Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 March 2018

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.  1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NIV).

Are we destined for trouble?   Answer:  yes.   Does that mean God is indifferent or not present?   Answer:  no.   Gee, those easy answers couldn’t be more difficult.

“Life is hard.   It’s harder if you’re stupid.”   That’s a meme supposedly quoting John Wayne.   No disrespect intended to the Duke (who, nearly 40 years after his death, is still my favorite actor) but we’re all stupid.  Stupidity is a symptom of sin; bad choices yielding more bad choices is symptomatic of sin starting off the whole process.   And our choices do largely determine our outcome.   Bad choices are almost guaranteed to make hard times even harder.   Don’t believe me?   Ask anyone who’s gotten into crime, or drugs, or adultery, or a web of lies.   Stupidity only makes things worse.

Sometimes it seems like that’s all we’re destined for, as if God has it in for us.   As if God has abandoned us.  Depression entrenches that impression; so do negativity, exhaustion, anger, and pain.  Yet, if you think God does indeed have it in for us, that He sets things in motion but then takes a hands-off approach as we live, how do you explain Him constantly sustaining us in life?  How do you explain the feeling of release that comes from compassion, or forgiveness?  How can we not see that it is the hand of Jesus at work in our lives when we act out in ways that demonstrate His love, His patience, His empathy, His heart?

Paul was lonely in Athens, and Athens was a hostile place for a follower of this new belief system called “Christianity.”  Think of it as the San Francisco of its day, but with a better appreciation for democracy yet having poorer standards of sanitation.  It would have been tough to endure, even for a gifted spirit like Paul.   Yet he sent his friend Timothy to Thessalonica because Thessalonica needed Timothy more.  That wasn’t just Paul being pragmatic or realistic:   it was the heart of Jesus at work in him, causing Paul to act in ways that edified and encouraged others.   Paul knew he could expect trouble, especially when his ‘forces’ were separated and divided.   Yet he knew God would provide, that God would be with him, that even when troubles seemed destined, God would work in him to help him endure, persevere, and build hope.

We’re no different.   Life is harder when we’re stupid; Paul did stupid things, too.   But Paul trusted Christ implicitly and that allowed him to move beyond adversity and into the realm of miracles called “faith.”  I think the Duke would agree.

For further reading: Romans 5:3-5, Thessalonians 3:4.

Lord, help me to rely more on you, to overcome adversity.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 31 August 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  Hebrews 12, verse 1.

If only it were that easy, right?  Actually, it is.

Last night, I watched “The Alamo,” with John Wayne.   I’m drawn to the story of the Alamo; I was even before I became a Texan.   I believe every American should see the Alamo in San Antonio at least once.   If you’ve never been there, you might be more impressed by the movie set where Mr. Wayne directed his movie; that can be found out in Brackettville, in West Texas.  If you want to sense the Alamo, you’ll find it on a tiny city block in the middle of downtown San Antonio.   It’s almost unimpressive, and it’s difficult to imagine barely 200 untrained ‘militia’ holding off an organized army of nearly six thousand:   the largest attacking force in the Western Hemisphere.  Yet that’s what happened.   They did it for nearly two weeks, buying time for General Sam Houston’s army to gather and prepare.   At the end, all the defenders were killed.   Only a few weeks later, the tables were turned, Santa Anna defeated, and Texas became its own country.

It seems like such an easy choice to make, that is, standing up against a dictator like Santa Anna.   Freedom against oppression; standing up for what you believe instead of living under the boot of an oppressor.  That ought to be an easy choice to make, almost no choice at all really.  Then again, I’m just a spectator, a movie-watcher.  I haven’t yet had to choose death over surrender against an overwhelming army.

Or have I?

If you think about it, we choose death every day.   We aren’t heroes like the men at the Alamo, but we choose to stand up and fight every day simply by believing.  Every day we are given the choice to stand and fight again or sit out the battle and watch events affect us.  Every day we’re given the choice to hold onto things or to throw off every thing, every sin, that hinders and entangles.  Most of the time, we do throw them off; at least some of them.  Others, well, we hold onto them.   Why?   Why hold onto the guilt, the danger, the agony of that pet sin?   What good does it do you?   Or has the hurt of it wrapped around you like an old quilt, enfolding you in false warmth as it actually, slowly, smothers you from within?   For the love of God, and because of it, throw it off already.   Stand up and fight.   You have witnesses to support you.   As Crockett, Bowie and Travis might have said, ‘you don’t have to stand tall but you do have to stand up.’

And that ain’t easy.  Read verse 1 again and you’ll see that it doesn’t promise easy.   But it does promise support.  That support comes first and foremost from Jesus.

