Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 29 March 2019

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.   2 Timothy 1:13 (NIV).

Sound teaching lasts a lifetime.   When you consider that we humans were made to live forever, sound teaching can therefore last forever.   The oldest of the Bible’s books are Job and those of the Pentateuch, each of them between 3400 and 3500 years old.  The newest of the Bible are nearly 2000 years old.  That you and I are still discussing them today seems to verify that they’re sound teaching, especially since it is the Bible that gave rise to the monastic culture (that preserved ancient knowledge during the Dark Ages), the Reformation and Renaissance, and even western democracy.

That’s sound teaching.   It has lasted for centuries, even millienia.   Paul understood that.   He had had a very personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ, who set him on an informed path of evangelical mission.   People won’t do those kinds of things without believing in them, and the fact that so much constructive good happened because of it seems to also verify the sound teachings of Christ.   Sure, you can sell your soul to Satan, believe in the magical paganism of Wicca, or follow Mohammed into jihad.  In the end, those teachings lead to separation from the God of our fathers, to the second death.

There is a better way.

There is a better way that Paul exhorted Timothy (and us) to follow.  Keep true to the teachings of Jesus.   You’re only human and you’re going to screw up; so will your friends and congregants.   And when you do, run right back to Jesus and confess your failings.   Receive His forgiveness, soak up His Spirit and His strength, and begin again (and again and again).   Talk about it with everyone you can.  Live it out.  Run this good race set before you and preach Christ crucified in all you say and do.   Go all in on this faith because it’s the only faith that matters, and the only one that will save your immortal soul.   There will be hardship and suffering, but remain true to Christ and you will wear a crown of peace in this life, then a thankful crown of reward from Him in the next.

THAT is a better way.

And it all stems from learning that sound teaching.   We teach our kids morals, basic math, language skills, and how to get along with each other at a young age; we spend years doing it.  Generations past did those same things using God’s Word as the foundation.   It isn’t that they knew something we don’t:  they simply did better than we’re doing.  As long as God permits day and night, there is still time to turn to that better way.   How about we start now?

For further reading:   Romans 8:9, 2 Timothy 14.

Lord Jesus, YOU are the better way.    Forgive me my sins.   Thank You for today in which to proclaim You.   Guide me today.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 14 February 2019

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV).

This is a greatly mis-quoted verse.   Money itself isn’t the root of all kinds of evil; money is just a tool, even a blessing, that God gives to us.   Loving the tool more than the God who gives it is what is the root of all kinds of evil.   It’s the starting point down paths that lead away from Him.  I know plenty of wealthy people who struggle to keep it together; I know plenty of poor people who do the same yet seem more contented (or is it resigned) with their lot.

Thank God I’m poor, right?   I mean, I’ve been working for over 30 years now and I don’t seem to get ahead.  Well-paying jobs pay me well and it all seems to go out the door.   At this pace, I’ll be working until noon on the day of my funeral.  Perhaps “poor” isn’t the best word since, by the standards of poverty, my family is no where near that.   Perhaps the better description is “monetarily challenged.”

So be it.  It doesn’t keep me up at night.   I choose a different path.

Don’t get me wrong:   I like a buck as much as the next guy.   And I plan on working until I’m 72-74 to make sure I have done all I can to enjoy retirement.   Besides, I enjoy work.   I look at it as a blessing, as a way to use the talents God gave me to better do His work for me in the world.   That includes my career.

Perhaps I’ve learned to be content with how God provides.  That’s a lesson that didn’t come easily after watching my parents financially struggle for decades.  Then making irresponsible choices with my own money, spending too much and investing too little.   Yet through it all, the antidote to loving money is remembering that, every day, God provides abundantly whether we’re monetarily poor or rich.   It seems cliché but if you wake up, God has provided.   If you’re breathing, rested, drinking water, God has provided.  No matter what condition you’re in, if you’re above room temperature, then God has provided all you need to start the day and meet what’s up ahead.   Let’s be content with that first and let the rest come as it will.

