Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 5 December 2019

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:20. (EHV).

Everyone has a breaking point.  If you talk to military SERE instructors, they will tell you that one of the biggest lessons Americans learned from POW experiences in World War II, Korea and Vietnam was that every prisoner has a breaking point.  Every person has a point at which they can’t withstand further incarceration, discomfort or torture.   Eventually, every person, honorable or not, can be broken.

Paul understood this.   He expected Christ would empower him to stand, to resist the temptation to give in to Rome.   Paul knew Christ wouldn’t abandon him, wouldn’t leave him to fend for himself.   Paul understood that his sufferings were meaningless when compared to how Jesus Christ would be glorified by every petty attack against him.

Paul understood it because he also understood that, on his own, he wouldn’t last.   Without the Spirit of God to speak for him, work through him, Paul would break.   He would give in to what the Jews and Romans wanted and he would recant.  It’s simply human nature because a person can only take ‘so much.’  The North Koreans understand this concept.  So did the Vietnamese, and communist Chinese.   So did the Soviets, Nazis, and the mafia.   The interrogator or oppressor simply has to find what will break the subject and then do it.   With some people, it’s physical; with others it’s emotional.   Everyone has a breaking point.

Jesus knows this too.   Jesus knows that we can’t stand on our own, that without Him we are nothing.   He knows that the world is fallen and set against Him, so He gives His Spirit to us so that we might stand with Him and endure, even overcome.   Even when we break, or are broken or killed, He is with us so that we might endure in Him and yet prevail.   And when we prevail for His sake, Jesus is glorified.   He is increased in the world.   He is given praise and we benefit.   We especially benefit eternally.

Again, Paul understood all this.   He understood that, if he didn’t succeed here, he would succeed in eternity because Jesus had already succeeded, already prevailed, for him.  He understood that his (Paul’s) first, best mission is to live for Christ no matter what that required.  Paul knew he would reach his breaking point but that he could endure past that with faith and honor because Jesus was with him at all times.   Two thousand years later, that’s still true.   I suspect some of those SERE instructors would agree.

For further reading:  Romans 8:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Philippians 1:21

Lord Jesus, be with me when I’m attacked or persecuted and help me endure for Your sake.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 25 November 2019

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. Philippians 1:14. (EHV).

Here’s that why behind the what again.   In the previous verses, Paul said that his bad thing – being imprisoned, in chains, for the gospel – turned out to be a good thing because the Gospel spread.  The reason why that’s a good thing is that people see what true believers are willing to endure for faith in Jesus and then they, themselves, become more confident in their own faith and bold to share it without fear.

Have you considered that the biggest Christian nation on earth – the nation with the most believers in Jesus by population – is the United States?   And that the one place where it should NOT grow (because the government there is atheist, Communist, and hostile to God in all ways) is the People’s Republic of China?   According to Pew Research, in the USA there are 248 million Christians; that’s approximately 75% of the population.   In the USA, for the moment, people are mostly free to exercise any religion they want, especially Christianity.   There are dozens of denominations; there are services and practices for any comfort level in the faith.   Think of that:  248 million people saying they believe in Christ crucified.   And yet that number is actually declining.

Then consider the People’s Republic where, according to billionbibles.org, there may be as many as 234 million Christians.   Out of a current estimated population of 1.435 billion Chinese, this means that 16% of the Chinese population professes to believe in Jesus Christ.   If their faith is discovered, Christians in China are likely to be persecuted in one way or another, either by forced silence or actual imprisonment.   Untold thousands have been sent to Chinese gulags and no accurate number is really known how many have been executed for being Christian.   Yet the faith is growing.

In North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen it is a death penalty offense to say you believe in Jesus Christ.   And people do it anyway.   Just in those countries, thousands of people do it anyway.

Because watching someone be persecuted, lightly or harshly, may just spur you to think more about your own faith.   It may spur you to profess truths you hadn’t seriously considered.   It might just make you think in different ways.  The same “why” that explains why first century believers were strengthened by Paul’s persecution explains the things happening in our world today.   The Gospel can’t be contained by puny human methods, and where it is actively denied in the dark a tiny light can shine all that much brighter.

For further reading:  Acts 4:29, Acts 21:33, Philippians 1:15

Lord Jesus, where I’m stumbling in dark failure to share You where I am, teach me to shine so that others may benefit.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 8 August 2019

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready to do any good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, to be gentle, and to display every courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2 (EHV).

