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.

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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.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

We the people tend to remember daring acts of bravery.   Remember the Alamo; remember Pearl Harbor.   We remember times when people do heroic things worthy of memory.  You’ve (hopefully) heard the accounts of people in our world today who are being persecuted for believing in Jesus.  That may seem like something from our distant past, like we of the ‘modern’ world have learned to live beyond such savagery.   But the fact is that we haven’t.   Just last week I read a story about how the communist government in China tore down a large church.  The people who worshipped there are under surveillance, and it’s a good thing to assume quite a few have been questioned or arrested.   Just for believing in Jesus.

And did you know that it is a crime that carries a death sentence to publicly declare or preach faith in Jesus in Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Pakistan?   In Mauritania, Libya, Morocco, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh it is illegal to declare yourself as a Christian.   In the workplace in many cities and states of America it is officially frowned upon to minister to others or even profess your faith (to be fair, not just faith in Jesus, yet faith in Jesus seems to be tolerated least of all).

Outrageous treatment?   To be sure.   Suffering for the faith?   In many places in our world today, yes, this happens.   Stand up for Jesus?   No, that isn’t tough at all…

Those who dare to share the gospel in the face of this treatment are heroes.   Indeed, it is energizing and invigorating to stand up for Jesus in the face of people who oppress you.  It demonstrates courage and a belief in human dignity to act in ways that show the fruit of His Spirit, then to stand up and tell just why you do what you do.   People remember that kind of thing, and I dare say most of them remember it with respect.

Read through Scripture to the end and you know that the end of all things is already foretold.  Evil will be vanquished.   God will once and for all destroy evil and relegate Satan and all who reject God to the terror of everlasting existence away from Him.  Yet before all that happens we are told things will get even tougher for believers.   Tough times are coming; you can even feel it in the air, and people are watching.   What will they see you do?   How will you be remembered?

For further reading: Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, thank You for preserving me through oppression and persecution.   Be the steel in my spine and put Your words in my mouth when people challenge me to deny you.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 22 November 2017

 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  Hebrews 13, verse 13.

Jesus earned “street cred” by dying outside the city walls.   That wasn’t the intention of the Jews who murdered Him.   They wanted to discredit Him, to consign Him to a place with the worst of society.   The Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death wanted to erase the memory of Him so that He would soon be forgotten.  To do that, they reasoned that having Him executed as a common criminal would cause people to abandon following Him.   By branding Jesus as a criminal worthy of death, they would so disgrace His name that people would be repelled by even the mention of it.  Within a few years nobody would remember this evangelist from Nazareth.

With anyone else, it might have worked.   After all, there is only a small handful of names we actually know out of the billions of people who lived before, say, one thousand years ago (maybe even one hundred years ago).    The people we know of (like Jesus) earned fame or honor.   Who even knows the names of condemned prisoners from Phoenicia, Babylon, Athens or Rome?   Do we know the names of the men crucified with Spartacus?  Without using Google, who are the people on death row now in Idaho?   Can you name anyone shot for cowardice during the Mexican War?   We don’t know the names of these men because they’re lost to history.

We don’t know their names because we don’t want to.   They died in disgrace.   They died in ignominy and dishonor.   You, me, and our friends don’t want to be associated with their dishonor and disgrace.  It’s like adulterers in church:  nobody wants to be associated with them because we feel like, if we are, we’ll be tainted by their sins.   It’s a stupid, highly irrational feeling even if it is a constructive psychological defense mechanism.

It’s also ungodly.   What would Jesus do?  Not that.  Jesus ran to the cross.   He wrapped Himself in the dishonor and ignominy.  Jesus knew that His sacrifice would bring glory, honor, and love to the Father.  THAT is our better example.

Luke quoted Christ in saying that each of us who wants to really follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross daily.  We must willingly, even gleefully, run outside the camp and pick up the weapon of our own death.  We must embrace the disgrace.  And the writer of Hebrews reminds us that human disgrace for faith in Jesus is worth more than all the treasures in the world.  Joy in being persecuted for believing in Jesus is the street cred of faith.