Love God and not the money He provides.   When you do that, it becomes easy to become content and realize He’s going to provide whatever we need in all circumstances.   That, and start to tithe.   But let’s save that subject for a different discussion.

For further reading:   1 Timothy 6:11.

Provider Lord, forgive me when I focus more on money and earning than on You and the blessings You give.  Thank You for giving me today, and help me to use today wisely.   

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 22 October 2018

And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. 1 Timothy 2:7 (NIV).

Do you have a resume?   Do you keep yours up to date?   In the last few years, I’ve been out of work 3 times.   And I learned things have changed since 2001:  the last time I earnestly sought a new job.  Monster and Dice are still around, but now most tech employers use Indeed and LinkedIn.   I found that looking for a job was less about who I was as a person and more about the raw skills I possess.

As a tech worker, I’ve learned to keep my resume up to date.   Most times I use a 2-page format, and no more than 2-3 bullets per employer.   Some head hunters say to only go back a decade, but I keep all my skills on it, going back to 1986; some of my most important work was back then.   And my resume shows only what I consider most important, only the things that talk about what I can do AND who I am.

Today’s verse is Paul’s resume.   It testifies to his bona fides.   After talking about Christ being the one and only mediator, and after spending the first part of this letter talking about Christ’s grace, Paul goes to the subject of his qualifications to teach the ‘un-churched.’  In several of his letters, Paul discusses his calling as an apostle, that it came from Jesus Himself.   That mattered to the first-century church because that group was being pulled in many directions.   The original 11 apostles had known and walked with Jesus.   He established their resumes.  Now came this man Paul, who had been a famous Pharisee known for persecuting these new followers of “The Way” (as the church was then called).

What’s more, this Paul wasn’t teaching only the Jews, as most of the Apostles and Jewish rabbis did.   No, Paul was speaking about this Jesus to non-Jews:  to non-Jewish people all over the Roman empire.  Everywhere he went, Paul testified that Jesus was the authority to whom Paul gave all credit and from whom Paul had received his calling.

Paul kept up his resume.   You can read it in the twelve books he wrote in the New Testament.  You and I have similar credentials.  God gives us skills to work and talents to advertise, both for His advancement and ours.   He places us in situations to do or prepare us for work He has in mind.  The next time you update your resume, consider your skills and how God would use them – and you – at an employer.  I wonder what that would look like on LinkedIn.

For further reading: Romans 9:1, 2 Timothy 1:11, Acts 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:8

Lord, thank You for establishing Paul’s resume.   And for giving me the skills you want me to have for You in the world today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 September 2017

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  Hebrews 12, verses 9-10.

The other day I mentioned my parents, stating that they weren’t physical disciplinarians.   After my sister and I entered elementary school, I don’t remember Mom or Dad ever spanking us.   Especially Dad.   Spanking and physical discipline just wasn’t part of him.  Yet for years I thought my father was a weak man.   It was only after I grew up that I realized how wrong I was, that he was actually a good and fundamentally decent man who stood fast on principles.   Dad ‘shook off’ a lot because, if it didn’t interfere with his principles, then it didn’t matter so much.  But he rarely gave an inch when his principles were called into question.

One of those principles was that a person, especially a man, should always do their best.   I never really knew the side of my father who worked in an office.   Dad was an ammunition inspector for the Army, and I don’t recall ever seeing him in the office (because he worked on Army bases where we usually didn’t go).   But I have a box full of awards from his 30 years of work testifying that he had always done a great job.   I do remember Dad working around the house, doing all kinds of home improvements.   He self-taught those things; nobody taught him how fix electrical wiring, hang drywall, or make home repairs.   When I was growing up, except for a two year period where we lived in a house that needed no work, I don’t think I could have named a weekend when my dad didn’t work hard at something.

He always did his best.

