Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 8 May 2019

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.  2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NIV).

There is beauty in commonness, simplicity.   Indeed, there are vastly more common, simple people than there are beautiful, self-anointed celebrities, athletes, or glitterati.   Not hating on them; Jesus loves celebrities, athletes, and self-anointed glitterati, too.   But they aren’t common or seemingly holy (or useful) anymore.

My wife and I took our 30th anniversary trip last week to Tennessee and then to northern Kentucky (where we honeymooned in 1989).   We struggled for years to make it to other anniversaries so we determined to mark this one with a memorable trip.  No marriage is perfect; ours hasn’t been; if you’re a long-time reader here, you know that.   But we’re common people; ordinary Americans making our country, our families, and our lives extraordinary by living faith-based lives that God gave us.   We follow Jesus.  We learn from our failures.   We make the most out of what we have.

So we took a trip to the Smokies, line-danced in Nashville (where we also toured the Grand Ole Opry, seriously one of the best tours ever anywhere), walked through the Ark Encounter, sipped our way through a bourbon distillery, and even went to the Kentucky Derby (where we placed a bet for our grand-daughter on the long-shot horse that eventually won).

Along the way we met other common people like ourselves, good ordinary folks living those extraordinary lives.   People like Steve and Paula (and Todd) at a Jimmy Buffett concert.   Or Mark and Gina at a winery near Lexington.   Austen at Maker’s Mark; Clark and Kathleen and their friends from Florida at Dolly’s (Dixie) Stampede; clerks, attendants, waiters and waitresses and people on hiking trails you greet with a nod and a smile.  All of them:   common, good people just doing their best to live godly lives and being friendly.

You know:  like Jesus is.   You know:   just plain old wood and clay tools, made ordinary and common by the Master to live extraordinary, uncommon lives in His Kingdom.   All together, we make the world go ‘round.

Don’t get me wrong:   I like silver and gold.   The few pieces of it I own are wonderful; heirlooms I enjoy and will gladly pass along to my kids and grandkids.  But, once upon a time, even silver and gold were common elements underground.   They’re extraordinary, too, and attractive.   But they aren’t common.   And they don’t make things really work.   You and I:   we’re common.   There’s a place and a purpose for each of us, celebrity or commoner alike.  That purpose is in Jesus’ work.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 9:8, Ephesians 2:10, 2 Timothy 2:22.

Lord Jesus, thank You for using common me in Your Kingdom work.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 21 March 2019

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.   2 Timothy 1:9 (NIV).

How are you doing with living your holy life?   Let me be clear:   this is NOT to guilt you, to make you feel bad.   If you’re like me, your bad language and dirty thoughts and petty grudges and not-so-clever hypocrisies and just plain judgmental attitudes that comprise “daily life” have corrupted your holy life.   If you’re like me, you stink on ice at living out your holy life even when you want to live it out better.

Welcome to our daily need for Jesus.

He knows it.   He hurts when we turn our backs from Him.   When we do, say, and think those things that are contrary to the holy life He designed for us, those holes in His hands and feet must pain Him.   I can almost hear Him say to Himself, “I’m so sorry you’re going through that, Dave” when I choose words and deeds that aren’t what He originally had in mind.   And when I’ve realized, yet again, how I messed up and how much I need Him to make me clean, I can also hear Him say “of course I love you.   I’ve been here with you all along.”   He went through those same sins that pain me.   Amazing.

Jesus saved us from the death that is separation from Him.   He saved us from that awful truth designed for those who actively reject Him.  Instead of creating us for hurt and pain and hell, Jesus created us to call us to live a holy life; a life declared sacred, consecrated, dedicated to serving Him.   For some that means serving in the formal church.   For others it means using our talents as parents, welders, managers, engineers, dentists, teachers, and every talent you can think of in helping others and providing a thankful living.  We don’t do the work we do just because it’s good work (which it often is).   We do it because He calls us to do it.

Jesus did this not because we’re so wonderful (though in His eyes we are) but because He is a loving, just, holy God who was this way since before we were born.  He understood we would love Him but rebel against Him and, therefore, need Him to make things right again.   Every time we do work well, we get to look to Jesus and say “thanks.  I need You!”   Every time we realize we’re thick with our sins again, we get to look to Jesus and say “thanks.   I need you!”

So I’ll ask again:   how are you doing with Your holy life?   The better answer is “forget that.”   Focus on Jesus instead.

