Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 30 April 2020

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  1 Peter 1:20 (NIV).

Have you ever considered what it would be like to live in a world without Christianity?

Peter did.   He lived a large chunk of his life without knowing Jesus.   Judaism’s special bond as God’s chosen people had tarnished long before.   It wasn’t God’s fault:   it was humanity’s.  God still revered the Jews, all people in fact, and so He put into motion the plan He had designed since before He spoke it all into existence.

So, have you ever considered what our world would be like if God hadn’t done that, hadn’t sent His Son, Jesus, to live, die, and live again for our sake?   It’s a historical fact that Christian monks preserved the ancient knowledge from Egypt, Greece, and Rome through the Dark and Middle Ages.  Almost definitely, what we know as western traditions, respect and reverence for children, universal human rights, women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and representative republican democracy wouldn’t exist (at least not as they do).   Most likely, there would be more tyranny because, before Jesus, that was the norm.   Quite possibly, our world would be far more carnal and violent and more attuned to our most base human instincts.  It’s even very possible that methods of western hygiene and medicine would not have developed as they have.

This faith called “Christianity” is responsible for preserving most of the things that we hold as good and true in our twenty-first century world.  It’s true there are many who think the world would be much better without religion, stating that religion is responsible for so many of the world’s woes and wars.   They miss the point:   people are responsible for that, not faith in God.    Indeed, live in a place where Christianity is banned, say in Iran or North Korea or Communist China, and you’ll find the human spirit to be crushed and debilitated.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.   Before this world was even created, God knew what we would eventually do and that we would need a Savior.   Before you or I were even born, God knew we would be both His very good creation and that we would reject Him time and again.  In what may be the last epoch of our world, God revealed Himself to us personally, through His Son and through His Spirit so that we might not live apart from Him.

If He hadn’t done that, imagine the world as a North Korean gulag.

Pretty dire prediction?   Maybe.   None of us knows what the world would be like without Jesus.   All we can know is that we wouldn’t be saved from our own self-produced damnation.

For further reading:  Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 9:26, 1 Peter 1:21

Lord Jesus, thank You for looking ahead to see we would desperately need You, then for dying and living again to save us from ourselves.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 29 January 2020

 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. Philippians 2:23-24. (EHV).

Prudence is a good thing.   We should be wise and judicious with the talents & resources that the Lord puts in our paths, even when we’re motivated, excited and generous.

But confident?

As far as we know, Paul never made it back to Philippi.   He worked for thirty years after his conversion on the road to Damascas, and Philippi (an old Greek, then Roman, trading center) was where he drove out the demon from a girl who was being exploited by local merchants.   He had been staying there awhile, and when he drove out the girl’s demon, he was dragged before Roman authorities.   In exchange for his kindness and faith, Paul was beaten and jailed, then driven out of town.  Years later, Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, praising God and telling them of his plans to return to them soon.

Again, we don’t know if Paul ever made it back to Philippi but it’s possible, even likely, that he didn’t.  He had first visited Philippi during his second missionary journey (approximately 51 to 53 AD), and likely visited it again during his third journey (approximately 54-58 AD).   It is thought that Paul wrote Philippians sometime in the early 60s AD, possibly in 62; during that time he was imprisoned in Rome.  Some people think Paul journeyed back to Greece one last time, between 63 and 64 AD, before returning to Rome and dying in 67 AD.

All that just for the chance that he might not make it back to visit friends.  Was Paul’s confidence in the Lord misplaced?   Answer:  only if you think it was about actually showing up.

We know (from his words) that Paul believed God would lead him back.   Paul believed God would lead him EVERYWHERE, that every place Paul visited was because God had led him there and Jesus had orchestrated his life to these ends.  He had confidence in Jesus that, wherever Jesus led him, Paul would prosper.   That his fondest wishes would be best realized in the growing faith of his friends, not just in another working vacation.  Paul was confident in Christ that Christ would do whatever was necessary for God’s Kingdom.

It’s a good thing for us to make plans wisely, to line things up, best as we can, in order to make the most use of what we have been given.   Yet perhaps more important than this prudence is having confidence in Jesus that He will do the right thing in our lives.   Like Paul, we may want to journey to see our friends, but Christ knows what is better for us and He’ll line things up so that can happen.

For further reading:   Philippians 2:25

Loving Jesus, all my praise is to You for doing Your work in my life.   For letting what’s best happen.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 December 2019

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29-30. (EHV).

Was Paul one of these people who said “well, it’s good enough for me so it’s good enough for you?”   From these verses, it sure seems that way.   Paul was in intellectual living in a world where, like ours today, the intellect was daily confronted by the reality of brutish living.   Greece was the home of warriors and philosophers.   So was Rome.   So, in fact, was Jerusalem.  Paul had been educated as a Pharisee, and was taught the entirety of the Scriptures from boyhood.  Like other young Jewish men, he memorized them, took them to heart.  Later, as an adult, Paul zealously lived out the commands of the authorities in the synagogue.   Shut down “the Way” and get rid of anybody in your way.   He enthusiastically persecuted new Christians, even overseeing the murder of Stephen:   the first Christian martyr.  That all changed on a lonely desert road, where Paul learned how to stand up for Jesus.

