Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 16 July 2019

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group.  Titus 1:10 (NIV).

History matters.   It’s pretty difficult to understand how Jesus fulfills everything about the Old Testament without understanding the history of the Old Testament and why things were the way they were.   And it’s pretty tough to understand what Paul means when he’s talking about “meaningless talk and deception” and “the circumcision group” and how that affects one’s belief as a follower of Jesus Christ.

What does having a man’s foreskin sliced off have to do with believing in Jesus?   It’s everything and nothing.  Circumcision was given – and directed – to mankind as a way for men to remember God’s devotion to them.   So that they would know God is with them in the most private, intimate of places in their lives, God commanded Abraham to circumcise everyone in his race.   There were spiritual, medical, hygienic, and physical reasons for all this yet the message to man was still the same:  (from God) I am yours and you’re marked as mine.  No matter what anyone does or says, God is ALWAYS present even in our proudest and most personal moments.

Sort of like now.  In Romans, Paul talks about how a Christian’s circumcision is of the heart, how God marks us from within.   The old covenant has been replaced by a new one.  God’s Son Himself would cut away the sheath around our hearts and reside within.  From now on, it would be God working from the heart – and the words and actions emanating from it – that would make new believers.  There would still be those who insist on putting rules and boundaries around our faith, but those wouldn’t be able to touch God where He truly lives.  Or harm us there.

Because, then as now, the world is full of people who rebel against that, ridicule it, try to pull people away from it.   Most of our world doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ.   Most of the world isn’t circumcised ‘downstairs’ or inside.  Six of seven billion people either don’t care or don’t know about the man from Galilee.  And among those who do know Him, there is internal dissention, disagreement, discord, and disunion on just who He is and a host of other largely meaningless issues; don’t this, don’t that.  Don’t.  Really.  Matter.

Because He still is.   He’s still the Son of God.   He’s still a person in the Trinity.   He’s still the Way, the truth and the life, and the only path to God.   Because He still circumcises those He marks as His own.

It would be difficult at best to understand these things without knowing why circumcision originally mattered.  History matters because He still does.

For further reading:  John 14:6, Romans 2:29, Acts 10:45, 1 Timothy 1:6, Titus 1:11

Lord God, thank You for the gift of circumcision, both its original meaning and Your circumcision of the heart.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 12 June 2019

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV).

Today is my nephew’s graduation day.   He has worked hard for 13 years to get to this day, and it’s a good time to both reflect and look forward.   In my opinion, graduation addresses are boring and easily forgotten.   This particular young man also doesn’t have an active Christian belief, doesn’t practice much in the way of faith, and doesn’t believe in Jesus.  To be honest, that’s ok.   Jesus believes in him.   As long as he lives, unless today is the last day of his existence, Jesus will keep working, keep providing, keep helping and hoping, keep loving him until time runs out.   It’s what the Lord does.

For this young man – and actually for all graduates – I wish him well, congratulations, and endurance.  The phase of life that starts today for him will be a fight, will be a long race, and will need faith.   He may not understand that, and being a kid he rebels against that; most of us do at one point or another.   But that doesn’t stop the fight, stop the race, or negate our critical need for faith.

Without faith in Jesus, the fight isn’t worth fighting.   Give up and just dive into the world.   You’ll get what you get and I hope it doesn’t eat you alive because the world won’t care if it does.   And if you don’t want to run the race, give up.   You’ll have a tough time getting past that, and I’ll be happy to console you, but I won’t feel sorry for you.   Indeed, I hope nobody does.   There’s a difference between giving up and stopping because you leave the outcome to the Lord.   That’s a hard difference to see, to even comprehend, without trusting that Christ knows what He’s doing and is helping us to get through the hard fights and long races.

Keeping the faith means trusting Him in all things, all ways, always.   That isn’t easy.   It defies that world that’s fighting against us, racing against us.   But the crazy miracle is that the faith makes all the difference in our lives.   It makes the tough fight ‘fightable.’   It makes the race winnable because it has already been won for us.   We get to cross the line and receive the laurel from God Almighty Jesus Himself.   It doesn’t matter what the fallen world thinks of us.   What matters is keeping the faith, believing, submitting to Jesus and His better way, His purposes.   Jesus is the finish line; Jesus is the bell at the end of the round.

Paul knew this 2000 years ago.   It’s still true today.   God bless the graduates.   Enjoy this day you worked for and winning this race.  Then line up and get ready for the next one.   You’re in it already.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Acts 20:24, 2 Timothy 4:8

God bless those graduating and running their race.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 11 April 2019

Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.   2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV).

My wife and I have an ongoing rib about rule-following.   She’s a dedicated rule-follower.   I’m more of a rebel.   It wasn’t always this way; over the years we’ve switched roles.   That happens in relationships.   But, overall, one of her more admirable character traits is her devotion to following rules, staying in-between the guidelines.

This character gift stems from the years she grew up playing in competitive sports.   Basketball, volleyball, and especially softball:  my wife played on numerous teams over the years.   She has a box full of trophies that testify how she was good at it, too.  I never played organized sports.   My parents were anti-athletic, discouraging me from team athletics   I never took the time to learn how to compete by the rules, or train for the race, or run a victory lap.   It’s one of the things I would do over if I could.

