41, Mark 11:22-24, Acts 22:16, Romans 3:24, Romans 5:5, Romans 11:14, Ephesians 2:9, 1 Peter 1:3, Titus 3:8

Thank You, God, for Your love, Your righteousness, Your mercy, Your hope.   Help me to share them today!

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Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 1 August 2019

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. Titus 2:11 (EHV).

Consider why this verse says what it does, where it does.   We’ve already read verses 1-10 of Titus 2.   You’ll remember that they talked about sound doctrine and sound, upright behaviors of those who teach that doctrine; that they talked about encouraging people, especially believers, to exhibit these upright behaviors so that God may be glorified.

Why?   Because His grace has appeared and it brings saving to everyone.   EVERYONE.

Jews?   Saved.   Muslims?   Saved.   Liberal Democrats?   Saved.  Buddhists?   Saved.   Conservative Republicans?   Saved.  Donald Trump and Barack Obama?   Saved.  You?   Saved.   Everyone.

God gave His undeserved gift of salvation to everyone who would accept it.   Not accepting it doesn’t negate that He gave it.   Rejecting it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  It’s available even to those who reject it and Him.   All they have to do is submit, to believe.

The most amazing words in this verse are “appeared” and “bringing.”   They denote God having taken it upon Himself to come to us in an amazing way.   He wasn’t just born:   He appeared.   He came on the scene, fulfilling hundreds of prophecies and ancient predictions.  The mathematical odds of it happening are staggeringly impossible, but He did it; 10^157 or 1 in 10 with 157 zeros behind it (see https://www.empower.global/the-mathematical-probability-that-jesus-is-the-christ/).   God found a way to come to us as His Son, Jesus, in a way that would make Him the central figure in all of human history but without being a tyrant.   He who could be all the CGI spectacle that Hollywood could ever imagine appeared as a humble servant boy who grew into a humble servant teacher.

And when He appeared, He brought salvation with Him.   He saw in us a terminal fault.  We were sin-soaked.   We couldn’t save ourselves on our own.   A thousand years of instructions to the Jewish people on how much they needed God couldn’t save them from their own sins.   Billions of people lived before Jesus and billions have lived since and not one of them could save themselves from the desolation of living without His hope.   But He could.   He could do what was necessary to make it possible for people to live in peace with Him forever.   He alone could vanquish death; He alone could redefine life.

Jesus didn’t have to do it but he appeared to bring salvation.   He who powerfully but plainly spoke everything into existence didn’t have to appear and bring salvation, but He did it anyway.  Out of love.  Because of love.   Because of His perfection and His merciful nature, He chose to give us a gift that could never be deserved, never earned, never repaid.   He didn’t ask for repayment.   He only asked for our love.  When you consider that this verse came on the heels of others about behavior and submission, perhaps that’s the most grace-filled miracle of all.

For further reading:  Romans 3:24, 2 Timothy 1:10, Titus 2:12.

Savior from eternity, thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 8 April 2019

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.   2 Timothy 2:1 (NIV).

Lately, I’ve been struggling with going to the gym each morning   For years, my alarm has been set to 0500 hours (5 AM to you non-military readers).   I go to the gym soon after for cardio and weights.   These last few months, however, I have struggled.   I tire more easily, and I find it tougher to get motivated to go.   Physically, I’m in pretty good shape though I’m carrying more weight than I want to or should.   But I tire quicker, and, most days, I would rather just turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.

This won’t be one of those stories where Jesus rushes in to save the day, however (even though He does).   I wish I could say I felt the strength of the Savior pull me into the gym and go all Arnold on the weights, but that hasn’t happened yet.  What does keep me going is a goal of losing weight, of being able to walk freely and easily when I’m 80.  The thought of being in better health than my parents were also motivates me because my genes are, unfortunately, working against me.   The combination of that and bad choices means I’m fighting an uphill battle.  On my own it’s tough.   That’s where Jesus comes in.   And when I recognize that He’s motivating me, I begin to see that He’s been there all along, before I even started.

