Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 12 December 2019

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. Philippians 1:25-26. (EHV).

Paul never undersold his talents.   Indeed, here in Philippians (and in his other books as well), Paul expresses confidence in his abilities and especially in his faith.   That’s the key, you see:   confidence in faith.  Paul is convinced that his mission on earth is to express Jesus boldly to others; that others are built up to do the same through this ministry.   That is borne out by the fact that he started a number of successful churches, that the faith spread exponentially and quickly during his lifetime in the areas where he worked, and by the fact that his writings have endured as the backbone of Christian evangelical practice for two thousand years.   God blesses each of us with talents.   He richly blessed Paul with the talent to evangelize.

It came from Jesus’ Spirit filling Paul with a heart to serve.  As a zealous Pharisee, Paul eagerly served the Jewish faith even to the point of persecuting Christians.   When Christ converted him, Paul’s outlook changed and he threw his talents into building up Jesus to a skeptical world (one that was understandably skeptical about him).   We have all benefitted from that because of how Paul’s ministry served us with examples of how to ‘do ministry.’  Why?

So that Christ Jesus will abound because of him.   So that Christ Jesus will abound because of us, because of the lives we live and the things we do.   So that Christ will abound.

Think about that:   we do what we do so that Christ will abound, so that Christ will increase, so that Christ will become known to billions who don’t know Him.   Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Communists, and even Joel Osteen:  all people who don’t know about Jesus or reject Him get another look at Him when we live out our lives in faith.   It’s not to convince them:   it’s to share Jesus so that His Spirit can do the work through us.   We’re just supposed to live godly lives and share honestly.   We’re just supposed to have confidence to do that in the way Paul had confidence.

Look at yourself in the mirror today and tell yourself about the talents you have.   Maybe it’s speaking, or managing, or coding, or following.   Singing, dancing, bartending, writing; fixing cars, working the line, bagging groceries, working in the White House:  do what God gave you the ability to do for HIS glory.   Be confident in that, confidently share Him as you do, then get out of the way to watch Him work.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:13, Ephesians 4:1, Jude 3, Philippians 1:27

Lord Jesus, thank You for the abilities You gave to me.   Help me to use them to confidently share You today.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 1 August 2019

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. Titus 2:11 (EHV).

Consider why this verse says what it does, where it does.   We’ve already read verses 1-10 of Titus 2.   You’ll remember that they talked about sound doctrine and sound, upright behaviors of those who teach that doctrine; that they talked about encouraging people, especially believers, to exhibit these upright behaviors so that God may be glorified.

Why?   Because His grace has appeared and it brings saving to everyone.   EVERYONE.

Jews?   Saved.   Muslims?   Saved.   Liberal Democrats?   Saved.  Buddhists?   Saved.   Conservative Republicans?   Saved.  Donald Trump and Barack Obama?   Saved.  You?   Saved.   Everyone.

God gave His undeserved gift of salvation to everyone who would accept it.   Not accepting it doesn’t negate that He gave it.   Rejecting it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  It’s available even to those who reject it and Him.   All they have to do is submit, to believe.

The most amazing words in this verse are “appeared” and “bringing.”   They denote God having taken it upon Himself to come to us in an amazing way.   He wasn’t just born:   He appeared.   He came on the scene, fulfilling hundreds of prophecies and ancient predictions.  The mathematical odds of it happening are staggeringly impossible, but He did it; 10^157 or 1 in 10 with 157 zeros behind it (see https://www.empower.global/the-mathematical-probability-that-jesus-is-the-christ/).   God found a way to come to us as His Son, Jesus, in a way that would make Him the central figure in all of human history but without being a tyrant.   He who could be all the CGI spectacle that Hollywood could ever imagine appeared as a humble servant boy who grew into a humble servant teacher.

And when He appeared, He brought salvation with Him.   He saw in us a terminal fault.  We were sin-soaked.   We couldn’t save ourselves on our own.   A thousand years of instructions to the Jewish people on how much they needed God couldn’t save them from their own sins.   Billions of people lived before Jesus and billions have lived since and not one of them could save themselves from the desolation of living without His hope.   But He could.   He could do what was necessary to make it possible for people to live in peace with Him forever.   He alone could vanquish death; He alone could redefine life.

