Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 March 2020

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV).

Read verse 13 and read it again.   Then read it one more time.   It’s the secret to success.   It’s the secret to overcoming the panic, shortages, and, well, stupidity of our world during this Wuhan virus fracas.

We can do all things, in plenty or in want, through Jesus Christ, who gives us strength.

Take that coronavirus.   Take that over-reacting governments.   Take that panickers.   God bless all of them (except the virus, though God is working through that, too).  But they don’t stand a chance against Christ, who gives us strength to persevere and overcome them.

Sure, it’s easy to say that now, when the shortages on the shelves are just because of selfishness.   The shelves will be re-stocked soon…or maybe they won’t be!  Let’s read these verses again in a month if or when things begin to get tough.  When people are anxious; when fresh food supplies run low or run out.   Let’s say them again when people start marching for an end to the shutdowns and a return to normalcy.   Let’s say them if this mindlessness degenerates into violence or, worse, war.

Yes, let’s say them again then because, then, they’ll be just as true as they are today.

We can and will overcome the fear, panic, and madness that are gripping our world through Christ who gives us strength.  Even in times of scarcity and war, we can rest content knowing that, even then, Christ will provide us with what He knows we need.  In times of plenty, we get to rejoice that He has given us so much that we can share it abundantly.   In times of need, we get to rejoice that He is still providing for us through the kindnesses of each other.

We’ve got this, people, because He’s got us.   Because we can do all things through Him who gives us strength.

Not just strength of rhetoric and words:   real strength.   Real strength of character to resist the temptation to hate or hurt, to clash, to resort to what is worst about humanity.   Christ gives us real strength to cling to His better ways, to share them and foster and grow them in others in similar predicaments.   We’ll need that strength in the coming days.   It’s good to know it’s sure.

Read that verse again, and take it to the bank today.  “Touch” someone with it today in a way that matters most.

For further reading: 1 Corinthians 4:11, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Ephesians 3:16, Colossians 1:11, Philippians 4:14.

Lord Jesus, You’re with us through the chaos that’s happening today.   Grant us Your strength and help us to share it with people in need.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 17 March 2020

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  Philippians 4:11 (NIV).

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul also writes “godliness with contentment is great gain.”   Those are powerful words that illuminate both what Paul is saying here in Philippians 4 AND what’s going on in our world today?

Here in the good old US of A, have you been to the store lately?   Have you seen what hoarding and panic and “me-first” and, yes, stupidity look like?   Christ (through Paul) tells us to be content with what we have.   I suppose there are many, many people who are now content with a closet full of Charmin or a trunk full of hand sanitizer.  I sort of hope they’re stuck with it when all this ends soon.  I also know many more folks who know things will be just fine.

No matter where you are, however, it doesn’t seem like we’re very content, either to live in want or to live in plenty.   And let’s keep it real:   here in the land of prosperity, we aren’t really living in want.   We’re in danger of temporary shortages because of foolish panic, but, so far, there aren’t that many people who are lacking much of anything.

So how do we get back to that “being content whatever the circumstances?”   Maybe we should take a cue from Paul, who denied himself most material comforts and rested his pride in being thankful for whatever he was given.   Yes, he encouraged his friends in churches all around the Mediterranean to give generously so that people like himself could continue their work.   Yet Paul also understood that it was Christ, not others, who ultimately determined Paul’s contentment.

That knowledge opened wide the door to peace.   After all, it becomes easier to live through almost anything when you realize that this Jesus has your back.   This Jesus, who happens to be God Almighty Himself and the Savior of all the world, takes a personal interest in making sure people like you, me, and the Apostle Paul have what He knows we need.   Sometimes that’s a lot; sometimes not so much.   It ALWAYS includes Himself.

No matter what’s happening, it becomes easier to remember we can be content because God will provide…because He always does.   He is providing now, even when things are getting scary.  Remember:   many, many more times in history were far scarier than now.   Think AD70 in Jerusalem; or the 1300s in Europe during the Black Plague.   Think April of 1861, or July 1914; there are only a few people left who would remember that.   Think December 1941, of October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis.   God was with people then.   He’s with us now.   Let’s be content with that and the rest will all fall into place.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-8, Hebrews 13:5, Philippians 4:12.

Lord Jesus, I’m content with You.   All with which You bless me is Yours to give.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 12 March 2020

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:9 (NJKV).

The peace of God is with us.

