Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 3 October 2019

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.  Philemon 15-16 (EHV).

These verses are reasoned speculation, but they’re the crux of the whole book.   “Maybe this is happening so that Jesus might increase.”  “Perhaps this has happened because God ordained it.”   “It could be that this took place so that you might see him in a different light, as Jesus does.”

Perhaps that’s why you’re here today.

Perhaps you’re who you are, where you are, as preparation for today, for what’s coming.   Good and bad, things have happened in your life that led you to today, to right now.   There are people in your life today, there are things you’re doing or will do, there are thoughts you have to share:   perhaps what has happened in your life so far has been God preparing you for right this moment at hand.

What will you do with what God has given you?

Don’t be guilted by that.   Don’t be scared of it.   Don’t be shy or hesitant or insecure or angry about it.   God has made you uniquely.   There’s only one you; you are one of a kind, and you are very good because God made you to be just you.   He made you to share.   He made you to forgive.

Yesterday, in a Dallas courtroom, a young man whose brother had been senselessly murdered, forgave his brother’s murderer and shared the love of Jesus with her, openly, gracefully, publicly, completely.   It was an extraordinary thing to behold, and a hopeful moment for our world.  He, who didn’t have to, gave of himself the gift of Jesus to a woman, who didn’t deserve it, who will spend a long time in prison contemplating it.

Perhaps that young man’s biggest moment just happened.   Perhaps God made him for such a time as that.   Perhaps God ordered the events of their lives for the very purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in the way he did.   Perhaps there are many more great things to come for the young Mr. Jean.   Grace is a wonderful thing, perhaps the most powerful force in the universe.

Yes, this is all just reasoned speculation, but faith in Jesus is the foundation of all reason, and the love of Jesus makes all reason possible.  We saw the beautiful thing Botham Jean’s family did with God’s grace.  What will you do with it today?

For further reading:  Genesis 1:31, Esther 4:14, 2 Corinthians 8:23, Philemon 17

Lord Jesus, You have ordained the days of my life for the work of Your Kingdom.   Equip me today to share You with others in my life. 

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 6 August 2019

He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are his own chosen people, eager to do good works. Titus 2:14 (EHV).

Another thought on how Jesus overcomes evil.   You may be overwhelmed with coverage about El Paso and Dayton already.   It’s wall to wall on the news; it’s only a couple of days since these mass murders happened, so they aren’t done yet.

Knowing that, consider this:  Jesus redeemed us from ALL lawlessness.   The lunatic in the WalMart with the gun?   Jesus redeemed him.   The dozens of people he shot and the twenty-plus he slaughtered?   Jesus redeemed all of them; indeed, He’s already welcomed some to heaven.   The leftist devil worshipper who shot even more in Ohio?   Jesus redeemed him.   Ditto all of his victims.  Trump, Obama, David Muir, Markos Moulitsas, Alex Jones?   All redeemed by Jesus.   All of them; all of us.

The unwise scoffers who say thoughts and prayers are useless; the preacher who preaches they aren’t; the politicians, news anchors, back-to-school shoppers, mechanics in the garage, Bedouins in the desert, city-dwellers in Kuala Lampur, cancer patients in the ward and the doctors and nurses who treat them; my tender grandchildren:   all of them – all of us – were purchased back from the violence and unbearable sin that killed murdered so many people.   Jesus gave Himself, then He gave His Spirit so we could live our lives through Him in this world.  What once sin-filled He re-made to be spotless, made righteous.   Before Him, we couldn’t stand in front of God and live.   After Him, we can’t help but not stand there because with Him is our natural home.

All because Jesus overcame evil.   The evil that slayed those innocents in Ohio and Texas was the same evil that slayed the Savior.  For a few moments, evil triumphed, thought it had defeated the ultimate redeemer.   And then the stone rolled back.   And then reality sank in.   And then the light overcame the darkness to purify a new people, chosen by Him to be His treasured possession, to do His good works.   Jesus had given Himself as a ransom for many.  Where Satan must have laughed in nervous delight, he now would cower in abject fear.  And it’s still so true today.   Lawlessness can dominate a moment but, in every ending, Jesus will always rule each day.   It has been this way for centuries.

