Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 26 November 2019

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. Philippians 1:15. (EHV).

Tell me:   how do you feel about others who have what you don’t?

A few days ago we talked about boldness, about how faith in Jesus makes one bold.   I think it’s because He gives us peace, removing the unconscious ‘need’ to be right or to worry or to control.   Jesus’ peace changes all that, and when those changes happen, our energies are freed up for other things.

Like boldness.   Paul was in chains, literally living imprisoned for his faith in Christ.   He had stood up for Jesus in front of Jews who wanted him arrested, beaten, and killed.   That almost happened until Paul spoke up and reminded the crowd that he was a Roman citizen.   As such, he was accorded rights and privileges to appeal his case directly to Rome.   While awaiting his audience, Paul remained in custody.   That meant he was, most likely, living chained to a wall or someone else or something static most of the time.

Tell me:   would you envy someone who was in jail?   Or would you envy them for the fame that landed them there?   Some might say it was infamy, actually.   But Paul was famous in the Christian world.   He was the Pharisee who had converted, who became a follower of Jesus after a mystical encounter in the Syrian desert.  Paul was the missionary who started churches all over Asia Minor, then mentored hundreds, maybe thousands, of new believers.

Tell me now:   would that make you envious?   If you were a contemporary of Paul’s, or a Jew, would you be jealous of the following this unlikely apostle had been given?   Would you be envious of his gifts, of his personal history with Jesus, of his influence both with Jesus’ apostles AND all those new converts?   Paul was indeed confident and bold in his faith; would that make someone else jealous?   You know the answer.

Just like you know the flip side of that envy.  The same people who would envy Paul all these things could easily choose to celebrate them instead.   They could easily choose to be thankful God would pour out His grace into this man and his friends.   They could choose to follow his example and be glad to know such a strong mentor and leader.   They could choose boldness.

Faith can find us either jealous or grateful.  Me and you, we aren’t much different from those people who lived back in Paul’s time.   We feel the same emotions because we are human and we follow the same Jesus Paul followed.  Paul was bold; perhaps you or I are as well in our own ways.   Tell me:   how will you boldly follow Jesus today?

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:8, Philippians 1:16

King Jesus, convict me of my envy and grant me Your peace and boldness to overcome it.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 8 November 2019

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  Philippians 1:7. (EHV).

Truth:  I have never visited anyone in jail.   I once picked up someone who had to stay in jail overnight, and I’ve toured prisons, and, from personal experience, I know what it feels like to have to stay in a jail cell.   But I’ve never visited anyone in jail, or prison, or someone who was involuntarily confined like that.

And I’ve never been in chains for the gospel.   I’ve never been arrested, beaten, tortured, or threatened with death for saying “I believe in Jesus.”   People in Communist China, and Iran, Indonesia, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other nations are regularly assaulted for their belief in Christ.  Paul was chained for the Gospel, imprisoned for defying the Jewish authorities, for witnessing to Romans, maybe even to Nero himself.   Paul was eventually murdered for his fidelity to Jesus.

That has never happened to me, or people I know, or even people who know people who I know.   But it happened to Paul.   And the goofy thing about it is that such a way of life was the right way for Paul, the right way to think and act and speak and feel.   It’s the right thing for us, too, no matter what it costs us.

Because Jesus is the right way, really the only way.  That’s what kept Paul going through the persecutions that were happening to him; that would eventually kill him.   It was right and proper and fitting and the best thing of all for Paul to feel thankful for the people God put into his life.  It was right for him to thank God in prayer for people in his circle.   It was right because Jesus put love into Paul’s once-cold heart.   It was right to feel grateful for and want to share God’s grace, his undeserved gifts of love and mercy and peace, with everyone who didn’t know about it.

You?   Ditto.   Me?   Ditto.   It’s right for us to want peace in our lives and it’s right to appreciate how deep and abiding is that peace only Jesus can give.   It’s right for us to want this for other people.   It’s right for us to have God’s Spirit re-align our lives to share this gift with other people.   It’s right to want to reach out to people who live their lives in the prison of sin and guilt.   It’s right to be willing to die for this.

It’s right.   Because of Jesus.

Today, visit someone in jail, either in a physical prison because of crimes, or the emotional prison of one’s sins.   Share some Jesus with them.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 7:3, 2 Peter 1:13, Philippians 1:8

Lord Jesus, thank You for springing me from the prison of my sins.

