Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 1 April 2020

All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.  Philippians 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are in Corona-induced shutdown and we’re chomping at the bit for social interaction.   Can’t travel for work (if folks are still working); can’t go out to eat; can’t go to church; a mile-long list of “can’t” seems to be the phrase of the day.   Seeing as how this is April 1st, it would seem like this list of “can’ts” is a huge April Fools joke…except it isn’t.

What we can do is send each other greetings in the name of the Lord.   We can especially send greetings to people who are hurting through all this.   Paul sent greetings (from Rome) from people who worked in the Emperor’s palace.   Think of that for a moment:   there were Christians – followers of this new and “subversive” sect known as “The Way” – who served the Emperor of Rome, who was hostile to such things.   Those people were in very real danger, yet they believed anyway.   They were unknown heroes of the faith.

Just like first responders who are working exhausting hours during this crisis.   Just like my friend whose father died early this week and they are stoically making plans to memorialize him after all the crisis has passed.   Just like another friend who announced just yesterday that he is discontinuing his stage 4 cancer treatments because the cancer is winning and he’d rather trust God exclusively with the rest of his life.   If you think about it, I bet you could send greetings from and to dozens, even hundreds, of people who are living their lives in faithful strength (and strong faith) through terrible circumstances.

Yet we don’t need to suffer to benefit from greetings.   I got a letter from a friend in Arizona last week that brightened my day considerably.   On my work project (that just last week was wearing me down) I got a few “kudos” just this morning.   Last week, I met most of my neighbors on our cul-de-sac and we were all glad to simply see other people.

If you think about it, maybe that’s one of the blessings of this quarantine:   we get to find ways to connect (and re-connect) with others.   I can think of many people who have fallen off my radar; this is an opportunity for us to re-connect, at least greet each other and check on each other.   We’re going through this shared experience:   let’s use it to rebuild our human connections and share some Jesus in the doing.

So that’s my challenge to you today.   Reach out to a friend.  Call your mom, dad, or sibling.   Message a friend who is working hard through all this.   Share a kind word in the name of Jesus today.

For further reading: Philippians 4:23.

Lord Jesus, I’m sharing Your Name of greetings, love, and peace today.  Encourage me to do this with everyone, especially people with whom I haven’t communicated recently.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 March 2019

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.   2 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).

The “whom” Paul believed in is obviously Jesus; duh.  What about the rest of the verse?   What is it that Jesus is “able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day?”  What does it mean to you?

By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he knew the executioner’s axe was imminent.   Can you imagine the emotional suffering?   This letter is his farewell to both his protégé and his earthly ministry.   Years before, Paul vowed to live out the years of his life in service to the Lord Jesus, who met him on a desert road to Damascas.  Paul had spent years prior to this fully committed to destroying the nascent church of “the Way”.   He had been responsible for destroying numerous small congregations and torturing, even killing, some of their leaders.

The Apostle knew what was in store for him when he agreed to follow this Jesus who struck him blind, then healed him.   Paul would live out his life as a herald for Christ, proudly, boldly, confidently, and wisely.  On that road, Paul entrusted his entire future – both temporal and eternal – to Christ because he had personally experienced who Jesus really was.   That which Paul had entrusted to Jesus was simply everything, only his life, only what mattered most.   Paul saw things as they were, perhaps for the first time in his life, and reasoned that the only real reason for living was to follow this Jesus who was exactly who the prophets and other apostles said He was.

What does that mean to you?

I get uncomfortable when people talk about their ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ.’   Or when they outline how He talks to them (and they talk back).   That simply isn’t my experience with Him.  I’ve said it before:   I don’t recall any particular “saving” moment in my past.   I simply know I was saved because He did it.   My parents had me baptized when I was a baby.   My family regularly attended church, where I learned the basics of the faith.   As an adult, I was blessed to learn more.   I can’t remember when Jesus saved me in my own timeline but I’ve felt His peace in numerous times since.   I always wanted “God-moments;”  I’ve been blessed to know many.

And like Paul (and hopefully you), I entrusted to Him that which matters most:   everything.  It’s really quite liberating to realize He’s in control and we never really are.   If the future means suffering, so be it.   If it is celebrating, so be that too.   I’m all in.

For further reading:   Mark 8:38, 1 Timothy 6:20, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Timothy 13.

Lord Jesus, I again today give everything to You.   It’s Yours alone.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 12 November 2018

Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron1 Timothy 4:2 (NIV).

Does your conscience bother you?  Sweet Home Alabama; love me some Skynyrd.

Paul called out hypocrites in the church who didn’t fully put their faith in Jesus.  He called out people who said they believed but acted differently.   Or people who said they believed but also practiced other things (like pagan beliefs, or holding onto the traditions of the Jews).  He was calling out people who tried to infuse “the Way” with practices and ideas that weren’t given by Jesus.   And, worst of all, Paul was calling out people who were following false teachings, teachings of “work righteousness (earning your salvation)” and the apostasy of saying there was no resurrection.

Paul was calling out people in Timothy’s flock who were following dangerous ways.   Do you think he could have been talking with us?

I mean, new age religions teach that we are our own gods, that we aren’t sinful (and if we aren’t sinful then we don’t need a savior).  We get wrapped up in things of this world so that we act as if we don’t need Jesus, don’t have time for Him, don’t want His old-fashioned ways.   How awful it is when things go south and we find out we need a Savior after all.

