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, 22 January 2020

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18. (EHV).

Building on yesterday’s thoughts, we should be glad when one of us is poured out, spent, sacrificed for God’s greater kingdom.   Yes, you read that right.   You and me:   we should celebrate when a fellow believer is poured out, spent, persecuted, tortured, even murdered (and martyred) for faith in God.   Again, yes, you read that right.  Read it again because, as things go in our world, some day soon it might be you or me being martyred.  And if you think about it, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.   Yes, I’m being serious.

Years ago, I read one of the Left Behind books, which aren’t my usual taste.   It was the one in which non-believers accepted the mark of the devil, and those who didn’t have the mark (believers) were rounded up and marched to the guillotine.   One of the main characters was awaiting her own beheading when she saw a group of other believers marching toward their execution, and they were joyful.   They were singing, joyful to be going to die.   By the end of the book, the main character joined them.   She, too, went joyfully.

I think about the people who are sentenced to die in Iran and Saudi Arabia and China and Cuba for being followers of Jesus.   Do they know they are heroes of the faith?   Are they happy to be dying?  Surely their families aren’t happy about it…are they?  Do the families or the persecuted realize that there are people all over the world who are both praying for their release while celebrating their defiant courage?   I love reading stories of their quiet dignity, their iron resolve to not renounce Jesus.   Those people – women and men both – are being poured out like Paul was.   They’re doing a courageous thing; something we, ourselves, may one day be called to do.   When they die, we can celebrate that their mission is complete, that they accomplished what God sent them here to do.   They’re enjoying eternity with Christ, enjoying their reward.   That’s something to celebrate.

When Peter and John were flogged and imprisoned, they sang.  Paul encouraged his friends to celebrate as approached death.  But should we be happy about it when our turn comes against the wall?   Yes:  yes, we should.   We’re each going to die; unless Jesus returns first; that’s a certainty.   When it happens to us, we can either face it with courage and be an example for others to celebrate or we can choose differently.   And when it happens to someone else, we have those same choices.   How we die matters.   Let’s make ours count.

For further reading:   Acts 5, Philippians 2:19

Lord Jesus, encourage me to celebrate the heroic faith of others and to demonstrate it myself today.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 17 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. Philippians 1:29. (EHV).

A scene from a particular movie has stuck with me since childhood.  It’s a scene from a movie called “A Man Called Horse” with Richard Harris starring as an Englishman who lived with an Indian tribe. In it, the man, known to the Sioux as “Horse,” is initiated into the tribe.   His chest is pierced, eagle talons are inserted in the pierce holes and then attached to long straps that are also attached to a center pole.   The man then hangs from these straps until the talons rip out of his chest, proving that his suffering becomes enough to purify him as a warrior for his new people.  The first sequel to this movie contains a similar scene.

Pretty gruesome stuff, eh?   Now think about crucifixion.   If you haven’t read up on just what happens during a crucifixion, go do it.  Or watch “The Passion of the Christ.”   Go watch the kind of thing that the Lord endured on our behalf.  Or go watch “A Man Called Horse.”  There.   That’s what’s in store for you as a believer.   It’s the kind of thing that Jesus had to endure, so if He can do it you or I can, right?

Don’t take it too lightly because I’m actually being serious here.   Saying “I believe in Jesus” may some day take you to that level of physical agony.   Just this past weekend I saw pictures of a woman who was whipped in Iran for professing her belief in Christ.   I’ve read accounts of people in China and Indonesia and Saudi Arabia being executed for believing in Jesus; usually that comes after they have been tortured.

But to live is Christ and to die is gain, right?   Yes, actually it is.  The actual risk of death – or likelihood of it – is part of the reward.   We live to share Him as heaven on earth, being part of heaven right now, here.   It is a privilege to stand for the Most High.  And when we die, we get to spend forever on adventure with Him in the fullest lives possible.   The torture or circumstances of our passing won’t matter.   Indeed, we’ll be thankful for them.

Until then, we may really be made to suffer here for our people.  Whether it’s having our chests pierced to hang from a pole or, like Jesus, have our hands and feet pierced to hang from a tree, we may actually suffer real agony, real torture, real persecution in the name of Jesus.   It would be for His glory, you see.  And our gain.

For further reading:  Matthew 5:11, Acts 5:41, Acts 14:22, Philippians 1:21, Philippians 1:30.

Lord Jesus, let it be Your good will if I am to suffer here for You.   Thank You for the privilege.   Abide with me through the pain into Your glory.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 25 November 2019

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. Philippians 1:14. (EHV).

Here’s that why behind the what again.   In the previous verses, Paul said that his bad thing – being imprisoned, in chains, for the gospel – turned out to be a good thing because the Gospel spread.  The reason why that’s a good thing is that people see what true believers are willing to endure for faith in Jesus and then they, themselves, become more confident in their own faith and bold to share it without fear.

Have you considered that the biggest Christian nation on earth – the nation with the most believers in Jesus by population – is the United States?   And that the one place where it should NOT grow (because the government there is atheist, Communist, and hostile to God in all ways) is the People’s Republic of China?   According to Pew Research, in the USA there are 248 million Christians; that’s approximately 75% of the population.   In the USA, for the moment, people are mostly free to exercise any religion they want, especially Christianity.   There are dozens of denominations; there are services and practices for any comfort level in the faith.   Think of that:  248 million people saying they believe in Christ crucified.   And yet that number is actually declining.

