Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 16 May 2019

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV).

These are harsh words about how people will behave in the end days.   They’re some of the worst qualities of mankind, and Paul prophesies that the end days will bring them out in full.   Whether those end days are now or later, they will be marked by these kinds of behaviors.

These verses apply to Hollywood.   They apply to Wall Street, corporate boardrooms, country club dealing, and the jet set.   These verses could have been written about the American suburbs, or about the ghettos.   They could have been written about people in our universities, in our workplaces, on the road and at the mall and, yes, they could have been written about people who sit every Sunday in a church pew.   They’re HBO; they’re Facebook; they’re Las Vegas; they’re Mainstreet USA.   They’re our living rooms.  These verses could have been written about any of the 7.7 billion people breathing here on Planet Earth.   Two thousand years after He left us, come quickly, Lord Jesus, and set things right again.

Especially if these are the last days.   In fact, I hope they are.   Heaven has much more to offer than our world, which is full of we who could be described by these ugly words.  Those words are a mirror, held up for me and you (and a dog named Boo) to look into and see ourselves as we really are.   Even the best of us is guilty of being like one or more of those words say we are.

Paul told Timothy to avoid people like those he described above.  If Paul met me today, would he see a follower of Christ or a sinking work in progress who loves himself, money, pride and boasting more than Jesus?   Who would Paul see in you?   Even more, if Jesus does come back today, will He see us as we are, or will He see us through the lens of His love?   You know the answer, and thank God Himself for it.   We are guilty of being those awful things Paul mentions, and only a Savior who isn’t could set things right.   Only He could save us.   When He comes back, He’ll see His followers in His own mirror, and welcome us.  Doesn’t it follow, then, that we should use our time today to kindly love on people who don’t know Jesus so that they’ll have the same eternity?

For further reading:  2 Timothy 3:6.

Lord Jesus, come quickly.   These times are as You predicted, full of evil scoffers.   Come and remake all things new.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 15 May 19

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  2 Timothy 3:1 (NIV).

This section of 2 Timothy talks about the end times.   It’s heavy stuff, not for the faint of faith.    And it’s heavy stuff that people have been hauling, dreading, and contemplating for two thousand years.

Wikipedia defines “Christian eschatology” as “a major branch of study within Christian theology dealing with the “last things.” Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning “last” (ἔσχατος) and “study” (-λογία), is the study of ‘end things’, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world or the nature of the Kingdom of God. Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order, based primarily upon biblical texts within the Old and New Testament.”

Yep.   What they said.

Even from the beginning of the Christian church, we’ve contemplated the end of it here.  Not long before His crucifixion, Jesus spoke of it extensively in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.   And He inspired John to write extensively about it in the Revelation.  If you haven’t done so, go read these accounts for yourself.   It isn’t for the faint of faith.   Yet read them again and again and you’ll find your faith strengthened.

That’s a good thing because we’re in the last days.   Face it, my friend:   this life is a one-way death trip.   Every day we celebrate life and live we are one day closer to death.   Whether these are the last days of terrestrial history or simply the last days of our lives, we are living through them now.   Do you think terrible things happen?

You know the answer.

Paul warned Timothy about it.   He warned Timothy to teach that people should love Jesus every day, should live as God’s chosen followers every minute of every day because any day may be the last.  Paul and Peter may have been talking about the end of time as the “last days” yet their advice pertains to both those last days of Earth as well as all of our days on Earth.

Scoffers gonna scoff; haters gonna hate.   Those who are determined to be unpersuaded of this man Jesus will remain so.   It’s their choice, their self-inflicted misery.  They aren’t happy with that knowledge and are determined that you be as unhappy as they are.   So they’ll insult you, ridicule your faith, persecute your actions, hate you for who you believe in.  It was this way in 1st Century Judea and Asia Minor; it is the same way now.  It’s heavy, not for the weak to bear even as they, too, must find a way to bear through it.   That way is found only in Jesus Christ.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Peter 3:3, 2 Timothy 3:1.

Lord Jesus, come quickly.   These times are as You predicted, full of evil scoffers.   Come and remake all things new.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 14 May 2019

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.  2 Timothy 2:25-26 (NIV).

