Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 18 February 2020

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Philippians 3:12 (EHV).

If you’re reading this, you’re still alive here on the Third Rock; duh.   You and I:   we are still pressing on to take hold of eternal life.   Paul has already entered there; he’s in heaven.   That’s the reason Jesus came to him and remade his life.   It’s the reason why Jesus did the same thing to you and me.

Yet we need to work to maintain our grip on our faith in Him when we’re tempted and laid low in this fallen world.   Have you ever considered that, when you feel beaten down because you’re been attacked over and over again, you’re being attacked precisely because your faith is stronger?   Satan has to work even harder to get you.   Some people roll over easily; they’re an easy conquest.   Yet others require more effort.   If you’re being attacked again and again, perhaps you aren’t one of those easy conquests.

Perhaps you believe more in this goal for which Christ Jesus took hold of you.   Perhaps you struggle harder, fight tougher, beat back the evil one more precisely because you ARE tougher for him to overcome.

Paul understood that.  For decades after his conversion on that Syrian pathway he struggled against attacks from the physical and spiritual realms.   Yet he learned quickly that the only way he could continue to press forward – to really work for eternity – was to submit himself to Jesus.   To double down in his faith.   To come to Jesus when he had prayers of both anguish and thanksgiving; when he had anything at all to say.   As long as he lived here on good old terra firma, Paul pressed forward with one eye on where he was and the other on the road forward.

He did it for the same reason we should:   eternity matters most.   Jesus came here to make eternity with Him possible for us, knowing full-well that we would be challenged, tempted, burdened, stressed-out, and attacked every day by the unseen world that was hostile to His love.  Jesus pushed all that to the side when He pushed aside the rock in the garden and walked out of His tomb.  He knew we would be savaged every day, so He wanted to give us something worth fighting for, worth struggling over, worth pressing on towards.

That was then.   This is now.   Here and now, we’re still alive, and since we woke up today, we GET TO fight the good fight again.   To ask forgiveness for yesterday’s sins while giving praise for a new day today.   Then we get up, look forward, and press on.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 13:10, 1 Timothy 6:12, Philippians 3:13.

Lord I need you and struggle for You.   Abide with me, strengthen me, forgive me, and teach me again today Your better ways.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 13 November 2018

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.  1 Timothy 4:3-5 (NIV).

“Received with thanksgiving:” those are powerful words.   They can make all the difference in the world.

Next week is Thanksgiving and that means we’re coming up on the time of the year when we’ll reflect on 2018 and talk about what we’ve done (and unconsciously avoid those not done).  May I submit to you that an attitude of thanksgiving for all things, ESPECIALLY the bad things, makes everything ok?   No, I’m not Pollyanna.  This year, just in my own family circle, we’ve known death, terrible illness, separation, extreme financial difficulties, loneliness, encounters with Satan, and more.   Let’s just assume you’re in a similar situation (because you probably are).

Give thanks.   Thank God for them.  Thank God for the bad things and the good things, too.

Winter is coming and I just detest cold weather.   But I’m thankful for it.   Yesterday was a REALLY EARLY morning, seeing me wake up at 3 to leave the house by 4 to catch a 6:30 flight at Love Field.   I’m thankful for that because it means I have a good job.   Every payday there always seems to be more in bills than there is in paycheck…you guessed it:   I’m thankful because the life my wife and I lead is one of family and friends and faith and love.

God gives us EVERYTHING on this planet and more.   He did it (and does it) out of love, out of wanting to provide for His children who He created to be “very good.”  Who am I (or you) to put conditions on it?   Who are we to put rules and regulations all over something that God gave to us freely?

In the book of Acts, the Apostle Peter learns in a dream that every food is “clean” and a gift from God.   All through his life, Peter had observed Jewish laws about what to and not to eat.   It makes sense that the early church, an offshoot of Judaism, would start to adopt some of the Jewish traditions.   But God switched things up, telling Peter that all foods were clean.   In an even larger sense, God was telling Peter that all PEOPLE were clean, all people were worthy of His blessing and should hear the Gospel of Christ.   Give thanks for EVERYTHING, good and not good, clean and unclean.  It’s all from God.  Even the bad things He allows are used for His good purposes.

How could someone not be thankful for that?

Thanking Jesus as the start to all we are is the start of making things better.

For further reading: Acts 10, 1 Timothy 4:6

Lord, thank You.   Just thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 October 2018

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV).

After talking about excommunicating wayward members, Paul then shifts to urging Timothy (and us) to pray for authorities.   The church leaders of then (and now) are authorities in our lives.   So are police, governments, the UN, bosses, corporate CEOs of companies whose products we use, pastors and leaders, and senior family members (in fact, all senior citizens).

