Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 30 April 2020

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  1 Peter 1:20 (NIV).

Have you ever considered what it would be like to live in a world without Christianity?

Peter did.   He lived a large chunk of his life without knowing Jesus.   Judaism’s special bond as God’s chosen people had tarnished long before.   It wasn’t God’s fault:   it was humanity’s.  God still revered the Jews, all people in fact, and so He put into motion the plan He had designed since before He spoke it all into existence.

So, have you ever considered what our world would be like if God hadn’t done that, hadn’t sent His Son, Jesus, to live, die, and live again for our sake?   It’s a historical fact that Christian monks preserved the ancient knowledge from Egypt, Greece, and Rome through the Dark and Middle Ages.  Almost definitely, what we know as western traditions, respect and reverence for children, universal human rights, women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and representative republican democracy wouldn’t exist (at least not as they do).   Most likely, there would be more tyranny because, before Jesus, that was the norm.   Quite possibly, our world would be far more carnal and violent and more attuned to our most base human instincts.  It’s even very possible that methods of western hygiene and medicine would not have developed as they have.

This faith called “Christianity” is responsible for preserving most of the things that we hold as good and true in our twenty-first century world.  It’s true there are many who think the world would be much better without religion, stating that religion is responsible for so many of the world’s woes and wars.   They miss the point:   people are responsible for that, not faith in God.    Indeed, live in a place where Christianity is banned, say in Iran or North Korea or Communist China, and you’ll find the human spirit to be crushed and debilitated.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.   Before this world was even created, God knew what we would eventually do and that we would need a Savior.   Before you or I were even born, God knew we would be both His very good creation and that we would reject Him time and again.  In what may be the last epoch of our world, God revealed Himself to us personally, through His Son and through His Spirit so that we might not live apart from Him.

If He hadn’t done that, imagine the world as a North Korean gulag.

Pretty dire prediction?   Maybe.   None of us knows what the world would be like without Jesus.   All we can know is that we wouldn’t be saved from our own self-produced damnation.

For further reading:  Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 9:26, 1 Peter 1:21

Lord Jesus, thank You for looking ahead to see we would desperately need You, then for dying and living again to save us from ourselves.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 29 January 2020

 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. Philippians 2:23-24. (EHV).

Prudence is a good thing.   We should be wise and judicious with the talents & resources that the Lord puts in our paths, even when we’re motivated, excited and generous.

But confident?

As far as we know, Paul never made it back to Philippi.   He worked for thirty years after his conversion on the road to Damascas, and Philippi (an old Greek, then Roman, trading center) was where he drove out the demon from a girl who was being exploited by local merchants.   He had been staying there awhile, and when he drove out the girl’s demon, he was dragged before Roman authorities.   In exchange for his kindness and faith, Paul was beaten and jailed, then driven out of town.  Years later, Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, praising God and telling them of his plans to return to them soon.

Again, we don’t know if Paul ever made it back to Philippi but it’s possible, even likely, that he didn’t.  He had first visited Philippi during his second missionary journey (approximately 51 to 53 AD), and likely visited it again during his third journey (approximately 54-58 AD).   It is thought that Paul wrote Philippians sometime in the early 60s AD, possibly in 62; during that time he was imprisoned in Rome.  Some people think Paul journeyed back to Greece one last time, between 63 and 64 AD, before returning to Rome and dying in 67 AD.

All that just for the chance that he might not make it back to visit friends.  Was Paul’s confidence in the Lord misplaced?   Answer:  only if you think it was about actually showing up.

We know (from his words) that Paul believed God would lead him back.   Paul believed God would lead him EVERYWHERE, that every place Paul visited was because God had led him there and Jesus had orchestrated his life to these ends.  He had confidence in Jesus that, wherever Jesus led him, Paul would prosper.   That his fondest wishes would be best realized in the growing faith of his friends, not just in another working vacation.  Paul was confident in Christ that Christ would do whatever was necessary for God’s Kingdom.

It’s a good thing for us to make plans wisely, to line things up, best as we can, in order to make the most use of what we have been given.   Yet perhaps more important than this prudence is having confidence in Jesus that He will do the right thing in our lives.   Like Paul, we may want to journey to see our friends, but Christ knows what is better for us and He’ll line things up so that can happen.

For further reading:   Philippians 2:25

Loving Jesus, all my praise is to You for doing Your work in my life.   For letting what’s best happen.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 December 2019

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29-30. (EHV).

