Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 15 August 2019

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 (EHV).

Let’s add one last sentence because this is the why.   If the five ‘why’s’ are who, what, where, when, and why, then verses four through six (from “But” through the second mention of “Savior”) are who, what, where and when, and verse 7 is the why.

We’re justified by Jesus’ grace so that we might become heirs with the hope of eternal life.   He sprinted to the cross to die, and then to rise from death, for us.   Because He loved us.   Because He saw the complete depravity of sin and knew it couldn’t be tolerated.   Because He understood that sin had compromised us, that we’d let that happen, and that we couldn’t do anything about it.   Jesus opened eternal life because of His love for sinful you and me.

To do that, He made us just.  He made us righteous, clean again.   God demanded an atonement for how our sins had violated holiness.   Jesus, God-Himself, said “there’s only one way to truly make them righteous again” and so He did it.  The choices we made – sins – voided our righteousness.   We couldn’t be in the presence of holiness again without being destroyed by the loving, beautiful perfection of Him.  So Jesus made Himself the atonement for our sins and, in doing so, transferred righteousness to us.   We didn’t deserve it; we couldn’t do it.   But He did it anyway.   He loved us to provide for us as the Father.   He loved us to die for us as the Son.   He loved us to live through us as the Spirit.   Three in One through this miracle called “resurrection,” God did this thing to make us justified in His presence.

Because of His mercy.   His justice, His love, His patience, His kindness:   He wanted to share them, to give them, to pass them around.   He wanted to give us things to live for more than just existence or achievement or property.   God wanted our lives to have meaning and His meaning was the only one that matters.   So, in His righteousness-making mercy, He made us heirs in His promise of eternal life.   Of eternity now and later.   Of being part of the spiritual world today.  Of sharing His supernaturality now, and always.   Because of His mercy.

That’s why.

For further reading:  Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 4:35-41, Mark 11:22-24, Acts 22:16, Romans 3:24, Romans 5:5, Romans 11:14, Ephesians 2:9, 1 Peter 1:3, Titus 3:8

Thank You, God, for Your love, Your righteousness, Your mercy, Your hope.   Help me to share them today!

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Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 3 July 2019

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.  Titus 1:1-2 (NIV).

Here’s a little more of why God put it on Paul’s heart to write to Titus; part of the purpose for this letter:   the hope of eternal life.

I think of “The Color Purple.”   Great book; great movie.   In the movie, Oprah Winfrey’s character, Sofia, is strong and determined while Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg, is more withdrawn but steady.  Sofia is bull-headed in everything she does.  Celie is consistently abused, both physically and emotionally, and has resigned herself to that fate until Sofia calls her out on it.   Celie’s response:   this life doesn’t last forever but heaven will.  Sofia’s response to that?   That’s great but what about now?

Wouldn’t that response apply to most of our world.  After all, it’s reasonable, isn’t it?   What about now?   What about me?   Don’t I matter?

Perhaps both Celie and Sofia were right; perhaps it’s a ‘both/and’ situation.   The hope of eternity is a promise, not a wishing well kind of hope.   It’s a certainty, a foundation.   God, who never lies, promised it.   It’s like the law of gravity:   something universal on which we can rely.   It matters now and later at the same time.

God chose mankind to display His grace and His love.  He could have chosen honeybees but He didn’t.  We are the elect, and those who follow Jesus know this.   Why?   Because God, who doesn’t lie, gave Himself in His Son to die for us when we didn’t deserve it.   Because He won forever in heaven for us when we couldn’t.   That means we get to enjoy the peace of that hope right now.   It can change hearts to live with a better outlook…if we let it.   It’s the Sofia moment:   what about now?   Yes, Oprah:  what about now.   The peace of God is for right now, for dealing in love and justice with our fellow man, including those who abuse us.   Including those who are bull-headed.  Including ourselves.

And the peace of God is for our eternity in heaven as well.   It’s for later, for after the elect are given an eternal reward of living in His presence.   Abused people are forgiven by Christ; abusers, too.   And bull-headed people, too.   Jesus did EVERYTHING necessary and possible to open God’s presence to us.  All we have to do is accept it.  The reward for it is heaven, which, as Celie might say, we’ll see in a little while.

For further reading:  Numbers 23:19, Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 2:2, Hebrews 6:18, James 1:1, Titus 1:3

King Jesus, I believe Your promise.   The hope of heaven is mine now and forever.   Teach me today to share that in how I live this gift of my life.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 21 May 2019

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.  2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV).

