Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 24 April 2019

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV).

On its own, this verse is (obviously) good advice.  Always tell the truth because you’re upright before God in doing so.  Yet don’t forget that verse 15 comes in-between other verses that caution us against engaging in useless conversation.   Useless quarrels about words and godless chatter are the opposite of what is God-approved.

Pseudo-political rant commences:  I’m baffled and discouraged by how our government, for political reasons, handles classified information.  I used to hold a clearance; it was required for my job in the military.   So I’m boggled and really discouraged, even angered, at the cavalier attitude some of my countrymen display regarding misuse of classified information.  Whether it’s a candidate doing it with a disregard for law (for reasons we still don’t know), or an FBI director leaking to seek revenge, or an activist traitor who refuses to testify after he is cornered, I can’t see anything good for the country with these people being handled gently.   When you agree to handle classified information, you sign papers with your agreement to do so honorably and carefully.  Jesus forgives them and I’m glad for that.   Our legal system should prosecute them harshly because what they willingly did endangers all of us.   Here endeth the rant.

I say all that because we need to correctly handle words, especially the truth.   Have you ever been ashamed to say or do something because you KNOW Jesus’ Spirit lives within you yet you say or do it anyway?   I’ve been there; how about you?   God gives us this unique, truly special Word to transform lives for Him and we profane it by our misuse, our words and deeds.  It’s similar to handling classified, if you think about it.   We don’t sign paperwork, but we do say “I believe.”   We can’t be prosecuted for believing, but we will be judged appropriately if we reject Him.   All through our lives we can snooze conversations about both politics and religion.   Yet, when we come to the end of our lives, the politics won’t matter but what we believe about Jesus will.

Is this just a useless quarrel or godless chatter?   I’ll leave it for you to decide; I don’t like talking politics here.  Christ included us in His family when He planted His Word in our hearts.  He gave us words to be able to share His Word with other people, so they, too, might believe and receive Christ’s adoption.  We are his brothers, sisters, and friends, not slaves or subjugated.  Those words aren’t trifles.   They are the only lasting love and power in the universe.  We should handle them respectfully

For further reading: Ephesians 1:13, Colossians 1:5, James 1:18, 2 Timothy 2:16.

Sovereign Lord, forgive me for my misuse, my carelessness with Your Word.   Teach me Your better way to use it today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 December 2016

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  Hebrews 5, verse 11.

My friend, you may not like hearing this but you’re slow to learn.   Dim, dull, impaired, sluggish, ignorant:   guilty, my friend, both you and I.   We are slow to learn matters of God’s heart.  You’ve heard the Biblical account that King David was a man after God’s own heart.   I think that, perhaps, David was just a man, albeit an extraordinarily talented man but that his real advantage – his only real advantage – in life was that he wasn’t slow to learn what matters most to God.   He paid attention to God, and sought Him out even when David made mistakes.  What would King David, or his wiser son Solomon, say about us?

Last night was a tough night at the call center.   Our mission is to call, call, and call, attempting to sell satellite radio programming to people who recently completed promotional offers.  In an average four hour shift, I usually call about 150 people, and I might make 4 sales out of all those calls.   That works out to a 3% sales rate for all the calls, and I’m at the top of my group.   Last night, I made 280 calls in a five hour shift and made zero sales.   It was discouraging but had to be done.  The most memorable calls were with some severely disgruntled customers who decided I would be a verbal punching bag.   I really don’t know why some folks seem to enjoy being nasty but two customers last night seemed to be enjoying it with gusto.   Profanity, yelling, humiliation, insults; try packing uber-portions of those things into an unplanned telemarketing call with a sales agent who can’t respond in kind and can only apologize on behalf of his employer.   That’s what these guys from New York and Washington did.  At the end of the calls, I honestly but reluctantly said a couple of quick prayers for these irate people, but it didn’t feel too soothing.

And then there’s Black Friday.   I don’t like the idea of it.   Me, I’m an ardent capitalist, and in theory, enabling stores to sell what they want when they want to is a great thing.   The combination of Judeo-Christian ethics, free market capitalism, and representative democracy has given rise to the greatest system for improving humanity that humanity has ever devised.  Yet I’m repulsed by Black Friday.   I’m repulsed by stores being open on a day set aside to thank God.   I’m sickened at the thought of hordes of people camping out to save pennies on meaningless stuff.   I’m revolted by the pictures of crowds fighting in Walmart and Best Buy for loss leader worthless widgets ridiculously discounted.   It’s their right; I don’t dispute that.   I am simply disgusted by it on Thanksgiving…and this year I participated, taking my grandson shopping while others ventured out to do same.   That not only disgusts me more:   it makes me a hypocrite.