More about wading into discussions or arguments with opponents.   While the spirit of the idea applies to any discussion, keep in mind that Paul’s advice here regards those who opposed Timothy in  spiritual matters.   There were people in Timothy’s circle who were living in sin, or whose beliefs were contrary to Jesus’ gospel.   Some embraced Gnostic beliefs that were heretical to what Paul had taught; some were perpetuating the traditional Jewish laws in the new Christian church.   Paul reminded Timothy that his purpose was to help them to see their need for Christ and return to Him.

How does this apply today?  It might seem fun to think that ‘the other guy’ and his wacky politics are Satanic, but that probably isn’t true.   And even if it were, it’s better to remember that Jesus wants that other guy in His Kingdom as much as He wants you and I.   Perhaps Jesus has you or I in their lives to spread His Gospel to them.   Preach that Gospel constantly; if necessary, use words.   Remember that ‘the other guy’ is probably as sinful and confused as me and you.   None of this is saying we should compromise godly principles or surrender our faith.   It is, however, saying that we should uphold that faith while being empathetic towards understanding another’s predicament.

We do all this because Jesus wants them for His Kingdom, too.   Your worst enemy is Jesus’ dear child.   The overbearing progressive, the strident conservative, the bully who makes your life awful:  all are precious in His sight.   He mourns their sins as much as He mourns mine, and He wants them to be gently instructed, lovingly reminded that God in Christ loves them, forgives them, believes in them.   Jesus’ enemy, the devil, works overtime to pull down those on the fence.   You and I, soldiers in the Lord’s Army, then, get the mission of running into the breach, of standing between those opponents and the devil who would destroy their souls.   We get to stand up for Jesus because they won’t or can’t.   We get to stand for Him and witness to the devil that he is defeated, unwelcome, cast out.

I suppose that’s pretty far afield from why we shouldn’t wade into foolish arguments, but the bottom line of it is the same.  We’re followers of Jesus, in some cases His called servants.   It’s our place to witness boldly, lovingly, and kindly, especially to those who would oppose what we say.   In doing so, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Timothy 3:7, 2 Timothy 3:1.

Lord Jesus, let Your Spirit put the words in my mouth as I speak for You today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 13 May 2019

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  2 Timothy 2:23-24 (NIV).

Let it be.   That was the subject of a recent devotion my wife and I did.   Now, you know I’ve confessed to arguing over dumb things on Facebook.   Most of them are political, and it’s unlikely that neither my opponents nor I will be changing our views.   Except for letting allies know they aren’t alone, such arguments are foolish, stupid, unproductive.   Yet I continue to make them, though less and less.   Perhaps I’m beginning to see the wisdom of Paul’s command in these verses.

Mainly I don’t want to be a quarrelsome servant of the Lord.   I don’t resent the people with whom I disagree, but I do understand that such long-term useless quarrels do eventually morph into resentment.   How do we stand up for good things in which we believe without becoming insulting or hurtful?   After all, it isn’t wrong to stand up against someone who hates Jews or minorities or gays or others, but it becomes wrong if, in standing up, we become insulting or depart from the truth into mere opinion.   It isn’t wrong to stand up against the senseless violence political street factions have recently caused, but it becomes wrong if we let it evolve our opposition into desires for counter-violence or retribution.

In other words, things become wrong when we depart from God’s peace.   God desires for us to live peaceful lives, sharing and growing peace in Him, which is the only real peace there is.  Giving us His peace is central to Christ’s salvation.   If not to share God’s true presence with us, Christ came for this reason.   Only through Him can we find the peace that lasts, both here and in eternity.   It is only through modeling His behavior that we can spread peace.

Sometimes that means standing up in silence; sometimes it means standing as the angry, righteous Jesus against true wrongdoing.   Sometimes we have to flee.  We must do our parts to vanquish the wrongdoing but then also extend Christ’s peace to the wrongdoers, lest we become them ourselves.

So perhaps the best thing to do with most of our political, cultural, and even moral rot is to let it be.   It isn’t that these things are unimportant.   It IS that God Almighty is much stronger than they are.   He knows what He’s doing and He gave us the mission to spread His peace and love to others who don’t know about it.   He can handle the rest.  When the opportunity to argue arises, instead, let it be.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 3:2-3, 2 Timothy 2:25.

Good Lord, forgive me for how I have failed to sow peace.   Forgive me for when I’ve shared in stupid quarrels.   Only You can restore me and instill real peace.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 9 May 2019

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  2 Timothy 2:22 (NIV).

More good Pauline advice that re-iterates or re-enforces statements made in earlier letters.   Paul’s message was consistent:   flee evil and pursue good.