A few years ago I read the Left Behind books.   I’m not a millenialist, so I didn’t accept the rapture/7 years tribulation idea; to me, getting mixed up in the how & when details of the end of time misses the miracle of being called home to heaven.  But one scene from one of the books (I don’t remember which one) stuck with me.  In it, one of the main characters is talking with a condemned man who is on his way to the guillotine.  The man is about to die for not taking the mark of the Antichrist and instead of being hesitant about it, he is joyful.   Imagine that:   the man is about to be murdered for what he believed and he is enthusiastic about it.   He’s ebullient, joyously embracing the disgrace of dying for the one you love.   And I don’t even remember the character’s name.

But that’s just a book.   The truth of it is that that this happens here and now.   It’s been happening for real to Coptic Christians for years.   It happens wherever ISIS rules.   It still happens in Communist China, and Cuba, and Islamonazi Iran.  A watered-down version of the persecution even happens in American universities and American corporations.  I am challenged regularly online for words like these, and I have lost friends over my faith.   The best response when that happens?   Joyfully thank God and press forward.  The world thinks it’s a disgrace to believe like this.  Embrace the disgrace and advance against an enemy that has already lost even when it costs you everything.

For further reading:  Luke 9:23, Hebrews 11:26.

Lord, let me embrace the ‘disgrace’ of serving You, of loving You, of faith in You.   Teach me and uphold me to better serve you in the world.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 August 2017

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  Hebrews 11, verses 35-38.

Read through these verses again and you get a, well, Biblical feeling about them (pun intended).   Then read through them again and consider that, somewhere in the world today, there are people who are being mistreated, persecuted, and tortured for believing in Jesus just like these church forebears thousands of years ago.

You and I read about that on the Internet, but it’s true.   In Sudan, people are tortured for being Christian, for denying anyone but Allah.   In Iran, you can be executed for being a Christian.   Ditto in North Korea (or any communist country for all that matter).   In Cuba you can still be thrown in prison for saying you believe in Jesus (but, then again, Cuba is still a communist dictatorship).   Same in the People’s Republic of China (also still a communist dictatorship).   In Saudi Arabia, if you’re a Christian (or any non-Muslim for all that matter), you can be punished with instant death for trying to enter the holy mosque near the Kaaba.

Being tortured and dying for what you believe goes a long way back.   But look at the benefits.   Indeed, consider ONLY the benefits of believing.  Jesus or the world?   Jesus wins.

Only Jesus can bring you back from death because only He has done that.   Only Jesus can give you true peace inside, true calmness of your Spirit.  That’s here and not, not just some day.  Only Jesus can steel your spine to face down agonizing death because only in Jesus can you have full assurance that physical death is only a tiny passage into eternal life.

That’s not to say that living your faith is rosy or even easy.  I wonder if that’s not a disappointment for many folks who say they believe.   They are looking for something that takes away the hurt, the difficulty, even the pain of things that happen in life and when Christianity doesn’t instantly do that, they walk away disappointed.  Who knows when we got away from the idea that following Jesus could be tough?  Somewhere along the way, (especially) we in America began to serve up a Christianity that was light and easy, an egg-white omelette of faith if you will.

That isn’t the faith Jesus advertised.   He said that, if we wanted to follow Him, we would have to take up our cross and walk with Him daily.   That means we would, every day of our lives, have to stand against the world, against our nature, against even those who love us but don’t love Him.   That means we would have to carry our instrument of death with us everywhere we go until, at the end of all things, we are nailed to it.    When Jesus taught from the Scriptures, he taught from the accounts of the Old Testament heroes who died for their faith but died IN their faith.  For them, there was no death at all, but only that passage to something far better in paradise.  Death in the service of the Lord was an honor, maybe even a duty, but not a burden.

They understood that the God of their fathers was loving, just and true.   That He kept His promises.   That He was all He said He was.   They understood that, even in a century-long life, time here on earth is short.   The men and women of ancient days who died for Christ in their faith seemed to know something we have misplaced.

Here’s the hard part:  what are you willing to do to get it back?

For further reading:  1 Kings 17:22-23, 2 Kings:4:36-37, Jeremiah 20:2, genesis 39:20, 1 Kings 19:10, Jeremiah 26:23, 1 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 18:4, Luke 9:23.