Early on in church history, Paul and Peter clashed.   The former once called out the latter, at Antioch, for hypocrisy.  This resulted in a temporary schism between believers who sided with Peter – for adhering to some Jewish customs – and believers who sided with Paul – for determining that Jewish customs no longer applied.  The matter was eventually settled by a council in Jerusalem, with the eventual outcome being the recognition that the new covenant through Christ completes the old Jewish covenant and its laws.

Even Peter and Paul had to submit to rulers and authorities, and they founded the temporal Christian church.

A few years after this, they submitted to earthly authorities by facing execution by the Romans.   Tradition has it that Peter was executed by crucifixion around the time of the great fire of Rome.   Around the same time, Paul was also executed by beheading.   Both of them willingly went to their deaths, Peter even ASKING for the more severe penalty of being crucified upside down.  THAT is the ultimate submission to authorities.

Yet while submitting, neither Peter nor Paul gave in to the authorities.   Their lives might have been spared if they had simply recanted of their faith in Jesus, yet they didn’t.   Read the news today and you’ll find that there are Christians in places like Iran, Indonesia, North Korea, and China who are persecuted or killed for preaching Christ crucified.   Recant and we may let you live.   Hold on to this Jesus and you’re dead.

The response of Peter and Paul and the others: “so be it.   Come Lord Jesus, quickly.”

In a world where this kind of thing was commonplace, Paul’s direction to Titus was “submit with honor.”  Don’t give up what you believe, and practice all the behaviors recommended of one who believes in Jesus, yet submit to the authorities over you.   It’s good practical advice to us today because, to be honest, the same thing still happens.   We don’t have much control over our lives because, to be honest again, God allows authorities over us to have control over much of what we do.

What we do have control over is our choices, our thoughts, our actions.   No authority can MAKE us think something or say something.   And where behavior and actions can be compelled, the responsibility of doing something that we are forced to do rests with the one compelling, not the one compelled.   God knows this; God respects this.  What He asks us to do is to submit to the rulers and authorities that He allows here and trust that He will work all things for the good of His Kingdom.

For further reading:  Romans 13:1, Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 4:31, 1 Peter 2:13-14, Titus 3:3

Help me to submit, Lord.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 10 April 2019

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.   2 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV).

In Roman times, unless you were Julius Caesar, this was true.   In our times, it’s still true.  Twelve of our presidents were generals in the Army, most of them serving during the Civil War, yet no general has been president since Dwight Eisenhower, and out of our last four presidents (including the current one), only one has even served in the military.  Today, the US military is the smallest it has been since the early 1930s even as the ‘military industrial complex’ (a term coined by General Eisenhower during his farewell address as president) continues to have great influence in the affairs of government.  I dare say that this same situation is likely true in most countries of the West.

Despite all this, soldiers, sailors, and airmen don’t usually get involved in non-military matters.   They do their jobs and then go home, eventually returning to civilian status themselves.  Until that day, they serve under commanders who they work to please.   Those who command you have great influence and power over your situation.   They can control your daily work, even your daily routine outside the workplace.   They influence your career with evaluation ratings, future assignment choices, and present duties assigned.   Those in command above you can make your life pleasant or hellish.   And they hold the power to enforce orders that may very well lead to your death.

Suffering in the US military is WAY different from suffering in, shall we say, the North Korean military (where you may still starve and be beaten indiscriminately).  Yet nobody who has seen war could ever say that war – the primary business of a soldier – isn’t suffering, isn’t persecution.   In that knowledge, the analogy makes sense because we of the Lord’s Army soldier on for Him.   Occasionally that means suffering.   Persecution – yes, it really happens – and discrimination (that happens too, especially in corporate America), ridicule, rejection, hatred, and even death:   all of those await the person who stands up to say “I believe in Jesus.”

Yet we march on, refusing to let ourselves be dragged into the ‘civilian affairs’ of living as the world commands.   We learn self-control by submitting ourselves to His control.   We get to live out the fruits of His Spirit as our line advances, overtaking the world’s evil by living His good.   We sometimes fail; sometimes the line falters and we fall back.   Sometimes, when we allow ourselves to be swayed by the world, we suffer.  Yet our cause of Christ always advances, even in adversity, because He walks before us.  We work to please Jesus.  We soldier on.

For further reading:  Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Timothy 2:5.

General Savior, lead me, Your soldier, today.   Command and guide me to follow Your words and not the tempting ways of the world around me.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 12 February 2019

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV).

