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 1 Thessalonians, 18 April 2018

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.   1 Thessalonians 4:9 (NIV).

We who participate in social media would do well to remember this verse.   Are you, like me, guilty of not loving your fellow man on Facebook, Twitter, or some other program, especially when they disagree with you?   Are you, like me, guilty of forgetting that it was God Himself who taught us how to love each other?

We would do well to emulate the Thessalonians.   The Thessalonians took Paul’s instruction to heart, listening when he told them how God wanted them to honor Him with their sexuality and their other habits.   More than even that, they listened when Paul told them that God wanted them to love each other selflessly, completely, shamelessly.  Share with all; care for everyone; listen before speaking; seek understanding; show compassion.   Paul taught the Thessalonians to love each other completely the way God loved them.

Yet even better than that, we’d do well to emulate Jesus, who John quoted (in 13:34) as saying “a new command I give you:   Love one another.   As I have loved you, so you MUST love one another.”   It wasn’t a request; it wasn’t a suggestion:   it was a COMMAND.   A directive, an order.   Jesus didn’t do his best R. Lee Ermey (rest in peace, Gunney) and bark out the order.   Instead, he gave this command near the end of the Last Supper, the most personal moment of His life.   Jesus told His friends that He wanted them to do for others what He had done for them.   Love fully, love forgivingly, love from the heart, share the love that God gave them so that others will know it, too.   To truly be His followers, this was something they had to do, would feel compelled to do.

Why do this?   Jesus knew His Spirit would reside in and live through the lives of His friends.  Jesus’ Spirit can only live in a welcoming heart, and a welcoming heart can’t be welcoming without love.   If we love each other, we are living out the fruits of that Spirit, and God will shine through us.   Our lives will thrive because of that.

Paul didn’t need to write to his friends to remind them of these things.  Even in an age of barbarism they knew how to love the way Jesus did.   But, if you think about it, WE need to hear this lesson over and over.   We need to be reminded of it, clinging to it, and constantly taught how to do it because all too often we forget.

For further reading:   Romans 12:10, John 6:45, John 13:34, 1 Thessalonians 4:10.

My Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your gracious love, Your saving love.  Teach me again, today, how  to love the way you do for my friends and fellow man.

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.


Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 18 August 2015

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. ’So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10, verses 5-9.

God made them male and female…we needed the law because our hearts were hard…we have been us since the beginning of creation…two will become one….what God has joined together let no one separate:   these are the foundations of marriage.   Only someone with a willfully blind eye could not see how God intended men and women for marriage.   No, this isn’t a forum for advocating traditional marriage; I’ll leave that to others.

Instead, let’s focus on the hardening of the heart part.

It takes two to tango and two to divorce.   God brings together; people separate.   What’s the difference?   Of course it’s sin.   Some kind of sin, some kind of separating factor is always at the heart of why people divorce.   Even when people marry and simply decide that they aren’t a fit, something separates them, some thing to which they hold fast even when they are intended to cleave together; something hardens a heart.   Boil it all away and it’s always some kind of sin, even a very minor one.

It’s true, a couple can’t save their marriage if they don’t want to work at it. A friend reminded me of this yesterday and her point is valid:   you can try and try and try and sometimes, if both aren’t trying, it just doesn’t work.   Is it any wonder that a marriage would fall apart if both don’t work at keeping it together? And abuse?   Jesus doesn’t ask us to suffer real abuse because real abuse is sin.

Instead, Jesus always brings us back to the fact that, as married people, we are separate but one, we are woman and man yet a couple in Him. He is the third partner in every marriage.   When we divorce, we’re divorcing Him as well.   In my own experience, I found that, to repair my marriage meant really repenting, really accepting the consequences of the wrongs I had done, turning myself around, then starting to really follow Jesus in ways I hadn’t before. In my case, that meant reconciliation because it just so happened that God was telling my wife “try again even though you have every right not to.”

What’s the point here?   As with the previous verses, Jesus doesn’t command us to divorce or marry, to stay together or split. Instead, He tells us to cleave first to Him and let Him guide us, especially in marriage.   Heaven must hold a special place for people who suffer abuse and cling to marriage, and for people who suffer neglect and still hold on.   I wonder, sometimes, if the thing that makes them special is how they cling first to Christ and let Him lead them just one more day in a marriage that may seem dead already but that, instead, may have many more good years ahead. Those years can only become good when we let Jesus soften our sin-hardened hearts. He reminds us that divorce is something we allow not something He commands because all things are possible in Him.

Lord, I pray, soften hearts made hard in troubled marriages.   Heal and lead them.

Read Mark 10, verses 1-12.