Tell me, progressives:   when was the last time you prayed for President Trump?   Or my conservative friends, how often did you (or do you) pray for President Obama, or Ms. Pelosi, or George Soros?   If you’re like me, in this regard, you’ve failed.   You and I don’t usually pray for those with whom we disagree (or just don’t like).   If you don’t like President Trump or his policies, you may not be praying in thanksgiving for him.  If you didn’t like President Obama or his policies, chances are you didn’t pray in thanksgiving for him, either.

That’s a shame.   We’re losing great opportunities here because Paul recognized that prayer and thanksgiving (especially) are active, vital ways to participate in peoples’ lives, even those of far-off, remote leaders.   They are pure “get to” activities.   We get to pray for the president, our employees in Congress, and others we elect to do things for us that we can’t do ourselves. We get to pray for our bosses, managers, and executives that they would make good use of the time we entrust to them.   We get to pray for our parents, and for seniors who have lived long, useful lives that can teach us many things.

We should take every opportunity to pray in thanks for those who are above us in any way.  Sure, it’s altruistic but even Ayn Rand (who rejected religion) would have supported the idea of supporting leaders who are working for the betterment of all.   I don’t know Donald Trump, but I get to be actively involved in his life when I pray for him.   I don’t know Barack Obama, but I’m actively involved in his life when I pray for him.  Bill Gates, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Dalai Lama, the owner of your company, your pastor, that stranger who flipped you off on the road, and starving kids in India:  you may not know any of them, but Jesus gives you the opportunity to be part of them by actively praying for them.

We spend so much of our time excommunicating other people from our lives.  How about we re-communicate with them by first praying to our Lord for their benefit?

For further reading:  2 Timothy 2:17, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 2:1

Lord, today, help me to pray for leaders, and show me today just one person for whom I can pray.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 6 September 2018

We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:9-10 (NIV).

Yesterday I mentioned Rush Limbaugh’s account of Thanksgiving.   How those who would eat would work to provide for themselves, using the gifts God had given to them.   In other places in history, this same tenet – no work, no eat – has also been invoked; did those who did so realize they were echoing the Apostle Paul?   According to Wikipedia John Smith said it in Jamestown in 1609 when he said “You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled).”  300 years later, Lenin encapsulated the idea into the Russian Constitution of 1918 (and also later in the 1936 Soviet Constitution, written years after Lenin’s death).

Again, it’s an old idea, probably old by Paul’s day.   God gave Paul, his companions, and their hosts in Thessalonica unique talents, abilities, and interests.   He did this to provide for them.   In other times (re the Israelites in the desert) God overtly, publicly provided food for his people.   Yet that was a-typical, an exception to the norm.   Most of the rest of people in history have worked for our bread.   When we merge our talents with realizing that our work can be a form of worship, we begin to realize that this is how Jesus works actively in our lives to put food in our mouths, clothes on our backs, and health in our bodies.

When you go to work today, remember Jesus is working through it.   The next time you visit a store, remind yourself “God gave me this through the paycheck I earned using the abilities He gave to me.”   When you flip a light switch, remind yourself “God provides a paycheck to me that I earn through the abilities He gave me so that I can pay for electricity.”  Think of that when you take a shower, when you drive your car, when you do just about anything.   You earn your living because you’re willing to use the abilities given to you by Him who knows you best.

Paul understood this.  So did John Smith and Lenin, though Lenin and his successors then used the tenet to starve and destroy.   As guests, a host may provide for us, but in truth they really don’t.   In God’s truth, it is HE who provides for us in all ways, the foremost of them being the abilities He gives us.  Or, as Rush might say, “talent on loan from God.”

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:4-14, 1 Thessalonians 3:4, 2 Thessalonians 3:11.

Lord, You give us talents to provide for us.   Thank You for this and help us to use them wisely.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 5 September 2018

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 (NIV).

Rush Limbaugh is fond of telling the true story of Thanksgiving.   He even wrote a children’s book about it.   Without diving into politics, the gist of the story is this:  the Pilgrims resorted to the concept of trusting God while “working for one’s self” in matters of earning a living and providing food to eat.   They had tried communal pooling of everything and nearly starved.  The next season, they scrapped this socialistic approach, accepted help from friendly Indians, and began to practice free-market capitalism.  This soon thrived.  At the end of the growing year, they held a giant feast to thank God and celebrate all the ways He had provided for them.   Within a few years, the indebted Pilgrims had repaid in full the English and Dutch sponsors who had been their financial backers.

