Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 11 March 2020

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.  Philippians 4:8 (NJKV).

I had a bad day yesterday.   It was a bad day at work, compounded by a day of bad news, made worse by the matter of being at home alone.  Woe is me?   No, not really, but even as a believer in Jesus, we have bad days.

At work, I had been chastised for work I had never done before on a moment’s notice, without preparation, and with minimal guidance.   I had made several small but correctible errors yet the subsequent upbraiding from my manager struck me hard.   By the end of the afternoon I was both angry and agitated, despairing and depressed.  It kept me up last night.

Then, yesterday, I learned that a co-worker died last week.   We weren’t close; in fact we barely knew each other.   But her death hit me as unfair, cruel.   Not more than an hour or so after learning that, another friend informed me that, just the day before, her own daughter had also died.   That really shattered my mood because, while I never met her daughter, my friend and I worked closely together for several years and I consider her dear.   Death goes beyond simple cruelty:   it is hostile to all we love.

Last, I’m alone at home.   My wife and our temporary resident daughter and grandchildren are gone for the week.   It’s spring break, so we all agreed they should go out and enjoy themselves.   I’m glad they are, but on such a tough day, I feel left alone.   Yes, I know Christ never leaves us fully alone, yet I believe even Jesus must sympathize when our feelings get the best of us.

On days like these, Paul’s words of advice for us to meditate on what is good, pure and righteous are both hollow and uplifting.   In the middle of my dark mood, they seem like sauce for the goose; a waste of time given my gloomy circumstances.   Yet that’s only the evil one attacking me.   In darkness, even a dim candle shines brightly.   In my darkened mood yesterday, Paul’s advice to remind me to focus on the better angels of Christ’s nature is actually what I need to hear most.   Word by word, little by little, the light they cast brightens over the gloomy dark. Thought by thought, they replace the dark with something much better.

And that’s the strength to start again.   It’s Jesus’ strength.

Please pray for the families of Marci Crawford and Janice Blankenship.   Pray for comfort, God’s peace, and balm in this time of grief.

For further reading: Philippians 4:9.

Lord Jesus, grant Your peace to my friends’ families today.   Shine Your light into their lives to overcome the darkness.  And in mine and ours as well.

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 Philippians, 13 January 2020

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13. (EHV).

Be careful about reading these verses because part of verse 12 – “work out your salvation” – is easy to misconstrue if you forget the rest of verse 13.  This isn’t about me or you doing it ourselves.   It isn’t about us doing the work of salvation for ourselves.   Jesus already did all of it, everything necessary, for salvation.   Instead, the verse is about our faith, our letting God’s Spirit work through us.   The good things we say and do are God Himself working through us as His Spirit guides our thoughts and actions.

That’s easy to forget, you see, because sometimes it feels like there is something we have to do to feel worthy or be worthy or involve ourselves in our salvation.   Mark this and remember it:   the only involvement we have in salvation – being saved from damnation – is saying “I believe.”   All the atonement, all the work, all the actions, all the bloodshed, all the spiritual healing was done by Jesus and only by Jesus.   As Madeline might have said, that’s all there is; there is no more.

Yet here on the Third Rock we get confused.   We fill our lives with busyness (and business), and we spend most of them learning, striving, working to attain.   If you’re in America, you’re also imbued with the concept of personal liberty and independence.   It’s our God-given right to exercise our liberties because we’re free.   That’s where it should stop but all too often it doesn’t.  We get our independence here mixed up with our dependence on God for His saving us from ourselves.   And the worst part is that we don’t want to admit when we’re wrong.   That He’s God and we aren’t.   That we don’t, we can’t, save ourselves from the consequences of our sins.

Faith is a choice.   We choose to accept what Christ has done for us.   When we do that, He sends His Spirit to live and work through us.   Our hands may do the physical lifting but it’s His heart that gives us the motivation to do it.   Our eyes do the seeing, our lips speak the words, yet it is God’s Spirit seeing what we see, speaking words we speak in order to do our part in His Kingdom work.   This is where ‘working out our salvation’ occurs and where we meet the water’s edge.

