Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 19 March 2020

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.  Philippians 4:14 (NIV).

I went to the store again last night and it just made me mad.   This is the United States of America.   We raise more food, produce more goods, perform more services than any other nation on the planet.  Yet today, shelves are empty because of hoarders, because of people panicking, because of selfishness, because of stupidity.   I know:   they’re worried too.   It shows.   But for everyone who needs a can of baby formula and can’t find one because a swarm of greedy locusts descended and bought 10 each, I’m left wanting to scream, ‘shame on you.’

But God bless you, too.   You’re scared; I get it.   We all do; I suppose we are all a little spooked.   Like others are saying, we’re in this together.

So, yes, it made me mad to see the shelves picked clean.  This happens in other places, but it rarely happens here.   It’s senseless and doesn’t have to occur.  Quarantines I can understand, but hoarding simply makes me see red.  Yet that’s where the anger has to stop.   Getting mad about it vents off the emotion, but then it does little good.  It’s not what Jesus would do.   Besides, there’s still plenty of stuff there, if you just look.   There is more on the way.   There will be more food, and when the crisis has passed, there will be plenty again.  Even more important, in the midst of this, there are still many, many more people who are caring and sharing through the early stages of this shortage-inducing outbreak.

For those people, God bless you, too.   Maybe even more.

God bless the families who want to share.  God bless the people who help you when your car breaks down; who pray for you when you lose your spouse; who speak out for you when other people are talking you down; who do what Jesus might do..

Because He’s God.   Because He blesses people even with His righteous judgements.   Because He blesses even the scared hoarders.

Perhaps the hoarders are hoarding because others around them will need those supplies.   Perhaps they need the food now for some family member we know nothing about.  Perhaps, instead of getting angry about what others are doing, we can be courageous and simply wish them well.   No matter what someone else is doing, Christ is sharing in our misfortunes.   God is still providing what we need.  These things are merely temporary setbacks.   Jesus is forever.

In the past, the Lord told our forefathers to be strong and courageous because He would be with us wherever we go.   That includes going into Wal-Mart and Kroger and facing the shelves that other people emptied in haste.  I probably didn’t need those things anyway.   I’ll simply check again tomorrow and be thankful for whatever I find.   It’ll be because of Him.

For further reading:  Joshua 1:9, Philippians 4:15.

Lord, thank You for always providing.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 19 December 2019

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Philippians 2:1-2. (EHV).

It’s ironic to write about these two verses the day after the House of Representatives impeached the President of the United States.   I’m not here to discuss that; we’ll leave that for other blogs.  To me, it really doesn’t matter who divided the good old US of A.   What matters is that we’re politically divided, devastatingly polarized in ways I’ve never seen in my life.   Maybe the people of 1941, 1860 or 1776 could talk about how their nation was divided, challenged, or up against a wall.   Maybe, better, so could the people of Jerusalem in AD 70, when the Romans finally destroyed the city after occupying it for over a century.

How do you come together when the anger runs deep, when your forces are destroyed and depressed, when you’ve gotten the wind knocked out of you?  When the other side seems unjust?  How do you put rage and defeat behind you when the other side is on the march?

It all starts by going to Jesus.   Today, before you go back to what you were doing before you read these words, say a prayer for the people with whom you disagree.   It’ll be tough, but I’ll do the same.   Let’s go to Jesus with our disagreements but also with our heartfelt words of prayer for the welfare, souls, and actions of the people on the other side of the aisle (no matter what side we find ourselves on).

After that, it becomes easier – conversation by conversation, day by day – to find unity in Christ, then unity in outlook, then unity in action.   Let’s be encouraged today by knowing that we can differ in our politics but we are one in Jesus Christ.   We are the same in Him.   When we embrace that, maybe we can be like-minded again on the important things, then on trivial things like politics and viewpoints after.

Yes, it’s tough.   It’s a tough day to watch our country go through all this for the second time in just over twenty years.   It’s a tough thing to see friends and family so divided, so torn.   Yet our world has seen tougher times.   Indeed, most places outside the United States have it far tougher than we do.  People there must look at our divisions as petty and ridiculous.   Maybe Jesus thinks that way too; maybe they, and He, have a point.  That’s not to say we should give up fighting for what we believe in.   It is to say, however, that what we believe in should be worth fighting for.   Unity in Jesus is.

For further reading:  John 3:29, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Colossians 3:12, Philippians 2:3.

Lord, please heal our broken and divided land.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 25 November 2019

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. Philippians 1:14. (EHV).