Since I got out of the Air Force 21 years ago I have worked for eight different companies (nine if you count my own in that I’m currently an independent consultant).   I can honestly say that, for most of those jobs, I did my best.   A few times I didn’t, and one time I didn’t cost me a job last year.   I felt betrayed by those people; maybe some day I’ll share the rest of the story.   But the long and short of it was that they abandoned me so I abandoned them and it showed in my work.   These days, I love what I’m doing.   I enjoy the work, I really enjoy the team I’m working with and the ones I’m leading, and I am energized at the challenge of the task.   It’s a pleasure to do my best.   When you think about it, I wouldn’t be where I am in this job if “those people” last year hadn’t launched me along the trajectory I’m traveling today.   That’s something to be thankful for.  See what happens when you do your best?

Have you considered that God is doing His best as well?   Moreover, He’s doing it for you, on your behalf, for your good.    God made you legitimate.  He bought you back from the consequences of your sins and set you on a better path.  He gave His Son for you.  He gives you food, air, water, shelter, other people, and love and you don’t have to do anything to deserve them.   You and I are on God’s mind 24/7 even when He isn’t on ours.   Have we really considered that God does His best for us every day, even when we refuse to notice?

It seems so easy to question God when things aren’t going well for us.   It seems so easy to curse His name when we’re up against the wall, or when we don’t get what we want.   Yet have you considered that these are times when God allows (or brings) adversity into our lives to refine us for better things?   I know this is true in my own life, and it hurts when it happens.   But things always turn out for the best eventually.  God gives us only what we can handle and asks us to handle the negative things only so that it will lead us back to Him somehow.   Through them all, He still provides those things mentioned above whether we are in want or in plenty.

God’s a father like me, like my dad.   He gives us His best in all things.   It’s a trustworthy, true thing to believe, to make the bedrock of your life.  Today would be a good day to make sure we do the same for others because of Him.

For further reading:  Numbers 16:22, Revelation 22:6, Isaiah 38:16, 2 Peter 1:4.

Lord, thank You for doing Your best for me.   Your best is simply You because nothing is better than You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 July 2017

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For in just a little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.”  Hebrews 10, verses 35-37.

Persevering is tough; duh.

I’m entering the third week with a new job, and it’s a true blessin.   In reality, all work is a blessing, but it’s even more noticeable when you get the rare opportunity to go back to a place where you were successful before.   Both my wife and I were out of work for just over a month yet that’s ending.   As mentioned, I’m starting my third week.   As of this morning, my wife is also starting a new job.   God has been so good in so many ways, and at the (hopeful) end of unemployment, I’ll confess that it was only through persevering in God that we were able to make it through.   Because we did persevere in Him, He’s rewarding us with new opportunities.   Not because of our perseverance, but because of His grace.   All we did was trust Him.  Yet I’ll admit it was tough.

Living can indeed be tough.  Just this morning I saw a picture on Pinterest of a Revolutionary War veteran.   Yes, you read that right:  a photograph of a veteran of the American Revolution.   In fact, he was the last veteran.   The photo was taken in the 1860s of a man named Daniel Bakeman, who died as the last veteran of the American Revolution on April 5, 1869.   If you search on the internet, you can find pictures of other Revolution veterans as well.   By the time photography was invented, they were already very old men.  Yet it amazes me to see a picture, not a painting, of someone who actually fought in the American Revolution in the 1700s.   It’s a connection to exactly what such people looked like instead of a representation of them.  Such men lived long lives of perseverance and reaped the reward of living in a free land they had helped to build.

It’s a tough thing to persevere, to push yourself forward in faith even when things tell you not to.   God never promises us that things will be rosy when we believe in Him.   Indeed, He promises we’ll be persecuted because we’re siding with Him.   When we say we believe, we’re saying that we reject the world which rejects Him.   That’s most of humanity, and most of humanity doesn’t take kindly to having a Christian finger stuck in its eye.   Yet that’s what we do.   We do it by saying “I believe” when logic tells us not to.   We do it by thanking God for both the good and the bad.   We do it by trusting Him to live out His will in our lives no matter what happens because we know He will bless us through it.