That’s always the case in our lives because daily living is an uphill battle without the strength of God to encourage us.   To push us to always give just a bit more.   I like to think that He wants me to be in better overall health, so He does motivate me to get up and go, to walk those 10000 steps per day, to eat a little healthier.   As my health slowly improves, it really isn’t me improving it:   it’s Jesus, who is motivating me to be better.   The spark of inspiration to improve comes from Him, from Him giving me the desire to take better care of the body and life He gave.

In fact, the only real strength there is in this world is from Jesus Christ.    Human strength (and the desire to fight the alarm clock) eventually fails.   Yet strength from Christ is always constant, always there.   He gives it freely.   Sure, we can train up and tone our bodies and minds and even our hearts to better perform.   But we don’t earn it or deserve it or work it out.   Strength isn’t ours just because we worked hard.   It’s ours because Jesus gives it.

For further reading:   Ephesians 6:10, 2 Timothy 2:2.

Lord Jesus, You are strength.   You are the only real strength in this world.   Thank You for abiding with me and strengthening me

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 9 October 2018

Now to the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.   Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17 (NIV).

Most folks don’t usually end a letter in the middle, but Paul did.   I suppose he wasn’t like most folks, especially since he devoted half of his life to radically enforcing strict Judaism before (being shifted) 180 degrees and becoming history’s greatest evangelist for Christ.

Paul knew who to thank, who had earned the glory.   It wasn’t the man in the mirror.   Look in the mirror now (or as soon as you can).   You’re pretty special; God made you to be “very good” and someone in whom He could personally delight.   But you don’t deserve honor and glory forever and ever (amen).   You just don’t.   None of us do.

I started teaching Sunday School again for the first time in over a decade.   This season, I volunteered to help teach our church’s ‘tweeners’ (grades 3-5).   I believe that’s an important age for us to mentor kids because it’s the time when they start feeling their way into the world.   They become interested in music and movies and the world around them; they develop wider-ranging friendships; they start to make connections.

On Sunday I said this to the kids:   the same Jesus who loves us and holds us and died on the cross is the same God who created everything by speaking, and who kept Noah and his family alive on an ark while everything else around them was destroyed.   It’s true.  The same God who spoke in Genesis 1:1 and in every word, chapter and book of the Bible is the same God who promised “Yes, I am coming soon” as the Bible closes out.

The only thing you can say to such a God is “to You be all honor and glory forever and ever, amen.”

That’s an exploding grace bomb in your mind.   You and I (and Paul and Noah and everyone else) are sinners.   We were born to live in communion with God yet we messed it up.   Yet God sent His Son, Himself, to make right what we couldn’t.   He came to us in love to bring justice by declaring “it is finished” when He completed our salvation.  He is magnificent in every way, and every time you feel your heartbeat, or view a sunset, or contemplate the simple, complex beauty of a tree leaf, or simply wonder how you made it through today alive, you and I get to remind ourselves – and praise Him – that he is King, eternal, immortal, invisible and worthy of honor and glory forever.

That’s the perfect thought with which to conclude every action, every day, every letter, every moment.

For further reading:  Revelation 15:3, 1 Timothy 6:16, Colossians 1:15, Jude 25, Romans 11:36, 1 Timothy 1:18

Lord God, I praise You as my King, as eternal, immortal, invisible and worthy of all honor and glory forever.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 4 October 2018

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:13-14 (NIV).

Reiterating verse 13 helps to better understand the impact of verse 14.  Even though we were once despicable, God, through His Son Jesus, gave us everything out of the love in His heart so that we might live.   Even though we spend so much of our lives thinking, saying, doing things that are against God, God still unceasingly pours love into us through our faith in His Son, Jesus.