Here’s that why behind the what again.   In the previous verses, Paul said that his bad thing – being imprisoned, in chains, for the gospel – turned out to be a good thing because the Gospel spread.  The reason why that’s a good thing is that people see what true believers are willing to endure for faith in Jesus and then they, themselves, become more confident in their own faith and bold to share it without fear.

Have you considered that the biggest Christian nation on earth – the nation with the most believers in Jesus by population – is the United States?   And that the one place where it should NOT grow (because the government there is atheist, Communist, and hostile to God in all ways) is the People’s Republic of China?   According to Pew Research, in the USA there are 248 million Christians; that’s approximately 75% of the population.   In the USA, for the moment, people are mostly free to exercise any religion they want, especially Christianity.   There are dozens of denominations; there are services and practices for any comfort level in the faith.   Think of that:  248 million people saying they believe in Christ crucified.   And yet that number is actually declining.

Then consider the People’s Republic where, according to billionbibles.org, there may be as many as 234 million Christians.   Out of a current estimated population of 1.435 billion Chinese, this means that 16% of the Chinese population professes to believe in Jesus Christ.   If their faith is discovered, Christians in China are likely to be persecuted in one way or another, either by forced silence or actual imprisonment.   Untold thousands have been sent to Chinese gulags and no accurate number is really known how many have been executed for being Christian.   Yet the faith is growing.

In North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen it is a death penalty offense to say you believe in Jesus Christ.   And people do it anyway.   Just in those countries, thousands of people do it anyway.

Because watching someone be persecuted, lightly or harshly, may just spur you to think more about your own faith.   It may spur you to profess truths you hadn’t seriously considered.   It might just make you think in different ways.  The same “why” that explains why first century believers were strengthened by Paul’s persecution explains the things happening in our world today.   The Gospel can’t be contained by puny human methods, and where it is actively denied in the dark a tiny light can shine all that much brighter.

For further reading:  Acts 4:29, Acts 21:33, Philippians 1:15

Lord Jesus, where I’m stumbling in dark failure to share You where I am, teach me to shine so that others may benefit.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 9 July 2018

God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 (NIV).

God is good.   He helped me achieve a life goal, and it’s gonna be roasted to a crisp.

I’m working in New England this week and had a few free hours after my flight landed.   So yesterday I traveled to Vermont.   That meant I have now been in all 50 states of these United States.  Again, that may not seem like much, but this is a big country.   What’s more, except for Nevada and North Dakota, I’ve been to 48 of those 50 since I left home at age 18, over half of them repeatedly.   Vermont was the last state I needed to visit to join an elite club of people who spend way too much time on the road.

Vermont is a beautiful place.   Hilly, green, lush, friendly.  I only visited a few miles of it.   I checked in on Facebook, posted some pictures, had a great chat with a Navy veteran at a tourist center, and then bugged out.   But the drive up and back was gorgeous.   Literally it was one of the most pleasant rides I’ve ever had.

One day it’ll all be burned up in blazing fire from heaven.

That kind veteran I met:   really nice guy.   Vietnam Veteran; a veteran of the Gulf of Tonkin crisis in fact.   He’s been around, and I told him my story and that he was the first person I’d met in Vermont.   We got along well, as vets do.  Yet I hope he believes in Jesus because, if he doesn’t, one day he’ll know more trouble than he’s ever thought possible.

Paul reminds us that God is just.   He is perfect and His justice is perfect.   It is exactly what every situation needs.   God made this earth (and we who inhabit it) to be in perfect communion with Him so that we can share the blessings of Him.   Yet we frustrated His just and good creation with our free choice of sin.  Our just God respects our choices because that’s what love does yet He has promised to return and make all things new.   That will involve worldwide justice.   And terror for those who thwart Him.   And smiles and love and reunions.   And it will involve fire.

Even in beautiful Vermont.   It’ll be a shame to think of such a wonderful place being scorched to a crisp.   Yet God already has something even more beautiful in store.   Knowing that, bring on the fire.

For further reading: Luke 18:7-8, Romans 12:19, Colossians 3:25, Revelation 6:10, Hebrews 10:27, 2 Peter 3:7, Jude 14, 2 Thessalonians 1:8.

Lord, thank You for helping with my goal.   And thank You for Your coming justice!

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 4 July 2018, Independence Day

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (NIV).

Because today is Independence Day, a few words about the United States.