For further reading:  Ezra 1:5, 1 Corinthians 12:6, 2 Corinthians 7:15, Galatians 2:8, James 2:18, Hebrews 13:21, Philippians 2:13

Lord Jesus, continue to work Your work through me today.   Help me to know You better so that all my words and actions may be ones Your Spirit works through me

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 11 December 2019

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Philippians 1:23-24. (EHV).

“We’re here to serve others by sharing Jesus because, in doing so, we are best serving Him.”   That is our mission in life, our prime directive.  When we serve Jesus, He is living, working through us.   Wherever and whenever we act for Him, even unconsciously, He is present.   His Spirit is at work.

We’re in a world where that’s needed more than ever.   I’m in Massachusetts for work this week, and it’s snowing as I write these words.   To those living in north Texas, the word “snow” is magically terrifying.   I grew up living in snow, so driving in it is no big deal; just go slow already and leave a little earlier.   But I don’t like driving in the stuff.   In fact, I loathe driving in snow.  My hotel is only a couple of miles from the office, so I’m not expecting it will be much trouble to get to work today, but to be honest one never really knows.

As mentioned, work brought me here.   There’s a reason for my trip and it’s to do a presentation, then to take a class.   I have about a dozen phone calls to make, and some client work as well.  The powers that be consider it necessary for me to be here, in person, to do these things.   It’s necessary, for the meeting attendees, the students, the participants even though I’m really just a low-level person in this company.   Though I love being included, I would much rather be at home where it’s warmer, where my own bed is there for rest, where there are people who love me, and where things are familiar.   Where it isn’t snowing.  But it’s necessary instead that I be here.

Eventually, that time will end.   As Paul said in 2 Timothy, eventually the time will come for our departure.   Most of us don’t know when we’ll die.   We only know that we will.   My hotel sits near a highway and just a few minutes ago I heard a siren; it’s probably a first-responder going to someone who’s been in an accident.   I can only hope there isn’t injury or pain involved.  Yet the same God who’s at work in my daily living here is at work in this moment as well, in whatever accident has happened.   Even if it involves death.   That same Jesus who met Paul and guided him for the rest of his life is at work in these words in your heart.  I really, truly desire to be with Him, and eventually that day will come; maybe today, maybe years from now.   Until then, we’re each needed here, even in the snow.

For further reading:  John 12:26, 2 Timothy 4:6, Philippians 1:25

Lord Jesus, praise to You for using my life for Your service here.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 10 December 2019

If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! Philippians 1:22. (EHV).

This morning I was in an airport.   Rather than bury myself in my phone or a book, I watched people.   In airports, this is one of my favorite activities.  It’s easy to do these days, not just because there are so many people in airports.   No, it’s easy to do because so many people are, themselves, buried in their phones.

Except one man.   I saw one man in particular who wasn’t on his phone, mainly because he was working.   He was emptying trash cans.   He spoke with nobody; he stayed out of others’ ways.   He wore rubber gloves while he grabbed already full dirty trash bags and pulled them out of the equally dirty cans.  I watched as this man efficiently went about his work.   If any of the other travelers noticed him, they didn’t give notice themselves.

And I wondered:   did he dream of becoming a ‘dustman?’   When he was a little boy, did he say to himself “I can’t wait to grow up so I can be a trash man?”  I doubt it.  I mean, who among us dreams of collecting garbage for a living?   Who dreams of having a job collecting peoples’ empty wrappers, coffee cups, and who knows what else?   Yet we who travel through the airports unconsciously know (and refuse to admit) that this man and his work are indispensable to us.   We benefit greatly from him and his work even when we do our best to ignore them.  If he stops doing his job, we all lose.   Trash piles up.   Flies gather.   Germs, bacteria, odor, disease:  we would all suffer.

If he goes on living in the body, this means fruitful labor for him (he gets paid) and us (the trash is removed).   Do you think this man is a believer in Jesus?   I didn’t ask him.  But his work is something Paul would understand.   Indeed, we all should.

If Paul took the easy route and simply died, he would join Christ in eternity.   That’s a good thing.  A very good thing.   In fact, it’s our best goal possible.  Yet, to be frank, that’s not why we live.   We’re here to serve others by sharing Jesus because, in doing so, we are best serving Him.   We share this good news of redemption, of love, of forgiveness to destroy the darkness.   We further Jesus by doing this.   Tempting as it must be to want to be in paradise, we have work to do for Jesus here.   His work.   Because to go on living in the body now is fruitful labor.

