Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 21 April 2020

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.  1 Peter 1:12(NIV).

Peter knew something that the angels didn’t.   He had seen things, felt things, received THE thing that angels praise Jesus for but had personally never encountered.   The angels don’t need redemption, don’t need salvation.   They’re sinless beings who live with God the Trinity in heaven.   When angels interact with us, they do so without being contaminated by our sins, so that they can stand blameless before God without needing a savior.  Angels don’t need saving like people do, because angels haven’t committed the sins we have.   Because angels aren’t human.

But angels aren’t made in the image of God Himself like humans are.   Peter understood this; Peter was just a man.   Peter had seen the ministry of Jesus up close and personal for over three years.   He had laughed, cried, been angry, been joyous, been REAL with Jesus for that whole time.   Peter had seen Jesus raise people from death, had walked on water to Jesus, had been with Jesus when Moses and Elijah appeared and he saw Jesus as He is seen in heaven.   Peter had spoken with, touched, eaten with the risen Jesus on that first Easter.   Peter was one of the twelve who had been personally touched by Holy Spirit when He arrived on the scene at Pentecost.   And Peter was the man who raised the beggar from paralysis, who was beaten and imprisoned and freed by an angel; who confronted Saul after his conversion; who repeatedly confronted the Sanhedrin and refused to recant his faith or bow down.

And Peter still needed saving.  Just like me.   Just like you.

Peter was one of the people Jesus sent into the world – into our lives through their words and examples – to minister to strangers like us.   Peter had met and seen angels, yet the angels weren’t sent to minister to the world.   It was Peter (and John, Matthew, James, Paul, and the rest) who took the message of salvation from Jerusalem to every corner of the known world…and then beyond that.  As a boy, the (likely) illiterate fisherman probably never dreamed his life would move along this trajectory, but it did.   It did by the grace of Jesus.   Like yours and mine.

Peter knew something that the angels didn’t.   He knew, deep inside, the saving love and peace of his friend and savior, Jesus.  He had experienced it in the presence of angels so he could share it in the presence of strangers.  We know it too.

For further reading: Luke 24:49, 1 Peter 1:13

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your friend, Peter.   Thank You, too, for the angels who ministered to him and to us, who do Your bidding then and now as You will.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 26 March 2020

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19 (NIV).

Think of it:   whatever God is giving you, He is meeting ALL your most important needs, and He’s doing it according to all He did through His Son, Jesus.

BUT BUT BUT, how can God be providing for us in disease?   In unemployment?   In fear?   In this terrible worldwide crisis?

Have you considered that He’s providing us with Himself and His physical meeting of our needs in spite of those things and not because of them?   God is acting on, not reacting to, what He knows we need most.

That starts with salvation.

Next comes encouragement.

Then comes His overcoming Spirit.

And isn’t that sometimes tough to do?  I’m working with a very difficult client.   They don’t like our company; they don’t much like me.  Yesterday was a particularly tough day with both a dissatisfied client AND impatient leadership demanding immediate answers to matters that take time.   In some ways, it’s thrilling but it’s also frustrating because I’m working out of my element and feel like I’m waiting for the next shoe to drop.  It’s a no-questions-allowed culture in the middle of a no-mistake project.  Yesterday I felt crushed by too many conflicting priorities, too little control over my own future, and too many competing needs.

Where was God in all this?   Right where He’s always been.   He was here, reminding me (and you) that His salvation was once for all and that He meant it.   He’s here reminding us that, when He saved us, He made us more than conquerors of anything that opposes us.   We WILL overcome this because Christ is with us, despite the best chaotic intentions of the evil one.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that, especially on tough days.   Especially when the TV says that the world is coming to an end.   Especially during crises.    The devil is working much harder than anyone else now and, quite honestly, this is his best shot.   Sure, he can do more, but he’ll have to work overtime to overcome what Christ has already sealed and finished.

