Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 24 February 2020

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  Philippians 3:17 (EHV).

Let’s imitate Paul in how we think, live, and worship.  More than that, let’s imitate Jesus in how we think, love, and live.

And let’s admit it (again):  we stink at modeling Jesus (and Paul).   Jesus is upright and moral; I’m not, even as I know I’m forgiven.   Jesus judges against His standard of loving justice; I’m just ‘judgy.’   Jesus is kind; I’ve been a jerk.  Jesus forgives EVERY sin, even the little ones I’ve forgotten (because, news flash:   there really is no such thing as a little sin.   Sin is sin.   It’s all rebellion against the Lord).   Jesus loves perfectly; I love conditionally, even the people I love most.

So when someone (like me) asks me to follow Jesus better and join together in living better for Christ, I immediately know I have a lot of work to do.   I’m convicted by it; I see my own sins of the past and want to do better now.  Just yesterday, I found out that a long-time friend on Facebook (and in my personal circle as well) had de-friended me.   This is someone I have known for years.   Whether it was an accident or on purpose I don’t know but it made me wonder:   did they see me or harsh things I’ve said online or things that are un-Christian and decide they’d had enough?   Would I want to see myself from that person’s point of view and, if I did, would I like who I saw?   Would I maybe not want to be friends with me, either?

Let’s be real:   being de-friended online isn’t a big deal.   But since all things serve Jesus, maybe this incident is a good thing.  Another news flash:   those sins of the past and my failures or unkind words?   They’re in the past.     Jesus has forgiven them.  Who knows what hostile effect, what harm I’ve done, that I can’t undo?  What should define me now is Christ alone.   In order to cleave better to Him, I (and maybe we) need to do a better job on keeping my eye on Him, on those who model His behavior.   That doesn’t mean compromising who we are (unless who we are compromises our faith).   And that doesn’t mean not taking a stand (unless that stand makes you stand between Jesus and someone else).   But it does mean watching Him and those who live out His behaviors and then changing how I think and act in response.   It means real repentance.   It means honest change and patience and caring.

Maybe it’s a bigger deal than it seems.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Timothy 4:12, Philippians 3:17.

Lord Jesus, teach me today to better model my thoughts and actions after Yours and those of Your devout followers.   And help me to see myself through someone else’s eyes.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 February 2020

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Philippians 3:12 (EHV).

If you’re reading this, you’re still alive here on the Third Rock; duh.   You and I:   we are still pressing on to take hold of eternal life.   Paul has already entered there; he’s in heaven.   That’s the reason Jesus came to him and remade his life.   It’s the reason why Jesus did the same thing to you and me.

Yet we need to work to maintain our grip on our faith in Him when we’re tempted and laid low in this fallen world.   Have you ever considered that, when you feel beaten down because you’re been attacked over and over again, you’re being attacked precisely because your faith is stronger?   Satan has to work even harder to get you.   Some people roll over easily; they’re an easy conquest.   Yet others require more effort.   If you’re being attacked again and again, perhaps you aren’t one of those easy conquests.

Perhaps you believe more in this goal for which Christ Jesus took hold of you.   Perhaps you struggle harder, fight tougher, beat back the evil one more precisely because you ARE tougher for him to overcome.

Paul understood that.  For decades after his conversion on that Syrian pathway he struggled against attacks from the physical and spiritual realms.   Yet he learned quickly that the only way he could continue to press forward – to really work for eternity – was to submit himself to Jesus.   To double down in his faith.   To come to Jesus when he had prayers of both anguish and thanksgiving; when he had anything at all to say.   As long as he lived here on good old terra firma, Paul pressed forward with one eye on where he was and the other on the road forward.

He did it for the same reason we should:   eternity matters most.   Jesus came here to make eternity with Him possible for us, knowing full-well that we would be challenged, tempted, burdened, stressed-out, and attacked every day by the unseen world that was hostile to His love.  Jesus pushed all that to the side when He pushed aside the rock in the garden and walked out of His tomb.  He knew we would be savaged every day, so He wanted to give us something worth fighting for, worth struggling over, worth pressing on towards.

