Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 4 November 2019

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:1-2. (EHV).

Welcome back, my friend.   I’m very, very glad you’re here.   To echo Paul (and Timothy), grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whew!   That’s a pretty weighty way to begin a chat, isn’t it?   Here’s another weighty thing:   I’m not being very original here.   In fact, I’m following in the footsteps of my friend, Phil McKay, who pastors a Calvary Chapel in Paris, Texas.   Listening to his sermons inspired me to dive into Philippians, which has become one of my favorite books of the Bible.   If you haven’t read it, do yourself the pleasure of reading it today.   It’s only four chapters, only a few pages in the New Testament; it won’t take very long.

But it may just change your outlook today.   That may just change your life.   It isn’t me doing it.   It isn’t the Bible.   It isn’t even the Apostle Paul.  If your life is changed, it’s because God Himself is at work in you.   Philippians is about joy.   It’s about expressing joy over other believers living out their faith in Jesus.   Philippians is about real, practical Christianity at work in skeptical people.   It is about thankfulness, and humility, and standing firm in the faith, and about putting the Gospel to work in our world.

Or Paul’s world, to be specific.   Specifically in Philippi:   the same Philippi mentioned by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar 1500 years later.   The armies of Rome had fought a civil war battle near the Roman colony of Philippi (in Macedonia) after the assassination of Julius Caesar.   The outcome of that battle saw the primacy of the emperor rise because the victor, Octavian, soon crowned himself Emperor Augustus:   the same Augustus who reigned during the birth of Christ.   Philippi sat at the intersection of two roads that brought trade out of Asia Minor and to the western parts of the Empire.

Philippians was written only a century or so after that battle.  It was a crossroads of the Empire.  It’s no coincidence, then, that God would use Paul to plant a church there.   Think about it:   there were multiple paths for people to carry the Gospel further throughout the known world.   That could change lives everywhere because it already had in the pagan area around Philippi.

And it’s still happening in our world today.   You and I live near crossroads.   Because of where God has us, the Gospel can literally travel anywhere because people everywhere still need to hear it.  Philippi was an early success story in receiving that Gospel.   Paul knew it; so do we.  Welcome back my friend.   Let’s dive in.

For further reading:  Acts 16:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Philippians 1:3

Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your grace at Philippi and in this letter.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 27 August 2019

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, rivalries, and quarrels about the law, because these are useless and fruitless. Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning, because you know that such a man is twisted and is sinning. He condemns himself. Titus 3:9-11 (EHV).

This is ground we’ve covered before, in 2 Timothy 3, 1 Timothy 6, 2 Thessalonians 3, and 1 Thessalonians 5.   From those books, you’ll recall that Paul advised Timothy and the Thessalonian Christians to avoid things that are not of God and people who aren’t living in Godly ways.  It’s still true for us today; we all know this.   If we want to truly repent and change (or let Christ change) our lives, then we have to get clean, get spiritually (maybe even physically) healthy.   That includes staying away from negativity.

So let me ask this question:   is it loving to walk away from a sinful person knowing we’re all sinful?   Most of us see online memes about deleting negative people from our lives.  Psychologically speaking, it’s good advice, even critical (especially if the person is controlling, manipulative or emotionally or verbally abusive).  Yet what if you’re married to that person?   Or what if it’s you?   What if you have no control over who you work with or what others say?   How much hypocrisy is there in knowing we think, say and do things offensive to God yet calling out others who do the same and then expunging them from our lives?

If it were only that easy.

Truth is that, yes, again, this is still true and it’s still good advice.   Sinful or even negative people draw us back into things Jesus forgave and forgot.   It’s impossible to remain healthy if we continue unhealthy practices.   Sometimes, yes, that will mean that we have to avoid some people and their sins.   We can’t – and shouldn’t try to – fix some people.

So the first thing to do is to pray for them.   In praying for them, ask Christ to help you know and say and do the things He would have you think, say and do.   Ask for the fortitude to lovingly talk with someone whose conduct can threaten your well-being.   Do so out of an attitude of caring for them…and that can be tough.  Do it anyway.  And, if after two (or so) times, if they won’t change, then walk away.   Continue to pray for them; be kind; be strong in your faith and actions.   Let go to let God.  Let Him do the work of changing the situation, of healing all hearts.   Surrender your care for the person to Christ because, in doing so, He will show you real care for them even as you’re lovingly walking away.