What about the election?   In our lifetimes, has there ever been a more vitriolic, bad-tempered election than the one of 2016?   Both sides are guilty, and the losing side has shown nothing but sour grapes ever since the results came in.   If you pay attention to the media, it doesn’t promise to get better any time soon.   I’m with those who predict that every issue will be battled mercilessly and endlessly every day going forward.   It’s even more repulsive than Black Friday shoppers fighting over NES game systems.

Wanna know the reason why all these things happen?   It’s because we’re slow to learn.   Our sin choices make us ignorant and immature.  The author of Hebrews has spent five chapters explaining things about Jesus’ role in our lives.   Here in chapter 5, he’s explaining why Jesus is so similar to the ancient priest, Melchizidek.   And before he goes any further, he says that he wants to explain more but his readers wouldn’t understand it.   First century Judea didn’t have Walmart or Hillary Clinton, but I’m betting the marketplaces, synagogues, and common streets were full of the same kind of invective and discord that plagues our world today.

The author’s Hebrew readers were slow to learn what mattered to God, and they weren’t much different from their ancestors in King David’s time a millennium before.    They weren’t stupid; you and I aren’t stupid either.   They were stubborn; so are we.  They were experienced yet immature in following Jesus, and many had been educated in the Torah and the ways of the synagogue for decades before that.   Yet they were slow, sluggish in their faith.   They were not much different from Black Friday electors who could be unkind to strangers on the telephone.

They’re the people Jesus came to save.   They’re us.

For further reading:   Hebrews 5:6, 5:12-14.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being so much better than me.   Thank You for not being slow, and for being wise, full of grace, and patient.   Help me to models these parts of Your character.

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 November 2016

As has just been said:  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”  Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.  Hebrews 3, verses 15-19.

Today is Election Day.   Today we, as Americans, will elect either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as president.   We’re voting for the president, for members of Congress, state legislators and governors, local officials, judges and a host of ballot or state constitutional issues.   If you’ve followed politics this year, you may agree:   this election has divided the United States unlike any other in our lifetimes.  Thankfully, it’ll be over today (or soon after if it’s contested) and then the real work of governing and reconciliation will begin.

As we begin that work, perhaps a question, paraphrased from Hebrews, is appropriate:  are our hearts so hard that we cannot enter rest?   Have we become so divided that we can’t come back together and live in peace?   Or at least live in peace disagreeing?  The United States is culturally, economically, politically, ethnically, even racially more divided than at any time since 1860.   That year, the division led to civil war.   Are we that far gone?

I’m reminded of Matthew 19:26.   Jesus has been talking with a rich young man who wanted to puff himself up by chest-bumping the Son of Man.   Instead, Jesus reaches into the man’s heart and levels with him.   “Give up the world and follow me.”   When the young man walks away disillusioned, Jesus remarks, “With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.”

With God as our first focus, all things are possible.   By going first to God in prayer, we can avoid hardening our hearts as we did in our rebellion, in entrenching these divisions.  God held the ancient Israelites accountable for their rebellion against Him.  They wandered in the desert in sight of the Promised Land until those who believed in the rebellion instead of God were dead and buried.   Redemption was possible but so was chastisement.

Centuries before that, God confounded the language of men when men became too arrogant and rebellions at Babel.  It was the first major human endeavor after Noah’s family left the ark.   Rather than building a city in humility and thanksgiving, mankind build a skyscraper to ‘make a name for ourselves.’   Translation:   “(blank) you, God.   We don’t need you anymore.”   Division followed.   God gob-smacked people with dozens of new languages, confusing their ability to communicate and live together (and finish that audacious tower).  What seemed like chastisement was, in reality, a step towards the people’s redemption.   With God all things are possible.

We, as a people, aren’t much different and we shouldn’t expect any different treatment.  This isn’t some consolation if your candidate loses; this isn’t some pablum to reassure you that things will be ok if you have a bitter pill to swallow.   This is hard, aggressive truth.   ALL things are possible with God.  All through the history of the Bible people sought God, glorified Him, fell away from Him, and felt His wrath until they sought Him again.   All through the history of America we have sought God, glorified him, fallen away from Him, and felt His wrath until we have sought Him again.   All through our history, as we have built and succeeded, we’ve walked away from God.   If you don’t see how we, as a people, have walked away from God for decades now, and now we’re suffering accordingly, then you need to open your eyes.   It’s all good times until the good times run out and then we’re left with the bad ones.