Now enter his time in Philippi.   There Paul started the first Christian church on the European continent.   He cast out demons.   He preached Christ crucified to the mostly poor and merchant populations of that former Greek colony.  In doing so, he antagonized the powers-that-be who didn’t want to see their businesses or way of life altered.   All through this, Paul reasoned his way through, standing behind the truth that the Lord revealed to him and appealing to his friends and peers any way possible.

The payoff?   Pain and suffering.   Paul was ridiculed and scored:   things tough to bear for one who prided himself on his knowledge and God’s power through him.   By the time he got to writing these verses in Philippians, it would seem he was responding to his friends in Philippi, “well, if I have to suffer then you do, too.”   But read closer, especially in context of the verses around these, and you see that Paul isn’t saying this at all.  Instead, Paul is telling them, “rejoice in these sufferings.   Model me as I stand up for Jesus.”

Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when you lose your job because you won’t do something repugnant.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when your old friends reject you because you won’t go down those same old roads.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when the knock on the door comes, the tap on the shoulder is felt, or you’re led away.   You’re in His company and that of a man named Paul who had to learn how to stand.

For further reading:  Acts 16:19-40, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, Hebrews 10:32, Philippians 2:1.

Lord Jesus, I don’t want suffering.   I really don’t.   But when it comes because of standing for You, I welcome it.   Praise be to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 8 July 2019

To Titus, my true son in our common faith:  Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  Titus 1:4 (NIV).

As far as we know, Paul didn’t have any children.   Yet he refers to both Titus and Timothy as his sons.   That’s not uncommon.  You and I, perhaps we’ve felt a familial affection for people to whom we aren’t related yet have been caring, strong examples for us.   I’ve had mentors in the Air Force, and at jobs, and in my church and family.   How about you?

It’s the common faith that puts us on common ground.   The bottom line of that is, as always, Jesus Christ.  It seems pretty impossible to think that God, the supreme being, could have created everything and then not consider Him to be the fundamental we all share in common.  It simply defies logic.

And Paul was a logical man, using human experience and reason to appeal to a culture familiar with common experience and human reason.   He lived in a world ruled by Romans but largely shaped by the faith of the Jews and the Hellenistic culture of Greece.   The people of Paul’s day were familiar with faith, both Jewish, this nascent Christianity, and a hundred other faith practices of pagans.   They were familiar with the idea of God, even the common but radical idea that God would make Himself incarnate among us out of love, grace and peace.

That was a radical concept then; it’s still radical today.  It’s still contrary to a world where the strong survive.   Paul saw that real strength, however, came not from a sword or political power but, instead, from the grace of God.   He would greet his fellow believers in the language of their shared faith, and he would then pray over them the grace and peace from God the Father and His Son, Christ Jesus.

Common ground from which Paul would mentor and teach.   Paul’s people needed the common ground of believing there was a God who loved them, who endured their pain, who identified with their plight, who provided a way out.   The people of our time need that exact same reassurance.   Over a billion people (out of 7 billion) currently hold that faith, share that common ground.   That means a huge majority of our world either doesn’t know or doesn’t accept our common ground.   It means that we have a shared mission from Christ.   Share Him through how we live our lives.   Give an answer when asked.   More than that, give an answer by the things we do with and for others.   If we want to invite others onto the common ground of faith in Jesus, let’s do so by praying for them the grace and peace of Jesus by how we live today.   Let’s be mentors in the faith.

For further reading:  Romans 1:7, 2 Corinthians 2:13, 1 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:5

Lord Jesus, help me to share You in how I live today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 22 May 2019

always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  2 Timothy 3:7 (NIV).

Are you a fan of college or are you a fan of high school graduates learning a trade?   I have three college degrees:   an associate’s in Intelligence Collection, a bachelors in Business Management, and a master’s in Adult Education.   If it weren’t for student loan debt, they wouldn’t be worth much.   Even years ago when I went, many professors were politically polarized.

And if you think about it, politics is pretty small.   It doesn’t mean much in the eternal, long run.   Can you tell me what most of the popular issues were in ancient Sumeria?   Or Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome?   We don’t even know most of the local politicians back then, or even most of the high-ranking advisors in those empires.   More and more, even though I spend much time talking about politics and political matters, this talk is wasted time.   It’s like I’m always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the real truth.

What about those professors and that collegiate education?  The most common critique I hear about college education is that, other than trade-related colleges (such as medical school and law school), most college degrees today don’t prepare people for critical thinking.   They no longer provide people with deep education on matters of common history, logic skills, or non-specialized topics.   We pay thousands of dollars for higher degrees that are fairly useless in a workforce driven by detailed skills, both white and blue collar.   Yet that topic is a third rail, an off-limits critique of academia intellectual decline.   Its like the people who run colleges are always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

That’s because faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of all truth.  His truth that we are to love God and love our neighbor, that apart from Him we can do nothing, IS truth.   He, the I AM, IS, is truth, is reason.   Nearly all the great philosophers before the 20th century were religions (even those of antiquity).   And those between 1600 and the late 1800s were nearly universally Christian.  Only in the knowledge of God can we begin to truly learn things that are most necessary to succeed, especially in the hereafter.