Then consider the People’s Republic where, according to billionbibles.org, there may be as many as 234 million Christians.   Out of a current estimated population of 1.435 billion Chinese, this means that 16% of the Chinese population professes to believe in Jesus Christ.   If their faith is discovered, Christians in China are likely to be persecuted in one way or another, either by forced silence or actual imprisonment.   Untold thousands have been sent to Chinese gulags and no accurate number is really known how many have been executed for being Christian.   Yet the faith is growing.

In North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen it is a death penalty offense to say you believe in Jesus Christ.   And people do it anyway.   Just in those countries, thousands of people do it anyway.

Because watching someone be persecuted, lightly or harshly, may just spur you to think more about your own faith.   It may spur you to profess truths you hadn’t seriously considered.   It might just make you think in different ways.  The same “why” that explains why first century believers were strengthened by Paul’s persecution explains the things happening in our world today.   The Gospel can’t be contained by puny human methods, and where it is actively denied in the dark a tiny light can shine all that much brighter.

For further reading:  Acts 4:29, Acts 21:33, Philippians 1:15

Lord Jesus, where I’m stumbling in dark failure to share You where I am, teach me to shine so that others may benefit.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 8 August 2019

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready to do any good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, to be gentle, and to display every courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2 (EHV).

Early on in church history, Paul and Peter clashed.   The former once called out the latter, at Antioch, for hypocrisy.  This resulted in a temporary schism between believers who sided with Peter – for adhering to some Jewish customs – and believers who sided with Paul – for determining that Jewish customs no longer applied.  The matter was eventually settled by a council in Jerusalem, with the eventual outcome being the recognition that the new covenant through Christ completes the old Jewish covenant and its laws.

Even Peter and Paul had to submit to rulers and authorities, and they founded the temporal Christian church.

A few years after this, they submitted to earthly authorities by facing execution by the Romans.   Tradition has it that Peter was executed by crucifixion around the time of the great fire of Rome.   Around the same time, Paul was also executed by beheading.   Both of them willingly went to their deaths, Peter even ASKING for the more severe penalty of being crucified upside down.  THAT is the ultimate submission to authorities.

Yet while submitting, neither Peter nor Paul gave in to the authorities.   Their lives might have been spared if they had simply recanted of their faith in Jesus, yet they didn’t.   Read the news today and you’ll find that there are Christians in places like Iran, Indonesia, North Korea, and China who are persecuted or killed for preaching Christ crucified.   Recant and we may let you live.   Hold on to this Jesus and you’re dead.

The response of Peter and Paul and the others: “so be it.   Come Lord Jesus, quickly.”

In a world where this kind of thing was commonplace, Paul’s direction to Titus was “submit with honor.”  Don’t give up what you believe, and practice all the behaviors recommended of one who believes in Jesus, yet submit to the authorities over you.   It’s good practical advice to us today because, to be honest, the same thing still happens.   We don’t have much control over our lives because, to be honest again, God allows authorities over us to have control over much of what we do.

What we do have control over is our choices, our thoughts, our actions.   No authority can MAKE us think something or say something.   And where behavior and actions can be compelled, the responsibility of doing something that we are forced to do rests with the one compelling, not the one compelled.   God knows this; God respects this.  What He asks us to do is to submit to the rulers and authorities that He allows here and trust that He will work all things for the good of His Kingdom.

For further reading:  Romans 13:1, Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 4:31, 1 Peter 2:13-14, Titus 3:3

Help me to submit, Lord.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 2 October 2018

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 1 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).

Imagine if God called an atheist to preach the Gospel.  Or if He called Louis Farrakhan (or an Iranian mullah) to preach reconciliation with the Jews. Imagine if a Alec Baldwin went on the Tonight Show to preach for reconciliation in the name of Jesus.

That’s Paul.   Think of the worst possible persecutor, the very harshest, the meanest guy you could meet and it was Paul.   He relished what he did for a living:   killing followers of “the Way.”   He was a zealous follower of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and lived in His temple in Jerusalem.   That is, until a roadside meeting with that one true God shut, then opened, Paul’s eyes.   The persecutor became the persecuted, and every time that happened, he doubled down on it.   He gave thanks to Jesus for picking him, the most unworthy of servants, to become zealous for His message and carry it to places unknown.

Today’s verse changes direction from the last few.  Keep in mind that this change of direction happens right after Paul warns Timothy to avoid false teachers and properly invoke God’s law.  Paul has used the first part of his letter to remind Timothy that not everyone is for him…or Him.   Now he begins a section of different instruction, outlining God’s grace and how it is a unique gift from the King to preach the faith to people who need to hear it.

Not everyone is called to that calling.   I’ve never really felt it, other than the daily urge to write these word.  I can’t do much but I can do this.  Some pastors tell me that they innately knew they should become pastors.   One told me it was like God slamming shut every other door in his life until he walked through the ministry one.   Another seemed to relish being a pastor instead of “just a pig farmer’s son” (as if that’s something to be ashamed of…it isn’t).

No matter, to minister to others in the name of Jesus is a calling that I think each of us gets in our own ways.   Some get it to be a full time job.   Jesus molds our lives in unique ways.   Have you ever thought that there are 7.2 billion ministers for Jesus alive right now?   It’s true.   Yet not all know it, or Him.   So it’s up to us to use the gifts He gives us and the good fruits of His Spirit that are kindness, understanding, and love to help others along their way to Him.  Imagine if God called an atheist to preach.   Better yet, imagine how He’s calling you.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:13, Acts 9:15, 1 Timothy 1:13

Lord Jesus, all my praise to You for putting Your love on my heart to follow and preach You in my own way.