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 1 October 2019

I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.  Philemon 13 (EHV).

Have you considered that you have a responsibility to help others who are in trouble?   Seriously.   This isn’t a guilt-thing; I’m not writing this to guilt-motivate you.   No, you have a duty, a responsibility, a commitment (whether you know it or not) to help other people who are suffering.   It’s your job; it’s your burden; it’s your pleasure.  Those other people:  even if you don’t know you have a responsibility to help someone, they know.  They know if you don’t.

But don’t lose sight of something said in that last paragraph:   it’s your pleasure.   Helping someone else doesn’t have to be a toilsome thing.  It’s only our perspective that would make it seem as if this would be a burden.

Indeed, Paul knew he needed help.   In ancient Roman prisons, you were on your own.   You were bound in prison only if you were potentially guilty of a high crime because Roman justice for all other crimes, even capital crimes, was usually swift.   I learned (from a Calvary Chapel podcast) that Roman justice usually involved the verdicts of not guilty or guilty, and if you were guilty you were either fined, enslaved, banished, or executed.   There were very few long-term prison sentences allowed.   Paul was in prison awaiting his appeal to Rome (as a Roman citizen) for the false charges levied against him by the Jews.

While in confinement, he needed help.   Roman prisons – even house arrest – provided no food, medical care, clothing, or even things to sleep on.   If someone didn’t provide for you, you went without or quickly died.  Paul would have died as his confinement lasted for months had people like Onesimus, Philemon’s escaped slave, not cared for him.

Tell me:   is there someone in your orbit who needs help that you can provide?   Yes, we can (and should) help strangers we meet on the street.   You judge by your own conscience how much God tells you to help them.   Yet most of us also have other people in our lives who need our help, either actively or passively.   Some people we can help; others are best left to prayer.  But we should help wherever we can, whenever we can.   The couple who’s divorcing; the lonely kid in the lunchroom; the lost friend who needs your friendship:   we could go on forever.

And that’s the key:   to go on forever.   God wants us to go on with him forever, and He sends us each other to help that process along here.   It’s our responsibility to do our best with it, to help others in need, to follow where Jesus is leading and happily so.

For further reading:  Acts 21:33, Philemon 14

Lord, show me today where I can help someone!

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 23 May 2019

But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.  2 Timothy 3:9 (NIV).

Take this verse in the context of the section in which it falls, one that talks about godlessness in these last days, then about the kind of people who use their God-given resources to distract people from following Jesus.

In general, people spot a fake.  True, some charlatans are especially good at fooling large populations of people for a long time, but even they are eventually found out.   And it’s true, some people simply don’t want to admit they are being fooled.   When I was a kid, my aunt, Joyce, helped to put a man in Federal prison.   She worked at a credit union in a small Minnesota town and noticed when large sums of money were being deposited into the union by a mysterious newcomer.   This newcomer had done marvelous things for the town; large civic projects, donations to needy groups, befriending people who were easily fooled.   He even convinced the town to rename Main Street – which it had been since the 1850s – to “La Grande Avenue.”

It turned out that he was laundering drug money through the credit union, and when my aunt spoke up (and later testified), there were those in the town who were less than pleased.   She spotted a fake; so did others around her.  Yet some others didn’t, or didn’t want to, admit the flashy out-of-towner was shady.  Even when his criminal connections were exposed, they still didn’t want to admit they had been duped.  Over thirty years after the events occurred, the only thing residents of the small down can agree on (if they talk about it) is that there was a lot of folly involved all around.

That seems about right.   People who are fake usually can’t snow a crowd for long.   Their folly, usually pride, will eventually undo them.  Worst of all, they aren’t fooling God, who always sees what they’re up to.   News flash, my friend:   that goes for you and me, too.   God can see what we’re doing; we can’t hide.   He lets our world play out as it does yet sees it all and works as He will to advance His Kingdom in spite of us.   Those who would oppose him, even in little things, embrace evil, even petty evil.   They won’t get far.

Because they never do.   Superficially, it seems like evil gets away with it.   And all those end-times prophecies tell us that things won’t get better until after the end.   In fact, they’ll get worse.   But people can spot evil, can spot a fake, even when they don’t want to.   You and I:   let’s be ones who do.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 4:6, 2 Timothy 3:10.