Game of Thrones is done.  It’s over.   We now know the outcome of the struggle for the Iron Throne.   My wife and I were late-comers to the GOT hysteria, but we enjoyed the show and are both sad and glad it’s done.  At first I thought there were so many reasons to reject the show because its not-subtle themes of violence, sex, and intrigue were antithetical to Christian views.  Yet there are also lessons people of faith can learn from shows like Game of Thrones.   In fact, I challenged a pastor friend of mine to do a sermon series on several of the show’s storylines.   I’ll be interested to see if he takes up the challenge.

The more you think about it, the truer it becomes for every TV show, every activity in life:  ‘the faith” is our benchmark for EVERYTHING.   Whether it’s a fantasy TV series, the new Alabama abortion law, where to get gasoline, or what to do over Memorial Day weekend, if faith in Christ isn’t highest on our list of filters through which we judge our activities then we’re doing it wrong.

We can have the argument about a TV show being or not being a Christian activity.   Yet the shield of faith is the shield that resists for us when the themes of violence, sex, intrigue, or anything else threaten to worm their way into our homes and gain control over gullible people like us.  People who oppose the faith with their parsing of Christianity or the droning, ever-constant labeling of Christians as killers and hypocrites are actually the people standing on quicksand.   They scream loudly, perhaps not knowing that projection is a psychological condition, and those who would worm their way into our faith-lives are sick with it.  Faith in Christ is the foundation of resisting that sickness.

I won’t spoil the end of the show in case you haven’t seen it.   Personally, the more I think about it, the more I like the way it ended because it ended with a note of hope.   That’s the greatest gift of all from following Jesus in faith:   hope.   Without Jesus, there is no hope.   With Him, there is.  I enjoyed the show, and I’ll miss it.   But there’s always the hope of re-runs.

For further reading:  2 Timothy 3:6.

Lord Jesus, YOU are my shield and my hope.   Help me to resist those who would worm their way and try to divide us.   Help me to stand in love.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 4 March 2019

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  1 Timothy 6:17 (NIV).

No doubt, Paul is talking here about material wealth.   He says as much just a few words into the verse, then throughout it.  May I submit there’s more that makes us arrogant?

Politics make us arrogant.   “Our hope” is a wide path to hell, if we let it be.  Our differences of opinion put a wide gulf in-between us, so wide the perhaps only civil war can bring it together.   Yet before we go to such a drastic end, let’s consider that our politics – left, right, and indecisive – stem from where we put our hope.   If we put our hope in ourselves, we’re arrogant.   Nothing can stop us because, well, us!

Knowledge makes us arrogant.   This one is a stretch (from the verse) yet, if you think about it, is inherent to the verse.   We can’t put our hope into something of which we know nothing.   To put our hope in money means knowing what the accumulation of wealth can do.   It’s the knowing, not the ‘thing,’ that makes us arrogant.   The farther back you stretch it, the more you see that knowledge is at the heart of idolatry, of knowing (or think we are knowing) the difference between one thing and another.   Or right and wrong.  Take it to its academic extreme and knowledge breeds human arrogance.

The in-crowd makes us arrogant.   Got the perfect house; got the perfect school for the kids; got the cool car; got the new clothes.   The suburbanites have this in common with the urban hipsters:   they’re part of the in-crowd who have “it,” whatever “it” is.  If you don’t, well, God bless you but you just aren’t part of our party.

Ever met an arrogant preacher?   You’re a sinner who hasn’t been educated at a seminary, given knowledge that members in your church haven’t received.   Years ago, I belonged to churches where that was the case, where the pastors were arrogant and condescending.   One used to say he was just the son of a pig farmer, and he then usually expounded on seminary talking points to drown out whoever was challenging him.   Not very loving.  My friend, if I ever come off to you that way, please bring me up short.

What’s the common denominator in all this?   You know.   It’s you.   Or me.   The man (or woman) in the mirror who forgets that wealth, politics, knowledge, status and religion are fleeting.  They aren’t God, and there’s nothing any one of them – or us – can do to provide the JOY of the soul (in “enjoyment”) that God does.   Everything else isn’t God; everything else is arrogant.

For further reading:   Psalm 62:10, Jeremiah 49:4, Luke 12:20-21, Acts 14:17, 1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Beautiful God, only You are God.   Bless 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 1 Thessalonians, 21 May 2018

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NIV).

Let’s talk about the full armor of God.   This verse plainly mentions it, putting on “faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”   That verbiage easily lines up with Ephesians 6; go read it and see for yourself.   Think about armor and why it’s needed, who uses it, and what it’s used for.  Then come back to 1 Thessalonians to ask yourself a question:

Who is protected by armor?