That was then.   This is now.   Here and now, we’re still alive, and since we woke up today, we GET TO fight the good fight again.   To ask forgiveness for yesterday’s sins while giving praise for a new day today.   Then we get up, look forward, and press on.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 13:10, 1 Timothy 6:12, Philippians 3:13.

Lord I need you and struggle for You.   Abide with me, strengthen me, forgive me, and teach me again today Your better ways.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 17 February 2020

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Philippians 3:10-11 (EHV).

Somehow.   That’s a booming, small word with powerful implications just hidden in the middle of verse 11.  Somehow, this will all make sense to us.   Somehow, we’ll muddle through today and tomorrow (if it comes) will be another day closer to the end.   Somehow we’ll get by even when things look dark.

Now consider ‘somehow’ the way Paul did.  Paul wanted to somehow attain resurrection.   Paul understood that, somehow, Jesus had won resurrection for him and you and I and everyone else.  Paul wanted to live like Christ, think like Christ, love like Christ, knowing that, somehow, Christ would live more through him.  Paul wanted to live forever with Christ, understanding that, somehow, a minute of that eternity with Him would be superior to a lifetime of the best things here.   It was a supernatural thing that, somehow, happened and, somehow, Paul believed it.

Put your faith in somehow.

Through Jesus’ somehow, Paul reminds us (in 2 Corinthians 1) that, just as the sufferings of Christ flow into our lives through Him, so do does all our comfort.  Even when we don’t understand it, it happens. When we’re hurting, Jesus hurts with us because He knows what it feels like.   When we grieve, Jesus grieves with us because He understands death.   When we are anxious and worried, Jesus understands because He’s had those feelings, too.  In our worst days of struggle, Jesus is beside is, living and touching and breathing through us: His hands and feet and eyes and ears.

When we accepted the faith that He first inspired into us, we accepted what came of His suffering at Calvary.   We feel the nails pierce us; we feel the intense pain, the struggle for every breath, the public humiliation.   We look down and our friends and family who are weeping for us as well as the soldiers and Pharisees and commoners who mock us.   We know that death is only a few short hours away but those hours will be full of suffering and agony and despair.   Especially when we know it’s only Jesus who can atone for the trillions of mankind’s sins.

Yet when we accepted that same resurrection faith, we live beyond death on Friday to rise triumphant on Sunday.   We inherit His forgiveness, His peace, His redemption, His relief.   We become His pierced hands and feet to carry His message to a weeping world that still needs it more than ever.   We live our lives here as best we can in preparation for eternity that matters most.   And we know that, somehow, Jesus made all that happen and is making our best that’s yet to come.

Somehow.

For further reading:   John 11:24, Romans 6:3-5, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Revelation 20:5-6, Philippians 3:12.

Lord Jesus, thank You for somehow saving us!

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 13 February 2020

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faithPhilippians 3:8-9 (EHV).

Imagine losing everything and being satisfied with that.   Imagine viewing EVERYTHING in the world as trash compared to the unseen, un-measurable, intangible called ‘faith in Jesus Christ.’  Imagine being powerful and famous and well-to-do and turning away from that into lifelong poverty and being happy about it.

Enter the Apostle Paul.   That’s where he was.

Yesterday, I was doing dishes with my three-year-old granddaughter.   Yes, it makes the job harder.   Yes, she makes a mess everywhere.   Yes, it’s a huge inconvenience.   No, I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.   The memories of doing things together?   That’s the good stuff.

A few years ago we sold our dream house.   It was a house on a small farm, in the woods, with a pond and a big workshop, and space to have lots of fun with fireworks and skeet shooting and chickens and all that’s good about country living.   I loved having it, but things changed and I lost my job and we couldn’t pay for it.   So we sold and moved back to the city.   And it’s ok because God is still in charge.   That’s the good stuff, too.