Jesus didn’t have to do it but he appeared to bring salvation.   He who powerfully but plainly spoke everything into existence didn’t have to appear and bring salvation, but He did it anyway.  Out of love.  Because of love.   Because of His perfection and His merciful nature, He chose to give us a gift that could never be deserved, never earned, never repaid.   He didn’t ask for repayment.   He only asked for our love.  When you consider that this verse came on the heels of others about behavior and submission, perhaps that’s the most grace-filled miracle of all.

For further reading:  Romans 3:24, 2 Timothy 1:10, Titus 2:12.

Savior from eternity, thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 November 2017

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13, verse 8.

You know it’s true:  you might as well just say “amen” now (which actually means “this is most certainly true”).   Verse 8 is one of the foundation verses of the entire Bible.   It’s the explanation, motivation, and reason for everything.   There’s a Maren Morris song that mentions old time country music as “my church.”  It’s explains life; it’s always great; it’s always the same; it’s always there to uplift a sad soul.  I agree with some of that; “can I get an amen?”

Here’s something that merits an amen whether Maren sings about it or not:  Jesus our Savior is the same person He was yesterday as He is today as He will be tomorrow.  Can I get a hallelujah?

Wrap your noodle around this truth.  When everything around you is changing (and the only constant in this crazy world is change), Jesus is.  The great I AM is.  As you feel like your feeling careen around like a pinball, Jesus is the same.   The same Jesus who talked one on one with John, Peter, and even Judas Iscariot is the same Jesus who speaks to your heart today.  In science, gravity and time are constants.   Everything else changes, and you can even vary the effects of both time and gravity even though they are standards.  Yet Jesus is the same.  He is the same no matter the temperature, the time of year, or the phase of the moon.  Yet Christ is more than science; indeed, He invented it, inspired it.   Christ is beyond our science, and beyond our puny religion.  Jesus is the same whether you’re a Baptist, a Hindu, a Shiite (or Sunni or Wahabi) Muslim, or a card carrying atheist vegan who loves Crossfit.   He’s the same Savior we think about when we sing “Jesus Loves Me” as little children or “The Old Rugged Cross” as old people.

Consider, too, that this statement comes at the end of the exhortations where the writer has given us concluding thoughts.   He wants us to remember that, no matter what advice we give, the founder of all advice is Christ.   The source of all wisdom is Christ.   The reason for all we know is Jesus.   And when the world gets sideways as it always does, Jesus is still there just as He always was/is/will be.  Maybe the Doobie Brothers summed it up:   “I don’t care what they may say.   I don’t care what they may do.   Jesus is just alright (oh yeah).”

He’s just alright.  He’s just in time.   You can count on Him.  We should sing about that.   Can I get an amen?

I have a friend who is going through a particularly rough time right now.   He just left one job, and his family situation is all in turmoil.   My friend has always been plagued by darkness and has become one of the more hopeless people I know.   No faith, no grounding, he’s lost his way and is miserable.   Some of it is circumstances beyond his control; some environment; some the past; and some of it is his chickens coming home to roost.  Just last night we were talking about his having no identity, and I asked him to call me when he’s ready to seek it.  To call me because there’s really only one place to find your lasting identity.   It’s at the cross.   It’s there and only there that we can lay down our weapons, our guilt, our fears, and our pride and be renewed in both spirit and mind.

It’s because the Jesus we find on the cross is the same Jesus who walked on water is the same Jesus in the Word is the same Jesus listening to our prayers today is the same Jesus who loves children is the same Jesus who will judge the world.  He’s the same God no matter what.   When my friend sees his world collapsing around him and he feels bereft of all that’s good, by going to the cross and meeting the same Jesus there, he can begin again and move in a different direction.

I’m not a pastor.  I sometimes wish I had some of the knowledge my pastor friends have gained.   If not the knowledge, then maybe a little of the wisdom.  When people come to me and ask about why I believe what I do, all I can do is paraphrase C.S. Lewis who said that he prayed because he couldn’t help himself.   I believe in Christ because I can’t help myself.  Everything else I’ve sought in this world has left me wanting and hollow.  Yet I go to Jesus and see that He’s the same as He always is.   That helps me to realize that He’s the God I crave, the God I want to follow, the leader I want to emulate, the unchanging Savior I desperately need, and the friend I want to always cherish.  Jesus is just alright because He is ALL RIGHT and is always Himself.   Can I get an amen to that?

For further reading:  Psalm 102:27, Hebrews 1:12.

My Lord, this is most certainly true:   You are God.   You are the only constant in the universe.   You are good, worthy of praise, and all life.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 March 2016

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. Mark 15, verses 27-32.