I read a blog called “Trusty Chucks” by a Christian lady named Mary Graham (   Her current posts are agonizing, about how her husband, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, has back-slid.   Their family is right now being ripped apart by something that entangled and hindered, something they, and she, thought had been long ago thrown off.  Why would her husband secretly use these poisons that endangered the happiness and security of all they had built?

Why would you or I?   You know we do the same damn thing.

Yet Christ calls us to stand up and do it again.   Every night when we embrace the cold arms of our sins, we entangle ourselves in all the dysfunction that’s involved in them.   And every morning, Christ beckons us to come to Calvary and die with Him, to put to death the sins of yesterday.  To throw them off, then stand up and start again.   Most every morning, most of us do.   Through that process, He is there.   When all our cards are played, He is still there, supporting us, encouraging us, loving us through the worst and the best.  And when we get the energy to look around, we find we’re one of many fighting on the line.  Christ does that.   He inspires others to stand with us, beside us.

What will you do today?

If you have a few minutes, go read Mary’s blog.   She’s very candid, very real, and a passionate soldier in the army of the living God, and she’s taking fire now.   And make plans to one day go see the Alamo.  The Shrine of Texas Liberty is hallowed ground for us all.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36.

My Lord, You stand with me.   You are my backbone, my spirit, my energy, my rest.  Help me to get up again today, then stand with me to battle these temptations and evils once again.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 November 2016

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  Hebrews 4, verse 14.

Here’s where things get tough.   As John Wayne might have said, ‘this is where we get down to the rat killin.’   Ok, maybe not so much, but, man, this is where things get really, really tough.

Hold.   On.  Wilson Phillips sang that in a really corny song; “hold on for one more day.”  ELO sang it too:  “hold on tight to your dream.”   Corny but it’s true.   And it’s critical.  Just hold on when things get tough.  If your dream is heaven, hold on tight because this is a rough old world that is going to try to pry your dream out of your fingers.   If you have faith in Jesus, hold on tight to it because everything else in the world is going to work to unravel your faith and make you believe life is hopeless.   If you love someone, set them free?   Maybe, but hold on tight to that love because love is antithetical to this place we call the Third Rock, where death awaits every life and every day in-between day one and last day can be a struggle.

Pretty bleak, eh?   It can be, if you let it happen.   Yesterday in church, a guest speaker from Jeremy Camp’s organization talked about the joy of God, how it is theological, positional and situational to us.   God’s joy is 24/7; along with His love, grace, mercy, and peace, His joy is available to us whether we accept it or not.   God’s joy doesn’t depend on us doing anything to make it more or make it less:   it simply is because He’s God and He’s eternal and joy is one of His eternal qualities.   Yet that joy is pretty tough to see sometimes.   In my part-time job, I hear many responses on the phone that say “I’d love to buy it but money is really tight right now.”   Not much joy in chronically tight finances during a near-depression.   Death isn’t joyful; grieving is real and a necessary part of the human condition, necessary, that is, to emotionally come to terms with the cruel finality of death.   Divorce, marital heartbreak, loneliness, hurt, resentment:   no joy in those.

If you let it, the world will break you.   It tries.  Don’t let it happen.   Resolve to not let it happen.  Hold on tight.

Faith is an act of willpower.   It is impossible to believe in Jesus without Jesus’ Spirit first reaching out to us to plant the seed of belief.   Yet holding on to that growing seed of believing faith takes willpower.   It can take effort, work, and determination.   God chooses us before we choose to believe in Him, yet holding on to that choice takes resolute effort because the fallen world will keep working to pry us away from that faith.  We can do it because He in whom we put that faith has overcome the fallen world.   He allowed it to fall, came here to reconcile it to His perfection, did all that was necessary to make that happen, and returned into eternity where He supernaturally encourages us today.

The world thinks that’s all BS.   Resolve to think differently.  He did.   He held tight to faith in His Father even when things got tough.

Jesus was part of the struggle and because He lives in you He is part of your struggle today.   When you hurt, He feels it.   When you’re anxious, Jesus feels it with you.   He came to proclaim God’s Kingdom here and now, to make us part of it here and now so that, one day, we can physically join Him as part of His eternity.  Fine talk for Sunday morning, right; lot of good all that heaven talk does me when I’m in the middle of my troubles now.  Brother, it does you more good than you’ll imagine if you simply hold on tight to the truth of it.   In the middle of a world where living minute to minute can be really tough, God’s joy is still present, still real, still tangible to the heart.  It’s available for you this very minute, but first you have to want to believe in it.  Hold on tight to that faith, to the dream of hope for a better now and a beautiful forever.   Hold on tight and never let go.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:17, Matthew 4:2, Hebrews 3:1, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 8:1.

Lord Jesus, I believe in You.   Sometimes it’s tough, though, and sometimes I fail and I hurt.   Comfort me through this and let me experience Your wonderful joy again.