Still, that doesn’t negate what Paul says here in verse 5.  In Paul’s day, the Greeks still conducted the Olympic Games.   Thus, his verse here would have meant something to the people of that day who were familiar with the athletic culture that surrounded the games.  They would have understood what it meant to prepare for competition, to race against the best in the sport, and to do so within the confines of rules that made competition fair.   And they would have understood that the competition was for a trophy and the glory that comes with it, both of which don’t last.  If they last, then tell me who were the great champions in the ancient Olympic Games that ran for over a thousand years?

Jesus does that same thing, you know.

Jesus says that human glory dies but He doesn’t.   Jesus knows that the trophy for which we strive – the cross – was already won by Him for us.   Jesus understands that we prepare every day for competition, to race our races, and that He lives within us to encourage us to strive for what is best, competition or otherwise.  And Jesus knows that so much of our life is made up of living in a culture that requires we abide by rules, how His rules – love God and love your neighbor – supersede all human rules while helping us to still live within them.

More and more, I think that’s why my wife is such a rule-follower.   She is constantly improving her outlook, her behavior to live more like Jesus, to share His Spirit with others in how she conducts herself.   THAT is the race she sets out to run every day, and she’s much better at it than I am.  That’s the race that matters.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:25, Mark 12:30-31, 2 Timothy 2:6.

Lord, help me run my race today!  Thank You for running with me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

These are the same verses from yesterday, but I’ve added in the last sentence in verse 2.   It’s one of the most famous, most quoted verses in the entire Bible.  To get the full effect, you really need the previous words.  “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Read that to yourself over and over a few times, and try to let it sink in.

Yesterday we talked about Franklin Graham and his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse.   Neither Franklin Graham nor anyone in Samaritan’s Purse set aside pure joy to endure pure torture for you or anyone else.   We talked about volunteers and first responders fighting fires and rebuilding after hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes.   None of them ever set aside joy, endured the cross, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father.  Your neighbors haven’t done this.  Barack Obama never did this and can’t; ditto Donald Trump.   Neither can Brad Pitt, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Benny Hinn, Miss America 2017, nor your saintly little old lady grandma.

Jesus did.   He didn’t just do it willingly:   He did it lovingly, fully, without hesitation.   It’s the theme of the entire Bible and the central event in all of human history.   Everything that every is or was or will be hinges on Jesus dying on the cross, then rising to live forever.

The creator of all things, the most powerful being imaginable, who created everything simply by speaking; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (as both Isaiah and Handel called Him):   He, the omnipotent and omniscient God willingly, enthusiastically let sinners He created nail Him to the most humiliating device of torture ever devised in hell.   He did it with gusto.   Jesus not only took the worst mankind could throw at Him:   He ASKED for it.  He ran the race of life fully, to its end, to show us where we were going.

He did so because Barack, Donald, Brad, Francis and the rest of us can’t.   We simply can’t.   We aren’t Him; we aren’t God.  He is.   We desperately needed Him to do it, too.  All too often, we don’t throw off those entangling sins.   Too often, the race seems like too much for us.

Yet there He is in the race, running ahead of us, drawing our gaze, our focus.  He’s in there to pace us, to give us someone to run toward.  He beckons us to persevere, to endure because He endured much tougher things than our day to day lives.   Notice that Jesus doesn’t take us out of the race.   He doesn’t pluck us from the middle of the world, removing us from our sins.  No, Jesus stays with us to give us a reason to push forward.   The reason is Him, sitting as equal with His Father in heaven, beckoning us to persevere, to run the race day by day.  With Him there is peace now and a meaningful forever.  In Him is the victory; in Him is the goal of running the race.   All of human history prepared for His coming, and when He came, all of history after Him was set on a different path.  No empire could prevent His resurrection; no ideology can refute it, deny it, or withstand it.  Every Christmas, memes and cards say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   That’s true, but don’t bottle that up until the Holidays.   Jesus is the reason you run your race today.   He’s there in every step, not just every December.

Get up and get back in your race.   Your goal is dead ahead.   For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   He did it so you could run your race.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I lift up Your Name to praise You for running my race with me.   Abide with me, push me forward, and help me to finish in Your strength.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

Last time we talked about the Alamo.   Today let’s talk about rebuilding.   You saw the stories over the weekend:  Hurricane Irma smacked the Caribbean and Florida.   A number of people lost their lives, millions of people had their lives impacted (many destroyed), and billions of dollars will be needed to build back.

On Sunday morning, I saw a Tweet about Samaritan’s Purse.   Threading a short time between two hurricanes, Samaritan’s Purse landed an airplane full of supplies and volunteers in St Martin.   Irma laid waste to the island late last week; Jose threatened to do so soon after.  Fortunately, Hurricane Jose turned north instead of passing over the island.  Yet the volunteers from Franklin Graham’s Christian charity didn’t know that would happen when they landed.    Thinking they would have only a short time, the afflicted islanders worked quickly with the frightened volunteers to distribute tons of water, medical supplies, and critically needed food.