Was Paul one of these people who said “well, it’s good enough for me so it’s good enough for you?”   From these verses, it sure seems that way.   Paul was in intellectual living in a world where, like ours today, the intellect was daily confronted by the reality of brutish living.   Greece was the home of warriors and philosophers.   So was Rome.   So, in fact, was Jerusalem.  Paul had been educated as a Pharisee, and was taught the entirety of the Scriptures from boyhood.  Like other young Jewish men, he memorized them, took them to heart.  Later, as an adult, Paul zealously lived out the commands of the authorities in the synagogue.   Shut down “the Way” and get rid of anybody in your way.   He enthusiastically persecuted new Christians, even overseeing the murder of Stephen:   the first Christian martyr.  That all changed on a lonely desert road, where Paul learned how to stand up for Jesus.

Now enter his time in Philippi.   There Paul started the first Christian church on the European continent.   He cast out demons.   He preached Christ crucified to the mostly poor and merchant populations of that former Greek colony.  In doing so, he antagonized the powers-that-be who didn’t want to see their businesses or way of life altered.   All through this, Paul reasoned his way through, standing behind the truth that the Lord revealed to him and appealing to his friends and peers any way possible.

The payoff?   Pain and suffering.   Paul was ridiculed and scored:   things tough to bear for one who prided himself on his knowledge and God’s power through him.   By the time he got to writing these verses in Philippians, it would seem he was responding to his friends in Philippi, “well, if I have to suffer then you do, too.”   But read closer, especially in context of the verses around these, and you see that Paul isn’t saying this at all.  Instead, Paul is telling them, “rejoice in these sufferings.   Model me as I stand up for Jesus.”

Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when you lose your job because you won’t do something repugnant.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when your old friends reject you because you won’t go down those same old roads.   Stand up for Jesus and rejoice when the knock on the door comes, the tap on the shoulder is felt, or you’re led away.   You’re in His company and that of a man named Paul who had to learn how to stand.

For further reading:  Acts 16:19-40, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, Hebrews 10:32, Philippians 2:1.

Lord Jesus, I don’t want suffering.   I really don’t.   But when it comes because of standing for You, I welcome it.   Praise be to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 4 November 2019

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:1-2. (EHV).

Welcome back, my friend.   I’m very, very glad you’re here.   To echo Paul (and Timothy), grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whew!   That’s a pretty weighty way to begin a chat, isn’t it?   Here’s another weighty thing:   I’m not being very original here.   In fact, I’m following in the footsteps of my friend, Phil McKay, who pastors a Calvary Chapel in Paris, Texas.   Listening to his sermons inspired me to dive into Philippians, which has become one of my favorite books of the Bible.   If you haven’t read it, do yourself the pleasure of reading it today.   It’s only four chapters, only a few pages in the New Testament; it won’t take very long.

But it may just change your outlook today.   That may just change your life.   It isn’t me doing it.   It isn’t the Bible.   It isn’t even the Apostle Paul.  If your life is changed, it’s because God Himself is at work in you.   Philippians is about joy.   It’s about expressing joy over other believers living out their faith in Jesus.   Philippians is about real, practical Christianity at work in skeptical people.   It is about thankfulness, and humility, and standing firm in the faith, and about putting the Gospel to work in our world.

Or Paul’s world, to be specific.   Specifically in Philippi:   the same Philippi mentioned by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar 1500 years later.   The armies of Rome had fought a civil war battle near the Roman colony of Philippi (in Macedonia) after the assassination of Julius Caesar.   The outcome of that battle saw the primacy of the emperor rise because the victor, Octavian, soon crowned himself Emperor Augustus:   the same Augustus who reigned during the birth of Christ.   Philippi sat at the intersection of two roads that brought trade out of Asia Minor and to the western parts of the Empire.

Philippians was written only a century or so after that battle.  It was a crossroads of the Empire.  It’s no coincidence, then, that God would use Paul to plant a church there.   Think about it:   there were multiple paths for people to carry the Gospel further throughout the known world.   That could change lives everywhere because it already had in the pagan area around Philippi.

And it’s still happening in our world today.   You and I live near crossroads.   Because of where God has us, the Gospel can literally travel anywhere because people everywhere still need to hear it.  Philippi was an early success story in receiving that Gospel.   Paul knew it; so do we.  Welcome back my friend.   Let’s dive in.

For further reading:  Acts 16:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Philippians 1:3

Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your grace at Philippi and in this letter.