I’ve known success.   Three great kids; four wonderful grandchildren.   A long and happy marriage.   Homes, cars, great jobs.   Published books; sending this blog to thousands of people weekly.   You know what?   I’d give it all up in a second to have faith in Christ.

Just like the Apostle Paul.   Just like him because he was right:  everything is a loss – even the good stuff – compared to a grain of faith in Jesus.   The house, the job, the grandkids, the success:   they’re only for here and now (well, maybe not the grandkids).  They’re all fleeting; they will all pass away.  What will never pass away is Christ.  Faith in Him is the ticket to forever.   Faith in Him is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary   Faith in Him can stand up to evil and stand down the storm.

Faith in Jesus is the good stuff.

Jeremiah said that our greatest gift is to boast of knowing the Lord.   That He has plans for us to prosper us (here and in heaven).   That He will save us in the worst of times.   And in those times, when we turn to Him, we get to realize that everything here is nothing compared to Him.   Paul knew this; so, now, do we.

For further reading:   Psalm 73:25, Jeremiah 9:23-24, Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah 33:16, John 17:3, Romans 10:5, Philippians 3:10.

Lord Jesus, nothing compares to you.   I give up all for You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 6 February 2020

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. Philippians 3:1-2 (EHV).

In verse 2, Paul subtly echoes Psalm 22, which was a prophecy about Christ and both His death and His glory.   In this verse, Paul is not just calling out the Jews and Judaizers who were challenging the early church:   he also calls us out to do the same in our lives.

Tell me:  how hard is it to resist temptation?  If you’re like nearly everybody else, it’s one of the toughest things you’ll do, especially since we do it every day.  Especially since the evil one still attacks us the same way he did people in Paul’s time.

These days, people make fun of Mike Pence for his policy of not being in a room alone with a woman who isn’t his wife.   Billy Graham lived by that same policy.   So did President Harry Truman.  It seems ludicrous and old-fashioned, and their enemies make hay about it, accusing Graham and Pence of not trusting women.   But that’s not why they did / do it at all.   It’s because they don’t trust themselves.  It’s not that they wouldn’t have self-control.   It’s that they don’t want to put themselves in any situation where their morality could be compromised or given the image of impropriety.  They don’t want to bring dishonor or disrepute on God or their wives.  By removing the possibility of being tempted to do anything at all, they safeguard that morality (as well as their images as upright and honorable men).

Good for them.   What about you when your demons come calling?   Are you tempted to lash out online?   To insult back when someone insults you?   Are you tempted by porn or sexual thoughts?   Are you tempted to burst out in anger when you’re having a bad day?   How do you resist that temptation?

Same way Paul did:   first go to Jesus and ask for His help.  Put our faith in Him before being tempted, or especially if we’ve given in.  Let Him restore honor to your soul even if we have to face the physical consequences here.   It is only through the lens of Christ that we can look at temptation and not buckle before it.

Paul excoriated those who were accusing the nascent church of abandoning God by abandoning Jewish customs and Mosaic law.   He called out those who would put traditions over the Gospel of Christ.   And he warned his friends to stay far away from anyone who would tempt them to backslide.   Thousands of years later, that’s still Godly, excellent advice for any of us in any situation.

For further reading:   Psalm 22:16-20, Revelation 22:15, Philippians 3:3.

My Lord, lead me not into temptation and deliver me from the evil one.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 5 February 2020

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Philippians 3:1 (EHV).

Why does Paul say “it is a safeguard for you?”  My Concordia says, “when serious error is present, there is safety in repetition.”

Tell them what you’re gonna tell them.   Tell them.   Then tell them what you told them.   That, and the law of seven.   If you’re flummoxed about what I’m saying, these are rules for public speaking.   If you want to reinforce a point, repeat it.   And if you want to ensure a listener remembers a point, repeat it at least seven times.   Paul did this in his letters.