In the weeks since Hurricane Harvey, thousands of volunteers have been working behind the scenes to clean up and restore normalcy to the lives of the millions of people affected by that storm.   In the days since the earthquake in Mexico killed 90 people, volunteers and neighbors have been working to bring in food and help to total strangers.   In battling fires in Montana and California, thousands of firefighters have been working around the clock to put out fires so that the lives and livelihoods of total strangers aren’t destroyed.  Every day, ordinary people in ordinary neighborhoods commit their lives to others’ needs so that kids can grow, grandparents can endure, and families can succeed.

They’re all running with perseverance the race marked out for them because many of them, maybe most of them, have their eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.   More than that, Jesus is the ONLY real comfort for those who have been savaged by these acts of a fallen nature.

The writer of Hebrews spent the entire previous chapter citing acts of faith that the ancient heroes of the Bible performed.  He then takes that testimony about those men and calls them ‘witnesses’ to our ability to throw off all that hinders and the sins that entangle us.   After all, they did.   Don’t go off thinking that Moses, Jacob, Gideon and the rest were supermen.   They weren’t.   They were people, sinners in need of a God who could redeem them from the things they had taken into themselves.  Yet they had something in common with those folks from Samaritan’s Purse and those ordinary people everywhere:   faith in God.

Faith in God makes the difference between living an ordinary life where sin entangles and an extraordinary life as an ordinary person throwing off that same entangling sin.   Today is the day after the storm caused so much pain; today starts rebuilding.  Today is also 9/11, the commemoration of a wholly different kind of pain and anguish; today commemorates building back.   Who will you trust to help you run your race?   In whom will you put your faith?

You don’t HAVE TO believe in Jesus.   You really don’t.   It’s a choice and this is a free country.   Most of the world doesn’t believe in Jesus; most of the world thinks this Christian faith is a waste of time, foolish even, given that people have only so much time alive here on the third rock.  Why would they ‘waste’ that on some unseen ancient legend?  Yet if you want to live a life of meaning, you can’t do it alone.   Occasionally you need the help of others.   And, when the chips are really down, you find you need a Savior, someone who can help in ways that relief workers, governments and charities can’t.   You need help to get back into the race.  You need someone to save you from yourself and the terrible choices that we, dearly beloved, make when we gather to get through this thing we call “life.”   Even Prince knew that.

So does Franklin Graham, who has dedicated his life to advancing the Gospel of Jesus.  He does it by helping strangers.   I pray that your life isn’t afflicted today, that you know Jesus without pain or suffering.   But when you do encounter pain, I pray that you reach up to grab Christ’s helping hand.   He’ll get you back on your feet to finish the race set before you.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

My Lord Jesus, I believe in You and You alone.   Only You have saved me.  Only You are Savior.  Help me run my race today with confidence, perseverance, and grace.   And thank You for the hearts of servants serving You.

Practical Proverbial, from Ruth, 16 April 2014

“He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” Ruth 4, verse 15.

“Daughter-in-law, who loves you:”   that’s quite an admission for the women of Bethlehem.   We really have to give them props, some serious kudos.   You see, I think it takes a big heart to see someone the way the women see Ruth.   Just the verse before, they were giving praise to God for the blessings He brought to Naomi; not the stranger: their friend.  Here, they do a roundabout acknowledgement that the blessing is given through Ruth.   Ruth isn’t mentioned by name.   They only see her as a blessing to Naomi, given by God.

Ham handed?   Not really.   Think about it.  It would have taken great courage to open one’s heart to a stranger, but that’s who Ruth initially was.   She was accepted in Bethlehem because she was with Naomi.  After a time there, she won the heart of (perhaps) the town’s most eligible bachelor, something that even the local women hadn’t been able to do.  In how she conducted herself, Ruth also won the admiration of the women who now complimented her and that isn’t easy to do, especially in a small town.   Especially in a place where you’re raised to be wary of, to mistrust, the foreigners around you.   Especially since the folks of that area still do.

Do you think we’re any different?  I’m reading a Duck Dynasty book, the one written by Willie and Korie Robertson.   Did you know that, years ago, they adopted a bi-racial child?   That they consider an Asian extension student who stayed with them to be another adopted child?  It takes some very real courage to see past the differences we all have and simply love another person for who they are:   as a blessing from God and someone who needs love and care.   That really takes guts in the deep South.  Recently, the Robertson’s have been, in pop culture and the media, popular punching bags as much for Phil Robertson’s comments as for their displays of Christian faith.   Detractors say it’s all staged for the TV, yet this is the family who doesn’t care what color or race you are.

Tell me:   when did you or I last open up our hearts and homes to strangers who are different from us but just might be a blessing?

Maybe the women of Bethlehem would have accepted the Robertson’s more readily than some of the people in America.  “Daughter-in-law, who loves you;” may we each be so blessed to meet people who see us in that light.

Lord help me to love people more the way You love them.

 

Read Ruth 4.