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.

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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.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 4 April 2019

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.  May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.   2 Timothy 1:16-18 (NIV).

Notice that Paul prays for the blessing not just for his friend, Onesiphorus, but also for that man’s house.   It wasn’t enough for Paul to ask for God’s blessing / Jesus’ presence in the life of the man who had helped him.   No, Paul prayed blessing and kindness on the people who mattered most to Onesiphorus.

That’s going over and above.  The more you walk in faith-moved circles, the more you see people praying for the benefit of others, the health and prosperity of strangers, the peace of people they don’t even know.  It isn’t enough to get the fruit of Jesus’ Spirit in our lives; see Galatians 5.   No, when that happens, you have to share it.   You want other people to know what that peace means, what it feels like.   You want them to know Jesus, too, so that they can receive those blessings, those fruits in their lives..

You want it so much that you want them to experience it forever.   Paul prayed Jesus’ mercy over Onesiphorus’ household:  his family, his extended family, and anyone who may have moved in their circle.   He prayed eternal life over their home so that they would continue to abide in the Lord when Paul was (soon to be) gone.   Only God could give the kind of peace that would last forever.   Onesiphorus had shown kindness and loyalty to Paul.   Now, in his darkest hour, Paul repaid that kindness in the only way he could:   through prayers in Jesus.  That matters most.

If you don’t believe these things are true, or if you only have one toe in the pool of this faith-life, then these things might not make much sense to you.   This isn’t some Christian game of “I’ve got a secret” or playing goody two shoes.   It’s a life and death battle we’re in and we’re in the armies of the living God.  We want you on our side because we want you, with us, to live forever with Him.   We want you for Him because He wants you for Himself more than we do.   Because He loves you.   Because He is true and real love and the only real peace there is.  Allah and meditation can’t do that.  Jesus does.

For further reading:   Galatians 5:22-23, Hebrews 6:10, Acts 21:33, 2 Timothy 2:1.

Lord Jesus, only in You is found mercy and peace.   I’ve messed up before; help me to not do it again.   Bless those who are around me today, especially those with whom I barely come in contact.   Abide with them; live through them; bless them.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 13 February 2019

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  1 Timothy 6:9 (NIV).

I prefer to stay on the positive side of this verse.   Those who know me well will find this surprising.   In fact, my wife calls me “Eeyore” because I usually look on the downside of things.   For Everyday Dave, this verse would be a great place to stop.  It’s a lighthouse, warning of rocks just up ahead near the shore.  We’ll probably mess it up anyway.

But that’s an outlook I want to change.  The verse IS a lighthouse, and it’s one that calls us safely home.   Lately, I’ve been daily contemplating Galatians 5, specifically the verses about the fruits of the Spirit.  I read the verses and then look for ways to put them into practice each day, one per month while compounding them.   January was love month; February is love and joy; March will be love, joy, and peace.   You get the idea.  If you haven’t ever really contemplated them, check out Galatians 5:22-23.

Then put them into action because they are the opposite of what Paul describes in verse 9.   And if you think about it, they are the things Paul could say ARE worthy of our attention instead of desire for money, or running into the traps and temptations that lead to ruin and destruction.   How many of us could avoid pitfalls of sin if we would simply find better things on which to focus?   Let’s keep our eyes on the ways Jesus acts, then watch how things begin to improve.

If we are always looking for ways to get ahead, we probably will miss some of the signs around us that point us to ways we can get involved in what Jesus is doing.   Just prior to this verse, Paul had reminded Timothy to be content with only what God provides for our most basic needs.   Anything more than contentment can run the risk of walking the proud walk down the yellow brick road of temptation.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  Man, those are things worth showing off to the world.   They’re the antidote to swallowing too much desire to get rich.   When we talk about focusing on Jesus, a great way to start doing that is by focusing on ways we can let His Spirit remake us around these behaviors He exhibits.  If we do that, when temptations come, it becomes easier to turn from them.   That’s a wealth worth having.

Eeyore might just agree.

For further reading:   Galatians 5:22-23, Proverbs 15:27, Proverbs 28:20, 1 Timothy 6:10.