Salvation.   Encouragement.   Overcoming.   Even on the bad days…ESPECIALLY on the bad days, those words mean more because the God of all time and all the universe made Himself completely known and fully intimate with us through the person, words, and resurrection of Jesus.  He tells us everything about Himself in Christ, and His words resonate even louder, even clearer, when the world looks scary or we have a bad day.

More than conquerors, you see.   He meant it.

For further reading: Romans 8:37, Philippians 4:20.

Lord Jesus, in You I’m made more than a conqueror to overcome and defeat anything the evil one tries.  Fight for me, strengthen me to stand, and work Your Kingdom work through my hands and words today.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 13 January 2020

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13. (EHV).

Be careful about reading these verses because part of verse 12 – “work out your salvation” – is easy to misconstrue if you forget the rest of verse 13.  This isn’t about me or you doing it ourselves.   It isn’t about us doing the work of salvation for ourselves.   Jesus already did all of it, everything necessary, for salvation.   Instead, the verse is about our faith, our letting God’s Spirit work through us.   The good things we say and do are God Himself working through us as His Spirit guides our thoughts and actions.

That’s easy to forget, you see, because sometimes it feels like there is something we have to do to feel worthy or be worthy or involve ourselves in our salvation.   Mark this and remember it:   the only involvement we have in salvation – being saved from damnation – is saying “I believe.”   All the atonement, all the work, all the actions, all the bloodshed, all the spiritual healing was done by Jesus and only by Jesus.   As Madeline might have said, that’s all there is; there is no more.

Yet here on the Third Rock we get confused.   We fill our lives with busyness (and business), and we spend most of them learning, striving, working to attain.   If you’re in America, you’re also imbued with the concept of personal liberty and independence.   It’s our God-given right to exercise our liberties because we’re free.   That’s where it should stop but all too often it doesn’t.  We get our independence here mixed up with our dependence on God for His saving us from ourselves.   And the worst part is that we don’t want to admit when we’re wrong.   That He’s God and we aren’t.   That we don’t, we can’t, save ourselves from the consequences of our sins.

Faith is a choice.   We choose to accept what Christ has done for us.   When we do that, He sends His Spirit to live and work through us.   Our hands may do the physical lifting but it’s His heart that gives us the motivation to do it.   Our eyes do the seeing, our lips speak the words, yet it is God’s Spirit seeing what we see, speaking words we speak in order to do our part in His Kingdom work.   This is where ‘working out our salvation’ occurs and where we meet the water’s edge.

For further reading:  Ezra 1:5, 1 Corinthians 12:6, 2 Corinthians 7:15, Galatians 2:8, James 2:18, Hebrews 13:21, Philippians 2:13

Lord Jesus, continue to work Your work through me today.   Help me to know You better so that all my words and actions may be ones Your Spirit works through me

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 19 November 2019

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.  Philippians 1:9-11. (EHV).

Interviewers used to ask Billy Graham what he wanted to hear from Jesus after he died.  (To paraphrase) Rev Graham would respond, “I’d like to hear ‘well done good and faithful servant’ but I don’t think I will.”   Graham would then go on to recount all the ways he felt he had failed the Lord.  Very poignant but powerful.

And then there is the story that I read this past weekend of the man from the Netherlands who rescued Jewish children from Nazi custody.  Without notice, he would occasionally walk children out of the building where Nazi occupiers were holding the children before shipping them off to death camps.   He simply walked them out when the Germans weren’t looking.  The interviewer asked the man if he ever thought about the children he had saved.   (Again, to paraphrase) “No, not much,” he replied, “but I often think about the thousands that I didn’t.”

It’s those times you snap at your kids.   It’s the time you spend looking at panty pictures on the internet.   It’s the years you’ve padded your expense reports.   It’s the grudge against the kid who bullied you in eighth grade.   It’s that last time you had an argument with your spouse.  There are thousands of ways we fail the Lord, misusing gifts He has given us.   Or His name, or the fruits of His Spirit.   If salvation is left up to us doing things to please the Lord, well, we’re finished.   Toast; hopeless; put a fork in us because we’re done.  Maybe Billy Graham was right:   even when I’ve done good things, I don’t think Jesus will tell me “well done” because there are just too many other times I must have really pissed Him off.

