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.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 22 April 2019

Here is a trustworthy saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.  If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.  2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NIV).

Happy Day After Easter, when Jesus is still risen, still alive again, still King of Kings.   To be honest, the day after Easter has always had the potential to be like the day after Christmas:   a let-down.   We had a great day yesterday, with church, a great meal, and lots of time together as a family.   It tired me out greatly, but I was sad to see it end.   Today, it’s back to work; today the kids and grand-kids go home; today is just Monday.  Today feels like a let-down.

Except it isn’t.   Here is a trustworthy saying:   if Monday seems dull, it’s because the light shines bright.   If disappointment rules the hour, joy rules the day.  If it’s tough to get started back at the routine, the routine is a gift from God, an embodiment of Jesus in our daily lives.   All these contrasting things are gifts from a loving Jesus Christ, whose gift of resurrection provides the hope of today and tomorrow to the believers He elected in eternity.  A fallen world can’t contain Him; a bad today can’t stop a beautiful tomorrow.   He defeated death, He defeated Satan.   Nothing can stop Him.   The contrasts make the difference between Jesus and everything else stark.

It wasn’t just Paul who spoke of these contrasts.   Peter did as well, and Peter knew Christ, man to man, better than most anyone else in Jesus’ ministry.  Peter talked about us rejoicing in the sufferings of Christ because it would mean that His resurrection and eternal glory would be all that much better.  The apostle lived in a barbaric time not unlike our own:   we simply have better tools and technology.   But the words he left would have been just as striking to readers of that time, maybe even more so when you consider how those readers personally knew Peter, how some might have personally known Jesus.  We didn’t know Peter or Jesus man to man; we simply have their words.

Think about that and then consider that this is a trustworthy set of statements, a thing on which we can rely.  Jesus lived, died, and lives again because He said He would.   Jesus suffered so we could rest.   Jesus died so we can live.   Jesus lives because the world can’t contain Him.   That’s great news on the Monday after Easter when the bloom seems to be off the rose and the daily world tries to take hold again.

For further reading: Romans 6:2-11, 1 Peter 4:13, Matthew 10:33, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 2 Timothy 2:14.

Easter Savior, You are the reason for our living.   You are the Lord.   You died and live so we may live.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 1 March 2019

“…who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”  1 Timothy 6:16 (NIV).

No one can see God and no one ever has; Exodus 33:20 says so straight from God’s own words.  This side of eternity, no one can see God in all His glory and live.   Our minds couldn’t process Him.  Our bodies couldn’t withstand Him.  Yet when we see Jesus, we are seeing God.   We are seeing the part of Him that is human, fully God and fully man all at once.   It’s a mystery how He does that, but He does it all the same.

I think of this verse the way I think of going outside.   My day job involves a lot of time staring at a laptop.   I implement software and business improvements used in processing healthcare information for insurance companies.   That involves a lot of online work in systems that are pretty basic to look at; white windows with black edges and writing, some grays and blues thrown in.   My office at home is in a bedroom, and while there is a window in it, the sun doesn’t shine directly in.  When I’m on my (current) client’s site, I work in an IT lab, in an enclosed conference room with no outside light.

All this makes going outside during the work-day a rich treat. Yet the older I get, the longer it takes for my eyes to adjust to the sun.   If I don’t wear sunglasses, my eyes squint, and it takes me awhile to be able to see without them watering.   Occasionally things are even blurry but that passes quickly.

Imagine looking into God the Father’s unapproachable light.   Imagine the brightest light you can think of, then staring straight into it.   You’d be blinded; you’d melt (sort of like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Nazis opened the Ark of the Covenant).   You’d die.

Now imagine being Peter, James, and John and standing before Jesus when He was transfigured.  His clothes were the brightest white possible.   They saw Him as He truly was, in the beautiful spiritual light of perfection while clearly recognizing their friend.  Their eyes weren’t burned; they lived through it.   How can this be?   You know the answer:   because of Jesus.   He made it possible for them to look on Him and live.   In a flash it happened, then in a moment it was over.

One day each of us will indeed stare into God’s full light and see Him face to face.   In our final day, will we be dazzled by the brilliance of it or will we be destroyed?   My friend, you know the better way.

For further reading:   Exodus 33:20, Psalm 104:2, 1 John 1:7, John 1:18, Romans 11:36, Mark 9:3, 1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Lord of light, You are beautiful.  Heal my eyes to let me see You more so that others see You through me.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 13 November 2018

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.  1 Timothy 4:3-5 (NIV).

“Received with thanksgiving:” those are powerful words.   They can make all the difference in the world.

Next week is Thanksgiving and that means we’re coming up on the time of the year when we’ll reflect on 2018 and talk about what we’ve done (and unconsciously avoid those not done).  May I submit to you that an attitude of thanksgiving for all things, ESPECIALLY the bad things, makes everything ok?   No, I’m not Pollyanna.  This year, just in my own family circle, we’ve known death, terrible illness, separation, extreme financial difficulties, loneliness, encounters with Satan, and more.   Let’s just assume you’re in a similar situation (because you probably are).