I wonder if the trash man knows this.   I wonder how many of us are using our time for fruitful labor or simply throwing away the rubbish.

For further reading:  Philippians 1:23

Lord, let me do Your work today and let it be fruitful.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 31 May 2019

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV).

These are two of the most famous verses in the New Testament.   They’re a common-sense exposition of a basic truth:   The entire Bible is the Word of God.   All of it.   Not just the meek and mild Jesus parts:   all of it.

We of the Christian faith find it easy to ignore the Old Testament.   It’s almost as easy for us to ignore the OT as it is to ignore all hymns before year 2000.  Some of the Old Testament is brutal history.  And we don’t like explaining that the same God who smote the Philistines is the same God who died for our sins, who loved the little children, who forgives us anything.   Yep:   same triune God; same Jesus; same Father and Spirit.   We can only understand this if we read that Old Testament instead of selectively ignoring it, which many of our churches do (including my own).

The Word of God is a tool for us to live.  We can (and should) use it for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training, praising, thanking, repenting and living in every way possible.   Paul identifies only four specific behaviors (teaching and the other three) in order to make a point (that they are especially useful in encouraging righteousness).   Yet the bigger point is that ALL SCRIPTURE IS GOD-BREATHED AND IS USEFUL…SO THAT THE SERVANT OF GOD MAY BE THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED FOR EVERY GOOD WORK.

Every good work.   Witnessing and teaching.  Pouring concrete.  Preaching sermons.   Welding I-beams.  Configuring software.   Raising kids.   You name it:  every good work we can conceive of is made possible when we are equipped with the peace from God’s word that transcends all understanding.

Mind you, Paul’s foremost concern for Timothy was spiritual work of the church body.   Yet his point almost certainly meant every good work that we could do.   And then consider this:   God teaches and places us where He does to prepare us for those works.   My friend, Phil, recently preached about David and Goliath, and one of the points he made was how God prepared David years ahead of time to fight Goliath.   Over time, our God developed David’s skills with bravery, simple weapons, and faith most of all.   Stepping out to battle the tall Philistine was the result of much quiet preparation, not just a teenager’s faithful bravado.

In the same way, God uses our work, our lives, to prepare us for things He has for us to do, both now and later.   Every work, then, can be a work for the Lord.   All of them.  No wonder these verses are famous.  All of the Bible is God-breathed and for our use.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:7, 2 Peter 1:20, Romans 4:23-24, 1 Timothy 6:11,  2 Timothy 4:1.

Lord, all of Your word is useful and holy.   Thank You for it!

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 15 April 2019

The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.   2 Timothy 2:6 (NIV).

This verse, along with the previous ones, should be considered all together to get their full impact.  Together, verses 1-6 say “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.”

Think of it this way:   keep your eye on the ball because the reward for this is better than anything else you can imagine.

Sometimes I wonder where I fit in.   I’m working at my fifth company in three years.   To be honest, that sometimes shakes my confidence, especially when your work is done or the client moves in a new direction.  The reasons for moving around so much are many, but they all end at this place:  I’m currently employed at a great company, and I’m so thankful for it.   Yet even here, after so many moves, even when I’m thankful to be working and working where I am, I wonder where I fit in.

I wonder if farmers feel that way.   It must be a challenge to stay motivated to get up every day and work patiently at growing crops, husbanding animals, and maintaining your homestead.   It’s good work, peaceful work, rewarding work I’m sure.   But it must also be frightening at storm times, or when the rains come too early, too much, too little or late.  Athletes prepare for competition; farmers prepare for the harvest (and then for the rest months, and then planting, weeding, and the next harvest).   Like athletes who are always preparing for the next competition, or consultants who are always implementing the last version of software in anticipation of the next future implementation, farmers prepare now for the next harvest and the times after that.

Sort of like Jesus did for us, preparing us now for the next harvest after this life.   That means we need to heed Him, let ourselves be prepared, and keep our eyes on the ball of His presence, His teaching in our lives; let Him reward us as He sees best.  It prepares us now for both living here in the fallen world and the harvest in heaven when the full crop of His believers are brought together in eternal praise and celebration.  THAT is the place we’ll fit in best.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:10, 2 Timothy 2:7.

