Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 5 August 2019

It trains us to reject ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, that is, the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:12-13 (EHV).

It happened again.   More shootings, more murder, more violence done on innocents.   The media assesses blame; politicians pander for cheap points; people take sides yet again.  Average folks simply living their lives are gunned down and nothing seems to change.   It happens every day in our cities, yet when a mass shooting occurs, it shocks us.   We send our thoughts and prayers but some scoff at those, mocking them, mocking us; mocking this Jesus we follow.

God’s word is for our use, not for us to build walls around ourselves or our houses of worship.   God’s word, specifically the saving grace He describes through it, is an active tool that trains us to repent and re-shape our lives.   To reach those who don’t know or are hurting.  God’s word, ALL of it, is the one thing that can consistently teach us how to live together in peace.

So, if we can live in peace through God’s word, how is it that, over the weekend, those mass murders happen, one here in Texas and another in Ohio?  God gives us this wonderful tool and yet evil seems to prevail, people still choose evil over peace.   Christian cliques or no, these things still keep happening.

I wonder if the shooters ever considered the words here in Titus.   Jesus called Paul, and later Paul taught Titus.  I wonder if someone ever exposed them to the lessons Paul taught about how clinging closer to Jesus wards off the temptation to submit to evil.   While we wait for the blessed hope and return of Jesus our Savior, we have to live with each other here on the Third Rock.   Perhaps Paul would agree that the only way we can do that is by keeping our eyes focused on Jesus, our hearts cleaving to Him.   By constantly going back to the cross to remember what He did for us on it.  Especially when scoffers ridicule believers by saying this Jesus is absent.

Especially after this weekend, we need that invisible Christ who reaches out through us to comfort our sisters and brothers and resist the urge to respond with more evil.   In the aftermath of murder, now isn’t the time to focus on the slander, or to stick to our cliques.   To paraphrase my friend, Chad Bird, now is the time to see how violence done to innocents is atoned to peace through the innocent man on the cross who had unspeakable violence done to Him.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:7, 2 Timothy 3:12, 2 Peter 1:1, Titus 2:14.

Lord Jesus, help us to stay closer to You.   Comfort through us; help others through us; help us to help others by ministering as You would.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 1 April 2019

Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.   2 Timothy 1:14 (NIV).

I have taken to walking around a nearby pond.   Whenever I’m home, I walk laps around the pond until I reach my steps-goal for the day, usually a minimum of 10000.  When she is available, my wife also walks with me.   It’s a pretty little area; an open space in the middle of a north Texas housing development.   The pond is probably 6 acres wide, with paved walkways all around, benches, trees, and pretty houses lining the sides.   It’s a mostly level walk, and I usually walk it listening to the radio, or old sermons, or sometimes just in silence.

That place is nature, full of life and death.   And it’s a blessing I want to guard.

That realization came on me there while I was watching some newborn ducklings the other day.   There were 8 of them, toddling around beside a wary mama duck.   She shooed them here and there, keeping them nearby and teaching them how to swim, walk, avoid hazards, and be cautious.  Above all, she was teaching them to be cautious because there are also predators around.   There are hawks that swoop out of the sky, aiming for a quick meal.

Life comes from death.   Hawks eat ducklings and small birds.   Ducks eat small fish, bugs, grass, and most things you find in the water.  Fish eat other fish and unsuspecting bugs that land on the water.  Bugs live in the grass and eat things on the ground.  Other birds eat the grass, and bugs, and worms.  You get the picture.   Something dies so that something can live, even if the thing that dies is as innocuous as a living piece of grass.  When you watch a duck dive into the water, it’s doing so to feed, to kill something and eat it for survival.

And it’s full of life, full of the Spirit.   That Spirit that gives the protecting duck mother her instinct to be wary gives you and I the instinct to be bold.   Sure, we can and should be wary of some things but, until we trust in Jesus and let His Spirit live through us, we can only be wary and never be bold.   The message of salvation is that good teaching Paul implored Timothy to keep and share.   Paul calls us to do the same, and he calls us to do it in a world where life and death every day are the norms even in the smallest, most peaceful places.

That’s a blessing to guard.   Not to guard it so as to keep it confined, but to guard the purity of it, to not amend or change it but, instead, to share it and help it grow in the harsh world of nature.

For further reading:   Romans 8:9, 2 Timothy 15.

Holy Spirit of Jesus, teach me to guard Your message by sharing it.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 30 October 2018

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task1 Timothy 3:1 (NIV).