For further reading:   Romans 8:28, Romans 11:14, Ephesians 2:9, 2 Timothy 10.

Lord Jesus, thanks.   I need You!

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 10 July 2018

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (NIV).

Sad verse; this is a very sad verse.

I read all the “Left Behind” books.  They’re fiction, yet in the scene where Jesus delivers His divine judgment against those who rejected Him, He is described as looking sad.   For those who choose to not believe in Him, it will be a moment of supreme terror and it will show; for believers, it will be shock, and that’ll show as well.  Yet for Jesus, I’m betting the book will have called it right.   I’m betting Jesus will be sad in that moment, maybe even weeping.

Jesus didn’t come to destroy us.   He won’t return with the sole purpose of doing that either.  Even though He will return in mighty justice, heavenly fire, and more power than the world has ever known, that’s not why He’s coming back.   He’s coming back to restore creation to the way He created it.  He’s coming back to permanently restore true love, real harmony, and peace forever.   Jesus is coming back in power and glory to claim His followers to bring them into eternity with Him and it will be the greatest day in history, especially since it will be the last one.

Yet involved in that will be expunging those who chose no part of it.  Those who insisted they know better, those who spurned Him, those who embraced hypocrisy, those who live in hate and worldly pleasure, those who simply don’t care:  they will be punished.   He will unleash His angels to bind and eternally sentence them to be apart from Him.   Oh, they’ll live forever; we are eternal beings whether eternally in heaven or hell.   Yet their forever will be one of eternal punishment, apart from all love, hope, and peace in whatever hell has in store for them.   Whether hell is literal fire or emotional torment (or both) we don’t know.   Whatever is in it, it will be terrible.

I feel sorry for these unbelievers, especially since the Gospel isn’t a game of “I’ve got a secret.”   It’s sad, and I’m thinking that’s how Jesus will feel.   It’s not what He wants; it isn’t what He intended for His children.   He wants brothers and sisters, friends, followers, lovers of His real love.  He wants all of us to be saved, including scoffers.   He wants saints and sinners side by side with Him forever.  But He’s holy and the new Earth refined out of His fire will be holy like Him.  For that holiness to exist, it must be free from all that reject Him.   That means God will punish those who reject Him and who choose to reject the Gospel of Jesus.   And that’s the saddest news ever even as it’s necessary.

For further reading: Philippians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Kings 17:18, Isaiah 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Lord Jesus, come quickly and have mercy.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 11 April 2018

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.   1 Thessalonians 4:7 (NIV).

God is setting us up for failure.   God is setting a standard we can’t achieve.   God is telling us to do something that’s impossible for us.  On one hand, God is telling us to live holy lives and, on the other hand, He knows we’re sinful and can’t do that, so it’s unfair.

Yes on all counts.  With God all things are possible.

God asks us, commands us, to be holy because He is holy.   That’s straight out of Leviticus, reiterated here, and confirmed yet again in 1 Peter.  In fact, it’s mentioned over and over throughout both Testaments that we are to be holy as God is holy.   You and I, though, we’re sinners.   Holy is out of reach.  It seems unfair, then, for God to stipulate that we are to be holy if we are to be with Him.

Or is it?

The fact is that God made ‘holy’ attainable.  Fact is, Jesus made you holy by His death.   His last gasp was the last gasp of your unholiness.   The second He died it became possible for you to be holy again, like Adam was before he chowed down on the fruit.  Christ wiped away every hint of unholiness from your soul and made you right again in His sight.

He said it was possible because He was God and with God all things are possible.

So, yes, God allows us to fail because we’re sinners in a sinful world, but we’re holy because of Him.   God sets the highest standard possible for us that we can’t achieve on our own but he makes it achievable because of Himself.   God knows it’s impossible for us to do anything without Him, so He makes His Calvary sacrifice available to us free of charge.  God commands us to be holy because He made it so we can be.   All it takes, then, is for us to believe.

Whenever I have a bad day, or when I feel pressured to get things done, or when I feel out of my element, I get to see that God has done everything necessary for me to be holy again.   I was unholy for such a long time; I’m unholy in my choices every day.   Yet all it takes is a thought of the cross and we get to realize how puny our sins really are against all Jesus did.   You and I get to realize that Jesus Himself made it possible for us to succeed, to win, to do the possible, to be holy.

That, too, is a yes on all counts.

