Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 December 2019

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29-30. (EHV).

Was Paul one of these people who said “well, it’s good enough for me so it’s good enough for you?”   From these verses, it sure seems that way.   Paul was in intellectual living in a world where, like ours today, the intellect was daily confronted by the reality of brutish living.   Greece was the home of warriors and philosophers.   So was Rome.   So, in fact, was Jerusalem.  Paul had been educated as a Pharisee, and was taught the entirety of the Scriptures from boyhood.  Like other young Jewish men, he memorized them, took them to heart.  Later, as an adult, Paul zealously lived out the commands of the authorities in the synagogue.   Shut down “the Way” and get rid of anybody in your way.   He enthusiastically persecuted new Christians, even overseeing the murder of Stephen:   the first Christian martyr.  That all changed on a lonely desert road, where Paul learned how to stand up for Jesus.

Now enter his time in Philippi.   There Paul started the first Christian church on the European continent.   He cast out demons.   He preached Christ crucified to the mostly poor and merchant populations of that former Greek colony.  In doing so, he antagonized the powers-that-be who didn’t want to see their businesses or way of life altered.   All through this, Paul reasoned his way through, standing behind the truth that the Lord revealed to him and appealing to his friends and peers any way possible.

The payoff?   Pain and suffering.   Paul was ridiculed and scored:   things tough to bear for one who prided himself on his knowledge and God’s power through him.   By the time he got to writing these verses in Philippians, it would seem he was responding to his friends in Philippi, “well, if I have to suffer then you do, too.”   But read closer, especially in context of the verses around these, and you see that Paul isn’t saying this at all.  Instead, Paul is telling them, “rejoice in these sufferings.   Model me as I stand up for Jesus.”

Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when you lose your job because you won’t do something repugnant.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when your old friends reject you because you won’t go down those same old roads.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when the knock on the door comes, the tap on the shoulder is felt, or you’re led away.   You’re in His company and that of a man named Paul who had to learn how to stand.

For further reading:  Acts 16:19-40, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, Hebrews 10:32, Philippians 2:1.

Lord Jesus, I don’t want suffering.   I really don’t.   But when it comes because of standing for You, I welcome it.   Praise be to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2017

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12, verse 11.

A few more thoughts about this verse before moving on from it.  Life ‘hurts so good’ and we endure pain that can discipline us.  Pain can either break us or make us; talk about a cliché yet it’s true.  Pain made my parents and it disciplined their path home.

I’m going through a tough time right now.  I don’t want to share details at the moment but it’s a time of dread, anxiety, and uncertainty.  It seems like God is disciplining me for things I’ve done, almost like it’s punishment.   Bad decisions, risky gambles, and poor choices seem to be coming home to roost, and I’ve felt more down in the last few days than I’ve felt in years.  I take heart, however, in words like verse 11, knowing that God’s discipline is given to me in order to build discipline.   In this season of change, He’s changing things in my life to prepare for something else, something good.   When I think of it that way then things don’t seem so bleak.  When I think about the pain of these days, I think there’s something better just up ahead.

I think about my dad.   I’ve said before that I grew up thinking my dad was less than he was.  It was only when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer that I saw just how iron-strong he really was.   It wasn’t just Dad’s strength:   it was God’s strength in him.  Dad endured disfiguring surgeries, painful radiation, and sickening, weakening chemotherapy.  He had always been a handsome man, but the cancer treatment robbed him of his looks.   Dad loved to sing and listen to music, but the treatment made both unpleasant.   And even his hobby, watching movies, seemed to be badly affected because it was tough for him to sit still for long periods of time with his body trying in vain to heal.   Or even to see.  But I never heard him complain about it, not even once.   The week before he died, we were talking and he said “I don’t want this but I’ve got it.   I know where I’m going and I know it’ll be ok.”   Is that the expression of a man resigned to a death-fate, or is it the faith of a dying man expressing knowledge that God is in control?   I will always know it was the latter.