Of course the wear is protected; the soldier, the hunter, the defender.  The armor protects the wearer during combat, from elements, while being attacked.  It shields the wearer from harm and gives them confidence to advance, to do their part in battle. It’s no accident, then, that Paul speaks of the fruits of God’s Spirit as armor.   He speaks of faith, love, and hope as real, tangible defenses against the attacks of the evil one.  Faith and love cover the heart, protecting the core of the body.   Hope of salvation, which is a promise and not a wish, protects the head:   home of the brain and four of the five senses.   Faith and love literally keep us alive while the hope of salvation covers how we sense the world – and others – around us.

So ask that question again:   who is protected by armor?   Perhaps Paul is also alluding to the fact that the person NOT wearing the armor of God benefits from it.   Think about it:   faith, hope, and love are all from God and benefit the person not being covered by them as much as they do the person shielded by them.   They are the qualities even un-believers desire and model.   They are the foundation of charity and charitable behavior.   They are the basis for kindness and understanding, even our entire civilization.   Even when someone doesn’t believe in God (and, thus, chooses to not wear the full armor of Him), they benefit from these practical, caring qualities of Him.

This is a tough world.   The other day I mentioned how people close to me are being attacked.   I wonder if they see people around them wearing the armor of God, and I wonder what they think about it.   Jesus never promised the world would be rosy:   He promised He would walk with us through it and never leave us.   When we order our lives around Him, His Spirit begins to impart faith, love and hope into us that we can wear to both nourish us and protect us.  That’s the point, too, when it begins to show to others.   And that’s the greatest protection of all.

For further reading:  Ephesians 6:10-17, 1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:9.

Lord, let me wear Your armor as a defense for the people I meet today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 November 2017

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.  Hebrews 13, verse 14.

Do you struggle with the here and now as I do?   I remember from years ago a sermon presented by our pastor in west Colorado Springs.   It was about heaven being our real home, how we are really just transient citizens on this fallen earth.   You know the details:   this world will end and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, then usher in a new heaven and a new earth.   “No matter what is happening here, don’t lose heart.  Heaven is our real home” said this pastor.  We shouldn’t get too wrapped around the axle about holding on to this place because we’re actually citizens of another, better place.

But what about now?

Here and now is all I know.   Like so many people, I have déjà vu moments that seem like fleeting glimpses of something else.   Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t “soul memories” of where I was before I was born.   I know:   crazy stuff.   Or is it?   A learned, educated, rational Lutheran pastor insisted (as millions of others do) that I, as a believer in Jesus, am actually a citizen of a multi-dimensional existence that is a reality outside of what we know as time and space.   Trusting that I will spend eternity there with a Savior who I’ve never met in person is a bedrock of my faith.   It keeps me going sometimes because, as they say in the church I now attend “eternity matters most.”   To an unchurched mind, THAT is crazy stuff.   Here and now is the known.  So what about now?

You see, I get it.   The pastor was correct.  I get that Jesus has a place ready for me in heaven.   Whatever heaven is, wherever heaven is, I’ll be going there when my time here on the Third Rock is done.   I really, truly do trust that this earthly home – the only home I know – isn’t a permanent place, that my permanent residence is a place I haven’t yet seen, or that I remember so deeply from so long ago that I can’t recall the memories and can’t tell you what it looks, smells, and feels like to be there.  I get it.

And that’s good.   It really is.  But while it’s a focus, that’s the forest.   Today is built with trees.  Here and now is where I’m a front line soldier in the army of the Living God.  I know I have a place in His ranks someday in heaven, but for know I also know that I’m on the lines here on terra firma.   That most of the world doesn’t believe in this Jesus.   That much of the world believes in a host of terrestrial ghosts, or the manufactured demonics of Islam, or, worse, in nothing at all.  Here I’m armed with Christ’s command to love as He loves, to tell others about Him, and to use what time, talents & treasures He has given me to do my best in my various callings.  Here I’m fighting on His front line every day, defying the prince of this world, sometimes minute by minute, so that people won’t look at me and be led astray from Jesus.   I’m glad that heaven is my home, and I’m glad that I’m not part of this un-permanent settlement in the land east of Eden.

But east of Eden is all I really know and it’s more than a Steinbeck novel   Jesus calls me to remember that I’m a part of His eternity now, but that, for now, my role before eternity is here.   To do His bidding here; to do His work at hand.  And I struggle with that, struggle to keep my eyes on the ball, to follow His commands, to lay down my hypocritical judgments, to turn aside from my petty thinking and small ways.   East of Eden is all I know, yet I also know Jesus walks with me here.

For further reading:  Hebrews 12:27, Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:10.

Lord Jesus, I live in the land of Canaan, and I struggle here.   I pray, encourage me, walk with me, and strengthen me to fight Your good fight today.