Notice that he doesn’t say “fight the evil desires of youth.”   Let’s face it:   there is no fighting them.   Sin is strong enough to defeat us.   Except for Jesus, it has defeated every human ever born.   Without Christ at our side, we can’t fight evil and we can’t win against it because evil is stronger than we are alone.   With Christ at our side, we can’t lose and evil doesn’t stand a chance.

Instead of fighting it, Paul tells us to flee from evil desires.   So many in pop culture ridicule Vice President Pence for adhering to the Billy Graham practice of not being in a room alone with another woman.   I pity them.   Pence is staying blameless by living out an admirable practice.  Rev Graham did the same and it kept impropriety and gossip away along with any chance to even consider evil desire because even Billy Graham was human.   Ditto President Harry Truman, who once was called to a private meeting only to find it was a set-up with a woman.   Truman immediately turned and walked out, fled.

When tempted to give in to desire, turn and walk away.   Then run.   Rhetorically run; physically run if you need to.   Get away from the situation because there’s danger there.  On your way fleeing, then pray for strengthened faith, love, and peace, calling on the Lord in thanks for the opportunity to flee.   In my own experience, when I’ve done this, instead of desperation, I feel empowered.   I’m betting the same would be said by you.   In my own experience, too many times I wish I had fled; I’m betting you’d echo that as well.

The unspoken result of doing these things is best spoken in Acts 2:21:   the Lord will save those who call on Him.   Live a life that pursues Him and you’ll find He’s calling you.   He’s already saved you, so live a life reflecting that by fleeing evil desires when they come to you.   Others might be inspired to do the same and accept His truth, and that matters because their eternity matters most, too.

Sure, these seem like simple, common solutions to complex problems, but first principles are usually the best starting point when trying to address complex issues.   Stick to the simple:  flee from evil when we see it, then seek Jesus in thankful prayer to feel the bliss of protection and forgiveness.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:14, Acts 2:21, 1 Timothy 1:5, 1 Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:22.

Lord Jesus, You are the only desire of my recovering heart.   Welcome me back as I flee desires when they tempt me.   Strengthen me and help me to strengthen others.

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.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 7 May 2019

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”.  2 Timothy 2:19 (NIV).

My Concordia Bible is held together with duct tape and it’s falling apart again.   For the third or fourth time, I need to carefully remove the existing tape, re-glue the spine, and re-tape the cover to hold it all in place.   I have read this Bible most every day for over 25 years now, and it has traveled with me to over half the states in the US and three continents, including into Communist China.  Not long ago, I saw a meme that said ‘a Bible that is barely held together is usually owned by someone who isn’t.’   That’s true.   I’m better, different because of God’s word.  Tattered or torn, the foundation in God’s book stands firm.

I’m His.   He knows I’m His.   He has taught me that I’m His and that I need to turn away from wickedness to heal.   It’s not just that God is holy and can’t be defiled by my sins; my God isn’t puny enough to depend on sinful little me for His own well-being.  No, my God taught me through my ragged Bible that He loves me and wants me to be healthy in spirit and body both.   Turning from wickedness is the only way to be that healthy.   It’s the only way to change behaviors to better walk through life with belief in Him.  God doesn’t depend on me, but I definitely depend on Him.

So I read every day in my threadbare Bible that goes with me when I hit the road.   I read it in this troubled world that seems to be getting darker and darker how His light overcomes that darkness without much trouble at all.  I’m in His light.   He saved me by dying on the cross, then rising three days later.  He marked us who profess our belief in Him as His own, as believers who follow Him in devotion.  In a crowd of thousands, He could identify us instantly because we identify with Him.   And when we identify with Him, we don’t want to be sullied any further with the dirt of the world that we used to bathe in.   This is the way of the follower of Christ.

I’m no better than you.   My Bible isn’t better than yours if you don’t read yours as often.   More than a few folks who read these words actually study their Bibles more and better than me.   I applaud them and admire them.   If you haven’t consulted your Bible in awhile, now’s a good time to change.   Pick it up.   Start in the Gospels and work your way back.   Follow Him.

For further reading:  Isaiah 28:16, Exodus 33:12, Numbers 16:5, John 10:14, 1 Corinthians 8:6, 2 Timothy 2:20.

Lord Jesus, I follow only You.   Only You are the Christ, the Savior.