Give thanks.   Thank God for them.  Thank God for the bad things and the good things, too.

Winter is coming and I just detest cold weather.   But I’m thankful for it.   Yesterday was a REALLY EARLY morning, seeing me wake up at 3 to leave the house by 4 to catch a 6:30 flight at Love Field.   I’m thankful for that because it means I have a good job.   Every payday there always seems to be more in bills than there is in paycheck…you guessed it:   I’m thankful because the life my wife and I lead is one of family and friends and faith and love.

God gives us EVERYTHING on this planet and more.   He did it (and does it) out of love, out of wanting to provide for His children who He created to be “very good.”  Who am I (or you) to put conditions on it?   Who are we to put rules and regulations all over something that God gave to us freely?

In the book of Acts, the Apostle Peter learns in a dream that every food is “clean” and a gift from God.   All through his life, Peter had observed Jewish laws about what to and not to eat.   It makes sense that the early church, an offshoot of Judaism, would start to adopt some of the Jewish traditions.   But God switched things up, telling Peter that all foods were clean.   In an even larger sense, God was telling Peter that all PEOPLE were clean, all people were worthy of His blessing and should hear the Gospel of Christ.   Give thanks for EVERYTHING, good and not good, clean and unclean.  It’s all from God.  Even the bad things He allows are used for His good purposes.

How could someone not be thankful for that?

Thanking Jesus as the start to all we are is the start of making things better.

For further reading: Acts 10, 1 Timothy 4:6

Lord, thank You.   Just thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 September 2018

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith:  Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  1 Timothy 1:1-2 (NIV).

I’m no Apostle Paul; perhaps neither are you.   Yet our purpose here is the same:   we’re proclaiming the grace of God.   We’re in good company, my friend, hanging out with Paul, Peter, St Augustine, Luther, Billy Graham and every other pastor or evangelist in history.

We’re here again to proclaim Christ Jesus, our hope.   As my Concordia reference Bible says, that’s a declaration, not just a throwaway phrase.  Paul refers to his mission as commanded by God Himself and his mission was to proclaim the hope – the promise and the guarantee – of Christ Jesus.

When you say “I believe,” you’re concurring.   You’re putting your dearly held beliefs in line with Jesus, saying “I believe in You.”   “I trust You.”  “I submit to You.”   “I believe everything You said.”

That’s tough.

It was tough for Paul to do, I’m sure.   Jesus called him to turn from persecuting the church and to follow the path of an apostle.   He gave Saul the mission to proclaim Him in a world hostile to Him.   He took Saul’s livelihood, his background, his career, and He even changed his name to Paul.  Even though Paul had been personally visited and changed by Jesus Himself, it still must have been tough.  He had to learn to live out his life as Jesus wanted him to after being turned completely upside down.

Then he found a protégé, an apprentice.   Timothy was a young man who Paul met during one of his missionary journeys (to what is now Turkey).   Timothy had a unique background, training and talents that Jesus could use to reach out to other believers in Macedonia.  So Paul took the young man under his wing and instructed him on ways to better proclaim the risen Christ.   1 and 2 Timothy are Paul’s letters of instruction to his apprentice, who went on to proclaim Jesus long after Paul was martyred in Rome (before he, too, was murdered for the faith).   They’re the basis of today’s seminaries.

Because part of the promise and hope of proclaiming Jesus is accepting the call in to His service whatever it takes, whatever it involves.

Paul knew this.   Timothy knew this.   Augustine, Luther, and Billy Graham knew it, and so do we.   Jesus is all love and His burden of love is both light and deep.  Paul wrote two letters to encourage his apprentice and they’re here for us to read.   And following that encouragement can be awfully tough.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 1:1, Titus 1:3, Luke 1:47, Colossians 1:27, Acts 16:1, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Timothy 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:3

Lord, praise to You for the word You gave to Paul to share with Timothy and us.   Thank You for their words and experience.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 9 August 2018

He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ2 Thessalonians 2:14 (NIV).

My daughter got married over the weekend.  The dress, the cake, the dancing, the reception, the walk down the aisle:   it was time for the whole shootin match.   If I do say so, it was a great party where everyone (over 150 people) had a wonderful time.   Check out the Youtube of just before the bride walked:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LDOH8OB3hI

But big fancy weddings aren’t why we’re here.

And over the weekend, too, we also had a party for my wife, who has a milestone birthday this month.  At the VRBO we rented, a large group of family and friends gathered to celebrate her birthday, our fellowship, and just enjoying life (and Texas barbecue) together.   Again, if I do say so, it was another great time, a great birthday bash!

But that’s not why we are here.

