Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 11 March 2020

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.  Philippians 4:8 (NJKV).

I had a bad day yesterday.   It was a bad day at work, compounded by a day of bad news, made worse by the matter of being at home alone.  Woe is me?   No, not really, but even as a believer in Jesus, we have bad days.

At work, I had been chastised for work I had never done before on a moment’s notice, without preparation, and with minimal guidance.   I had made several small but correctible errors yet the subsequent upbraiding from my manager struck me hard.   By the end of the afternoon I was both angry and agitated, despairing and depressed.  It kept me up last night.

Then, yesterday, I learned that a co-worker died last week.   We weren’t close; in fact we barely knew each other.   But her death hit me as unfair, cruel.   Not more than an hour or so after learning that, another friend informed me that, just the day before, her own daughter had also died.   That really shattered my mood because, while I never met her daughter, my friend and I worked closely together for several years and I consider her dear.   Death goes beyond simple cruelty:   it is hostile to all we love.

Last, I’m alone at home.   My wife and our temporary resident daughter and grandchildren are gone for the week.   It’s spring break, so we all agreed they should go out and enjoy themselves.   I’m glad they are, but on such a tough day, I feel left alone.   Yes, I know Christ never leaves us fully alone, yet I believe even Jesus must sympathize when our feelings get the best of us.

On days like these, Paul’s words of advice for us to meditate on what is good, pure and righteous are both hollow and uplifting.   In the middle of my dark mood, they seem like sauce for the goose; a waste of time given my gloomy circumstances.   Yet that’s only the evil one attacking me.   In darkness, even a dim candle shines brightly.   In my darkened mood yesterday, Paul’s advice to remind me to focus on the better angels of Christ’s nature is actually what I need to hear most.   Word by word, little by little, the light they cast brightens over the gloomy dark. Thought by thought, they replace the dark with something much better.

And that’s the strength to start again.   It’s Jesus’ strength.

Please pray for the families of Marci Crawford and Janice Blankenship.   Pray for comfort, God’s peace, and balm in this time of grief.

For further reading: Philippians 4:9.

Lord Jesus, grant Your peace to my friends’ families today.   Shine Your light into their lives to overcome the darkness.  And in mine and ours as well.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 15 August 2019

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 (EHV).

Let’s add one last sentence because this is the why.   If the five ‘why’s’ are who, what, where, when, and why, then verses four through six (from “But” through the second mention of “Savior”) are who, what, where and when, and verse 7 is the why.

We’re justified by Jesus’ grace so that we might become heirs with the hope of eternal life.   He sprinted to the cross to die, and then to rise from death, for us.   Because He loved us.   Because He saw the complete depravity of sin and knew it couldn’t be tolerated.   Because He understood that sin had compromised us, that we’d let that happen, and that we couldn’t do anything about it.   Jesus opened eternal life because of His love for sinful you and me.

To do that, He made us just.  He made us righteous, clean again.   God demanded an atonement for how our sins had violated holiness.   Jesus, God-Himself, said “there’s only one way to truly make them righteous again” and so He did it.  The choices we made – sins – voided our righteousness.   We couldn’t be in the presence of holiness again without being destroyed by the loving, beautiful perfection of Him.  So Jesus made Himself the atonement for our sins and, in doing so, transferred righteousness to us.   We didn’t deserve it; we couldn’t do it.   But He did it anyway.   He loved us to provide for us as the Father.   He loved us to die for us as the Son.   He loved us to live through us as the Spirit.   Three in One through this miracle called “resurrection,” God did this thing to make us justified in His presence.

Because of His mercy.   His justice, His love, His patience, His kindness:   He wanted to share them, to give them, to pass them around.   He wanted to give us things to live for more than just existence or achievement or property.   God wanted our lives to have meaning and His meaning was the only one that matters.   So, in His righteousness-making mercy, He made us heirs in His promise of eternal life.   Of eternity now and later.   Of being part of the spiritual world today.  Of sharing His supernaturality now, and always.   Because of His mercy.

That’s why.

For further reading:  Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 4:35-41, Mark 11:22-24, Acts 22:16, Romans 3:24, Romans 5:5, Romans 11:14, Ephesians 2:9, 1 Peter 1:3, Titus 3:8

Thank You, God, for Your love, Your righteousness, Your mercy, Your hope.   Help me to share them today!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 February 2018

You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed1 Thessalonians 2:10 (NIV).

This verse convicts me because, you see, I haven’t been righteous or blameless lately.  The last time I wrote here I was eulogizing Billy Graham, one of my heroes and, I believe, a much better witness for God than me.  Billy Graham was never a jerk on social media, but I have been.

There are things that I feel very strongly about, very passionate about, and I have shared my strong opinions on Facebook and Twitter, sometimes even here in this blog.  But I haven’t been holy, righteous or blameless among the believers or unbelievers in how I’ve done that.

God doesn’t tell us to not have opinions, and He doesn’t tell us to not stand up for things we believe in.   What He does tell us is to have those opinions and stand up as we will with His heart, His motivation, and His truth as our only guide because anything else is sinful.  By that fair measure, then, I haven’t been holy, righteous or blameless in how I’ve shared my opinions.   That bothers me.   God is indeed a witness of all we think, say and do, and since that’s true, then I’ve fallen short in this way and, I’m sure, many others.   When I read this verse, I’m convicted, guilty of failing God by failing others.

Paul placed paramount importance on being upright and blameless in front of the people to whom he ministered.  He realized they hadn’t had the kind of encounter with Christ that he’d had.   And he realized that his former life as a persecuting Pharisee placed unusual burdens on both his credibility and the ways other people would see him.  So whenever he traveled anywhere, Paul made sure his words and his conduct were Godly and pure.