And, at the end of those times, we sought God again.  The First and Second Great Awakenings (of the 1600s and 1800s, respectively) were evidence of this cycle.   Some think our nation is on the edge of a third Great Awakening while others think we’re at the start of the end times.   I think nobody knows.  But I also think – and deeply believe – that days like this contentious Election Day are good days to hold onto our original conviction, our faith in Jesus.  It’s a good day to remember that quote from Matthew 19.   It’s a good day to do our civic duty, then remember that, no matter the outcome, with God all things are possible.

For more reading:   Genesis 11, Psalm 95, Numbers 14:2, Numbers 14:29, Psalm 106:26, 1 Corinthians 10:5, Deuteronomy 1:34-25, Psalm 78:22, John 3:36, Matthew 19:26.

Lord God, I believe that You are over all things, that with You all things are possible.   Bless our divided nation, bless our new leaders, and thank You for the privilege of living here.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 November 2016

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  Hebrews 3, verse 13.

When is Today?

Ok, let’s not get TOO metaphysical here, but if you think about it, life is lived in one-second increments.   Sure, we can dissect time into even smaller increments.   But for the sake of discussion, let’s agree that one second is as small as we’ll go.  Knowing that, one second ago you were born, and in one second you’ll die.  In fact, one second ago, Adam and Eve were standing buck naked in the Garden admiring a piece of fruit.   And one second from now Jesus will be coming back on the clouds.

There are 60 seconds in one minute, 3,600 seconds in one hour, and there are 86,400 seconds on one day.   Today there will be 86,400 seconds from midnight to midnight, just like there were yesterday and, God-willing, just like there will be tomorrow.  Yet today is all we know, all we have, and we have it one second at a time.   Every person on this planet has that same increment of time, even Donald and Hillary.  Right here, right now is all we know, so that’s live it up!   Yet at risk of being vulgar, let’s do so within a few rules of discretion.

First off, let’s take the advice of the verse and encourage one another.   A friend of mine pastors a church in Carlsbad, CA.   Years ago, he told me that Barnabas, Paul’s companion, was one of his role models because Barnabas focused his ministry on encouraging others.   That’s a wonderful thing.   If you think about it, it’s one of the best of all things.  When we encourage each other, we show faith in each other.   We empathize, we love, we share, we support.   We get to be Jesus for someone who needs Him there and then.   Right now, today, this very second.

Then let’s focus on just now.   Yes, it’s a good thing to mourn and let go of things that mattered to us.   And, yes, it’s a good thing to plan for tomorrow.   But let’s keep our eyes on the fact that it’s this very second today when we’re living.   The people in our lives now are in them for reasons, sometimes transient, sometimes permanent.  But whether it’s the folks beside us in the checkout line, the annoying person in the cube beside you, that spouse who thrives on quality time, or just the face you see in the mirror, focus on living life fully with, for, and about the people God has in our lives right now.   They’re there for a reason.   They need our encouragement, our attention, and each second of our time.   It’s what Jesus would do.  Today.

Finally, let’s do these things being mindful that sin is deceitful.   Sin’s WHOLE purpose is deceit.  From that time, one second ago in Eden, sin has always sought to deceive us by lying to us.   Every sin we choose is a combination of that lie, idolatry, and something else.   That whatever else we’re doing only compounds the deceit.  In a world hardened by the harshness of that deceit, let’s be mindful that whenever we choose deceit we’re choosing to harden ourselves just a little bit more.  Choosing to accept anything other than Jesus puts a shell on the softness of our hearts.   Accepting the lie that something other than Jesus is just as good as Him puts layers on that shell.   And then whatever other action we’re doing in our sins just deepens it.  Right now there’s a better way.

Let’s live life by turning from one sin at a time.   Let’s replace the sin with hearts and eyes on Jesus, focusing on where we are now by seeing through His eyes.  One second at a time today.   Not just yesterday, maybe not tomorrow, but definitely in the here and now of today.  Today is now.

For more reading:   Hebrews 10:24-25, Jeremiah 17:9, Ephesians 4:22.