And it’s true even now.   The grieving will bury their dead.   The politicians and the bloodsuckers will jockey for position.   The rest of us will move on.   Yet maybe we can get to move on by remembering that the same Jesus who vanquished Satan in that garden tomb is the same one touching our hearts each day.   Maybe this time we’ll remember it longer.

For further reading:  Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 4:20, Psalm 135:4, Proverbs 16:7, Matthew 20:28, Hebrews 1:3, 1 John 1:7, Titus 2:15.

Come give us Your comfort, Lord Jesus.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 5 August 2019

It trains us to reject ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, that is, the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:12-13 (EHV).

It happened again.   More shootings, more murder, more violence done on innocents.   The media assesses blame; politicians pander for cheap points; people take sides yet again.  Average folks simply living their lives are gunned down and nothing seems to change.   It happens every day in our cities, yet when a mass shooting occurs, it shocks us.   We send our thoughts and prayers but some scoff at those, mocking them, mocking us; mocking this Jesus we follow.

God’s word is for our use, not for us to build walls around ourselves or our houses of worship.   God’s word, specifically the saving grace He describes through it, is an active tool that trains us to repent and re-shape our lives.   To reach those who don’t know or are hurting.  God’s word, ALL of it, is the one thing that can consistently teach us how to live together in peace.

So, if we can live in peace through God’s word, how is it that, over the weekend, those mass murders happen, one here in Texas and another in Ohio?  God gives us this wonderful tool and yet evil seems to prevail, people still choose evil over peace.   Christian cliques or no, these things still keep happening.

I wonder if the shooters ever considered the words here in Titus.   Jesus called Paul, and later Paul taught Titus.  I wonder if someone ever exposed them to the lessons Paul taught about how clinging closer to Jesus wards off the temptation to submit to evil.   While we wait for the blessed hope and return of Jesus our Savior, we have to live with each other here on the Third Rock.   Perhaps Paul would agree that the only way we can do that is by keeping our eyes focused on Jesus, our hearts cleaving to Him.   By constantly going back to the cross to remember what He did for us on it.  Especially when scoffers ridicule believers by saying this Jesus is absent.

Especially after this weekend, we need that invisible Christ who reaches out through us to comfort our sisters and brothers and resist the urge to respond with more evil.   In the aftermath of murder, now isn’t the time to focus on the slander, or to stick to our cliques.   To paraphrase my friend, Chad Bird, now is the time to see how violence done to innocents is atoned to peace through the innocent man on the cross who had unspeakable violence done to Him.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:7, 2 Timothy 3:12, 2 Peter 1:1, Titus 2:14.

Lord Jesus, help us to stay closer to You.   Comfort through us; help others through us; help us to help others by ministering as You would.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 19 June 2019

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.  2 Timothy 4:11-13 (NIV).

“Emanuel” is a new movie that focuses on forgiveness.   It’s a contemporary docu-drama about how the members of a Bible study group at Emanuel Baptist Church forgave the man who tried to murder them.   Powerful stuff about a powerful action.

When considering forgiveness, consider Mark.   Mark is Mark the Evangelist:  the author of the Gospel of Mark (probably the earliest of the four Gospel accounts), also known as John Mark.   Paul had known Mark (who, as a young man, had known Jesus) for many years.   Earlier in Paul’s ministry, when it was Paul who was new to following Jesus, Paul and Mark had disagreed.   Prior to this, in Pamphylia, Mark had ‘abandoned’ Paul, leaving Paul for reasons we don’t know.   The reason could have been serious or it could have been a slight; we simply don’t know.

All we know is that, in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas (who had been ministering together) sharply argued and then split up over John Mark.   Paul and Silas went one way, and Barnabas and Mark went another.   Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas continued on through Syria.   Where God would have done great things through the four of these men together He did greater things by splitting them up, allowing the Gospel to be shared with more people than if the group had stayed together.