For further reading:   Matthew 19:26, Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:8.

Lord, thank You for making me holy because of Your Son.   Thank You for opening a holy eternity and a holy life now through Him.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 February 2018

You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed1 Thessalonians 2:10 (NIV).

This verse convicts me because, you see, I haven’t been righteous or blameless lately.  The last time I wrote here I was eulogizing Billy Graham, one of my heroes and, I believe, a much better witness for God than me.  Billy Graham was never a jerk on social media, but I have been.

There are things that I feel very strongly about, very passionate about, and I have shared my strong opinions on Facebook and Twitter, sometimes even here in this blog.  But I haven’t been holy, righteous or blameless among the believers or unbelievers in how I’ve done that.

God doesn’t tell us to not have opinions, and He doesn’t tell us to not stand up for things we believe in.   What He does tell us is to have those opinions and stand up as we will with His heart, His motivation, and His truth as our only guide because anything else is sinful.  By that fair measure, then, I haven’t been holy, righteous or blameless in how I’ve shared my opinions.   That bothers me.   God is indeed a witness of all we think, say and do, and since that’s true, then I’ve fallen short in this way and, I’m sure, many others.   When I read this verse, I’m convicted, guilty of failing God by failing others.

Paul placed paramount importance on being upright and blameless in front of the people to whom he ministered.  He realized they hadn’t had the kind of encounter with Christ that he’d had.   And he realized that his former life as a persecuting Pharisee placed unusual burdens on both his credibility and the ways other people would see him.  So whenever he traveled anywhere, Paul made sure his words and his conduct were Godly and pure.

Um, I’m not Paul.   I haven’t done those things.   I need God’s forgiveness for falling short and misusing the bully pulpit He’s given me.

We live in contentious times, times in which there are Christians in our world who really are being persecuted.   Our society is rotting from within; our culture is set against faith; our politics have turned bitter and the divisions are deepening.   Yet God is God of all whether we acknowledge Him or not.    For those of us who believe, we’re like Paul, being held to a higher standard.   So I ask for your prayers that I would do better and thinking, saying and doing things with more of the heart God has instead of the rash thoughts of old Adam (or Dave).

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:12, 1Thessalonians 2:11.

Lord, forgive me for how I’ve failed you in my thoughts and actions.  Thank You for convicting me with Your word.   Teach me to do better for You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 May 2017

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  Hebrews 10, verses 28-29.

Skipping ahead few verses we find this quote:   It is a dreadful ting to fall into the hands of the living God.   Perhaps that one verse better sums up the idea behind these two.

Just this morning, a Facebook friend posted a list of things God can’t do.   They’re things like “God can’t stop loving you” and “God can’t break a promise.”   All of them are accurately referenced to Bible verses, so they’re true.   It seems crazy to think that there are things God can’t do, and I suppose you could argue whether the meme should say “won’t” versus “can’t.”   I’m not partial to one term or the other, so either works for me.

One of them says “God can’t be unholy” from Isaiah 6:3.   God is holy; the whole earth is full of His holiness, reflecting that holiness and His eternal glory.   A holy God can’t tolerate un-holiness in His presence.  In order for God to remain holy, He won’t tolerate un-reconciled un-holiness to be near Him in any way.   When Satan strolled into heaven (in Job), God had already provided remedy for Satan’s wrongdoing (way back in Genesis).   When you and I stand in front of God as believers in Jesus, Jesus has already done everything possible and necessary to reconcile our status with the Holy God.   God can’t and won’t tolerate our un-holiness, and He can’t and won’t be made unholy or tarnished with our un-holiness.  And because God will see us through the filter of His Son’s perfection (His own), He won’t see us as unholy sinners.   God will see us as made holy by His own blood sacrifice.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person who spends their entire life rejecting Jesus.   Put yourself in the shoes of the person who believes in Jesus, then recants.   Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is completely apathetic, even agnostic, about Jesus.   If you know God doesn’t tolerate un-holiness, even if you don’t believe there is a God, do you want to be the person who stands against Him when you find out He’s real?

Mind you, these verses aren’t a guarantee of God’s vengeance.   They aren’t hellfire and brimstone for the damn dirty sinners who turn Him away (which is each of us and some time or other).   God is guaranteed to be just because holiness is just, and justice (real justice) is based in holiness, and God is holy.   Yet God, who is both just and holy, doesn’t guarantee harsh treatment for those who reject him.   Our holy God is also a God of beautiful mercy.