Lord, forgive me for the times I haven’t rejected evil.  Help me more and more to spot it, to resist it, and to move forward past it.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 November 2017

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.  Hebrews 13, verse 11.

Word came out today that Charles Manson died over the weekend.  Charlie masterminded the 1969 grisly Tate-LaBianca killing spree, convincing his young, drug-addicted followers to savagely murder for him.  Manson had lived a tortured life of abuse and crime, and the late 1960s counter-culture was a petri dish in which he enthusiastically grew the bacillus of true hatred.  Charlie didn’t kill anyone himself:   he directed others to do it for him.  Originally sentenced to death, Manson’s sentence was commuted to life in prison after California changed its death penalty laws.  In the (over) 45 years since, Manson gave no sign that he repented of his heinous crimes, and there’s no reason to believe he did so at his end.   Hell may very well be one soul richer this morning.

Do you think Jesus is grieved at that?   I do.  I’ve talked about how Jesus loved Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, and the most notorious people in history.  He created each of us as “very good” and loves us unconditionally.  Even mass murderers, criminals, and people who do the worst things we can imagine.   So if Charlie checked into a hellish eternity yesterday, it happened in spite of Jesus love and that must sadden our Savior.   It’s as if His sacrifice was burned up for nothing.

The verses associated with this one talk about sin offerings.   During the time after the Ten Commandments, God revealed to Moses how He wanted His people to recognize their need for atonement.  The Israelites could no more atone for their own sins than we can, so God provided them with a system of animal sacrifices that would remind them of their spiritual dependency on Him.  Once a year, a Levite high priest would slay an animal, sprinkle it’s blood in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, and ‘make atonement’ for all the peoples’ sins.   Afterwards, what was left of the animal would be taken outside the camp and burned to ashes, then the ashes would be sprinkled in a place that had been made ceremonially ‘clean.’   All this was done to remind Israel that it was sinful and that it should depend completely on God for its salvation as much as it did for it’s three squares, air, shelter, and safety.

You know where this is going:  Jesus was our sin offering.   Jesus was the ultimate offering to God Almighty to atone for our myriad sins and appease His holy, righteous anger.  His blood sprinkles on all of us.   He was executed outside the city, buried outside the city, even rose outside the city.  Jesus Christ did for mankind the most important thing that mankind couldn’t do for itself.

When we turn our backs on this truth, we are keeping Jesus outside our camp.  “I’d never do that.   I’d never act like the Manson Family” you or I would say.  But have we considered how we do it every day?   Every time we embrace even petty evil, we side with what defined Charlie Manson.   I’ve never killed anyone but I’ve harbored deep grudges and hatred.   I’ve followed idols.   I’ve hurt and destroyed things Jesus commanded me not too.   I’ve done evil just as you have, and when I have I have sided with the evil that drove Manson.   What do we make of Charlie?

In-between drugs, sex, violence, and helter skelter, Manson once declared himself to be Jesus.   His followers believed it and did his bidding.  I was only a small child when all this happened, and I grew up learning about the things the “Manson Family” did in its savage killing spree.   It was confusing and hard to understand, how someone could orchestrate such unspeakable evil and convince others to follow.  But now that I’m an adult, I look back and realize it really isn’t very hard to understand.   Evil is as old as Eden and as common as the air we breathe.   Charlie kept Jesus outside the camp of his life for all his life.   He rejected God’s invitation to be at peace, and in doing so he led astray other equally confused people.   In rejecting Jesus, there could be no sin offering for Charlie but himself, and all that’s left now are worthless ashes.  I believe that must grieve Jesus.   I picture Him today, sitting alone and contemplating the loss.   We walk up to Him and say “is everything ok Lord?”  “Yes,” He might reply, “but I’m a little sad right now because one of my dear people has gone.”   He might even have real tears in his eyes for Charles Manson and everybody else who goes astray forever.

Mass killing has become common place in our society; that’s a legacy of the Manson Family.  None of his followers has ever been released from prison (though one is up for parole at this time).   One of his acolytes even tried to a president.  Yet the evil Charles Manson came to represent is his legacy.  Manson was consumed by it.   That evil tries to permeate everything we do, and it works on us daily to separate us from God because evil is lonely and desires bad company.  It rages at all that is good in the world.   Will you let it overtake you?  For those of us left behind, this message is clear.   Don’t be Charlie.