In all of his letters except Philemon, Paul used this vehicle to reinforce points he had previously mentioned either in person or in his writings.  In those letters, Paul carefully outlined both positive behaviors to model and negative ones to avoid.  Flee from those who are immoral, impure, debauched; turn from ways of anger, envy, drunkenness, adultery, and more.  In doing those, watch God remake your heart and your life.  Model Jesus in how you show love, joy, peace, kindness and much, much more.  Right trumps might; Christ always prevails over evil.

Isn’t it safeguarding someone to keep encouraging them to follow Jesus instead of following the evil one?   To display those Galatians 5 fruits of the Spirit instead of trying in vain to find their own way in the world?   Isn’t it better, more loving, to mentor someone to display God’s qualities instead of those of an ungodly world in rebellion?  If we really care, shouldn’t we care for someone’s welfare right down to their soul?

If that takes telling them over and over about the basics, well, so much the better.

Fact is, in our world today, we live with serious error.   The horrors of abortion, war, crime, terrorism, division, disease, and so many more things demonstrate how fallen our world is; how there are innumerable things that are deadly wrong here on the Third Rock.  How separated we are from God while trying to do it all on our own.   Fact is, without someone to bridge the growing chasm, on our own, we’re damned.

It’s a good thing that there are people who will tell it like it is.   It’s a better thing that someone keeps encouraging us that we don’t have to fall into that chasm.   It’s a great thing that we have heroes of the faith to show the way.   And it’s the greatest thing in all history that Jesus bridged the chasm of our sins and saved us from ourselves.  That’s the truest safeguard of all.  I’ll gladly repeat that any time!

For further reading:   Galatians 5: 19-24, Philippians 3:2.

Lord Jesus, thank You for words You inspired into Paul.   Thank You that we get to still learn from them today, and for safeguarding our hearts and minds forever.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 4 February 2020

So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. Philippians 2:29-30 (EHV).

Is Paul being mean here?   In the last few verses, Paul says he is sending Epaphroditus home so that he can be cared for.   In these, however, it sounds like Paul is, well, being a jerk.

Or is he?   Maybe Paul is simply being honest (because the Philippians couldn’t do more to support him and his ministry).

Years ago, my son played junior baseball.   One of the coaches on the team was, hands down, the best junior coach I ever saw.   He had a way of teaching pre-school boys and girls how to play on a team.   Part of that included sometimes telling one that he needed to move them when they weren’t working out at the position where they started.   Or when they hit the ball but it was caught out.   He was being honest while being kind, firm while still gentle.   Sort of like Paul must have been with those for whom he cared, this coach had a talent for breaking bad news clearly but kindly.

Or there was the NCO for whom I worked in the Air Force.   When I was a young airman, I wanted very badly to win an award.   I watched as others in my unit won it, and wondered what I was doing to be consistently passed by.   So I went up to the MSgt and he responded quite bluntly, “if you want the award, you need to do the work.   So far, you haven’t shown that kind of material.”   That was rough to hear but it helped me take a look at myself and admit that he was right.   I was ‘calling it in’ with a lot of my work.   That edgy and, yes, humiliating assessment was the start of turning myself around.   A few years later, I finally started to do it the better way by turning to God.  And then things started to really happen.   Now, I’m thankful for that moment.

Paul must have been like that.   Honest, almost brutally so, but forthright and caring.  Able to let someone down while doing so in a way that actually builds them up through caring truth.  Sometimes we have to be bluntly honest with people and that’s tough, both on them and on us.  Sometimes we NEED to hear hard truth; sometimes it’s ok to simply have someone speak squarely with us.  Paul wasn’t being mean with the Philippians:   he was being their friend and speaking frankly in their best interests.  We should do the same.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 16:17, 1 Timothy 5:17, Philippians 3:1.

Lord Jesus, let us always be honest, forthright, and caring as we deal with others.   Help us to continually follow Your example.