It seems the Pilgrims put 2 Thessalonians 3 into practice.

Now, even I am not going to try to justify capitalism with the Bible.   Instead, let’s focus on the idea that God gives us talents to provide for us.  Further, especially when in the company of strangers, He gives us talents and abilities to prove ourselves to these strangers so that His word may spread from credible sources.   Paul was a tentmaker and worked as such to earn his way in Thessalonica so that his expenses and living wouldn’t be a burden to newly-made friends and believers.  He would pay his own way so that he would also have the available resources to continue his ministry unimpeded.

All because he could work using the talent that God gave him.  Paul could earn a living, spend his earnings on Kingdom work, and thrive.   Sounds pretty capitalist to me.

Again, my purpose isn’t to defend capitalist, though the combination of freedom, capitalism, and Judeo Christian fundamentals have done more to advance the human condition than anything else in all of human history.   Instead, this is a reminder that God gives you interests, talents, knowledge, abilities as a means to provide for you.   Like to play video games?   Figure out a way to make a living at it.   Like to write?   Write a blog or a book and sell them.   Good with wood-working?   Make furniture and sell it.   Paul and Rush would agree:  what you’re doing is actually glorifying God by using what He gave you for His good.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 4:16, Acts 18:3, Ephesians 4:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:9.

Lord, thank You and I praise You for the talents you give to me.   Help me today to use them to your glory and for my godly benefit as well as to benefit others around me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2017.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12, verse 14.

Here’s another tall order:   live in peace and be holy.  How does that fit in with America’s NFL controversy this week?   Or our political discourse in general since the start of this century?   How well are we living in peace with our enemies and even our allies?   Is there peace in Detroit or St. Louis?   Is there peace at your table on Thanksgiving?   And are you and your spouse at peace (if you’re married)?

Let’s get this out there:   peace is NOT the absence of conflict.   Don’t think that just because we don’t have conflict that we’re at peace.   Yes, I mean that.  Sure, not shooting each other in war is indeed “peaceful” yet there’s all too often no real peace in that.   It’s a good thing to not have someone shooting you, attacking you, berating you, and that condition is indeed conducive to overall peace.  But it isn’t real peace.   There isn’t peace along the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula:   there is only a cessation of hostilities that has lasted since 1953.  There isn’t peace in Sudan.   There isn’t peace in Ukraine.   There isn’t peace in Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, or most of America’s inner cities.

You can only have peace if the Holy Spirit is working within you.   The bumper sticker meme “no Jesus no peace.   Know Jesus know peace” is spot on true.   The only real peace you can know in this world is when you open up your heart and let Jesus crowd out all the rest of the noise.  Sure, there are some true believing folks in all the areas listed above (even in North Korea) but without God’s Holy Spirit in control, the peace we will know is uneasy, tenuous.

That isn’t easy to do.   I have a schedule to keep.   There are Facebook posts that require my brilliance.   My wife and kids aren’t doing what I want them to do.  That guy who passed me on the right was a real jerk!  DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE TIME FOR PEACE?  Actually, Dave, if the truth is told, you don’t have time to NOT have peace.   Without the peace of Jesus, you got nuthin.

You’ve got nothing without Jesus because, without Jesus, the second half of verse 14 is also impossible.   I’m not holy; you aren’t holy.   Neither Franklin Graham nor Pope Francis (nor even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are holy.   We’re all dirty sinners on our own.  Without Jesus, we still own our sins; owning our sins, we are unholy.   Without Jesus we still own the consequences of our sins.  What’s more, without Jesus you won’t see the Lord.   You won’t see heaven.   You won’t be there.

Don’t get mad at me for pointing that out:   it’s what verse 14 says.  Without knowing Jesus we can’t be holy and if we’re unholy we won’t be going to heaven.   The ONLY cure for that is to put your faith in Christ.  And the way to do that is to say “I believe” and then start walking the walk.  Read your Bible.  Pray constantly.   Be with other believers and be built up by your fellowship with Jesus and each other.   Tithe from a giving heart.   And, most of all, practice what you preach by starting to live your life in ways the Lord has told us to.  Once again, that’s a tall order.   It means giving up the porn, holding your tongue, confessing your dark secrets to the unseen God, and changing the way you act with other people.   Pick your pet sin:  you and I GET TO give up these things and follow Jesus closer so that His holiness can be imputed to us and we may stand with Him in paradise.   These are simply the practices of a follower of Jesus.  If my tone seems preachy, I apologize.