For further reading:  Leviticus 16:15, Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:12, Leviticus 4:21.

Lord, bless You for Your deep mercy, for Your sacrifice, for Your unending love.   Help me to turn away evil in my life today by relying fully on You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 November 2017

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.   Hebrews 13, verse 3.

In case you haven’t noticed, this final chapter of Hebrews is spent in catch-all exhortations.   The writer is telling us some final things he wants us to remember.   In this verse, he’s talking about remembering people who are in prison.   I’ve only known a few people who are actually in prison, though I’ve known many who have been to or been in jail.  It’s frightening, shocking, overwhelming, and sobering when that state takes you into custody.  You are forced to surrender your liberty, your freedom, your rights, your movements, all control.

Are you one of them?   Are you someone in jail right now?

You realize that you don’t need to live behind bars to be in a jail.   There are all kinds of cells that aren’t 6X6, and we usually aren’t there because of anything we’ve done or because higher authorities put us there.   You know the truth:   most of our jails are places we willingly live in.   It’s like that scene in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” when Jack Nicholson is talking with the other psychiatric inmates and learns that he is the only one who is there involuntarily.   The rest of his friends there willingly checked themselves in.   What a realization!

You’re getting divorced and you can’t sort out the myriad emotional, financial and legal issues pressing in on you:   you’re in jail.   You feel like you’ve never really measured up for your mom or dad, or maybe even your spouse:   you’re in jail.   You aren’t making deadlines that you’ve set for things like financial security, workplace achievement, or personal advancement:   you’re in jail.   You depend on others for your emotional satisfaction and happiness:   that’s jail.   Your spouse is abusing your relationship, abandoning you; worse, physically or emotionally abusing you:  jail.  You aren’t having as much sex as you want, you want things you can’t have, you allow yourself to be used by other people:   jail, jail, jail.

And worst of all, you know how you got there.   Other people may start the issue but you perpetuate it.   You and I tolerate it, maybe even embrace it.  You went up to the jailer and said “let me in.”   Satan is the ultimate jailer:   he’s in eternal jail (doesn’t even realize it) and wants company there.  So he opens the door, shows you to your cell, and closes the bars behind you.  Every so often he breezes by and reminds you,l “you know you’re here because of X,” or “are you sure yet” or some other deceptive nonsense.   And you and I believe it.   We buy that bill of goods and keep ourselves in jail.   We never even try to open the door, never realizing that it isn’t locked, that the door out of the jail is always wide open, always facing towards the light.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us to keep those in physical prison in our prayers.   Indeed, he (and the Lord who inspired him) reminds us to minister to those in prison.   To visit them, talk with them, let them know they matter, teach them that they, too, are forgiven.  He implores us to put ourselves in their places, to truly consider how they feel, how they live, so that we can empathize.   God wants us to feel humble and to have the heart to reach out to those who are imprisoned and persecuted so that He might reach them through us.  Those who are imprisoned are there against their will, and some are wrongly put there.   They have lost their freedom but they haven’t lost their worth to our Lord.   He wants us to remember that, then reach out to help.

What’s more, He also wants us to focus on people in all kinds of jails.   When Paul said “remember my chains” he was both asking for help and imploring the thoughts and prayers of his readers.  His Roman chains in a Roman arrest were real, yet it was the imprisoned state of being as much as its fact that confined him.  Indeed, my Random House dictionary partly defines prison as “any state of confinement.”   Each of us can be confined by the guilt of our sins, even by the random things that affect us in this world that aren’t sinful or aren’t even things for which we’re responsible.   I struggle with ‘getting past’ some things and in doing so I’m keeping myself in their jail.  Jesus wants to free us from that.   He’s right outside my cell, saying “come out and let me help.”  Jesus wants us to surrender to Him, to be in chains of love for Him instead of imprisoned in sin.  Satan may imprison us that way but it is we who keep ourselves there.   When we take Jesus by the hand, He walks us out of the cell and walks us out into that light.

For further reading:  Matthew 25:36, Colossians 4:18, Hebrews 10:34.

My Lord, every minute You free me from the hell-jail where I keep myself.   Thank You and please always remember me.