Yep:   it’s a good thing salvation isn’t left up to us.   We wouldn’t measure up.   It’s a good thing that God doesn’t think that way.   It’s a good thing that God operates on the level Paul was praying for.   It’s a good thing that God allows us to discern what is pure and blameless so that we might know conscience and repentance.   More than that, it’s an even better thing that Jesus sees us as His beloved instead of filthy sinners; that He sees us as blameless because He made us blameless when He bled, died, and rose for us.

Someday I’ll ask Billy Graham what Jesus said to him.   I’m betting it wasn’t what he expected.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, Philippians 1:13

Lord Jesus, all praise and thanks to You for making us discerning and blameless.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 1 August 2019

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. Titus 2:11 (EHV).

Consider why this verse says what it does, where it does.   We’ve already read verses 1-10 of Titus 2.   You’ll remember that they talked about sound doctrine and sound, upright behaviors of those who teach that doctrine; that they talked about encouraging people, especially believers, to exhibit these upright behaviors so that God may be glorified.

Why?   Because His grace has appeared and it brings saving to everyone.   EVERYONE.

Jews?   Saved.   Muslims?   Saved.   Liberal Democrats?   Saved.  Buddhists?   Saved.   Conservative Republicans?   Saved.  Donald Trump and Barack Obama?   Saved.  You?   Saved.   Everyone.

God gave His undeserved gift of salvation to everyone who would accept it.   Not accepting it doesn’t negate that He gave it.   Rejecting it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  It’s available even to those who reject it and Him.   All they have to do is submit, to believe.

The most amazing words in this verse are “appeared” and “bringing.”   They denote God having taken it upon Himself to come to us in an amazing way.   He wasn’t just born:   He appeared.   He came on the scene, fulfilling hundreds of prophecies and ancient predictions.  The mathematical odds of it happening are staggeringly impossible, but He did it; 10^157 or 1 in 10 with 157 zeros behind it (see https://www.empower.global/the-mathematical-probability-that-jesus-is-the-christ/).   God found a way to come to us as His Son, Jesus, in a way that would make Him the central figure in all of human history but without being a tyrant.   He who could be all the CGI spectacle that Hollywood could ever imagine appeared as a humble servant boy who grew into a humble servant teacher.

And when He appeared, He brought salvation with Him.   He saw in us a terminal fault.  We were sin-soaked.   We couldn’t save ourselves on our own.   A thousand years of instructions to the Jewish people on how much they needed God couldn’t save them from their own sins.   Billions of people lived before Jesus and billions have lived since and not one of them could save themselves from the desolation of living without His hope.   But He could.   He could do what was necessary to make it possible for people to live in peace with Him forever.   He alone could vanquish death; He alone could redefine life.

Jesus didn’t have to do it but he appeared to bring salvation.   He who powerfully but plainly spoke everything into existence didn’t have to appear and bring salvation, but He did it anyway.  Out of love.  Because of love.   Because of His perfection and His merciful nature, He chose to give us a gift that could never be deserved, never earned, never repaid.   He didn’t ask for repayment.   He only asked for our love.  When you consider that this verse came on the heels of others about behavior and submission, perhaps that’s the most grace-filled miracle of all.

For further reading:  Romans 3:24, 2 Timothy 1:10, Titus 2:12.

Savior from eternity, thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 17 April 2019

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.   2 Timothy 2:8-9 (NIV).

Another word about Notre Dame.   Reflect on what happened, on the Parisians who sang Ave Maria as the church burned.   Reflect on the heroism of the firemen struggling to save the magnificent church.   And then, most of all, reflect on what Jesus has now started doing through the financiers, and politicians, and the unknown people who will use kindness and talent and heart to rebuild it for the glory of God.