Big parties, our jobs, our churches, shopping at the mall (or at the grocery store), working hard in school, the next big vacation:   none of those are why you and I are here.   We are called to enjoy life and to be good stewards of all the things that God gives us to do.   We are motivated, even inspired, to do our best in all things, and that is a good thing, even a Godly thing.

But NONE of those are what we are called to in this life.   In all of them, we can indeed give glory to God, and we can even share in His glory through doing them.   But make no mistake about it:   we aren’t called to DO things here just for the sake of doing them.   We aren’t called to simply live, even if living means a rich, full, eventful, or moral life.

We are called to serve in God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus.    We are called to believe in Jesus in everything we do.   We are called to share this belief, this faith in His saving death and resurrection, by living it out.   We are called through the gospel, given to men like Paul, Matthew, Peter, John and others, to share Jesus with what we say and do so that others who don’t know – or reject – Him might come to know Him too (and then repeat the cycle with even more others).  In doing these things, we share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ because that’s how we do the work of the God who sent Him.

I loved the wedding; I loved the party.   I love time with family, friends, and even strangers.   But without Jesus, they’re just meaningless events.   There’s no morality without Jesus, nothing good.  Involving Him transforms life into something more, something meaningful, something we are called to live.

For further reading:  Romans 8:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

Lord Jesus, thank You for faith, for letting me share You in all these ways.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 15 November 2017

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.  Hebrews 13, verse 9.

For the last few weeks I’ve had “La La Land” playing in my head.   I’ve heard the catchy opening number – “Another Day of Sun” – playing over and over in my head.   If you haven’t seen the movie and you like musicals, watch it.  And you have to watch right from the opening credits because that opening number sets the stage for the entire movie.  “Climb these hills I’m reaching for the heights and chasing all the lights that shine.   When they let you down.   Get up off the ground.   Then morning comes around and it’s another day of sun.”

That kind of sums up one of the great things about Christian faith.  Jesus is always here, always the same, always a constant.   Every day is a gift, another day of Son in the sun.  We chase all kinds of things here on the Third Rock and they let us down.  Yet to survive, to persevere, we have to get up and try again.  Without knowing Jesus, life is just a senseless drudgery.   With Him, it’s another day of sun.

And in the process of getting through life we get distracted by lots of lights that shine.   They glitter, they’re cool, they’re trendy, they’re the thing; gotta chase em!   Sometimes those lights that shine are bright fires that burn in hostile camps.   Sometimes the things that are cool aren’t so cool when we become part of them.  Sometimes when things let us down we can get crushed.   Not to put an insensitive point on things but “that’s life.”

Here, then, is some more life.  Sometimes in worship we get distracted by thinking we MUST say the Lord’s Prayer every time we are in church.   Sometimes we forget to regard our brothers and sisters as fellow believers even when they royally mess up.  Sometimes we split our fellowship based on things like ‘just when (or if) do the wine and bread of communion actually become the body and blood of Christ?’   Sometimes our friends insist that we are becoming weak in our faith if we don’t do all the things they insist we must do.

When they let you down, get up off the ground and realize these are just shiny things you’re chasing.  Get back in the Son because it’s another day of sun.   Jesus hasn’t changed.   He’s the same today as He was yesterday and as He will be tomorrow.  No, what’s changed is our position in relation to him.   We’ve moved ourselves away from Him.   We chose something that wasn’t Him and we shifted.   And that’s crazy because He freed us from the need to follow human codes.   He freed us from the constraints of having to prove ourselves to God.

Centuries ago, the early followers of Jesus were genuinely conflicted about what foods they could and couldn’t eat.  Most of them had been raised as Jews, and Jews had all kinds of ceremonial laws about what foods were unclean (and thus forbidden) and those that were allowed.   Many of the foods common to pagan communities in the Roman Mediterranean area were considered unclean, and the early believers struggled with ‘how Jewish’ they should be in observing these ceremonial traditions.   Their Jewish friends, who had a vested interest in seeing the nascent Christianity fail, insisted that these new followers follow all Jewish codes.   First Century Judea had become spiritual La La Land, complete with the tyrannical government controlling the people and the complicit spiritual leadership doing whatever it needed to do to stay in power.

Jesus changed all that.  He made it so that we are free from following anything but Him.   As the Apostle Peter learned, we are free to rise and eat and not worry about whether it’s ceremonially unclean.   All that God has created is good.   And when you realize that, you realize that those old codes would only let you down.   That’s when it’s time to get up off the ground and follow Jesus.   When you do that, you realize that it’s morning and it’s another day of sun in the Son.   And you get to leave La La Land.

For further reading:  Ephesians 4:14, Colossians 2:7, Colossians 2:16, Hebrews 9:10, Acts 10:9-48.

Lord, thank You for making all things possible, for removing barriers we crazy humans put up in your creation.