Instead, the point of these verses is to point out the fact that this holy, just God is all-powerful.   It points out that a holy, just God has the power to smite those who oppose him.   Unless you have some sick death wish, why would you want to pit yourself against Him?

In olden days (or in ‘modern’ Islamic nations), legal justice is meted out by ecclesiastical authorities.   In the days of Moses, legal justice (as an extension of God’s delegated authority) would be meted out on those against whom witnesses would testify.   Our legal system today is a descendant of that concept, namely in how those found guilty would be found guilty based on trial against them (including eyewitnesses).   If you know your actions could place you in jeopardy, why would you want to act in ways that could bring ruin on you?  After all, it’s a dreadful thing to fall in the hands of the living God, especially if you may deserve it.  If you’ve ever played the “would you rather” game, then think of this proposition as that game.   Would you rather adhere to God’s requests or dare Him to follow through?

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 17:6-7, Isaiah 6:3, Matthew 18:16, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Revelation 1:5, Ephesians 4:30.

Lord, I fear, respect, and love you.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 April 2017

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.   Hebrews 10, verses 11-14.

Do you feel like you’ve been made holy?

“HOLY” is a song on country radio now.   Florida Georgia Line sings it, and HOLY stands for “High On Loving You.”   You may or may not like country music; you may or may not like Florida Georgia Line (not my favorite).   But the song uses a word with which many country music fans might typically be familiar.   Holy.   Invoking a stereotype, it’s commonly accepted that country listeners have more exposure to gospel music and gospel themes than some other genres.   Thus, it seems reasonable to surmise that folks who listen to the song are familiar with the idea of holiness.  This particular ditty may be a young man’s paean to love (or something like it…that’s a Kenny Rogers song), but it made me think of the theme from verse 14.

You and I have been made holy.

My Concordia makes the point that this section of scripture contrasts sitting with the actions of Jewish priests, who stood in the tabernacle and the temple.  They never sat down while on duty.   They didn’t ‘rest’ in front of God.   Instead, they stood, walked, or performed all their duties while in the standing position.   Not so Jesus, who conducted His ministry as He did.   Then, after His ascension, “sat down at the right hand of God.”   That isn’t rhetoric or allegory:   it’s a point.

The point of it is that Jesus makes us holy.

The point of the verses is that Jesus was both divine and complete.  He completed His tasks because, in Him, life found full completion.   In and through Jesus, redemption and forgiveness are complete, and we have been made holy by Him.  No further sacrifice is necessary.   No further effort is required.   Where Jesus is, He is done.   Indeed, the Gospel of John says that some of Jesus’ last words were “it is finished.”  It is finished.   Everything that needed to be done was done.   He did everything necessary to make you holy.   Jesus, sitting at the right hand of God, lives and reigns today, resting but interceding with the Father through their Spirit on our behalf.   They do that because everything Jesus did was to make you holy.   Where Jesus is, He’s high on loving you.  Florida Georgia Line aint got nothing on that.

So I’ll admit that, sometimes, I don’t feel holy.   In fact, most of the time I don’t feel holy.   I can’t ‘feel’ it at all; I can’t seem to sense it.   I realize that this is a problem with me, not with God.   He’s already done His part and nothing more needs to happen.   It doesn’t matter whether I feel it or not:   God has still done everything that needed to be done to make me holy, to make me blameless in His sight.   Because I believe in Jesus, when God sees me, He doesn’t see my sins.   He sees me through the prism of His perfect Son.   What I don’t feel through emotion now is still reality in fact forever.   All I have to do is believe.  Yet I’ll admit:   sometimes this is a challenge.

It’s also moot.  Even when I don’t feel holy, Jesus looks at me as holy and bids me to turn from the temptations that lure me or the guilt that plagues me.   He reminds me that I’m loved perfectly, made clean perfectly, and that He sits and the right hand of His Father to tell him “consider our child and friend, Dave.   I’ve made him holy for You again.”   Florida Georgia Line can’t do that and it’s no less of a fact even when I don’t feel it.

For further reading:  Hebrews 5:1, Mark 16:19, Joshua 10:24, Hebrews 1:13, Ephesians 5:26, John 19:30.

My Lord, I praise You for making me holy.   For loving me so unconditionally, cleansing me from my sins, giving me the courage to live here again for You.