And I think about my mom.   By her choice, she spent the last year of her life in assisted living, moving to Texas to live in care and to be near some of her grand-kids.  Quite honestly though, I spent much of that year mad at her.   It had fallen to me to clean out her house and renovate it for sale:   a monumental task.   My wife and sister helped a lot, and my son and son in law helped with the move, but most of the physical, financial, and emotional work was mine.   In the last week of her life, Mom called me several times per day, asking me to come over to her new place and do things, check on things.   In-between her calls and my work, I felt frazzled and exhausted.  On the night she fell ill, her heart started racing and wouldn’t slow down.   I took her to the hospital and they admitted her.   Even though I knew inside that something was happening, I took it for granted that she would recover because she always had.   A few hours later, she had a massive heart attack and was put on life support.   A few hours after that, she briefly regained consciousness.   Confused at first, she quickly understood what was happening and spent her last few waking moments saying goodbyes, giving forgiveness and praise to people who needed it, and even telling a few jokes.   She died a few hours later.   I will always know she went home to heaven because she had expressed to me over many years her faith in God.   In her last moments, she was accepting and ready.

Please excuse all the times I’ve referred to myself in this missive.   I wanted you to know how these good people passed from this life to the next.   They did it with Godly dignity and realistic courage.  Mom died quickly; Dad lingered for months.   Both of them knew the pain of debilitation, and the pain of worry over how to meet their human responsibilities.  Yet the real love of God was stronger for both of them, and when it mattered most, the pain paled in comparison.  I don’t like the things that are happening in my life now, but when equipped with the God-loving faith my parents taught me, I know that the pain is only temporary.   That what I believe is stronger, and that the things of this world, in God’s good time, will pass.

For further reading:  Isaiah 32:17, James 3:17-18, Romans 5:3-5.

My Lord, abide with me and all who hurt.   Love us and forgive us and help us to do the work You set before us.  Help us to trust you more.


Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 September 2017

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12, verse 11.

No pain no gain, right?   That does seem to be what the verse is saying, doesn’t it?   But here’s the kicker:   you don’t have to be in pain.   You know this is true.   All the pain ever needed was felt on the cross by our Savior.

Why is it that our country, America, seems to have so little righteousness, peace, or even discipline in it right now?   I was one of the fools caught up in debating the NFL national anthem brouhaha this weekend.   None of what I read, or even what I said, seemed very peaceful.   North Korea seems bent on starting a war and we seem more than willing to oblige their intention.   The stock market is in joyful turmoil, seemingly poised to either rise even higher or crash very soon.   Hurricanes, over-zealous media, hyper-sensitivity over small things, differences in beliefs and politics and ideologies, gender confusion, violent ‘protesters’ in the streets:  it seems like we have lost our way.   Or have we?

Isaiah said that “the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.”   Those were his inspired words over 2800 years ago.  In his day, Israel was indeed being disciplined.   Isaiah prophesied the coming messiah who would bring about peace forever.   Yet that peace would come only after great testing.

Let’s be honest:   there are nations in history who have been tested far worse than we of 21st century America are being tested now.   There are times in our history when we have been divided so much that war broke out.   There have been divisive figures all throughout history and history still clocks on today; it will continue to do so until Jesus returns as He said He would.   Until then, we are being disciplined.

Sometimes it hurts.   Death, divorce, unemployment, losing your home, sickness, pain:   they all hurt.   It hurts when God allows them into our lives.  Yet Romans reminds us that “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  Those beautiful verses, my wife’s favorite, don’t tell us “suck it up buttercup.”   Instead, they remind us that God is with us, at work in us even in the hardest times, and even when we don’t like it.   Good comes from bad.   Suffering teaches us about the character God built into us.   And God refines us as we persevere, instilling into us hope as a guarantee of peace to come.   Think of yourself as 10 carat gold being refined by melting into 24 carat.   The impurities are being stripped away, and that hurts.   But it’s for good.   Think of it as medical treatment for a dread condition.   Before the healing can start, the cancer needs to go away.

Right now life is hard.   It’s hard to talk with people.   It’s hard at home.   It’s hard in public and sometimes even in private.   I don’t like the feeling of being disciplined, of having God tear me down to build me up in other ways.     Yet I do know He’s doing it, and that what He does is always good, for good, to produce good.  Gain from pain?   Yes, even when, as Johnny Cougar sang, “it hurts so good.”  But we don’t need the pain because Jesus already felt it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 32:17, James 3:17-18, Romans 5:3-5.

My Lord, the refining You’re putting me through hurts.   Strengthen me to persevere by clinging to You.   Abide with me that I may come closer to You in all ways here.