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.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 11 June 2019

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.  2 Timothy 4:6 (NIV).

You can lose everything in a flash.   My son-in-law’s mother lost everything in the storm that roared through Dallas on Sunday.   You may have seen it on your news yesterday.   A crane crashed into an apartment building, and that was the building in which she lived.   It turns out that the crane destroyed the building.   Between that damage and the storm winds, the building shifted and the parking garage was declared a loss.   She and her husband (along with all the other people who lived there) lost everything.   Home, car, belongings, clothes, mementos:   everything, because it isn’t safe to go back into the building.

The Apostle Paul knew his end was approaching.   For two years he had been under house arrest in Rome.   Innocent but accused of defiling the Temple, as a Roman citizen, Paul appealed his case to Caesar.   He was kept under house arrest in Judea for several years, then sailed to Rome where he was incarcerated for another two years, awaiting his appeal with the Emperor.   But the Emperor of the day was Nero, and it is thought Paul was executed not long after the great fire of Rome, set by Nero.  Paul knew the insane emperor had no love for him, and he knew how his fellow Christians were being persecuted by Rome.

So he anticipated his death, using his final months to write letters, encourage his friends and fellow believers, and likely even minister to his guards.   He compared the approaching end of his life to a drink offering, a sacrificial offering of wine poured on the altar or over a burning sacrifice to the Lord.   Yet the comparison is even more vivid because Paul might also have been alluding to his life being poured out in the manner of Christ’s, whose very blood was offered in sacrifice for mankind’s sins.   Jesus knew ahead of time that His death was approaching; so did Paul.

Yet my in-law relations had no idea of what was coming for them.   They woke up Sunday morning to just another typical Sunday.   By the end of the day, everything had changed.  Insurance will pay for much of it, and things can be replaced.   Yet you can’t replace the sentiment of mementos, the memories they bring.   You can’t easily shrug off the shock of such a thing.   Please pray for their peace, and that of all who were affected by the tragedy.   Pray they’ll be able to keep peaceful in the days to come, that they’ll find their way to a new home, and that they’ll feel God’s real presence in this time of crisis.  The best, and not the worst, is yet to come.

For further reading:  Numbers 15:1-12, Philippians 2:17, 2 Timothy 4:7

Lord, grant the peace only You have to these people who have been hurt.   Pour out Your love and hope into them.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 22 May 2019

always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  2 Timothy 3:7 (NIV).

Are you a fan of college or are you a fan of high school graduates learning a trade?   I have three college degrees:   an associate’s in Intelligence Collection, a bachelors in Business Management, and a master’s in Adult Education.   If it weren’t for student loan debt, they wouldn’t be worth much.   Even years ago when I went, many professors were politically polarized.

And if you think about it, politics is pretty small.   It doesn’t mean much in the eternal, long run.   Can you tell me what most of the popular issues were in ancient Sumeria?   Or Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome?   We don’t even know most of the local politicians back then, or even most of the high-ranking advisors in those empires.   More and more, even though I spend much time talking about politics and political matters, this talk is wasted time.   It’s like I’m always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the real truth.

What about those professors and that collegiate education?  The most common critique I hear about college education is that, other than trade-related colleges (such as medical school and law school), most college degrees today don’t prepare people for critical thinking.   They no longer provide people with deep education on matters of common history, logic skills, or non-specialized topics.   We pay thousands of dollars for higher degrees that are fairly useless in a workforce driven by detailed skills, both white and blue collar.   Yet that topic is a third rail, an off-limits critique of academia intellectual decline.   Its like the people who run colleges are always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

That’s because faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of all truth.  His truth that we are to love God and love our neighbor, that apart from Him we can do nothing, IS truth.   He, the I AM, IS, is truth, is reason.   Nearly all the great philosophers before the 20th century were religions (even those of antiquity).   And those between 1600 and the late 1800s were nearly universally Christian.  Only in the knowledge of God can we begin to truly learn things that are most necessary to succeed, especially in the hereafter.

As we age, we yearn for truth; as we age, we also don’t stop learning.  Brooks & Dunn sang about truth in believing, singing “I’m finding more and more truth in the words written in red.”   They were talking about the words of Christ.  There is much to learn in our world; thank God for that.   Thank God, most of all, that we can best learn the meaning of it by first learning the meaning of Jesus and His teachings.

For further reading: Mark 12:28-31, John 15:5, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:8.

Lord, You are the only real truth.   Forgive me when I’ve forgotten that.   Help me to remember it more today.