That seems like a pretty low standard, doesn’t it, just being content with food and clothing?   Unless of course you’re homeless or don’t have a coat in the cold weather.    Or if you’re one of the 815 million people who are, according to the United Nations, starving or undernourished every day (https://www.worldhunger.org/world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/).   If you live in Africa or much of India, you desperately need clean water.   If you’re in the former USSR or Africa or much of South America, you need reliable medical care.  If you’re in North Korea, you need everything.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to be content in all things because, in all things and at all times, God is with us.   He promised to never leave or forsake us whether we’re in plenty or deadly want.  And the writer of Proverbs 30 (most like a man named Agur) tells us that the only thing he really needs is daily bread.   Do the jump to what Jesus said about not living on bread alone but on every word from God and we can quickly see that we don’t even need food.

Sure, you’ll wither and eventually die without food.  Each of us will die someday, yet even as we are dying, God is with us, Jesus is within us, feeling what we feel and dying again a little bit at a time.   As long as we have Jesus, NOTHING else matters, not even food and clothing.   I’ve spent enough time with homeless people to know that Jesus can be found there as well, even among those who desperately need clothing and shelter.

Yet let’s not be irresponsible and not live thankfully for what He provides us.   When we do have food, we have a gift from God and we should be cognizant of that, 24/7.  Disaster can come on us quickly (from weather, a tempestuous planet, or the wiles of hostile government).   When that happens, our needs become even more acute; duh.  That means now is the time to be thankful and content for food and clothing and water and shelter and all the things we take for granted when disasters are far away.

And let’s also keep it real by remembering that, for those suffering in the gulags of North Korea, Cuba, Russia and China, God must seem far away.  Ditto the streets of our cities, the hell-hardship of being trafficked, and in places where people don’t have enough money to pay for food.  Pray for them.   Pray for ways you and I can tangibly help and be used as Jesus’ hands to feed them.   To give them the hope to be thankful as well.

For further reading:   Hebrews 13:5, Proverbs 30:8, Matthew 4:4, 1 Timothy 6:9.

Blessed Lord, I often fail to be thankful for all You provide.  Thank You for everything because You give everything.   Show me a way to share my thankfulness and bounties today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 8 May 2018

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 (NIV).

Paul is re-iterating what we talked about yesterday:   we don’t know the date and time of Christ’s return, only that He will return.  It will happen on God’s timeline, in a moment the Father has chosen and only He knows.   Furthermore, it’s ok for us to not know.   Jesus Himself said that it wasn’t for us to know.  That wasn’t a rebuke or a “diss:” it was simply stating a fact that it isn’t our place as children of God to know all that God the Father is thinking.   Not even Jesus Himself, the Son, knew (or knows).

Yet this verse is the best one in the Bible to justify what we’ve been saying these last few days:   be ready now.

Thieves come to steal your things without you knowing.   Tornados sometimes strike without warning; lightning always does.  Stock market crashes happen unpredictably.   North Korea is still as wily as it always has been.  Toddlers do crazy things without any rhyme or reason.  What’s the point?

Things happen in an instant, usually without our knowing ahead of time.

So it will be with the end of all things.  Whether it happens in a predicted Rapture or in a single moment when all the world will see Jesus in the clouds and bow to acknowledge Him as Lord, it will happen in a flash.   We won’t know exactly when.   We may indeed see signs of it approaching; indeed, the Bible says there will be signs, if we are wise enough to interpret them.   They will point to events coming like a storm front on the horizon.

ALL of them will point to one thing and one thing alone:  the coming of Christ will happen when God Himself determines, not us.   Our only task is to be ready for it.

Be ready now.  Get to know Jesus now.   Confess to Him; let Him befriend you.  Talk with Him.  Cry to Him.   Be angry to Him, scream at Him, open your heart and dearest soul to Him, be “real” with Jesus.   Do it now, to claim your place in heaven now.   He already has it ready for you, and He already knows what’s on your heart.   Jesus doesn’t want you to be forced to come to him, compelled like a slave under threat of the whip; that’s not how love goes.   Jesus wants you to come to Him willingly, as a brother, sister, friend, and penitent.   Everything that needs to be done to wipe out your guilt and your sin has already been done.   He simply wants you to see it, and then see Him.

Do it now.  Be ready now.

For further reading:  Acts 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

I’m ready to meet You now, Lord Jesus.   Come soon.