Lord God, I praise You for today and thank You for another day here on Planet Earth.   Guide and bless me through it.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 October 2016

And again, “I will put my trust in him.”  And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”     Hebrews 2, verse 13.

In this verse, the author of Hebrews quotes (nearly verbatim) the book of Isaiah.  In quoting Isaiah 8:18, he also references Jesus who said, referring to His followers, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”  We can marvel at how Jesus quotes, nearly to the letter, the exact words of a hundreds-year-old prophet while imbibing them with new meaning.   Or we can marvel at how those words from the prophet (and the Savior) are still relevant today.

Maybe we should marvel at that trust.   God trusts you and I completely, implicitly, despite all that we do to prove we don’t trust Him in return.   Because of that, God protects us and counts us as His own.   Nothing can ever take that away.

Now, I don’t know about you, but from time to time it feels like things get me down.   Bills show up that eat up all my disposable income.  The drought this summer killed off most of my pumpkin crop and, along with it, my money tree.  Folks who say they’re going to come out for a visit never show, leaving you lonely and with a refrigerator full of food.  We get sick but still have busy lives to live.  Wife is irritated.   Kids are irritated.   I’m irritated.

Despite that, God loves me anyway.   I’m special to Him because I’ve been claimed by Him, redeemed by Him, cherished by Him.  He trusts me.  Nothing can ever take that away.   Nothing the devil or the world does can ever make that change.

Or there’s this election.   This damned, frustrating election.   No matter who you’re voting for, the other ‘guy’ is the ‘bad guy.’   Whatever you’re for, someone else is against.   And in our social-media-driven world, you can’t simply disagree:   you must be vanquished.   Don’t go thinking I feel all targeted here:  I’ve done my fair share of targeting, too.   I can’t seem to shut up while there are folks out in Facebookland who disagree with me.   I can’t wait for this stupid election to be over so all this rancor can die down…except it won’t die down.  It’ll double-down.  If “the other guy” wins, there’s going to be hell to pay.   If my “guy” wins, the same thing happens.

Despite that, God loves me anyway.   I’m special to Him in spite of all the crazy stupid things I do to push Him away.   He claims me, redeemed me, loves me, holds me close.  No social media posts or unjust investigations can ever take that away.  Jesus trusts me.  Nothing the devil, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or any other sinner politician does can ever make that change.

The same Jesus who cherishes us in life and death is the same Jesus who spoke the words about His followers.   He’s the same Jesus who inspired Isaiah to write his words of prophecy.   He’s the same Jesus who appeals to each of us, each of the 7 billion humans here on the Third Rock, to get to know Him and put our faith in Him.  When we put our faith in Him, we put our trust in Him.   Just this morning, my wife and I were talking over our daily devotion.   Its subject was rebuilding trust after sins.  With Jesus, I’m building my trust in Him who has never sinned against me.   It’s me who’s done the sinning.   I’m the one who let Him down.   And I’m the one who has to learn how to let go of my control and trust in Him.

When I do, I get to see that He holds me close because He trusts me first.   I’m one of His special sheep, one of the people in whom He’s most pleased.   So are you.  When I put my trust in Him, I see that He’s trusted me all along with the precious gift of life.   He gives me something beyond value:   life, that mysterious force which defines and separates us from all other matter.   He knows me by name, by heart, by every cell in the body He gave me.   And despite all the ways I’ve rebelled, Jesus trusts me.  He trusts me and I trust Him.  Jesus trusts me to use the life He gave me to trust Him in return.  Isaiah knew this about Jesus and Jesus said it about Himself.   What say you?

For more reading:   Isaiah 8:17-18, John 10:29.

Lord, I thank You so much that You know me and love me.  Thank You for holding me close, for sharing Yourself, your life, with me.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 26 August 2015

You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Mark 10, verse 17-21.

Is this you?   Do you try to justify yourself to the God who made you?   I do.   In fact, I don’t have to go very long in the day before I have an arm’s length list of my sins in small print.   Most days I post updates to this blog by 7 AM and, even by that early time, my laundry list of sins is long, storied and ugly even if they’re only in my head. My reaction when I think about them?   “Well that’s not so bad.”

Actually, it is.

