Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 7 May 2020

For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  And this is the word that was preached to you.  1 Peter 1:24-25 (NIV).

Peter is quoting Isaiah here when he mentions “grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”   That’s a quote that was (in Peter’s time) already several hundred years old.  It would be as if you or I quoted someone from the early 1600s today to make our point.   It’s a quote that, most likely, Peter would have heard throughout his life.

It’s poetic imagery.  The blades of grass growing in a field seem innumerable, so many that only God can know their true number.  That’s sort of like the population of mankind.  And grass grows but eventually is cut, or it browns and withers.   Sort of like men and women, you see.  Peter uses Isaiah’s poetic allegory to make the point that we are like blades of grass growing in a field, living our lives under the sun (or the Son) until the time when we wither and die.

And we’re like the wildflowers that grow there as well.   The older I get, the more I enjoy driving down the road and looking at the beautiful wildflowers growing there; thank you Lady Bird Johnson for beautifying our highways.   Here in Texas, springtime brings blankets of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, primroses, and brown eyed Susan’s.   You can drive down almost any highway and see thousands of them.   Set against our blue skies, they’re God’s artwork on a scale no human artist could match.  That’s not just here in America, however.   Drive anywhere in the spring and summer and you’ll see the same thing.  They’re splashes of color and life in what could otherwise be vast fields of green.

They’re an allegory, too.  Their beauty, like ours, doesn’t last long but it’s wonderful while it does, and it lives forever in our hearts.   The flowers are a sight to behold, something to brighten our lives and give splendor to what could be average or dull.  Bluebonnets are only in bloom for a few weeks, then the flowers fall and the plant goes to seed.   We’re only here for a short time to give our beauty to God and to each other, yet we’re here to produce seeds of beauty so that our kind – followers of Christ – may live on beyond us.  The body – the plant – may wither and die, but the beauty – His Word – lives forever.

I wonder if the fields in heaven are full of wildflowers.   One day I’ll see.   Perhaps you and I will stand there admiring them, right beside Peter and Isaiah.

For further reading:  Isaiah 40:6-8, James 1:10-11, 1 Peter 2:1

Lord, thank You for the beauty You give us here in simple fields and flowers.   Thank You for the images You inspire in us using them.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 31 March 2020

Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings.  Philippians 4:21 (NIV).

Did you view a church service on Sunday?   Last week, our church in Frisco, Texas had done a partial online message, but this week we did a full online service.   For a first-time effort, it was a success:   over 75 couples showed up.   With all those who attended via Zoom, there were easily over 150 people together even if it was virtually.

That’s a huge blessing, you know.   In the middle of both imposed and self-imposed shutdowns, brothers and sisters are together and send each other greetings in the name of Jesus.   Even when Satan is on the march and working to shut down God’s church, God’s church finds other ways to persevere and move forward because our mission is to greet all of God’s people in Christ Jesus.   That’s especially true today, during this COVID-induced crisis.   He is still abiding with us even during fear, uncertainty, and panic.   He may be even more active, considering so many in the world are, at least for now, living upside-down lives in ways we’d never imagined.

He is still our shepherd and we are still not in want.  Sure, there are still shortages of some things.  And, yes, the news is still trying to get us to panic.   Yet God is still very much in control and watching over us, wanting to guide each of us to repentance, then His riches, so that none around us will be lost.

In all ways, He is still providing what we need – Him first and foremost – to prevail.  Did you wake up?   Did you eat today?  Whatever your condition, are you still in functioning health?   Our primary needs of spiritual triumph in Christ, then physical, hierarchy needs of survival are still being met.   Christ is still the healer of our souls, then the feeder of our bodies:   just like He was before this madness started.

He’s still giving us new opportunities to dig deeper into Him and share Him with others.  More people turn to God in times of crisis, proving the old saw true:  better late than never.   If this is your first time communing with Him, try doing it in prayer, on your knees.   Open up your heart and talk with Him.   Open up His word and let it touch your heart, then do what it says.   Be the church especially outside the building.

These things are nothing new.   He has sustained every generation since Eden just as He is sustaining ours now.   To prevent infection, perhaps we shouldn’t meet in groups in a large building for now, but thank God He gives us other ways to do so.   These hard times will pass but God never will.   During them, let’s keep the faith and use it to encourage others.

For further reading: Psalm 23:1, Romans 2:4, 2 Corinthians 9:8, Philippians 4:22.

Lord, abide, lead, and guide us in these days.  You prevail.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 16 March 2020

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  Philippians 4:10 (NIV).

Today, show your concern for your fellow man.   You know where we are, what’s happening.   Our world is in Coronavirus panic right now.   God help all those who are infected, sickened, or dying from it.   God’s peace to those grieving ones lost to the virus.   You and I probably have opinions about the virus and our world’s reactions to it but let’s table those for a few minutes and move on to something more important:

We get to help now.   We are the church of the living Christ who wants all mankind to live.   Some of our sisters and brothers are in need, and we can do something about it.   We get to help and we get to do it in the middle of a worldwide crisis.

Paul would understand this.  His world knew pandemics though they didn’t call them by that word.   They were just diseases; plagues and pestilences that appeared for reasons they didn’t fully understand.   But Paul would understand both praying out of concern AND taking the opportunity to follow through on that concern.   Wherever he went, Paul worked to support himself (he was a tent-maker), but he also encouraged the churches he planted to support him and each other through offerings and material support (food, housing, etcetera).  It was for their benefit, not his.

He would understand the predicament we’re in and might even echo what I’m saying here.   We should indeed keep praying for each other.   We should bring those concerns to our living God who hears them and acts in His glorious way.   No matter what we’re going through, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding is in us and with us.  More people need that.

But let’s take that concern a step further.   Let’s not just talk about church:   let’s be the church…today.   I’ve been challenging Facebook friends to call me for a few days now.   If you’re in North Texas, call me if you need help doing anything:   running errands, helping you clean, get meds, run kids, whatever.   If you need help, message me and I’ll help you.

I’m challenging you to share that same thing.   Sure, be prudent and take care of yourself; don’t do foolish things.   But beyond that, have faith that our Lord is stronger than some unseen virus and that He will protect us as we help our fellow women and men who need help.   Pray first, then lace up your boots and get in the battle.   Harder times than these are coming.  Get involved.   Check on neighbors.   Volunteer at a church; check online for groups where you can help, even the Red Cross.  Comply with civil guidelines but let’s be bold in Christ.  Today; now.

For further reading: Esther 4:14, 2 Corinthians 11:9, Philippians 4:11.

Lord Jesus, show me someone or way I can help today!

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.

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.