Are you bothered by things now?   Are you into things that you shouldn’t be, things that are sketchy or even outright dangerous?   Could Lynyrd Skynyrd be singing:  does your conscience bother you?  Jesus gave each of us a conscience so that we would know Him better.   He gave us a barometer of right and wrong so that we might learn to rely on Him more and live out our lives through Him.   Usually we’re steady, but we sometimes get into situations that are a risk to our spiritual, maybe even physical, health.   To whom do you listen when the going gets rough?

The good news in all of this is the Good News.   There’s nothing you’ve done that could ever separate you from the love of Jesus.   You can always listen to your heart and come back home.  If your conscience bothers you about something, that may just be His Spirit prodding you; “let’s have a talk.   What’s on your mind?”   We have a learned but innate sense of right and wrong; only the most inured or depraved of us fully give ourselves over to all sensuality and lose ourselves in the process.  Such folks have dull consciences.   Yet even they aren’t beyond the power or reach of Jesus.   He’s much bigger and stronger than anything that may plague us.  He came to save ALL people, even those of us who have done terrible things.   Sweet home Alabama ain’t got nothing on Jesus.

For further reading: Romans 8:37-39, Ephesians 4:19, 1 Timothy 4:3

Lord, I’ve said and done terrible things.   Forgive me when I let them bother me.  

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 2 October 2018

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 1 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).

Imagine if God called an atheist to preach the Gospel.  Or if He called Louis Farrakhan (or an Iranian mullah) to preach reconciliation with the Jews. Imagine if a Alec Baldwin went on the Tonight Show to preach for reconciliation in the name of Jesus.

That’s Paul.   Think of the worst possible persecutor, the very harshest, the meanest guy you could meet and it was Paul.   He relished what he did for a living:   killing followers of “the Way.”   He was a zealous follower of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and lived in His temple in Jerusalem.   That is, until a roadside meeting with that one true God shut, then opened, Paul’s eyes.   The persecutor became the persecuted, and every time that happened, he doubled down on it.   He gave thanks to Jesus for picking him, the most unworthy of servants, to become zealous for His message and carry it to places unknown.

Today’s verse changes direction from the last few.  Keep in mind that this change of direction happens right after Paul warns Timothy to avoid false teachers and properly invoke God’s law.  Paul has used the first part of his letter to remind Timothy that not everyone is for him…or Him.   Now he begins a section of different instruction, outlining God’s grace and how it is a unique gift from the King to preach the faith to people who need to hear it.

Not everyone is called to that calling.   I’ve never really felt it, other than the daily urge to write these word.  I can’t do much but I can do this.  Some pastors tell me that they innately knew they should become pastors.   One told me it was like God slamming shut every other door in his life until he walked through the ministry one.   Another seemed to relish being a pastor instead of “just a pig farmer’s son” (as if that’s something to be ashamed of…it isn’t).

No matter, to minister to others in the name of Jesus is a calling that I think each of us gets in our own ways.   Some get it to be a full time job.   Jesus molds our lives in unique ways.   Have you ever thought that there are 7.2 billion ministers for Jesus alive right now?   It’s true.   Yet not all know it, or Him.   So it’s up to us to use the gifts He gives us and the good fruits of His Spirit that are kindness, understanding, and love to help others along their way to Him.  Imagine if God called an atheist to preach.   Better yet, imagine how He’s calling you.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:13, Acts 9:15, 1 Timothy 1:13

Lord Jesus, all my praise to You for putting Your love on my heart to follow and preach You in my own way.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 29 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:2.

Something else needs to be said before we move on.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, without God, everything is meaningless but nothing can contain Him.

I was reading about how Google Home doesn’t recognize the name of Jesus.   A story online said that the in-home smart speaker recognizes the names of Buddha, Allah, and even Satan and can relay to you a whole encyclopedia of knowledge about those names, but that it says “I’m sorry I don’t understand” (or something like that) when you ask it about Jesus or Jesus Christ.  Newsflash, my friends, God doesn’t need Google Home but He loves the people who make and use it anyway.   Ditto Alexa, Echo, Facebook, Bing, and any other gadget or browser we can think of.   Indeed, God’s word will spread even MORE when people deny it.

Crazy?   Yes, actually it is.   The conventional world can’t see how this makes sense, but the world that believes in Jesus can.   His word is too good to be contained; it’s too good to be bottled up or confined by the smallness of human activity.  People can try, but the good news always comes through.   It did in concentration camps.   It does in prisons, and inner cities, and communist re-education camps, and even in Hollywood.  It even happens in organized churches.

In this verse, Paul describes how people strongly opposed his preaching.  In Philippi Paul had been strongly opposed and it stung him.  He considered it outrageous that God’s word would be opposed, that anyone would try to interfere with or target or stop the preaching of words ordained by the Lord Himself.  Yet despite the opposition, word spread.   People all over Greece and Asia Minor wanted to know more about what these missionaries of “The Way” were saying.  Tyrannical Romans couldn’t stop the message.  Hostile Jews and their synagogues couldn’t stop the message.  Skeptical Greeks and hateful pagans couldn’t stop it.  By the time Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he was used to being opposed, and he began to recognize that it was to God’s glory that all this happened.

That was true 2000 years ago.   It’s still true today.   God doesn’t need us to preach His message.   He can get it out any way He chooses.   Yet He chooses us to do it for Him, to talk about it one on one, to build relationships based on common worship and understanding of Him because without Him everything else means nothing.   God chooses to work through us as we love one person at a time.  Nothing could contain that way back then; nothing can contain it now.

For further reading: Ecclesiastes, Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, I pray:  work through me today. Love others through me.   Teach me to represent You.