God’s word is not chained.  Nothing on this planet can chain it, bind it, contain it.   God’s word is the power of life and eternity.

God’s word is best spoken from the cross.   God’s love is found in His only Son, Jesus, dying there so that we may live.   God’s loving Word is found at the empty tomb, on Easter Sunday, when it crushed death and gave the world real hope.   God’s Word lives in you and me and the singing Parisians as His Spirit that came at Pentecost and now lives with us so many centuries later.

God’s word isn’t chained up by a beautiful church building that can be burned.   God’s word is written on your heart, fused into your DNA, living in your bloodstream and in the thoughts that course through your mind.   When you reach the end of this life, God’s word is the only thing you’ll have left.   What will you think of it then?   Will you have used your time to get to know Him, to confess your need for Him, and to have accepted His gift of salvation?

A friend of mine died on Monday.   What I knew of Kim (Page) Granger was that, in her last years, when the world had literally taken everything from her, she held on to faith.   That wasn’t easy, given that she came from a background of abusive relationships and a family history of dysfunctional religion.    Yet in the end, she still believed in Jesus, meaning that her end here this week was the start of a forever with Him.  Kim and I had been co-workers over the years, and she supported me through my own tests of faith.  I’ll miss my friend, but am happy that her pain here is over – she had brain cancer – and that she met Jesus in person.  God’s word didn’t keep her chained to pain here forever.   God’s word broke her chains because His word itself can never be bound in chains.  It’s true in Paris.   It’s true with my friend.   It’s true with you today.

For further reading: Acts 2:24, Matthew 1:1, Romans 2:16, Acts 9:16, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 2:10.

Lord Jesus, nothing can contain You, or Your Word.   Forgive me when I fail You.   Teach me Your better ways.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 22 May 2018

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Thessalonians 5:9 (NIV).

Last night I watched “Platoon.”   Best Picture of 1986.   I first saw it at Fort Meade, Maryland that year in a theater full of Vietnam veterans, nearly all of whom were silent at the end and more than a few were crying.  Besides being about combat, Platoon was about fall and redemption, about receiving salvation by surviving the hell of the Vietnam War.

After that, I watched the first few minutes of “Gladiator,” Best Picture of 2000, also about war.   Near the beginning, Maximus, Russell Crowe’s character, said something profound:  “what we do in this life carries over into eternity.”   Had he been real, Crowe’s character would have lived just after the time of Christ.   I wonder if he would have picked up this thought from those early Christians.

Salvation has indeed come to man and it didn’t come by surviving war, though I’m sure most any war veteran can tell you that returning home safely was awful close.  And salvation came to us specifically because what we do in this life can indeed carry over into eternity.   Without Jesus’ salvation, the idolatrous things we choose here will indeed be fully rewarded to us in eternity.   By accepting salvation, something completely different is in store.

God didn’t appoint Oliver Stone, Charlie Sheen, Russell Crowe, or any of us to suffer His wrath.   He created us to love us, not to hurt us.  Before we were even born, God loved us and breathed life into us so that we may breathe life back to Him; so that we might share His love with other people that they would know His love too.    Being all love, Jesus knew that love-compelled isn’t love at all, so He also gave us free will:   the ability to choose one thing over another.   Even if it means we choose things other than Him, Jesus loves us enough to respect our choices so that we might come to love Him just as freely.  He didn’t create us to feel the Father’s holy wrath of hellish separation, but if that’s what we choose, then He loves us enough to respect us and our choices.

At the end of Gladiator, Maximus dies, having freed Rome from the grip of a tyrant.  At the end of Platoon, Charlie Sheen goes home to attempt to find something good of the world.   We’re not so different, you know.   This verse comes at the end of a section talking about the end of time.   It’s a good reminder of why God made us.  We’re here to learn to love God, even as a world bathed in wrath works against us.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:10.

Lord, love me today and encourage me so that I might avoid wrath and share love.