My Lord, forgive me when I fail You.  Thank You for the blessings of enduring hardship in service to You, in faith in You.   Let my sufferings be a good witness to others and strengthen them.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 December 2016

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Hebrews 6, verses 4-6.

Something else that needs to be said, and this is going to be harsh.

“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”   We do it every day.   It’s why He chose the cross; it’s why, every day, He chooses it again and again when you and I, selfish bastards that we are, keep stabbing him with those Roman nails.   We do it with our sins, small and large, even the ones we don’t think amount to much.   Have you begun to realize all the effects of your God-damned sins?   Yes, I said that.   Your sins and mine:   they’re cause for God to damn us to eternal punishment.   Personally, I think that punishment starts here and now and only gets worse as we go.   God damn us for all of our sins.

Enough of the profanity.   I hope you don’t mind it too much…it’s for effect and I’m hoping that it makes you think, maybe even a little angry.  You should be righteously angry at sin; angry enough to do something about it.   Jesus did.   And yet we keep taking up that hammer and ramming those nails back into His hands and feet.

Every single time you and I fail we nail Jesus back to that cross.   He suffered mortal agony the first time around, and then He suffered spiritual agony being ripped apart from His Divine being (so as to suffer and redeem us) while still being inevitably matched to Him as well.   Then He rose three days later, making death and suffering moot forever.  And yet every minute since, whenever someone has done, said or thought anything contrary to Him, it’s like we have nailed Him back onto that cross.

Here in the first-world, we persecute those who believe in Jesus.   You’ve done it; so have I.   Huh?   You bet you have.   Ever been afraid to speak up and say you’re a believer?   Ever been ashamed of your faith because the ‘cool kids’ didn’t seem to be ashamed of themselves?   Ever felt even the slightest bit sanctimonious when you did speak up, not realizing your proud sanctimony is a disgrace to Him who loves us unselfishly?  Every single time we do things like these, even the tiniest thing, we are disgracing Jesus again.   We are joining in with the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who spit on Him, screamed at Him, hated Him.  You and I already know it’s un-cool to be a believer in Hollywood or even on social media.   That’s persecution my friend, even if it’s soft-boiled.

And REAL persecution?   You know, the kind that gets you killed for being a believer?   It’s happening in every Muslim country on the planet.   It’s happening on steroids in places controlled by ISIS and Boko Haram.   It’s still happening in communist strongholds like Cuba, and China, and North Korea.   Don’t fool yourself:   when you and I sin, we’re joining in the execution squads in Iran who torture you, then stand you up against the wall simply for saying “I believe in Jesus and not Mohammed.”

Like I said, God damn us for our sins.   He can, He will, He doesn’t want to, but He must if we don’t repent of them.   God is holy and must be holy.   Our very lives depend on it.  If He isn’t, even for an iota of a second, then this whole universe comes apart.   The places where the spiritual and physical intertwine would become explosion points of sin if there is no holy and just Lord God Almighty to bind them together.

Thank God that He is the cure for the common damnation.   The cure for damnation is Jesus.   Every time we do the difficult, mature thing and turn from our sins, it’s like witnessing Jesus rise from death again.   We’re the women at the garden tomb, clinging fast to our risen Lord.   We’re the blind man who can see again because He healed us.   We’re Peter, restored to faith after denying Him three times.   If our sins nail Him to that cross every time, then our repentance and re-acceptance of His gift of true salvation is being restored into His resurrection.   Damnation becomes simply a road we didn’t follow when we step back onto the path of following Jesus.   Then and only then do we grasp how He was ready for us all along.   The salvation wasn’t undone by our rebellion even as our rebellion renounced our acceptance of His salvation.

For further reading:   Luke 2:14, Philippians 3:12-14, Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 9:14, John 3:25, Acts 6:6, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:24, Acts 18:21.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for all You did in saving us.   I’m truly sorry for the sins I’ve done that nailed You to the cross.   I’m truly sorry that I’ve kept on doing them.   Live in me and strengthen me to turn from my awful sins and to follow only You.