Some time later, Mark and Paul reconciled.   They shared mutual forgiveness for the previous incident.   They reconciled to the point that, for the rest of human history, Paul’s words about Mark being helpful in ministry were recorded to encourage us to forgive.   We are to do it because it’s what Jesus did – and does.   We are to do it because it’s healing, because it is cleansing; because it’s helpful to others and to us.

Letting go of animosities and burdens and wrongs done to us frees us to better focus on the wonderful things God is doing every day.   We get to choose to let optimism or pessimism rule our outlook.   We get to look for good things instead of navel-gazing on the problems that follow us.   Those problems may still follow us, but we can keep them in perspective and use the empowering freedom of knowing we’re forgive (and can forgive others) to live lives that help, that help others, that help others know Jesus and His Good News.

ANYTHING is forgiveable.   See “Emanuel” now.   See it to see how even the worst things done by terrible people can be forgiven.

For further reading:  Acts 15:37-40, Acts 16:8, Acts 20:4, 2 Timothy 4:14

Lord Jesus, thank You for forgiveness.   For forgiving us when we’ve wronged You.   Inspire us to forgive others as You do.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 November 2017

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.  Hebrews 13, verse 11.

Word came out today that Charles Manson died over the weekend.  Charlie masterminded the 1969 grisly Tate-LaBianca killing spree, convincing his young, drug-addicted followers to savagely murder for him.  Manson had lived a tortured life of abuse and crime, and the late 1960s counter-culture was a petri dish in which he enthusiastically grew the bacillus of true hatred.  Charlie didn’t kill anyone himself:   he directed others to do it for him.  Originally sentenced to death, Manson’s sentence was commuted to life in prison after California changed its death penalty laws.  In the (over) 45 years since, Manson gave no sign that he repented of his heinous crimes, and there’s no reason to believe he did so at his end.   Hell may very well be one soul richer this morning.

Do you think Jesus is grieved at that?   I do.  I’ve talked about how Jesus loved Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, and the most notorious people in history.  He created each of us as “very good” and loves us unconditionally.  Even mass murderers, criminals, and people who do the worst things we can imagine.   So if Charlie checked into a hellish eternity yesterday, it happened in spite of Jesus love and that must sadden our Savior.   It’s as if His sacrifice was burned up for nothing.

The verses associated with this one talk about sin offerings.   During the time after the Ten Commandments, God revealed to Moses how He wanted His people to recognize their need for atonement.  The Israelites could no more atone for their own sins than we can, so God provided them with a system of animal sacrifices that would remind them of their spiritual dependency on Him.  Once a year, a Levite high priest would slay an animal, sprinkle it’s blood in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, and ‘make atonement’ for all the peoples’ sins.   Afterwards, what was left of the animal would be taken outside the camp and burned to ashes, then the ashes would be sprinkled in a place that had been made ceremonially ‘clean.’   All this was done to remind Israel that it was sinful and that it should depend completely on God for its salvation as much as it did for it’s three squares, air, shelter, and safety.

You know where this is going:  Jesus was our sin offering.   Jesus was the ultimate offering to God Almighty to atone for our myriad sins and appease His holy, righteous anger.  His blood sprinkles on all of us.   He was executed outside the city, buried outside the city, even rose outside the city.  Jesus Christ did for mankind the most important thing that mankind couldn’t do for itself.

When we turn our backs on this truth, we are keeping Jesus outside our camp.  “I’d never do that.   I’d never act like the Manson Family” you or I would say.  But have we considered how we do it every day?   Every time we embrace even petty evil, we side with what defined Charlie Manson.   I’ve never killed anyone but I’ve harbored deep grudges and hatred.   I’ve followed idols.   I’ve hurt and destroyed things Jesus commanded me not too.   I’ve done evil just as you have, and when I have I have sided with the evil that drove Manson.   What do we make of Charlie?