Awesome “farmer” Jesus, prepare me now, I pray, to serve You better.  

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 14 February 2019

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV).

This is a greatly mis-quoted verse.   Money itself isn’t the root of all kinds of evil; money is just a tool, even a blessing, that God gives to us.   Loving the tool more than the God who gives it is what is the root of all kinds of evil.   It’s the starting point down paths that lead away from Him.  I know plenty of wealthy people who struggle to keep it together; I know plenty of poor people who do the same yet seem more contented (or is it resigned) with their lot.

Thank God I’m poor, right?   I mean, I’ve been working for over 30 years now and I don’t seem to get ahead.  Well-paying jobs pay me well and it all seems to go out the door.   At this pace, I’ll be working until noon on the day of my funeral.  Perhaps “poor” isn’t the best word since, by the standards of poverty, my family is no where near that.   Perhaps the better description is “monetarily challenged.”

So be it.  It doesn’t keep me up at night.   I choose a different path.

Don’t get me wrong:   I like a buck as much as the next guy.   And I plan on working until I’m 72-74 to make sure I have done all I can to enjoy retirement.   Besides, I enjoy work.   I look at it as a blessing, as a way to use the talents God gave me to better do His work for me in the world.   That includes my career.

Perhaps I’ve learned to be content with how God provides.  That’s a lesson that didn’t come easily after watching my parents financially struggle for decades.  Then making irresponsible choices with my own money, spending too much and investing too little.   Yet through it all, the antidote to loving money is remembering that, every day, God provides abundantly whether we’re monetarily poor or rich.   It seems cliché but if you wake up, God has provided.   If you’re breathing, rested, drinking water, God has provided.  No matter what condition you’re in, if you’re above room temperature, then God has provided all you need to start the day and meet what’s up ahead.   Let’s be content with that first and let the rest come as it will.

Love God and not the money He provides.   When you do that, it becomes easy to become content and realize He’s going to provide whatever we need in all circumstances.   That, and start to tithe.   But let’s save that subject for a different discussion.

For further reading:   1 Timothy 6:11.

Provider Lord, forgive me when I focus more on money and earning than on You and the blessings You give.  Thank You for giving me today, and help me to use today wisely.   

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 21 November 2018

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:8-10 (NIV).

Why do we labor and strive here?   Why is physical (and spiritual, educational, vocational, personal, etc) training of some value but godliness of more value?

Ah the questions of the ages.   To be human is to wrestle with them at some point in our lives, to grapple with the meaning of our existence.   Yet for the believer this life is more than mere existence.   It is purpose, mission, satisfaction, adventure.   We strive all our lives to better ourselves in service to Him who saved us from ourselves.   That gives life reason and meaning.   It’s not just about getting by:   it’s about serving Him in new and adventurous ways.

It’s true.   We can have a pretty good life if the best we do is to live as peaceful people with each other.   We can learn, study, train ourselves, even work to live in physical peace.   Pretty darn good lives, actually:  just ask any atheist, any non-believer and they’ll tell you this very thing (before they tell you that you’re a fool for believing in this Jesus).  Yet what they won’t tell you – because they can’t – is that such a life has no inner peace, has no inner-driven purpose other than to be a better man.   That it’s meaningless.  In the end, all they can look forward to is an eternity in the dirt, started in nothingness and returning to it after a life lived in meaningless existence.

C’mon, people: there’s better than that.   We weren’t made for godlessness.   We were made for much, much more.  Godliness is following Jesus.   Godliness is letting the Galatians 5 fruits of His Spirit remake us.   Godliness is living in awareness that He loves us, that He forgives us, that He asks us to do more with what He gives us.   Godliness is submitting our lives to Him even when it means taking up our cross and denying the alluring things of this world.   Godliness is Christ.

When we labor and strive under His understanding, we see the reason for our hope, both now in how He reshapes us into better people, and at the end-beginning when we see Him face to face.   When we live in that hope, every day is Thanksgiving Day.  Every day becomes a reason to express godly gratitude for all the ways He blesses us.

For further reading: Galatians 5, 1 Timothy 4:11

Lord Jesus, every day is a day of thanksgiving in service to You.   Keep remolding me into Your servant that I might better live this life for You.

 

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.