Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 2 June 2020

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 1 Peter 2:18 (NIV).

Here’s another bitter pill to swallow.  Don’t just submit to the government:   like it.   More than that, if you’re enslaved, submit fully.   Pray for your slave masters.   Do it as if you’re praying for the person you love most.  Seriously?

Seriously.

Who are we enslaved to now?   Are the rioters enslaving innocent business owners?   Is the government enslaving the rioters?   Are you or I enslaved by our employers?   Are children enslaved to their parents?   Here in the West, who enslaves us?

Fact is, there actually are people who enslave us.   Real slavery is still occurring, even in America, when people are trafficked.   It happens in every major city and hundreds of smaller ones.   Be on the lookout because it may even be happening in your neighborhood.   What’s worse, in many places, legal authorities are in on the trafficking.  The victims who are trafficked sexually, even vocationally, aren’t free.  They are used and abused, and when their captor master is finished with them, most often they’re killed.   We who learn of these things must dedicate ourselves to combatting this evil where we can, ending it where we can, freeing the enslaved.

Until this happens, are these modern slaves supposed to submit?   The hard but true answer is “yes.”   Yet even in this, submission is also submission to God, trusting that He will provide what they need, including an exit.  Pray for endurance; pray for peace and healing; pray for your captors that they might be changed or disposed to help you; pray for help; be ready when it comes.

Yet don’t forget, too, that Peter reminds us to be slaves to God, and that Paul encourages us (in Romans) to be slaves to righteousness.   We should fully, willingly submit ourselves to God and all He asks for.   Our lives should be lived honor-bound to Him who redeemed us.   We must look at ourselves as having only the freedom that God gives us through His love because, when we do, we find we are truly free indeed.

I suppose that I live in a Pollyanna-type of life here in the north Dallas suburbs.   Bad things happen in the world and I seem sheltered from them, blithely sailing along from one bland moment to another.  Yet all around me are people who live their lives as slaves to God, and they’re leading lives of rich meaning.   And all around me are others who suffer, people who are mistreated.   What can I do to help them?   Whatever it is, it starts with submitting to God.   Seriously.

For further reading:  Romans 6:18, Peter 2:19

Lord Jesus, I’m Your slave.  Use me for Your work today.   And, Lord, help those who are victims of real earthly slavery.   Protect them, heal them, and show me ways I can help stop this evil.

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.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 31 January 2019

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.  1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV).

Slavery was officially outlawed in the United States on Dec 6, 1865 when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.  That amendment was ratified in less than a year; 309 days, and only 240 days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  Yet 154 years later, slavery is still a sore subject in America for many reasons.

Did you know that, even under slavery, black culture was the most devout, Christian culture in the nation?  As a matter of fact, all through out the history of America, it is the African American community that has held closest to the core values of Christianity.  That’s an amazing fact, and an amazing testament to both the power of Jesus Christ and the strength of character of good people who were subjugated but followed Jesus anyway.   Today, much time in our society, especially in our popular culture, is devoted to doing what we can to make amends for the national sin of slavery, even though it ended so many generations ago.   Why is that?

Perhaps the answer to that is found in re-reading verse 1.  How could any people not feel the guilt of history on them when they see that those subjugated as slaves often kept Paul’s hard advice better than the advantaged population that subjugated them?  Indeed, it’s a tough thing to do, considering your ‘masters’, often regarded as adversaries, worthy of respect.   Yet that’s what Paul asks us to do.

Indeed, slavery was commonplace in Paul’s time.   The Romans and Greeks conquered vast reaches of territory and enslaved those they conquered (if they even let them live).  Every nation in history, up to that point, had practiced and known slavery.   To break the cycle of hatred, Jesus commanded us to respect our masters, giving them honor as God’s representatives.   A slave master God’s representative?   Yes.

That is nether an acceptance nor toleration of slavery.   It’s simply a way of honoring God by honoring the people put over us.   Not many people in America are enslaved today; that 13th Amendment outlawed it.   Yet a dishonorable truth is that slavery – human trafficking, prostitution, drug runners, even people in common workplaces – still does indeed exist in the United States.  In fact, it exists in many areas of the world.   We who aren’t enslaved should use our righteous position to work against slavery.   And when we do encounter it, it’s up to us to remind those afflicted to give God honor in all aspects of their lives so that they may draw nearer to Him in true freedom.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:5 & 8, Colossians 3:22-24, 1 Timothy 6:2.