We persevere through faith.   Scratch the surface of the veneer that is our popular culture and you see that we, as the United States of America, persevere.   We persevere because our nation was founded on the idea of human liberty that is a gift from God.   That having faith in God is what makes us successful and able to persevere.  Those who would tear down that notion and replace it with twisted ideologies like socialism miss the point.   Our rights, our liberties, our blessing as a nation can’t be taken away by men.   It was given to us by God.   Knowing that, we persevere.

This isn’t to say that we are better than anyone else because we as a people aren’t.   It’s true that our institutions, our history, and our dedication to freedom do indeed set us apart from every other nation in human history.   Nobody else has done the things our nation has, and that makes America special.   We are indeed a place set apart where you can be what you want to be.   But let’s not get too big for our britches and say we’re better than other people because we just aren’t.

What makes us special, however, comes from the Almighty.   On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare America’s independence from Great Britain.  On July 4th, those same traitors signed the instrument of treason that made it official.   The primary author of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged that man’s rights were given to mankind by “Nature’s God” (Thomas Jefferson’s words, not mine).  Thus, the first nation in history conceived on the idea of liberty was conceived acknowledging that liberty originates with God.   242 years later, informed Americans still believe this is so.

The idea of God-given liberty isn’t in vogue today.   Indeed, the protection of liberty must always be upheld by each new generation if it’s to endure.   We have persevered to overcome the challenges of settling a continent, throwing off the evil of slavery, throwing off the slavery of economic calamity and governmental dependence, and the ongoing challenges posed by evil enemies who hate us because we’re free.   Because we believe in God.   There are nations in the world with deeper faith than the US, that express faith better than we do.  Yet there is no place on earth that has been so uniquely blessed by God  as the United States of America.   We have always persevered because of God.   As long as acknowledge that we are free only through our God, we can continue to do so no matter what persecutions and trials are ahead.

For further reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

Lord, thank You for blessing my home, America.   Help us to always see You as the only source of our liberty.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 December 2014

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Mark 3, verses 5-6

It’s still early in the book of Mark, meaning it’s still fairly early in Jesus’ ministry, possibly around AD 28 (according to http://biblehub.com/timeline/mark/1.htm). I say that because it means that, early on in the time when Jesus declared His public ministry, there were high-ranking people opposed to Him; opposed to Him so strongly that they wanted Him dead.   Those people were willing to plot with the official governing body installed by Rome (the Herodians). It wasn’t something that started during Passion Week; it happened all along. Do you grasp the significance of that?   It would be as if someone got the goods on the United States Government today and publicly, vocally, strongly, and with overwhelming public support worked to oppose it.   Tell me:   do you think the power structure in ancient Judea was any less intimidating or malevolent?

And how did Jesus look to oppose the public power structure?   By gently but firmly confronting it through doing His Father’s good.   If you recall, in verses 1-4 He confronted the Pharisees by questioning them on the Sabbath.   Already they were looking for a way to trap Him. So, instead of falling into their trap, Jesus rhetorically and practically counter-traps them by exposing the stubbornness of their hearts. Yet He gives them an out. In today’s verses, Jesus proves that it is right to do the Father’s will any time, Sabbath or otherwise. Instead of condemnation, Jesus spreads a little love by helping a stranger, then letting the action speak for itself.

Yet don’t overlook the massive thing He also does in doing so. He gets angry; righteously angry.   He wasn’t angry at the Pharisees, but He did get angry and look at them in anger.   See the difference; it matters. It’s no small thing to tick off the Creator of the Universe but these Pharisees managed to do it.   How?   By hardening their hearts.   It should have been a no-brainer:   let the Father’s love show in any way at any time whether it violated Jewish tradition or not. Yet they stubbornly refused to choose what was right, choosing, instead, the tradition over the love.   That choice is what angered Jesus, namely that they would choose humanity over God, that they would choose human practice over God’s glory.

Tell me:   do you think Jesus gets similarly angry over our bad choices today?   I don’t know where heaven is, or where in it Jesus lives; I sometimes wonder if, at my dying, I won’t be ridiculously surprised to learn that heaven was here all along but I, in my mortal humanity, could not see it. Jesus is there and here at the same time, absent from a physical presence that I could grasp yet very real and very present in ways only my heart can.   When I choose what I can grasp over choosing who He is, do you think that distresses Him the way He became distressed over the Pharisees?   After all, Jesus loved the Pharisees too.   Early on, they showed how they could rebel against Him. Yet just as early, instead of hating them, He rebuked and loved them, too.

Lord, forgive me of my sins, of my poor choices, of how I chose the world over You.

Read ahead in Mark 3, verses 7-12.