In-between drugs, sex, violence, and helter skelter, Manson once declared himself to be Jesus.   His followers believed it and did his bidding.  I was only a small child when all this happened, and I grew up learning about the things the “Manson Family” did in its savage killing spree.   It was confusing and hard to understand, how someone could orchestrate such unspeakable evil and convince others to follow.  But now that I’m an adult, I look back and realize it really isn’t very hard to understand.   Evil is as old as Eden and as common as the air we breathe.   Charlie kept Jesus outside the camp of his life for all his life.   He rejected God’s invitation to be at peace, and in doing so he led astray other equally confused people.   In rejecting Jesus, there could be no sin offering for Charlie but himself, and all that’s left now are worthless ashes.  I believe that must grieve Jesus.   I picture Him today, sitting alone and contemplating the loss.   We walk up to Him and say “is everything ok Lord?”  “Yes,” He might reply, “but I’m a little sad right now because one of my dear people has gone.”   He might even have real tears in his eyes for Charles Manson and everybody else who goes astray forever.

Mass killing has become common place in our society; that’s a legacy of the Manson Family.  None of his followers has ever been released from prison (though one is up for parole at this time).   One of his acolytes even tried to a president.  Yet the evil Charles Manson came to represent is his legacy.  Manson was consumed by it.   That evil tries to permeate everything we do, and it works on us daily to separate us from God because evil is lonely and desires bad company.  It rages at all that is good in the world.   Will you let it overtake you?  For those of us left behind, this message is clear.   Don’t be Charlie.

For further reading:  Leviticus 16:15, Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:12, Leviticus 4:21.

Lord, bless You for Your deep mercy, for Your sacrifice, for Your unending love.   Help me to turn away evil in my life today by relying fully on You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 October 2016

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  Hebrews 2, verses 14-15.

How does the devil hold the power of death over you?

Another observation of the men’s retreat I attended last weekend.   The speaker, Chad Bird, made a point I had never considered before:   man’s sin went from zero to sixty in a moment.   Think about it.   The first sin recorded for us was disobedience.   Adam and Eve disobeyed God.   They made idols out of themselves and failed to trust God (who had proven His trustworthiness at all times to them).   Then they blamed each other, then they blamed God.  To us, that seems pretty innocuous.  Yet, to God, it spoke of a chasm in the human heart.

But if disobedience seems simple, the next sin recorded in Genesis wasn’t.   If you aren’t familiar with the story, Adam and Eve sin, so God provides for them but expels them from the paradise on earth that was Eden.  After awhile, they make love and have a child in the usual way; that child is Cain.   Later, they have Abel.   Remember that, just after the fall of man, God promises Adam and Eve that He will send a deliverer to them.   Since Cain was the first person given to them, isn’t it possible that they thought Cain might be that deliverer?   He was the first born child (indeed, the first child born in all humanity), and while first born children sometimes get the hardest treatment, they’re also the first born.   In the ancient world especially, that carried connotations of birthright, favored treatment, and being set apart as special.

If you consider all that, then isn’t it likely that Cain was brought up knowing it?   Maybe he was a little spoiled?  It isn’t a logical stretch to understand that Cain had a problem with ego, and that ego problem manifested itself in pride.   Cain and his brother became farmers, and when both of them decided to bring fruits of their labor to God, Cain’s pride burned into resentment.   His brother, Abel, selected the best of his sheep herd, then slaughtered it in sacrifice to God.   Cain, on the other hand, simply selected some nice crops and said “good enough” for his sacrifice.  Result:   God looked with favor on Abel’s offering and with scorn on Cain’s.  It wasn’t the produce:   it was the heart.

Result from that:  chasm and chaos.  Cain murdered his brother.   Sin 1:  disobedience.   Sin 2:  murder.  Zero to sixty in the space of a few verses.

Flash forward to our so called modern day.  Your flesh and mine aren’t any different from Cain’s (or Adam’s or Eve’s).   We suffer the same emotions and temptations they did.   While they never had the internet or indoor plumbing or supermarkets like we do, we have never enjoyed face to face relations with the Almighty the way they did (nor the simplicity of life lived at its most basic level).  Satan isn’t very original.   Jesus said he is the father of liars, that he has been a liar from the time of creation.  Lies and deception are still Satan’s primary weapons against us…because they’re effective!   They drove wedges between Adam & Eve & Cain & Abel and their God; they drive wedges into our relationships today.   All our sins today start with the casual idolatry of Satan’s lies and how we choose to believe them.   Disobedience, murder, cheating, adultery, stealing; pick your pet sin:   they’re all based on simple tricks that Satan has used for centuries.   We’re tempted and we fall time and time again.  As a result, we die to God with every disobedience.   Die enough and it’ll become permanent.