I have no illusion that everyone turning to Jesus would immediately solve the world’s problems.  Perhaps we would still have conflicts, arguments, and hurt.   Or, perhaps we wouldn’t.   Si Robertson once said “it ain’t gun control we need.   It’s sin control.”   Right on brother.  If we all embraced Jesus more and did what He asked, perhaps we’d have more control over those temptations that lure us in.   If we all did better and walking the walk and talking the talk, perhaps the world’s problems would indeed be solved.   Sin control looks a lot like Jesus.

For further reading:  Romans 14:19, Romans 6:22, Matthew 5:8.

Lord, thank You for giving us Your righteousness, for making us holy.   Help us to believe in You more, to practice our faith.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 December 2016

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  Hebrews 5, verse 11.

My friend, you may not like hearing this but you’re slow to learn.   Dim, dull, impaired, sluggish, ignorant:   guilty, my friend, both you and I.   We are slow to learn matters of God’s heart.  You’ve heard the Biblical account that King David was a man after God’s own heart.   I think that, perhaps, David was just a man, albeit an extraordinarily talented man but that his real advantage – his only real advantage – in life was that he wasn’t slow to learn what matters most to God.   He paid attention to God, and sought Him out even when David made mistakes.  What would King David, or his wiser son Solomon, say about us?

Last night was a tough night at the call center.   Our mission is to call, call, and call, attempting to sell satellite radio programming to people who recently completed promotional offers.  In an average four hour shift, I usually call about 150 people, and I might make 4 sales out of all those calls.   That works out to a 3% sales rate for all the calls, and I’m at the top of my group.   Last night, I made 280 calls in a five hour shift and made zero sales.   It was discouraging but had to be done.  The most memorable calls were with some severely disgruntled customers who decided I would be a verbal punching bag.   I really don’t know why some folks seem to enjoy being nasty but two customers last night seemed to be enjoying it with gusto.   Profanity, yelling, humiliation, insults; try packing uber-portions of those things into an unplanned telemarketing call with a sales agent who can’t respond in kind and can only apologize on behalf of his employer.   That’s what these guys from New York and Washington did.  At the end of the calls, I honestly but reluctantly said a couple of quick prayers for these irate people, but it didn’t feel too soothing.

And then there’s Black Friday.   I don’t like the idea of it.   Me, I’m an ardent capitalist, and in theory, enabling stores to sell what they want when they want to is a great thing.   The combination of Judeo-Christian ethics, free market capitalism, and representative democracy has given rise to the greatest system for improving humanity that humanity has ever devised.  Yet I’m repulsed by Black Friday.   I’m repulsed by stores being open on a day set aside to thank God.   I’m sickened at the thought of hordes of people camping out to save pennies on meaningless stuff.   I’m revolted by the pictures of crowds fighting in Walmart and Best Buy for loss leader worthless widgets ridiculously discounted.   It’s their right; I don’t dispute that.   I am simply disgusted by it on Thanksgiving…and this year I participated, taking my grandson shopping while others ventured out to do same.   That not only disgusts me more:   it makes me a hypocrite.

What about the election?   In our lifetimes, has there ever been a more vitriolic, bad-tempered election than the one of 2016?   Both sides are guilty, and the losing side has shown nothing but sour grapes ever since the results came in.   If you pay attention to the media, it doesn’t promise to get better any time soon.   I’m with those who predict that every issue will be battled mercilessly and endlessly every day going forward.   It’s even more repulsive than Black Friday shoppers fighting over NES game systems.

Wanna know the reason why all these things happen?   It’s because we’re slow to learn.   Our sin choices make us ignorant and immature.  The author of Hebrews has spent five chapters explaining things about Jesus’ role in our lives.   Here in chapter 5, he’s explaining why Jesus is so similar to the ancient priest, Melchizidek.   And before he goes any further, he says that he wants to explain more but his readers wouldn’t understand it.   First century Judea didn’t have Walmart or Hillary Clinton, but I’m betting the marketplaces, synagogues, and common streets were full of the same kind of invective and discord that plagues our world today.

The author’s Hebrew readers were slow to learn what mattered to God, and they weren’t much different from their ancestors in King David’s time a millennium before.    They weren’t stupid; you and I aren’t stupid either.   They were stubborn; so are we.  They were experienced yet immature in following Jesus, and many had been educated in the Torah and the ways of the synagogue for decades before that.   Yet they were slow, sluggish in their faith.   They were not much different from Black Friday electors who could be unkind to strangers on the telephone.

They’re the people Jesus came to save.   They’re us.

For further reading:   Hebrews 5:6, 5:12-14.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being so much better than me.   Thank You for not being slow, and for being wise, full of grace, and patient.   Help me to models these parts of Your character.