Paul switches gears from talking about the roles of women in worship to the roles of elders.   When the NIV uses the term “overseer” it’s referring to a church elder.   If you aren’t familiar with what elders do, they are a group of senior lay members, usually but not always men, who help oversee the spiritual life of the church.   In most churches, the lead pastor is the spiritual shepherd of the congregation, and he (or she) may have a staff of other pastors who work together in shepherding the faith-life of the church.  Yet almost all churches have some kind of group, or council, of elders (or overseers) who help manage the tasks of the church.   Efforts to reach lagging members, leading worship functions, managing large tasks or efforts:  all these in addition to assisting the pastor in performing tasks of senior spiritual leadership.

When I think of church elders, I think of the elders in the church where I grew up in Oklahoma.   They were older men – truly elder – and they were kind, grandfatherly, worthy of respect.   Yet they were also pious, a bit aloof.   I remember sitting in church when elders were installed and they were always serious.   They were men – and women – I could look up to.   Or I think of the elders in my church in Colorado, where the council of elders was always separate from the church council, and was usually comprised of older men who had years of experience.

My current church is comprised (mostly) of younger people, folks under middle age.  The elders in this church are usually younger as well, many in their thirties or early forties.   Some of the churches we have helped to plant have even younger elders.  Yet one common thing runs through all age groups:   overseers are given the noble task of helping to shepherd the Christian faith of the members of their church.

To be frank, the men and women who are church elders are doing the best they can.   Though they’re usually people of upright character and patient temperament, in truth, they’re also just folks.   Sometimes they mess up; sometimes they say and do stupid things like anyone else.   I know of more than a few people who have been church elders who make me scratch my head; I’m sure they might say the same about me.  Yet they still make the best decisions they can, still do the best they can with what they know at the time.   That’s the reason they’re selected:   because they’re doing a noble job and it’s their lot to do the best they can for the church they serve.

For further reading: Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:7, 1 Timothy 3:2

Lord, bless the men and women who lead churches as elders and overseers.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 27 June 2018

Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.  1 Thessalonians 5: 25-27 (NIV).

We live in really perilous times.   Our political discourse has descended into shouts, invective, and violence.   From the looks of things, that is going to get worse in the near future.   Our economy is booming but there are real, ominous signs of a serious economic correction dead ahead.   Even in good times, there are still many in need.  Worst of all, we seem to be losing our way.   We are turning away from God’s guidance in so many ways and our society, our lives, are suffering because of it.   Abortion, gun violence, media / political corruption, apathy, anger and hatred:   they’re all negative barometers that are flashing red in 2018 America (maybe even 2018 planet Earth overall).

Pray for us.   Brothers and sisters, if you aren’t already, pray for us.   All of us.   Let’s be real:   the world WAS much more dangerous in 1914, 1939, 1962 than it was now.   There have been many times in history when things were more perilous than they are now, yet now is all we have to contend with.   We need prayer.   We need each other to invite God into our processes, into our lives, to help us seek His better ways.

Let’s greet each other with the holy kiss of our day.   If you come up to me and want to pucker up, I won’t; in this culture, that’s weird.   Overseas it’s pretty normal, and it would have (obviously) been normal in Paul’s culture…but it isn’t here in North Texas (at least not in my circles).   But the kiss isn’t the point:   the point is fellowship of the Spirit.   We should greet each other in ways that show unity in the Spirit and love from the heart.   Kiss, handshake, hug, smile, fist bump, bro slap, whatever:  we are to do that.

Further, let’s spread the Word.  Paul’s letter was indeed read to all the churches; all his letters were.   He was the greatest missionary in history and his letters comprise most of the New Testament’s non-Gospel books.   We should read them again and again, putting Paul’s advice into practice.   We should prayerfully live our lives using these letters and the Gospels they echo as our guide.  God, who is always faithful, will teach us, lead us, and work through us the more we grow in His Word.   Let’s use our lives, then, to spread that Word.

That way, whether the times are perilous or plentiful, we will be living in such a way as to amplify God’s grace to everyone.

For further reading:  Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:3, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Romans 16:16, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 1 Timothy 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:28.

My Lord, let me share You affectionately, with enthusiasm, and with my full heart.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 24 May 2018

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV).

This is the greatest privilege of a believer.   When you follow Jesus, your highest calling, best job, and greatest privilege is to encourage other people.