Starting in verse 4, Paul blesses his friends with the peace of God that surpasses our understanding as they display gentleness while avoiding anxiety and what results from it.  Then, here in verse 9, he blesses them with God’s peace as they meditate on the good things of God.  He must want them (and us) to understand that God’s peace is present with us.

That’s good to know, isn’t it, especially in a world turning itself upside down over a virus?   After all, these words were written at a time when it was common for villages to shun, even kill, people with leprosy (which is cured by modern antibiotics); when cholera, typhus, or dysentery could wipe out a city in days; when there were no blessings of medicines or sanitation to prevent and cure such things.   They lasted through the Black Death that killed 60% of Europe (because people didn’t know about hygiene and fleas).   They persisted through the 1918 Spanish Flu that came and went in a year but killed more people than World War I.   They will be true when this passes by as well.   In the meantime, they’ll get us through and provide encouragement when we need it…because He will actually abide with us.

Don’t lose sight, too, of Paul reminding us to put faith into practice.   Let’s not just believe in Jesus:   let’s do something with it.   Now is the time for us to show people our faith by showing them our works because of it.  The other night, I was talking with a friend who reminded me that Martin Luther exhorted Christians (during outbreaks of disease) to continue ministering to others out of Christ’s love.   Care for people in real ways and share the medicine of Jesus.  If someone is sick, find out what you can do to help them…bring groceries, cook them a meal, help with laundry or cleaning; anything.  Yes, we should be preventive and cautious in how we conduct ourselves.   But we MUST NOT allow fear or even government edict to prevent us from carrying out our faith in Christ by helping people who need it.

And in it, through it, God will be giving us His peace as we work to help each other get by.   Today I’m praying that, when the crisis has passed, our world will be able to look back and see how God blessed us richly by the works and faith we believers can share as we served each other through it.  Sin is a disease, too, and disease is a result of sin.   God Immanuel is stronger than either.

For further reading: Romans 15:23, 1 Corinthians 4:16, James 2:18, Philippians 4:10.

Lord God, abide with us and grant us Your peace to better serve You by serving each other.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 10 March 2020

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7 (NJKV).

I like how the New King James Version of the Bible translates this verse, especially verse 7.   It’s a very great comfort today, when the media is hyping up all doom and gloom.

The peace of God, which surpasses ALL of our understanding of it – which is deeper and wider and more meaningful and more immediate than anything we can comprehend – THAT will guard us against anything of this world because it is from and of and through Jesus Christ.

Take that, coronavirus.   Take that, doom and gloom media, stock market, and Twitter.   Take that, worry and stress.

We must be anxious about nothing because Jesus has our six.   We must take what we think and say and believe to Him daily, regularly, submissively, but confidently, trusting that He’s listening and answers us and gives us peace as we need it to get us through.   We must believe when understanding just doesn’t ‘get it’ about God’s peace because His peace is an illogical thing in a logical world but is more powerful than this logical world.

Because when you strip away the ‘logic’ of this world, you see that God’s illogical peace (and our illogical belief in it) is actually the only logical, reasonable thing there is.   The ‘logos’ that makes the natural world go around IS dysfunction, decay, and destruction.   It’s chaos.  We’re fallen here and this world is fallen because of sin:   our sins, the sins of our ancestors; sin.

But in the face of a world of sin there is Jesus Christ, who is the cure for the common sin.  Jesus gives peace when we are worried.   Jesus gives confidence when we’re stressed.   Jesus gives clarity when we question.   Jesus gives hope when we despair.   It isn’t that Jesus is the band-aid that we slap onto every wound.   It IS that Jesus lives through us especially when we are faced with terrible things.  We don’t understand how He does this; we don’t have to.

We don’t have to because His peace surpasses our understanding; it’s next-level.   His peace at work in us and through us gives us the courage to face whatever is in front of us.

That’s good to know because things will probably get worse before they get better.   No matter what happens, I will – we can – face it with the peace of Christ in our hearts to guide.

For further reading: Isaiah 26:3, John 14:27, Ephesians 4:19, Philippians 4:8.

Lord Jesus we need Your peace in our lives more than ever!   Ours is a world of fear-mongering and anxiety.   Overcome that because you’re way beyond that.   Teach us and abide with us today.

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 19 September 2019

I pray that this fellowship of your faith may become active in understanding every good thing that belongs to us in Christ.  Philemon 6 (EHV).

In verse 5, Paul writes of how he’s heard good things about Philemon through the grapevine.   Then, in verse 6, there seems to be a mild chastisement of Philemon, specifically in how Paul says, “your faith may become active in understanding.”