Yet the same Jesus who allows us to live in a world where we are tempted by Satan all day is the same Jesus who asks us to put our trust in Him alone because all blessings flow from Him:   the same way they did in the days of Cain and Abel.   He overcame death on Calvary, rendering spiritual death meaningless for those who would use their lives here to trust Him.  He took away the power of Satan’s cunning lies and offered mankind the better way.   Jesus made right what Adam, Eve, and Cain had taken wrong when they first trusted Satan’s deceptions.

We don’t know what happened to Cain.    He wasn’t the promised deliverer, though in reality God delivered him.   Cain absorbed the consequences of his actions, first focusing on his own selfishness but then, perhaps, later on something more.   God put a mark on him so that other people wouldn’t kill him, and that mark was really a kind of blessing because it gave Cain the opportunity to reflect and turn back to God.   Genesis tells of him building cities, and fathering other people (some good, some not).   At some point, he (obviously) died; we don’t know when.   His death meant that Satan’s power of sin resulted in punishment, namely that death.  Yet it also meant God delivered Cain and each of us from further influence by Satan.   He has no power over the dead; only God does.

For more reading:   1 Corinthians 15:50, Ephesians 6:12, John 1:14, Genesis 3:15, 1 Corinthians 15: 54-57, 2 Timothy 1:10, 1 John 3:8.

Lord, help me to resist the power of the devil in my life today.   When I am tempted, help me to choose You and Your path of peace instead of Satan’s lies and death.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 30 May 2014

You shall not murder. Exodus chapter 20, verse 13.

Friendship.   I think that, of all the traits and words we can use to describe Jesus, perhaps the best, at least by my estimation, is ‘friend.’ Growing up, I learned to make – and lose – friends quickly because my family moved around a lot. These days, I know a great many people but am friends with only a few even though I am friendly with most.   Thus, to describe someone as my friend is to describe them in the best way I know how.   And I am a friend of God.

Have you ever considered that friendship is the opposite of murder? Life is Jesus and Jesus is all about relationships, about being friends with the people who intersect our lives. It’s not just that life is the opposite of murder:   it is a life being lived that is killing’s opposite.   A life being lived is a life being lived in friendship with Christ because Christ is the friend of the world.   Noodle it for awhile:   friendship is the opposite of death.

How many times have you heard about estranged killers like the young man in Santa Barbara who murdered those people this past week?   One common denominator seems to be that they are loners; friendless people who resort to killing to relate in some way to others. Or Grand Theft Auto:   have you ever played the game?   In it, you role play as a killer on the loose in the city; tragic. Perhaps if we found ways to better reach out to other people, we might not contemplate so many ways to murder other people.

Perhaps if we found ways to cherish, preserve and revere life the urge to kill might be held in check.   We only get one life; why spend it in ways devised to deny others their lives?   Once life is extinguished, unlike in Grand Theft Auto, we don’t regenerate and start again.   Once we’re dead, we’re dead.   More and more, I find myself admiring people who go to seeming extremes to avoid killing anything, even insects.   Once that life is gone, it’s gone forever and nobody on this planet knows how to create another life.   Other beings, yes, but the force that is life?   Not so much.

Maybe we would be better off if we spent ways trying to be friends.   No, I’m not some Pollyanna.   The world is a dangerous and fallen place.   Some folks don’t want to be friendly in any way. Some folks may be beyond our friendship…except that isn’t how Jesus sees them.   Even the worst of us is still someone Jesus loves, and knows, and wants us to know better.   Maybe if we tried to know each other better, we could find better ways to stop the senseless killing.

Lord, search my heart and help me to be friendly, to be friends with more people.

 

Read Exodus chapter 11, the plague on the firstborn…