I’ll brag on my wife.   She’s the best encourager I know.   Quite honestly, sometimes it’s downright annoying that she refuses to let things get her down, even really serious things like illness, crisis, or even death.  When she let Jesus take hold of her soul, she meant it and she took it to heart.  Any time something bad happens, she can always be counted on to look on the bright side and work to find ways to bring the good out of any situation.   It’s hard evidence of the Holy Spirit always at work inside of her.

I like to think the Apostle Paul would pat her on the back and say “keep on keepin on” (or something like that).   In fact, I like to think he would say that to any of us who follow Jesus and use our status as His followers to encourage other people.   That means ‘being there’ when someone has an issue.   It means listening (something hard for me to do).   It means helping out however someone needs help.   It means actively praying for people, especially strangers and people who wrong us, and then doing what we can to help where we can.  It means forgiving.

There was a stink last week when, in response to the Santa Fe, Texas school shooting, the mayor of Dallas said “spare us your thoughts and prayers and do your job.”  In the climate of frustration, fear, and anger that comes with this wave of evil, yes, Mayor Rawlings’ comments are understandable even if they are insulting and repugnant.  Yet the point he’s making – we need to DO something – is a popular one.   Might I suggest to the mayor that praying is the first step to ‘doing something.’   Indeed, any ‘doing’ is meaningless if it is done without the guidance and involvement of the Almighty.  Yet now is also the time when believers get to step up to the plate and encourage each other, building each other up, and build up others.   Being there, listening, comforting, not preaching, are perhaps the best witnesses for Jesus we could offer these days.   They are practical faith, really ‘doing something’ meaningful.

Come to think about it, they’re really the best things we could do any day, any time.  Jesus died for everyone so that everyone might have the opportunity to come to know Him in faith and become part of heaven now.   When encouraging each other, perhaps the best things we can offer are our actions.   They prove our belief instead of simply talking about it.   They are our highest calling.  My wife would agree.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:12

Lord, help me to encourage other people, other believers, and unbelievers every day of my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 October 2017

For our “God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12, verse 29.

My son in law (one of them) is a firefighter; the other is a military police officer.  Josh (the fireman) serves in College Station, Texas, and is combined firefighter, EMT, and paramedic.   He has skills and passion for this kind of work that I can only imagine.   A few years ago, when he was still in training, we were driving around town and saw a house under construction that had just caught on fire.   He was mesmerized watching it, and I was fascinated at how he described what the fire was doing to the building.   Josh predicted that the fire would spill over from room to room and engulf the whole floor; as if on cue, that’s exactly what happened.   The building went from somebody’s future home to a pile of ashes in a matter of minutes.

That’s a consuming fire.

Or there are the wildfires that happen out west every year.   Every year, fires consume thousands of acres of land that is both under-maintained and over-developed.   When we lived in Colorado Springs, I watched one particular wildfire rise from a pillar of smoke to miles-high mushroom cloud almost instantly.   I later read that the fire (the Hayman Fire of 2002) was caused by arson.  I remember driving out Highway 24 west of Pikes Peak and seeing mile after mile of emergency responder vehicles, makeshift responder camps, and mobile command facilities.  According to Wikipedia, that fire burned over 138000 acres and killed six people.

Consuming.

Intense preaching; short-term deadlines; focused workers; heated arguments; passionate evenings:   these are all consuming things that regularly show up on our lives.  They consume our focus and consume our attention.   They’ll consume our lives in obsession if we let them.  Have we ever considered how God is the consuming fire mentioned in the verse?   Is he like the fire mentioned when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, a fire that burned to nothing even soaking wet logs?   Is He the fire in your fireplace that warms your house while destroying old wood?   Is He nuclear fire, both destructive and immensely powerful in its magnitude?  Or is God a candle in the dark, giving the only light to an empty space?

You know the answer.

Our God is an awesome God; ok, over-used platitude and verse.  But it’s true!   God is awe-inspiring, awe-inducing, awe-producing.  His overwhelming power and His understated but equally-overwhelming love are the ultimate sources of the only real awe in the universe.   When we let Christ be the Lord in our lives, He consumes us from within and without.   He changes our heart, He evolves our attitudes, He teaches us better ways to act.   Those become self-fulfilling prophecies because when we display cleaner hearts, new attitudes, and those better ways, things around us change.   People treat us differently and we act differently.   That’s the crux of it (the cross, if you will):  we react more as Christ would have us react.   We pro-act, acting out of His love instead of just our own perspectives.  The world doesn’t change immediately but it does change.