This past Sunday, on Palm Sunday, Fox TV broadcast “The Passion:”   a live-action Tyler Perry musical drama about the last days of Jesus.   It was told by modern actors, set in modern-day New Orleans, to the tune of modern pop music with very few lyrics modified. One scene acted out one of the verses above.   In it, Jesus has been apprehended and is being hauled away in a police wagon.   He wears an orange jumpsuit, like other common criminals, and is in the vehicle with 2 other men.   One hurls insults at Him; the other defends Him. Later in the show, a crowd is shown screaming for Jesus’ crucifixion, the release of Barabbas, and Mary’s anguish. The drama didn’t show the actual crucifixion, though it was alluded to by a group of pallbearers carrying a lighted cross through downtown New Orleans.

What struck me about the whole TV show was that it was contemporary and believable.   Yes, there was some ‘mushy theology’ involved, some misquoting of Scripture, and some things that were done out of line in how they actually appeared in the account of Holy Week.   Big freaking deal.   We shouldn’t get wrapped around the axle of details when we can consider what was being done.   I’m told that the Monday morning ratings and reviews for the show weren’t good.   They don’t matter.

Someone used their position to share the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a way that was modern, understandable, and plausible. But it begs the thought:   would we as so-called modern people do the same things that the people of Jerusalem did 2000 years ago?   Would we heap scorn and murder on the Son of God if He showed up here today?   Would we ridicule Him? Would we demand His death?   Would we nail him up with thieves and criminals?   Would we insult Him while He was dying?

Consider the brutality that is reported regularly in our news these days.   ISIS murders thousands of people – Christian and Muslim alike – in the name of their pagan religion. In Chicago, there are a dozen or more murders every weekend, sometimes every day.   Our presidential candidates are conducting their campaigns by appealing to the most base emotions and experiences of a largely uninformed voting public. Leaders in politics, entertainment and business scorn the public, relying on spin and deception to advance their various agendas while getting richer by the minute.

Would we insult the Messiah as He hung there dying?   You bet we would.

Good ratings or not, God bless Tyler Perry for what he did. Thank You Jesus.

Thank You Jesus, my Lord, for inspiring people to tell Your story, to share the precious sacrifice You made for us.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 December 2015

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. Mark 13, verses 7-8.

Watch out and be ready.   Read the signs.

Every day we are looking for signs for the second coming of Christ.   As you can read, it’s something that Jesus Himself told us we need to do.   Watch out and be ready.   Look for the signs and heed them.   Heed them to be ready.

Now, I am not going to speculate on whether or not we are in the end times.   Dozens of generations before ours thought they were because they saw wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines and violence.   Remember the fall of Jerusalem less than a generation after Mark’s Gospel was written?   Or the fall of Rome a few centuries later.   The Crusades a thousand years ago, the Muslim invasion of Europe in the 1400s.   The Hundred Years’ War; The Thirty Years’ War; World War I and especially World War II. The generations that lived through those things must surely have thought they were witnessing the end.   So it is with ours.

Maybe it’s never happened in my lifetime or maybe I’m just paying attention to it now but the signs are appearing again.

And the moral of the story is still “watch out and be ready.”   Right now; today.   That’s what Jesus told us.

I can honestly say that I hope it happens.   I honestly hope for the time when this life can end and the life without time can begin.   Perhaps it will indeed happen in my lifetime.   Just today, with ISIS on the move again and with Russia threatening nuclear war with Turkey, wars and rumors of wars are abounding.   I heard a radio ad (not a preacher, an advertisement) speculating on whether or not we are witnessing the start of the war prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel over 2500 years ago. High profile radio hosts are openly talking about how we are in the beginning of World War III but we haven’t faced up to it yet.   Some are saying “end times.”

Watch out and be ready.

Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you.   Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you into thinking they are the returning Jesus. He is coming and soon but none of us know the date or time.   All we can understand through our view of the trees is that only Jesus can truly see the whole forest and He will return to govern it when God the Father deems it to be the time. Until then, we have only one job.

Watch out and be ready.   Watch out and be ready by helping others to do the same.   Help others to do the same by using the talents Jesus gives each of us to His glory, for His purpose, in His ways.   Share our stories, use our abilities, do what we can to be Jesus for other people so that they, too, may ready themselves for Jesus’ imminent return. Heed the signs by reading and interpreting the signs.   Be ready to stand, then to leave, when Jesus comes back for you. Watch and be ready.

Lord, I anxiously await Your return.   Until that happens, help me to understand the signs and be ready for You.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.