Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 26 May 2020

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right1 Peter 2:13-14 (NIV).

This one is difficult for me to write.   We’re still in lockdown in many places thanks to the outbreak of COVID-19:   a disease that hasn’t been nearly as deadly as most trusted experts predicted.   It has been awful, and has killed almost 350000 people worldwide.   Cases in most countries are declining, yet with over 5 million cases across the globe, many places are still locked down, especially in the US.  That doesn’t give someone great reason to trust government.

Not only, but our politics here in the US have been divided for decades.   This isn’t anything new to people reading this overseas; government corruption is as old as Eden.   Yet not since the 1960s has this nation been so politically divided, perhaps not since the Civil War.  Right against left; Democrat against Republican; one side against another.   And yet government grows, government interference, especially in conduct of the church, grows.  That, too, doesn’t give someone great reason to trust government.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, when tyranny and murder were temporarily defeated   The most destructive war in human history came about as the result of the world’s response when government based in death and hatred attacked nations at peace.  During this Memorial Day week, thank God that He gave us men and women willing to fight, and die, to free others.   If only they had stayed free, for the fallen world soon launched other wars, new tyranny, more death.   And the band played on.

Yet here, still, God requires that we submit ourselves to all authorities.   Parents, bosses, governors, presidents:   they are God’s instruments for maintaining His will in the world.  Upright or not, no political or professional leader has their position without God allowing it or deeming it so.   Governments are instituted among men to secure rights given to us by God; to do things for society that individuals cannot.   Through this, God works to reach all his people, even through dictatorship in places such as China, North Korea, Cuba, or dozens of lesser dictatorships all across Africa, South America, and even in some US state governments.   Nothing, even evil, happens that is not under God’s dominion.

This doesn’t mean God causes evil.  We do.   God allows us the consequences of choice, all of which involve some degree of embracing evil.   Yet for our own good and for the growth of believers in Him, God requires that we submit to all authorities so that we might trust Him to do as He will.

For further reading:  Romans 13:1-4, Titus 3:1, Peter 2:15

Lord Jesus, help me to submit to authority, to recognize You will do Your work through this and through them.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 5 December 2019

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:20. (EHV).

Everyone has a breaking point.  If you talk to military SERE instructors, they will tell you that one of the biggest lessons Americans learned from POW experiences in World War II, Korea and Vietnam was that every prisoner has a breaking point.  Every person has a point at which they can’t withstand further incarceration, discomfort or torture.   Eventually, every person, honorable or not, can be broken.

Paul understood this.   He expected Christ would empower him to stand, to resist the temptation to give in to Rome.   Paul knew Christ wouldn’t abandon him, wouldn’t leave him to fend for himself.   Paul understood that his sufferings were meaningless when compared to how Jesus Christ would be glorified by every petty attack against him.

Paul understood it because he also understood that, on his own, he wouldn’t last.   Without the Spirit of God to speak for him, work through him, Paul would break.   He would give in to what the Jews and Romans wanted and he would recant.  It’s simply human nature because a person can only take ‘so much.’  The North Koreans understand this concept.  So did the Vietnamese, and communist Chinese.   So did the Soviets, Nazis, and the mafia.   The interrogator or oppressor simply has to find what will break the subject and then do it.   With some people, it’s physical; with others it’s emotional.   Everyone has a breaking point.

Jesus knows this too.   Jesus knows that we can’t stand on our own, that without Him we are nothing.   He knows that the world is fallen and set against Him, so He gives His Spirit to us so that we might stand with Him and endure, even overcome.   Even when we break, or are broken or killed, He is with us so that we might endure in Him and yet prevail.   And when we prevail for His sake, Jesus is glorified.   He is increased in the world.   He is given praise and we benefit.   We especially benefit eternally.

Again, Paul understood all this.   He understood that, if he didn’t succeed here, he would succeed in eternity because Jesus had already succeeded, already prevailed, for him.  He understood that his (Paul’s) first, best mission is to live for Christ no matter what that required.  Paul knew he would reach his breaking point but that he could endure past that with faith and honor because Jesus was with him at all times.   Two thousand years later, that’s still true.   I suspect some of those SERE instructors would agree.