Um, I’m not Paul.   I haven’t done those things.   I need God’s forgiveness for falling short and misusing the bully pulpit He’s given me.

We live in contentious times, times in which there are Christians in our world who really are being persecuted.   Our society is rotting from within; our culture is set against faith; our politics have turned bitter and the divisions are deepening.   Yet God is God of all whether we acknowledge Him or not.    For those of us who believe, we’re like Paul, being held to a higher standard.   So I ask for your prayers that I would do better and thinking, saying and doing things with more of the heart God has instead of the rash thoughts of old Adam (or Dave).

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:12, 1Thessalonians 2:11.

Lord, forgive me for how I’ve failed you in my thoughts and actions.  Thank You for convicting me with Your word.   Teach me to do better for You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 July 2017

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.  Hebrews 11, verses 4.

Yesterday we explored how faith is truth.   Today let’s talk about the first person in the Word who is remembered for believing that.

Read the story of Abel in Genesis 4.   We don’t know much about Abel beyond his birth, his vocation, and his death.   He was the second-born child to Adam and Eve.  Abel was a shepherd, and he loved the Lord.   He proved His love for the Lord by offering the best of his possessions as a sacrifice.

Stop and consider that.   In a time when humanity was only beginning, before communities, before commerce, before money, before crime, and even before most families, Abel saw fit to offer worship to God by sacrificing the best of his flock of sheep (“the fat portions” from “the firstborn”).   He recognized that the only thing he could offer in worship to his creator was all he had.   He gave the best and he gave it from his heart.

Then he gave his life for that.   His brother, Cain, murdered him for it.  In truth, Cain murdered Abel because of Cain’s own sin. Idolatry, greed, rage, and envy took hold in the older brother so much that they consumed him and planted the idea of murder in Cain’s heart.   Whatever his motivation, Cain killed his brother because his brother had done what he, Cain, had not.

Thousands of years later, when we talk about this story, we don’t just talk about Cain:   we talk about “Cain and Abel.”   We use their account as the ultimate story of how sin can divide loved ones.    Cain lived a long life after he murdered his brother.  God put a mark on Cain so that everyone would know who he was and would shy away from him.  We know he became the father of a tribe, the builder of cities, and a ‘great’ man known for his actions.   We don’t know how he died; he may have died as an old man, or even when the flood drowned everything other than the beings on the ark.

Yet it was Abel who we remember.  The writer of Hebrews commends Abel – not Adam, Eve, Cain, or Seth the younger brother Abel never met – as being righteous.   He does so because Abel demonstrated faith in God that God would accept the blood of his sacrifice as fitting.   Indeed, God, who still walked the earth with people even then, regarded Abel’s gift as good while rejecting Cain’s as not.   You and I can identify with Cain, who may have thought he was giving God his best when all he was doing was giving God what he wanted.   Cain gave God leftovers:  Abel gave God his best and his all.

Many billions of people later, do we do any different than Cain?   Do you or I give our very best to God every day?  Most obviously, do we do so in our tithes and offerings?   More to the point, do we give God our best in our work, in how we live with our families, in how we relate to other people?   Do we put God first in our thoughts and ask Him to be involved in everything we think, say, or do?   Abel did and it cost him his life.

Are you prepared to go that far?   Abel was.

For further reading:  Genesis 4:4, 1 John 3:12, Hebrews 12:24.

My Lord, thank You for the story of Abel.   May I be as willing as he was to give my all to you, to dedicate the best in my life only to you.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 24 October 2013

Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  James 2, verse 21.

As soon as James is done calling us fools for demanding proof, he then cites an example of how our deeds should prove our faith.   Let’s be honest:  he uses a very extreme example.   How many of us would say we believe in Jesus and then, if Jesus told us to take our son and sacrifice him, would balk and say, “are you crazy?”  99.9%?   I’d say that percentage is probably low.

I mean, how far do we have to go to be considered righteous?   Do we have to give up our old ways and live better?   Do we have to memorize verses in the Bible?   Do we have to do unto others as we would have them do unto us?  Do WE have to offer up our children as sacrifices?  How far do we go to be considered righteous?  

Answer:   only to the cross.   We don’t have to do anything to be considered righteous.  Jesus makes us righteous.   All that ever needed to be done to make us, consider us, render us righteous was done by Him on the cross.  There is nothing we can do to make us righteous, or to make God consider us righteous because, when God sees us through the lens of Jesus, all He sees is Jesus’ perfection.

What James is doing in this verse is offering an analogy for us to understand God’s effect.   Not cause and effect, just effect.  God considered Abraham righteous after Abraham proved his faith.   Or did He?   Perhaps God considered Abraham righteous because God looked into Abraham’s heart and saw the honesty of the man inside and He did it before Abraham even picked up the knife.   Perhaps Abraham’s following directions was for Abraham to see God’s righteousness and blessing (and for us as well) and not the other way around.  Perhaps, just maybe, the effect was what God did and not anything Abraham, or we, did.

I’m just speculating; I’m no trained theologian.   What I am is a follower of Jesus, and what this follower knows is that James is reminding us, yet again and using the extreme example of Abraham sacrificing Issac, of how we need to live out our faith by what we do instead of only what we say we believe.  The proof is for us, not for God, who can see inside us just like He could see inside Abraham’s heart.   And James’.  And yours.

Jesus who sees in my heart, I pray You see someone You love.   Help me to live in ways that demonstrate Your love, and that help bring others to You.


What’s in your heart?

Are you considered righteous because of what you do or because of God?

What proof do YOU need?