For further reading:  Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-14, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Titus 3:12

Lord, teach me to love and nurture others even when I must walk away from them.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 17 June 2019

Do your best to come to me quickly.  2 Timothy 4:9 (NIV).

For those who say that Paul made up the things in his letters, there’s this little nugget of reality.   When you’re in trouble, you call for help.   When things are rough, you reach out a helping hand.   You do it; I do it; we all reach out for help when things become desperate.  They were desperate for Paul when he wrote 2 Timothy.

When you read the entire letter, you pick up on Paul’s attitude of completion, of his resignation to his coming execution.   He’s thankful to have led this ministry that Jesus Himself personally began.   And he understands that the world will kill his body but he as Paul and a follower of Jesus Christ will live on.   Yet you can’t miss the undertones of sadness that Paul transmits.   He’s thankful to be ministering on, soldiering on until the near-term end, yet he seems sad.

He seems sad because his ministry – his life’s work – is approaching its end and there is more Paul wanted to do.  Another missionary journey was desired but would not happen.   Reaching out to believers in Spain, in Gaul and Germania, and deeper into Asia would not be things that Paul would do.  Despite all he had personally done to reach out to non-believers and questioning Jews, Paul probably wanted to do more.   He had personally experienced Jesus Christ and desperately wanted other people to know about Him.   Yet Paul’s work was done and his mission was winding down.   The Romans would kill him and Jesus would call him home.  Paul doesn’t seem afraid to die, just sad that it is going to happen.

Again, realism.   If you or I had lived the life Paul lived, perhaps we would feel the same.   What’s the most logical response?   Paul says, “Help me.   I need help now because time is running out.   Do your best to come to me quickly…because if you take to long, I’ll be gone.   We won’t be able to talk about things that we need to talk about.   There are things the Lord wants to do through this, and I need you to help me while we can.”

Consider how a lie would have been simpler:   “I’m doing ok.   Everything is fine.   No, they aren’t going to kill me.   Everything is peaches and cream.”   Those who knew Paul wouldn’t have accepted that because they knew him, understood him, had grown in the faith with him.   That simpler lie might have fooled a few but, like all lies, would have been hollow and meaningless.  If Paul had simply made these things up, why would he feel sad about them?   Indeed, if his works are all lies, why would he feel anything about them?

Because Paul shared these things in so few words, his genuine feeling comes down through the years.

For further reading:  Acts 17:1, 2 Corinthians 2:13, Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24, 2 Timothy 4:10

Thank You for Paul’s mission work, Lord.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 30 May 2019

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  2 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV).

Paul is a delight to read because he talks lovingly to his protégé, Timothy, while also reasoning with him.   He doesn’t preach to Timothy; he doesn’t condescend to the younger man.   Instead, he uses reason and care that talks with we strangers so many years later.   Indeed, break down these two verses and you can digest some of the tones in which Paul communicates with his “son.”

“Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of:” that could almost be a commencement address.   Good teaching speaks for itself and convinces us of truth.  Convincing us of the truth is the primary goal of all education.

“You know those from whom you have learned it.”   Paul is talking about both himself but especially about Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who raised him.   They were early followers of Jesus who taught the young man about Christ, preparing him for mission with Paul and then service to the church abroad.   They were honest and trustworthy people.

“How from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures.”   Then as now, Jewish boys are taught the Torah and the Talmud starting at around age 5.   It begins a life-long pursuit of knowing God more through His word.  It’s the reason why so many Christians so strongly advocate Christian education for the young.

“The Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise.”  True wisdom comes only from God, is imparted only by Him and through His Word.   On our own, we the people aren’t wise.   With the Lord, His wisdom becomes an inevitable gift of grace.

“Salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”   Jesus did the work of salvation.   He and only He forgave our sins and made it possible for us to live forever.   Yet that doesn’t happen if we don’t put our faith in Him.   If we choose to reject faith in Christ, He allows us the consequence of our choice.   Yes, we will live forever, but the Scriptures say it won’t be with Jesus.

All these things Timothy knew.   And he knew that persecution was all around him, and would come for him, too.   History says that Timothy eventually became a bishop in Ephesus, in modern Turkey, where he was beaten to death during a pagan feast when he tried to minister the Gospel.  He and Paul understood these things because they pursued Godly wisdom from Jesus.   We can do the same.