Don’t get hung up on that.   Perhaps the best way to grasp it is to know that Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to ask Philemon to forgive – and free – Onesimus from the burden of slavery.   Paul wrote to Philemon to ask him to take back Onesimus, a slave who had run away.  Paul did this because Onesimus had come to faith in Jesus, had confided in Paul his status as a runaway slave belonging to a common friend.  It’s understandable that Philemon would be hesitant, even where fellow believers like Paul and Onesimus were concerned.

Knowing that, it makes sense that Paul would want to encourage Philemon to ‘think outside the box.’   Think about things you haven’t thought about before (like forgiving a runaway slave).   Think about forgiving someone who wronged you (like that runaway slave, whose very flight was a rebellion against you).  Think about setting an example for other people in this nascent faith known as “Christianity” (because Christ forgave us first).

Think about that last statement most of all.   Even Philemon needed to be reminded of that, especially when considering the fate of Onesimus.   As a slaveowner, it would have been Philemon’s right to have Onesimus beaten, maybe even killed; that wouldn’t have been uncommon in first century Roman culture.   Yet even more uncommon was this new faith system where “love your enemies” and “forgive as God forgave you” were the governing themes.

When Philemon put those into practice, he forgave Onesimus, freed him, and welcomed him home as a brother.   It set a practical, powerful example for other believers of the time.   Such a difficult but simple action as forgiveness showed that Philemon understood how the love of Jesus blesses us with every good thing, especially a warm and peaceful heart.   Because Jesus forgave him first.

When we put those into practice, we do the same thing.   We spread His love around to those who don’t deserve it.   We forgive those who wronged us so that they, too, might come to know God’s peace.   We put aside our anger and pray for those who are causing hurt so that they, too, might know how it feels to have mercy on another.  In a time where ‘thoughts and prayers’ are disparaged by cynical skeptics, the simple act of sharing Christ’s mercy allows love to conquer hatred and real peace to displace meaningless resistance.  It’s active in understanding.

For further reading:  Luke 6:27, Ephesians 4:32, Philemon 7

Lord Jesus, forgive me so that I may forgive others.  Inspire me today to find ways to share Your forgiveness and Your peace.

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, 13 May 2019

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  2 Timothy 2:23-24 (NIV).

Let it be.   That was the subject of a recent devotion my wife and I did.   Now, you know I’ve confessed to arguing over dumb things on Facebook.   Most of them are political, and it’s unlikely that neither my opponents nor I will be changing our views.   Except for letting allies know they aren’t alone, such arguments are foolish, stupid, unproductive.   Yet I continue to make them, though less and less.   Perhaps I’m beginning to see the wisdom of Paul’s command in these verses.

Mainly I don’t want to be a quarrelsome servant of the Lord.   I don’t resent the people with whom I disagree, but I do understand that such long-term useless quarrels do eventually morph into resentment.   How do we stand up for good things in which we believe without becoming insulting or hurtful?   After all, it isn’t wrong to stand up against someone who hates Jews or minorities or gays or others, but it becomes wrong if, in standing up, we become insulting or depart from the truth into mere opinion.   It isn’t wrong to stand up against the senseless violence political street factions have recently caused, but it becomes wrong if we let it evolve our opposition into desires for counter-violence or retribution.

In other words, things become wrong when we depart from God’s peace.   God desires for us to live peaceful lives, sharing and growing peace in Him, which is the only real peace there is.  Giving us His peace is central to Christ’s salvation.   If not to share God’s true presence with us, Christ came for this reason.   Only through Him can we find the peace that lasts, both here and in eternity.   It is only through modeling His behavior that we can spread peace.

Sometimes that means standing up in silence; sometimes it means standing as the angry, righteous Jesus against true wrongdoing.   Sometimes we have to flee.  We must do our parts to vanquish the wrongdoing but then also extend Christ’s peace to the wrongdoers, lest we become them ourselves.

So perhaps the best thing to do with most of our political, cultural, and even moral rot is to let it be.   It isn’t that these things are unimportant.   It IS that God Almighty is much stronger than they are.   He knows what He’s doing and He gave us the mission to spread His peace and love to others who don’t know about it.   He can handle the rest.  When the opportunity to argue arises, instead, let it be.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 3:2-3, 2 Timothy 2:25.

Good Lord, forgive me for how I have failed to sow peace.   Forgive me for when I’ve shared in stupid quarrels.   Only You can restore me and instill real peace.