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

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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.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 25 July 2018

And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.  2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 (NIV).

Have you ever considered that God holds back evil so that it won’t overcome us but, instead, so that we might overcome it by relying fully on God’s grace and hope?

It’s tough to respond to someone who’s going through something tough.   When your spouse dies, when you’re robbed, when you’re facing divorce, when you lose your job, when the doctors tell you about a brain tumor, when the bank takes your house, when your kid goes to prison, when you just don’t understand why so many bad things happen:  what do we do when these happen?  Sometimes we just don’t know what to do or say.

You know, then, that perhaps the best thing we can do in those times is to be kind, to honestly “be there” for the afflicted person.   To listen, hug, cry with them, take on their burden, help them carry their hurt; to encourage without being selfish or foolish.   That’s what Jesus did; maybe He’s calling you to do it with someone you know.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that Jesus is at work in their lives (and yours) through that which afflicts.  He’s restraining evil from all the terrible things it could do.  He’s only allowing evil to refine us, to challenge us so that faith in Jesus might increase.   So that others may come to know Him better.   So that He might reach out through us and He might save more in this way.

He does this now because, at some point, that’s going to matter even more.  At some time, the sand is going to run out of the hourglass and time will be over.   When that happens, God will stop holding back evil.   When God pulls back His protective hand, evil will rise as the man of lawlessness and perpetrate even greater harm on humanity than has ever been done before.   The terror of death will sting everything about daily life, then, and those alive at that time will need to know Jesus even closer.

Yet for now, God is holding that back.   The man of lawlessness, defeated before his rise, hasn’t appeared on the scene.  For now, he exists only in the sins that plague us and try to turn our focus away from God.   God is restraining evil in our lives so that we won’t be overcome by it but will, instead, overcome it daily and bring glory to Him.  Perhaps we should thank Him more for this.

For further reading:  2 Thessalonians 2:8.

Lord God, I praise You for holding back evil in my life.  Help me to give You increasing glory and honor in all I am.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 5 July 2018

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 2 Thessalonians 1:5 (NIV).

Does God cause us to suffer?   Does God persecute us, or allow us to be persecuted?   Does God persecute, punish, or cause suffering for some people and not others, and does this sometimes cause us to suffer even when we have done nothing wrong?  Repeat after me:   yes.   It’s simply the truth, though we might debate how much we, vs God, actually cause the suffering.  Last question:  does that make God’s judgment wrong or evil?

No.   Of course not.

Yet repeat this too, friend sinner.  We don’t deserve to be saved and our choices merit God punishing us.   Even when we haven’t done anything to merit the ‘punishment’ that seems to be happening to us, we don’t deserve the beautiful grace God gives to us.  That’s what makes it grace.   It’s undeserved, un-asked-for, something we can’t get on our own but is freely given to us because He who gives it loves more than we do.

As a result, it is impossible to see that grace, to accept it, and NOT conclude that God’s judgment is right.  Noodle that thought awhile.  You and I can’t accept that grace is a good thing (and thus whoever gives grace is doing good for us) yet conclude that He who gives it has bad judgment.   Yet be wary of the logical fallacy where B does not necessarily always follow A.

Consider, then, how, with God, He only brings or allows suffering so that grace might increase.   He doesn’t cause grace by invoking suffering but, instead, brings good out of that suffering.   He always punishes only where punishment is earned.   When Jesus allows suffering, he always offers clear paths back to His healing love.  What’s more, God loves us enough to allow us to embrace the consequences of our choices.   Sometimes we choose things are destructive; got skin, got sin.  It is love that respects those choices, love that counsels “you shouldn’t do that.   He offers an excellent, better way” yet stands back when we say “no.”   An all-powerful God could simply compel us to do His bidding.   After all, that’s what we would do.  And that isn’t love.

Where love is, grace is.   Where grace is, God is.   Where God is, there is justice.   Justice follows right judgment.

Let’s conclude by keeping it real.   That also means God’s actions don’t always seem fair; it’s true.  Yet where in the Bible did God promise fairness?   He promised love, forgiveness, peace, and justice, and He gives them.   When you have those things, fair is meaningless.    Indeed, those qualities replace fairness, and those qualities always define God.   That is fairer than we deserve, and that brings us back to grace.

For further reading: Romans 6:1, Philippians 1:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6.

Lord, help me to submit to You and Your right judgment.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 June 2018

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  1 Thessalonians 5:28 (NIV).

What a great way to end a letter!   Read it again:   it’s the perfect way to end a letter to several dozen of your close friends.

Or several billion.

Or to begin your day.

Or to bless your dinner.

Or to greet someone at WalMart (go ahead:   try it!).

Or…or…you get the picture.

Next time you say goodbye, invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into their lives until you meet again.

In fact, shouldn’t this benediction be on your lips at all times?   When we really love someone, when we adore them, when we care enough to send the very best (including a Hallmark), shouldn’t we be blessing them with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them?  At or near the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Paul uses nearly identical words to bless his readers with the grace of Jesus.   He uses slightly different words in Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  The message:   Jesus is the perfect way to end a letter.

Or begin your day…or bless your dinner…or, again, you get the picture.

We can’t do any better than the grace of Jesus Christ.   It’s the grace of Christ that created us, then breathed life into us.   It is the grace of Christ that sustains us in breath, blood and bone every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we live and GET TO LIVE every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we get eternal life after this one, and that we get to be part of that eternity now.   It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can love.

If you could send a Hallmark to your very best friend, wouldn’t you want to end it by giving them the best you had to give?   That’s what Paul is saying here (and in all those other letters).   This was serious stuff to Paul who, just the verse prior to this one, had implored his friends to read the letter to others.   Back then, it wasn’t broken up into numbered verses; back then, Paul probably though people wouldn’t memorize his words.   But he knew that God had spoken through them and that they were important.   They were words that God wanted us to remember.

So it only follows that Paul would end the letter with a benediction that blesses the reader with the present grace of the God-man, Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  With that thought, Paul closes out his letter and so shall we.

See you next time.

For further reading: Romans 16:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Lord Jesus, bless me with Your wonderful grace today that I might share it with others.