It’s all because Christ consumes us.   He paid the price for our sins, and when we let Him into our lives, He scours out the shame, guilt, anger and hurt that held us hostage.   He replaces those feelings with His love and makes it possible to move forward in better ways.  In this way, He, our God, is like Elijah’s fire; He’s like the fire on top of Mount Sinai.  He’s the fire in our fireplace that helps us survive, comforts and warms us, and provides us with what we need.   And He’s the candle in the dark, replacing (and consuming) the darkness with undeniable light that provides focus, guidance and hope.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 4:24, 1 Kings 18.

Lord, consume me with Your holy love-fire. 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 31 August 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.  Hebrews 12, verse 1.

If only it were that easy, right?  Actually, it is.

Last night, I watched “The Alamo,” with John Wayne.   I’m drawn to the story of the Alamo; I was even before I became a Texan.   I believe every American should see the Alamo in San Antonio at least once.   If you’ve never been there, you might be more impressed by the movie set where Mr. Wayne directed his movie; that can be found out in Brackettville, in West Texas.  If you want to sense the Alamo, you’ll find it on a tiny city block in the middle of downtown San Antonio.   It’s almost unimpressive, and it’s difficult to imagine barely 200 untrained ‘militia’ holding off an organized army of nearly six thousand:   the largest attacking force in the Western Hemisphere.  Yet that’s what happened.   They did it for nearly two weeks, buying time for General Sam Houston’s army to gather and prepare.   At the end, all the defenders were killed.   Only a few weeks later, the tables were turned, Santa Anna defeated, and Texas became its own country.

It seems like such an easy choice to make, that is, standing up against a dictator like Santa Anna.   Freedom against oppression; standing up for what you believe instead of living under the boot of an oppressor.  That ought to be an easy choice to make, almost no choice at all really.  Then again, I’m just a spectator, a movie-watcher.  I haven’t yet had to choose death over surrender against an overwhelming army.

Or have I?

If you think about it, we choose death every day.   We aren’t heroes like the men at the Alamo, but we choose to stand up and fight every day simply by believing.  Every day we are given the choice to stand and fight again or sit out the battle and watch events affect us.  Every day we’re given the choice to hold onto things or to throw off every thing, every sin, that hinders and entangles.  Most of the time, we do throw them off; at least some of them.  Others, well, we hold onto them.   Why?   Why hold onto the guilt, the danger, the agony of that pet sin?   What good does it do you?   Or has the hurt of it wrapped around you like an old quilt, enfolding you in false warmth as it actually, slowly, smothers you from within?   For the love of God, and because of it, throw it off already.   Stand up and fight.   You have witnesses to support you.   As Crockett, Bowie and Travis might have said, ‘you don’t have to stand tall but you do have to stand up.’

And that ain’t easy.  Read verse 1 again and you’ll see that it doesn’t promise easy.   But it does promise support.  That support comes first and foremost from Jesus.

I read a blog called “Trusty Chucks” by a Christian lady named Mary Graham (www.trustychucks.com).   Her current posts are agonizing, about how her husband, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, has back-slid.   Their family is right now being ripped apart by something that entangled and hindered, something they, and she, thought had been long ago thrown off.  Why would her husband secretly use these poisons that endangered the happiness and security of all they had built?

Why would you or I?   You know we do the same damn thing.

Yet Christ calls us to stand up and do it again.   Every night when we embrace the cold arms of our sins, we entangle ourselves in all the dysfunction that’s involved in them.   And every morning, Christ beckons us to come to Calvary and die with Him, to put to death the sins of yesterday.  To throw them off, then stand up and start again.   Most every morning, most of us do.   Through that process, He is there.   When all our cards are played, He is still there, supporting us, encouraging us, loving us through the worst and the best.  And when we get the energy to look around, we find we’re one of many fighting on the line.  Christ does that.   He inspires others to stand with us, beside us.

What will you do today?

If you have a few minutes, go read Mary’s blog.   She’s very candid, very real, and a passionate soldier in the army of the living God, and she’s taking fire now.   And make plans to one day go see the Alamo.  The Shrine of Texas Liberty is hallowed ground for us all.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36.

My Lord, You stand with me.   You are my backbone, my spirit, my energy, my rest.  Help me to get up again today, then stand with me to battle these temptations and evils once again.