We do it because verses like 35-37 tell us to.   Because they point us back to the truth that faith in Jesus is rewarded personally by Jesus.   It isn’t rewarded with a new job; it isn’t rewarded with long life after a long war.   Faith in Jesus doesn’t make you wealthy, or prosperous, or worldly, or famous.   All of those things may or may not happen to you, but if they do, they’re blessings from Jesus and not the singular consequence of His grace.

You know where this is going.

Faith in Jesus results in Jesus in your life.   Jesus in your life results in forgiveness of the guilt of your sins.   It results in you being made right again with God:  something you and I can’t accomplish on our own.   Jesus in your life results in you being rewarded with living forever.   In a little while, He’ll keep that promise to make it true in physical fact.   Right now, He’s already kept it because He’s already done the work to make it happen and you’re already a part of His eternity now.   For the rest of your life here, you can live knowing the Creator of the universe personally knows, loves, and wants you for His family.   When this life is over, you get to be with Him forever and see Him face to face.  In the mean time, He promises to abide with us as we struggle when life gets tough.

Would you rather have peace now and later or a new job and a long life?

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:3, James 4:12, James 5:11, 2 Peter 1:6, Hebrews 6:15, Hebrews 9:15.  Matthew 11:3, Revelation 22:20.

Lord, You bless me in so many ways.  Thank You for Your gifts of peace and rewards.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 June 2017

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  Hebrews 10, verses 32-34.

Is this calling us to actively give up our possessions?  Is it telling us to be content in all circumstances, even when we’re being mistreated?   Actually, yes it is.   It ISN’T saying “be happy about it.”   God doesn’t tell us to enjoy suffering.   But He does tell us to put our trust in Him alone and be content with Him because He is more than enough to overcome any suffering.  He doesn’t promise Easy Street:   He promises to abide with us on any street.  Is this also telling us to turn the other cheek?   Again, yes it is.  When suffering happens, we should focus our joy on it’s true source, Jesus.   Instead of focusing on hurt, to stop the ‘bleeding’ of our suffering, we should focus on He who is with us even to the point of turning the other cheek to the one who is making us suffer.

A few days ago, my Billy Graham devotion reminded me that “joy” doesn’t equal “happiness” as the world defines happiness.   Brother (and sister), I understand this.   I’m sure you do, too.  Without divulging too many whines, my family is going through a difficult time.   For the moment, my wife and I are unemployed.  Just as He did the last time we went through this, God has a plan in all this.   To be honest, we don’t know what that plan is right now, but we do trust Him and His daily provision.   We’re still eating; we’re still breathing; midnight to midnight, we are still above the dirt.   Everything else is a gift from Him, even the struggles.  We pray the time will be short, and we’re blessed to be able to use it to do things that need to be done here on our farm.   God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Yet it can be a struggle to see happiness or joy in this.   “How could it” you might ask?   “Dave, you’re on the unemployment line again; you expect to be happy?”  Happy no, joy yes.   Every struggle, even unemployment or financial struggles, is an opportunity to make a choice for Jesus.  The verses aren’t saying that my problems will disappear.   It’s only saying that my unseen baggage from them can when I fix my eyes and hope on Christ.  If nothing else, why not ease that emotional burden?

And let’s get real:  the author of Hebrews wasn’t talking about a First-World situation like unemployment or paying your bills online.   He was talking about struggles like being tortured in Roman prisons.   About living in a world with astronomical infant mortality, real starvation, life expectancy of 45 years, and a host of other problems that most of us can’t fathom.   The first audience for verses 32-34 was comprised of people who lived in the primitive first century nations of the Mediterranean.  He was telling them to put all their trust, their hope, their everything on the shoulders of Jesus and let Jesus take the heat.   The author was telling his reader to rejoice in Jesus even when the branding iron struck your flesh, or you were kidnapped to row in a galley, or your family was sold off into slavery because you couldn’t pay your debts, or when they nailed you to a cross.

My puny problems pale compared to those things.   If our ancestors could trust Jesus through things like that, I can too.