Lord, Your example is for us to not enslave others.   Help us to honor you by honoring those above us, even our ‘masters.’

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 January 2019

The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.  1 Timothy 5:4-5 (NIV).

In our world, even one slip-up can be devastating.   It only takes a single one-night-stand to get a disease.   It only takes one rejection to have your hopes and dreams dashed during a vulnerable time.  The world is a tough place and jumping out into it is even tougher.  Keep our eyes on God and not the world around us.  Is this blog-post going to be full of platitudes and bland aphorisms?  No; I don’t like those either beyond them being reminders of truths we need to hear.   Yet there are things in those platitudes that matter because people are in real need all around us.

Losing someone you love is the most devastating thing on earth.  We can deal with almost anything but when the person on whom we rely most is gone, our entire foundation is destroyed.  “I can’t imagine losing your spouse and not having faith.”   My mom said those words to me about a year after my Dad died.  Mom had faith and was still the most independent-minded person I’ve ever known.   And while I don’t think she spent night and day praying and asking God for help, in her own way and time she did those things.   She told me that she prayed and talked with God when she was alone until, one day, she had the thought “Grace, you can do this.”   That was after about six months in the fog of grief.   And, for her, that was the start of getting better, of knowing that God had given her all she needed to keep moving forward in life.   She did for another 16 years.

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us to honor our parents.   That can be extended to assume he’s telling us to honor both our parents and our other forbears and elders.  Then, in Romans, he reminds us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may know the will of God.  I’ve never been completely alone, even during the times when it felt that way.  And I have dived deep into living for pleasure and gotten out of it worse.  In all these cases, it’s because I didn’t extend honor, either to God or to anyone involved.   I strayed from working to let God renew my heart and mind, and I’m not even a widow.

Imagine how much worse off things could have been if I had just lost my spouse.   In that light, Paul’s exhortations are common-sense Godly advice.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:1-2, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 3:5, 1 Timothy 5:6.

Lord, help me to give honor to my elders, to live for You in all I do today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 12 July 2018

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 2 Thessalonians 1:11 (NIV).

Confession time (again):   yesterday I ended by saying “don’t be a jerk.”  Don’t be a jerk about how you talk about Jesus.  Walk the walk and talk the talk harmoniously.  So here’s the confession:   I’ve been a jerk about it.   Online, in person, in any modality I have been a jerk.  I haven’t been worthy of His calling to talk with you (and others) about Jesus.   My witness has been words and actions and, to be honest, my witness has been discredited by other words and actions.   Got skin, got sin, and, like Paul, I’m the worst of sinners.

Confession (again, again):  every day, Jesus says “keep moving forward.”  On my own, apart from Jesus, I can’t do or say anything about Him that’s meaningful.   It’s His Spirit that places the good words in my mouth and moves me to work for Him with my hands.   Where I am weak, Jesus steps in and injects His Spirit to strengthen me.   Where I don’t know what to do or say, when I submit to Him, Jesus does those things.   My sinful nature becomes His glorious appeal.   It’s not me:   it’s Jesus making me into who He wants me to be.   It’s not a cop-out for:   it’s how things really work.

That’s what Paul is saying in this verse.   God makes us worthy of His calling.   On our own, by our own motivations, we aren’t worthy of it.   We aren’t worthy to even speak His name because we’ve chosen to sin against Him.   On our own, our desires are only desires, and we are ruled by them, which is how the evil one keeps sneaking in and turning our focus.

Enter Jesus.   Enter God into our lives and He makes all the difference.   With Jesus in residence in your heart, the evil one is powerless.   With Jesus inspiring my thoughts, my thoughts are inspired to become His words, to help and to encourage.   With Him in our hearts, we can see when we’ve said and done wrong and turn from it, then try to make amends; to change.   When He controls peoples’ actions, we don’t have to obsess about the things we’ve done wrong.   You and I can focus, instead, on the great things He can do through us now.

I mess it up.   I do that quite regularly; no excuses.  To paraphrase Paul from Romans, the stupid things I don’t want to do, these I keep on doing.   Yet I’m still who Jesus wants to work with to make me worthy of what He wants me to do, then equip me to do it.