Everything you want to know about Christianity is there.   If you’re satisfied, here endeth the lesson.   Go have a great day.   Naturally I’ll keep talking…

“Amazing Grace;” you know the song.   The man who wrote it, John Newton, was a slaver.   He carried slaves from Africa to Europe and the Americas.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, Newton was terrible man, the most profane man one of his ship captains had ever met.   Newton blasphemed God, mocked other men for displaying faith in God, and even denounced his own faith in Jesus at one point…

…until a terrible storm off the Irish coast brought him to his knees and Newton cried out to God for help.   That was the start of a conversion that took most of a decade.   Newton turned from slavery and the sea and became an evangelical minister.   And a songwriter.  Paul and John Newton might have found commonality in their past; they weren’t so very different in character.

Sort of like you and me.

When we were still very much obsessed with our sins and mired in the dysfunction that results, God reached to us through His Spirit and touched our hearts.   We can come to know Jesus as the opposite of sin, as the antidote for what ails us.   Sin isn’t love and love overcomes sin.   When we learn the love of Jesus that He gives us through His Spirit, we can be remade, reborn, renewed, and refreshed to undertake something better.

That happened to Paul.   It happened to John Newton.   It’s happened to me, and I hope it has happened to you, too.   If it hasn’t, open up and let Him in.

Everything you need to know about Christianity, about following Jesus, is summed up in the concept of grace.   God loves us through grace and we get to love others this same way.  Paraphrasing Newton, it’s an amazing, sweet sound to hear God speak to your heart and impart that He loves you.   That He loves you just the way you are through His grace.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 4:15, 2 Timothy 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Timothy 1:16

Lord above, come to me here below and touch me with Your grace.   Grow my faith and help me to better share You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 3 October 2018

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 1 Timothy 1:13 (NIV).

Paul’s story is my story; maybe it’s yours as well.   I was once a blasphemer and persecutor and even a violent man.   Even today, after so much, evil still tears at me and struggles to get me to return to my old ways.

Sound familiar?

It’s the walk of everyone who follows Jesus.   Here’s the good news:   it doesn’t get any easier.   And that’s just fine.   The longer I walk with Jesus the more I start to see how much of my life I have lived in ignorance and unbelief.   I’ve been judgy; I’ve been adulterous; I’ve been untrustworthy; I’ve been callous.   It’s all out of not knowing what I was missing.  Yet even knowing I’m redeemed, I constantly pull myself away from Him in all these ways and more.

Sound familiar again?

So here’s a better familiarity.  God knows it, and He sent Jesus to offer a way back.   He doesn’t push it:  He offers it.  At a Bible study last night, we talked about grace.   You know grace:   getting something for free that you don’t deserve.   It’s how God operates; it’s how He moves in our lives; it’s a bomb that explodes in our hearts and heads and remakes into something better.   Mercy comes through grace; grace comes first from God.

Not long ago someone said, again, “I find it hard to believe that a God of love would damn people who never heard of Him.”  To be honest, I find that hard to believe, too.   It’s not what I want to believe about our God, that this God of supreme love would condemn for eternity someone who didn’t know Him through His Word.   I’ll be frank:   I just don’t know how to answer a statement like that.

Except for this:  it is by God’s grace that we are saved.   God makes Himself known through nature, through people, through our feelings, through intelligence.   There are still parts of the world that haven’t been reached, and there are still people on the Third Rock who haven’t heard of Jesus.   By God’s grace, it is you and I who are given the task of reaching them.   How will we do it, especially when we ourselves sometimes slip back into unbelief?

We’ll do it first by stopping at the cross, remembering who we once were and then re-focusing on who, through grace and mercy, God made us into being.  The story of Saul, who became Paul, is your story and mine.   The continuing saga of Paul, who was remade by Jesus’ love, is still being gracefully written in how we live our lives.

For further reading:  Acts 8:3, Acts 26:9, Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 Timothy 1:14

Lord Jesus, remake my heart and help me to unlearn old habits, to repent and turn, and to live celebrating in the love of You.