I’ll admit:   it’s a struggle.   We are having to ‘skinny down;’ going through possessions, putting our farm up for sale, applying for jobs (literally) all over the world.   It’s hard to face being let go and rejected; it’s hard to face doing without things you’ve worked for or desire.   It hurts to go through this.  Jesus understands that.   He’s with us during these times and is calling us to put our faith in Him.  When the tough times are past, the lessons He’s teaching us today will come in handy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 6:4, Philippians 1:29-30, 1 Corinthians 4:9, Philippians 4:14, 1 Peter 1:4-5.

Lord, help me to trust You in all things.   Forgive my weakness and how I’ve failed You.   I trust You in Your teaching, Your provision, and Your discipline.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 16 May 2017

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10, verse 23.

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that I recently started a new job.   My previous company laid me off in December.   Now, I’m 50 and have been working in one capacity or another since I was 16.  This wasn’t the first time I’d been rolled off an account or even laid off a job.   Yet this has been the first time that my confidence has been rattled to the core.  I started a new job 3 months ago and, by all measures, it’s going very well (I’m leading a great team of really talented people).  Yet I’ve become ultra-sensitive to perfectionism, working to try to get things just right even as I know that isn’t a sustainable goal.   For the first time in my life, I’ve encountered anxiety, even panic attacks.   Couple that with some pretty heavy depression, a bunch of other stressors, and it’s a tough combination to live with.  I’ve come to dread  every time someone from my new job calls or e-mails, wondering if this is the message where the ax falls on my neck again.  50 is a tough time in life to be having to start over.

It’s as if I have forgotten how to hold unswervingly to the hope I profess in Christ.   Except that my faith is still solid. All through this, I’ve known deep inside that God was still real.  I’ve almost instinctively known that Jesus is with me, and that whatever I’m feeling, He’s beside me to help me.   That’s proof of Hebrews 10, verse 23.   And yet I’ve still been hurting.

Earlier, I was talking with my atheist friend who, once again, chided me for believing in “space fairies.”   I replied to him that it’d be better if he got to know the One he calls “space fairy” now, in thanks and admiration, instead of later in fear and dread because he will come to know Him whether he calls Him names or not.   Again, this is something I know inside of me because I believe what God has said through His Word and through His nature & history.   Yet in a world of doubt, anger, and hurt, is it any wonder that people like atheists would reject faith they can’t see, even if the One they reject is faithful and bears real hope?

Perhaps it’s natural to occasionally question one’s faith, even as the God in whom we have faith doesn’t question us.   He is always present, always the same, always diligent, always loving.   He’s God; He can’t be any other way.   We aren’t God; we can’t be God and shouldn’t try (after all, there really are no true atheists…).  I can only speak for myself in saying that I truly believe in all God says He is and that I don’t doubt that He’s saved me.   Yet I still question where He is and His purposes when things like this job loss come to me.   I didn’t deserve it, but it happened.   It has wreaked a lot of changes, some good and many not, in my family’s life, and I question “why”.

Perhaps the best answer is still the one God gave to Job, namely that He’s God and I’m not and I should just be comforted by knowing that.   Way back in the book of Job – probably the oldest book in the Bible – God upheld the hope of His faithful servant who, like me, questioned when bad things happened without rejecting his belief in his Maker.   It’s ok to be sincere about saying “Lord, this really sucks right now.”   It’s ok to be sincere about feeling bad when things make you feel bad.   It’s ok to be sincere in saying “I don’t want this.”  Vent those feelings and share those thoughts; that’s good, even Godly.   And then let them go and come back into His fold, remembering that He gives real hope for here and now, not just forever.  He who promised it is faithful in all things and at all times.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:1, 1 Cor 1:9.

Lord, it’s been really tough lately and I’ve been hurting, questioning why these things have happened. I believe in You, though, and I know in my heart that You are with me.   Uphold me now and continue to give me the courage to face each new day.  Thanks for what You do and who You are.