You see, when talking with the man in these verses, Jesus didn’t even list all the Commandments (which the Jews prided themselves on keeping).   He listed just a few to whet the man’s appetite. He listed some of the more heinous ones, the ones that you could easily keep in public and private both.   Don’t kill, don’t screw around, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, and don’t forget to honor Mom and Dad.   These are the easy ones.   If they’re the white lines on our road of how to live our lives, then it’s fairly easy to stay in-between them.   The man thought that’s all Jesus was saying and, in thinking it, confessed how Jesus had talked right over his head.   “Teacher, I do those things.   Look at how good I am for doing them!”

Not so much, pal.

I say that because I’m that man, because I’ve been him.   And so have you. No, you might not like my saying that but it doesn’t make it any less true.   I look at my sins and think they aren’t so bad compared to other people.   My ego isn’t as big as Donald Trump’s (or Hillary Clinton’s for all that it matters).   I haven’t screwed around like a rock star.   I don’t steal by padding my expense reports.   I don’t lie and when I do it’s only white lies.   “Look at how freaking wonderful I am!”

Did you notice how Jesus’ teaching went right over my head as well?   I hope it didn’t sail over yours. “Dave, I’m not talking about the specifics of your sins.   I’m talking about your intent with them.   It’s your heart, not your hands.”

Totally missed it.

So did the rich man on the road to Jerusalem. He may have started out to either meet or trap Jesus; either interpretation holds water.   But the longer he walked with Jesus, the more he revealed that his intention wasn’t just to get along and learn.   Yet Jesus threw him several lifelines – just like He does to you and I every day – and the man (just like us) didn’t see, didn’t understand, or didn’t care about them.   His reaction was no better than that of other Pharisees:   “see, Lord, I’m not as bad as those sinners over there.”

He was and is and so am I and so are you.   How amazing is it, then, that this Jesus loves us anyway and sees past our conceited wrongs enough to still clothe us in His own righteousness?

Lord, forgive my many sins, both ones I remember and the ones I’ve selfishly forgotten.   Teach me Your better way today.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 21 August 2015

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10, verses 13-16.

We can all grasp the obvious hint from these verses:   have the innocence of children to receive the kingdom of God.   To receive Christ’s peace, be as humble, inquisitive, innocent, trusting, and believing as children.

Tell me:   do you think Josh Duggar can ever be innocent again?   Or Hillary Clinton?   Do you think that CEOs, union bosses, land-rich but cash-poor farmers, and insurance industry workers terrified about losing their jobs can ever receive the kingdom of God again like children?   What about the doctors in those Planned Parenthood videos, the doctors who scissor open baby skulls to extract human brains:   can they ever again receive the kingdom of God like children?   ISIS head-slicers, Jared Fogle, meth addicts in Indiana, angry looters in Ferguson, political consultants, and your neighbor who doesn’t take out his trash:   can any of these people ever receive the kingdom of God like children?

I’ll admit:   we believers don’t make it easy for the fallen to let this Jesus pick them up.   Pastors sometimes talk like oblique jerks playing “I’ve got a secret.” People like me are hypocrites; people like you may not follow through with the walk to match the talk.   Folks who hold themselves up as living to a higher standard fall hard, and other folks are watching: folks who may not know this Jesus and aren’t sure they want to if the best the faithful can do is us. No wonder it seems so tough for people to come back to the faith after they’ve fallen away.

Read up on those verses again and maybe key in on a few key words: “Jesus was indignant.”   He got downright ticked off that His disciples were preventing innocent, curious children from coming up to see Him. There was a larger lesson to teach and He wanted to teach it to the children so He could teach it to all of us.

If someone can’t get to Jesus, Jesus gets indignant about that.

You’ve heard the platitude:   you’re enough for Jesus to die for.   Yet it’s true.   It’s what He did; it’s what really happened. It’s not just something said to buck you up: it’s the God’s-honest truth. What’s more, when the world or the world’s inhabitants (like us) create barriers that prevent repentent, curious, humble sinners from coming to Him for forgiveness and healing, Jesus gets indignant.   Beware to those in His way.

Jesus wants you.   Jesus wants me.   Jesus wants Josh Duggar and anyone he flirted with on Ashley Madison.   Jesus wants Hillary Clinton and her server experts, Iranian mullahs, unemployed people, the woman who reads Tarot every morning, and every other kind of person you or I can think of to come to Him like innocent children and ask Him to simply love us.   When we do that, we find He already does and for a very long time now.

Lord, I come to You broken, hurting and needing You.   Forgive me and share Yourself with me, and help me to start again new today.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.