Magnificent Lord, I’m not always a good follower.   I’ve turned my attention away from You.   Thank You for not turning away from Me, and I ask You to remake me in the ways of Your Spirit today. 

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 14 September 2018

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.  I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  2 Thessalonians 3:16-18 (NIV).

Another ending.   Like 1 Thessalonians (and his other books), Paul ends with a doxology and invocation of blessings on his friends.

Focus on the peace.   That’s the message Paul intended for you.   It’s what he was looking for you to gather from this letter.  Peace from the Lord Himself.   Peace at all times; peace in everything with you.   Not just you:   all of you.  All of us.   All the time in all ways possible.  THAT is the message of Christianity.   More than Christianity, THAT is the message of Jesus Christ because Jesus is peace.

Jesus’ peace matters above everything else in the closing comments because Jesus matters more than anything else, period.  Jesus’ peace allows us to stay calm when things around us are in chaos.  Jesus’ peace lets us back away from arguments (like the ones I usually have) where we simply must be right!   Jesus’ peace heals all wounds of the heart.  Paul understood this.   He understood the brutal world of malice and conquest in which he lived.   He understood that it would eventually kill him (which it did) but could consume him and anyone else long before unless they could fight it with something stronger.

Jesus’ peace was stronger.   It still is.

As you go into your weekend, remember that there are people today who are hurting.   There are hurricane evacuees worried about losing their homes.   There are people whose loved ones are dying, or have just died.   There are people out of work, deep in debt, plagued by past decisions, living in abuse.   Name your pet sin and someone is being tortured by it.   Those people need peace.   Those people need Jesus’ peace.   Those people are actually you and me.

We can share Jesus’ peace by submitting to Him, then living out our lives in the ways He did:   kindness, faithfulness to Him and to each other, patience, forbearance, understanding, and empathy.   You and I GET to put Paul’s benediction into practice by sharing the peace of Jesus Christ with other people by the things we say and do.   You and I get to focus on the peace of Jesus and let Him work His work through us by doing the things He would have us do.  In doing that, we both experience and share God’s grace the way He intended it:   peace for everyone.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:1

Lord, thank You for Paul’s epistles, for the words You shared through him.   Grant us Your beautiful peace to everyone, everywhere.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 25 June 2018.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV).

This is a tall order.   Admit it:  you can’t do this on your own; I know I can’t.   I’m betting quite a few people are better than I am at behaving themselves and at resisting temptation.  There are quite a few people who wouldn’t give a second thought to the pet sins that have plagued my life.   But the dirty secret is that there are many of THEIR pet sins that wouldn’t interest me in the slightest yet these may be very real struggles for them.   Everyone has a vice, even the folks we consider to be upright or pious.   Gambling, porn, drinking, marijuana, profanity, power, gossip, pride; pick one or name another.  Got skin, got sin.

Which is why Paul ends his letter with this benediction.   He doesn’t end with “prayers and positive thoughts to you” or “thinking of you” or “best wishes, pal.”   He invokes the tangible, real presence of the all powerful creator in the daily lives of his friends.   He asks for, even implores, God’s real action in their lives.   And he prays for this over his friends, asking that God set them apart as pure, then preserve everything about them to keep them blameless.

Paul knows his friends will be tempted; he has just written about how evil will always work to tempt us and how we must reject it.   Paul understands that his fellow believers are sinners like himself.   Paul realizes that they can’t be blameless in God’s presence without God Himself making it possible.   So he prays this benediction over them, both requesting for them and reminding them that God gives peace and sanctification.   Only God can do this; only Jesus is the only way.

Hint:   that’s still true.   Paul’s words still resonate with us because they still apply.   The same God who spoke everything into existence through His Son is still abiding with us now.   The same God who watched that Son die on that cross – and felt it all through Him – is still living through us today.   The same God who forgave, sanctified, and strengthened Paul and the Thessalonians 2000 years ago is still doing those things for us today.   We don’t have to do anything to please God; in fact we can’t.   But we do need to see Him through our hearts, to submit to Him and believe Him.   Tall order or not, without God’s presence in our lives, we don’t stand much of a chance against evil.

For further reading:  Romans 15:33, Hebrews 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Lord Jesus, stay with me.   Sanctify me, forgive me, abide with me.   Without You, I am powerless.