For further reading:  John 15:5, Romans 1:10, Romans 7:19, 2 Thessalonians 1:12.

Lord, mold and make me today to do Your will.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 June 2018

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  1 Thessalonians 5:28 (NIV).

What a great way to end a letter!   Read it again:   it’s the perfect way to end a letter to several dozen of your close friends.

Or several billion.

Or to begin your day.

Or to bless your dinner.

Or to greet someone at WalMart (go ahead:   try it!).

Or…or…you get the picture.

Next time you say goodbye, invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into their lives until you meet again.

In fact, shouldn’t this benediction be on your lips at all times?   When we really love someone, when we adore them, when we care enough to send the very best (including a Hallmark), shouldn’t we be blessing them with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them?  At or near the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Paul uses nearly identical words to bless his readers with the grace of Jesus.   He uses slightly different words in Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  The message:   Jesus is the perfect way to end a letter.

Or begin your day…or bless your dinner…or, again, you get the picture.

We can’t do any better than the grace of Jesus Christ.   It’s the grace of Christ that created us, then breathed life into us.   It is the grace of Christ that sustains us in breath, blood and bone every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we live and GET TO LIVE every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we get eternal life after this one, and that we get to be part of that eternity now.   It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can love.

If you could send a Hallmark to your very best friend, wouldn’t you want to end it by giving them the best you had to give?   That’s what Paul is saying here (and in all those other letters).   This was serious stuff to Paul who, just the verse prior to this one, had implored his friends to read the letter to others.   Back then, it wasn’t broken up into numbered verses; back then, Paul probably though people wouldn’t memorize his words.   But he knew that God had spoken through them and that they were important.   They were words that God wanted us to remember.

So it only follows that Paul would end the letter with a benediction that blesses the reader with the present grace of the God-man, Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  With that thought, Paul closes out his letter and so shall we.

See you next time.

For further reading: Romans 16:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Lord Jesus, bless me with Your wonderful grace today that I might share it with others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 29 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:2.

Something else needs to be said before we move on.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, without God, everything is meaningless but nothing can contain Him.

I was reading about how Google Home doesn’t recognize the name of Jesus.   A story online said that the in-home smart speaker recognizes the names of Buddha, Allah, and even Satan and can relay to you a whole encyclopedia of knowledge about those names, but that it says “I’m sorry I don’t understand” (or something like that) when you ask it about Jesus or Jesus Christ.  Newsflash, my friends, God doesn’t need Google Home but He loves the people who make and use it anyway.   Ditto Alexa, Echo, Facebook, Bing, and any other gadget or browser we can think of.   Indeed, God’s word will spread even MORE when people deny it.

Crazy?   Yes, actually it is.   The conventional world can’t see how this makes sense, but the world that believes in Jesus can.   His word is too good to be contained; it’s too good to be bottled up or confined by the smallness of human activity.  People can try, but the good news always comes through.   It did in concentration camps.   It does in prisons, and inner cities, and communist re-education camps, and even in Hollywood.  It even happens in organized churches.

In this verse, Paul describes how people strongly opposed his preaching.  In Philippi Paul had been strongly opposed and it stung him.  He considered it outrageous that God’s word would be opposed, that anyone would try to interfere with or target or stop the preaching of words ordained by the Lord Himself.  Yet despite the opposition, word spread.   People all over Greece and Asia Minor wanted to know more about what these missionaries of “The Way” were saying.  Tyrannical Romans couldn’t stop the message.  Hostile Jews and their synagogues couldn’t stop the message.  Skeptical Greeks and hateful pagans couldn’t stop it.  By the time Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he was used to being opposed, and he began to recognize that it was to God’s glory that all this happened.

That was true 2000 years ago.   It’s still true today.   God doesn’t need us to preach His message.   He can get it out any way He chooses.   Yet He chooses us to do it for Him, to talk about it one on one, to build relationships based on common worship and understanding of Him because without Him everything else means nothing.   God chooses to work through us as we love one person at a time.  Nothing could contain that way back then; nothing can contain it now.

For further reading: Ecclesiastes, Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, I pray:  work through me today. Love others through me.   Teach me to represent You.