For further reading:  John 5:39, Deuteronomy 4:6, Psalm 119:98-99, 2 Timothy 3:15.

Wise Savior, only You are truly wise.   Wisdom comes only through You.  Thank You for teaching us Your wisdom through people like Paul and Timothy.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 16 May 2019

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV).

These are harsh words about how people will behave in the end days.   They’re some of the worst qualities of mankind, and Paul prophesies that the end days will bring them out in full.   Whether those end days are now or later, they will be marked by these kinds of behaviors.

These verses apply to Hollywood.   They apply to Wall Street, corporate boardrooms, country club dealing, and the jet set.   These verses could have been written about the American suburbs, or about the ghettos.   They could have been written about people in our universities, in our workplaces, on the road and at the mall and, yes, they could have been written about people who sit every Sunday in a church pew.   They’re HBO; they’re Facebook; they’re Las Vegas; they’re Mainstreet USA.   They’re our living rooms.  These verses could have been written about any of the 7.7 billion people breathing here on Planet Earth.   Two thousand years after He left us, come quickly, Lord Jesus, and set things right again.

Especially if these are the last days.   In fact, I hope they are.   Heaven has much more to offer than our world, which is full of we who could be described by these ugly words.  Those words are a mirror, held up for me and you (and a dog named Boo) to look into and see ourselves as we really are.   Even the best of us is guilty of being like one or more of those words say we are.

Paul told Timothy to avoid people like those he described above.  If Paul met me today, would he see a follower of Christ or a sinking work in progress who loves himself, money, pride and boasting more than Jesus?   Who would Paul see in you?   Even more, if Jesus does come back today, will He see us as we are, or will He see us through the lens of His love?   You know the answer, and thank God Himself for it.   We are guilty of being those awful things Paul mentions, and only a Savior who isn’t could set things right.   Only He could save us.   When He comes back, He’ll see His followers in His own mirror, and welcome us.  Doesn’t it follow, then, that we should use our time today to kindly love on people who don’t know Jesus so that they’ll have the same eternity?

For further reading:  2 Timothy 3:6.

Lord Jesus, come quickly.   These times are as You predicted, full of evil scoffers.   Come and remake all things new.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 15 May 19

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  2 Timothy 3:1 (NIV).

This section of 2 Timothy talks about the end times.   It’s heavy stuff, not for the faint of faith.    And it’s heavy stuff that people have been hauling, dreading, and contemplating for two thousand years.

Wikipedia defines “Christian eschatology” as “a major branch of study within Christian theology dealing with the “last things.” Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning “last” (ἔσχατος) and “study” (-λογία), is the study of ‘end things’, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world or the nature of the Kingdom of God. Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order, based primarily upon biblical texts within the Old and New Testament.”

Yep.   What they said.

Even from the beginning of the Christian church, we’ve contemplated the end of it here.  Not long before His crucifixion, Jesus spoke of it extensively in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.   And He inspired John to write extensively about it in the Revelation.  If you haven’t done so, go read these accounts for yourself.   It isn’t for the faint of faith.   Yet read them again and again and you’ll find your faith strengthened.

That’s a good thing because we’re in the last days.   Face it, my friend:   this life is a one-way death trip.   Every day we celebrate life and live we are one day closer to death.   Whether these are the last days of terrestrial history or simply the last days of our lives, we are living through them now.   Do you think terrible things happen?

You know the answer.

Paul warned Timothy about it.   He warned Timothy to teach that people should love Jesus every day, should live as God’s chosen followers every minute of every day because any day may be the last.  Paul and Peter may have been talking about the end of time as the “last days” yet their advice pertains to both those last days of Earth as well as all of our days on Earth.

Scoffers gonna scoff; haters gonna hate.   Those who are determined to be unpersuaded of this man Jesus will remain so.   It’s their choice, their self-inflicted misery.  They aren’t happy with that knowledge and are determined that you be as unhappy as they are.   So they’ll insult you, ridicule your faith, persecute your actions, hate you for who you believe in.  It was this way in 1st Century Judea and Asia Minor; it is the same way now.  It’s heavy, not for the weak to bear even as they, too, must find a way to bear through it.   That way is found only in Jesus Christ.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Peter 3:3, 2 Timothy 3:1.

Lord Jesus, come quickly.   These times are as You predicted, full of evil scoffers.   Come and remake all things new.