As we age, we yearn for truth; as we age, we also don’t stop learning.  Brooks & Dunn sang about truth in believing, singing “I’m finding more and more truth in the words written in red.”   They were talking about the words of Christ.  There is much to learn in our world; thank God for that.   Thank God, most of all, that we can best learn the meaning of it by first learning the meaning of Jesus and His teachings.

For further reading: Mark 12:28-31, John 15:5, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:8.

Lord, You are the only real truth.   Forgive me when I’ve forgotten that.   Help me to remember it more today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 14 August 2018

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).

If you study the spread of Christianity, you see that Paul’s prayer was answered.   A word of mouth proposition, Christianity spread all over the known world in a matter of a few years.  That’s unprecedented.   The faiths of the Norse, Japanese, and indigenous tribes in the Americas never spread out of local areas due to many factors.  Already an established faith at the time of Jesus, it took hundreds of years for Buddhism to spread beyond India.   It also took many decades for Islam to spread out of Arabia and then it happened only through violence.  Yet it took only a handful of years for the message of Jesus Christ to spread from Jerusalem to Assyria, Greece, Asia Minor and all over the Roman Empire.   Within only a few decades, it spread into pagan Europe and up into India.

Good news travels fast.

Mark Twain and Winston Churchill were right:  A lie gets halfway around the world before truth puts on its boots.  Bad news travels fast, too, especially if you’re on the internet.  Yet I maintain that good news travels faster.   Bad times don’t last but they hurt while they’re here.   Yet when good news travels and takes root, it’s there for good.   True, we can misplace that good news but when it travels fast, it travels fast while establishing itself.

The good news of the Good News took root wherever it went.  Moreover, it took root in the face of adversity.   It traveled by word of mouth along ancient roads and trade routes.   It sailed the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and across the Black Sea.   It climbed mountains and was spoken across language barriers giving new-found hope to those who would open their hearts.  People accustomed to the family of Greek and Roman Gods and the plethora of ancient tribal deities heard, for the first time, that the God of all loved them.   That He forgave their sins, and wanted to live through their hearts and hands.   Revenge was replaced with hope; hope could finally spring eternal.

And all because people talked with each other.   Because people took Paul’s letters and shared them, preserved them, used them as a way to get to know this Jesus.   Because God answered Paul’s prayer.  Word traveled fast.   It still does today.   If you don’t believe that, consider that, in less than 4 decades, over 200 million people have come to faith in the dictatorship of Communist China.   In the years to come, there could (and probably will be) more Christians there than anywhere else on earth.   Good news travels fast and it can put down deep roots even in the harshest soil.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:2.

Lord, I praise You for Your word traveling fast!

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 13 August 2018

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV).

Have you noticed that Paul likes flowery benedictions?   He does this in most of his letters; why?  Simple:   praise and encouragement.

In these verses, (as you can see) that theme of encouragement is especially prevalent.  Think about it:  in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he spent considerable time teaching about patterns of living in a pagan world (which was what Asia Minor largely was).   In this second letter, Paul used his time to talk about the end of times and the persecution that would happen.   Persecution was a subject his friends in Thessalonica would understand because they lived in a Roman world hostile to the nascent Christian faith.  Their city was a cosmopolitan trade hub, the largest city between Rome and Byzantium and they saw first-hand the worst the Empire could offer.  They were familiar with the brutality lashed out against anyone who ‘made waves.’   And they were familiar with people who had known Jesus of Nazareth personally, had seen and heard Him, in person and had followed Him and His teachings in the few short decades since He departed.

If you or I lived in first century Asia Minor, we might need some encouragement, too.

That’s why Paul moves to end his letter this way.   He gives praise to God, stating the reason we should do so (“who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope”), then prays encouragement over the reader (the rest of the verse).

By the time Paul ministered to the new church in Thessalonica, that city was already almost 400 years old; today it is nearly 2400 years old and is the second largest city in Greece.  His friends there understood that they would need to praise God and be encouraged in the time to come because persecution would indeed come.   Within 20 years, all the apostles except one would be murdered (including Paul), and the church scattered.   Those who held onto believing in this Jesus would need to focus on praising Him in adversity while being encouraged by constantly learning and re-learning the truth of His encouragement.

Two millenia later, have things really changed?  Thessalonica is still a major city.   Some people still follow Jesus while most of the world does not.  People overseas are still dying for Christian faith and people here are blacklisted for it.  And the gospel is still on the move, teaching about God’s grace and His eternal encouragement of how His eternity matters most here and in the here to come.  I’d say Paul’s flowery benediction has served well.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:20, John 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:1.

Lord Jesus, thank You for these words you inspired Paul to share.   Let them encourage people to faith in You today.