For further reading:  Romans 8:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Philippians 1:21

Lord Jesus, be with me when I’m attacked or persecuted and help me endure for Your sake.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 10 January 2019

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity1 Timothy 5:1-2 (NIV).

Be fair and square with people.   Maybe that’s another way of saying these verses.  Or perhaps it’s the Golden Rule:  do for others as we’d have them do for us.   Treat others like family, and treat them with dignity and respect.  Respect your elders; mentor those younger; treat with dignity and kindness.

My Tuesday online bible group; my wife, kids, their spouses, and our grandkids; my sister and in-laws (father, mother, sister, brother); my work team; strangers at Kroger (or friends); the phone-reading guy hanging out in the left lane; the hundreds of people in an airport this weekend.   What do all these folks have in common?

Paul reminds me that I’m to treat them like family, with dignity and respect.   Go and do thou likewise.

Treat EVERYONE with respect, but especially those older than us.  Years ago my family visited the World War II memorial in Washington DC.   My girls were young teenagers, pretty and vivacious.  A bunch of World War II veterans wanted to have their pictures taken with these two girls, who seemed understandably wary of the funny old men.   My daughters came to me and I told them “go back and do it.   These men are why this memorial is here.  They fought so you wouldn’t have to, and in a few years, they’ll all be gone because they’re very old now.”   So the girls went back and the pictures were snapped.   In the process, they talked and they learned.   Now, years later, the youngest of those veterans would be in their nineties; most are probably gone.

Memorials are wonderful but we don’t need them to pay respect.   We should pay our respects to those who came before us simply by listening to them, by befriending them, by spending time with them.   This is what God commands us to do as far back as Leviticus 19.  I recently read that, when an old person dies, a library of priceless information dies with them.  God gave us the gift of each other and these geriatric treasures we call “grandparents” so that we could learn from them and learn how to age ourselves.  More than that, He gave us our elders and forebearers so that we might learn to honor and better know Him:   the eternal Ancient of Days who was and is and is to come.

When you meet a senior citizen today, thank them.   And when you see that guy in the left lane, no matter how old he is, be nice.

For further reading: Matthew 7:12, Luke 10:37, Titus 2:2, Leviticus 19:32, Titus 2:6, Revelation 1:8, 1 Timothy 5:3.

Lord, thank You for old people.   Help me to treat them – and all people – with dignity and respect so that I can honor you in doing so.


Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 7 January 2019

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 1 Timothy 4:13 (NIV).

Do you remember the day were born?

That’s a line I borrowed from a funeral last week.  The man who died was 102 years old, and he used that line for most of his life as an entre into conversation about the Gospel.   The man, Clem McGregor, died just before Christmas, was a D-Day/Battle of the Bulge vet, and spent his post-war life as a minister, especially in the San Antonio jails.   The people who eulogized this good man said that, over the course of his life, he ministered to over 10,000 people in jails alone (not even counting churches or simply one-on-one).  (As mentioned) His favorite conversation-starter:   do you remember the day you were born?

I believe in that line.  In fact, I used it with the Sunday School class I taught just yesterday.   If you think about it, it’s a great way to get somebody both thinking and listening to you; after all, why would you ask such a ‘ridiculous’ question?   How can you possibly remember your very first moments as an infant?   Rev McGregor’s point was to steer the conversation towards a discussion about baptism and the need for Jesus, for salvation.  The line worked for him; as mentioned, it worked in talking with a great many people!   And if you think about it, it’s a perfect Segway into what Paul was reminding Timothy to do in today’s verse.

Paul exhorted his protégé, Timothy, to devote himself to reading Scripture in public.   That included all the old books of (what we call) the Old Testament, as well as various letters written by Paul and his apostolic contemporaries.   He did it so that Timothy and his congregation would be reminded of the faith they were following.  So they would be encouraged regularly, even in the most improbable of times and places, that they were saved by Jesus Christ, that Jesus was the fulfillment of all those Hebrew accounts and prophecies.   That they needed Jesus who abided with them day by day.  No matter what we have done, how ashamed or regretful we feel, or what is going on in our lives now, nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.   It was true for Timothy’s people.  It’s true for us.

I didn’t know Clem McGregor well, but I’m thankful our lives intersected.   That he used so much of his own life to introduce others to Jesus.  That he did the great deeds he did in the war, in his family, and in serving Christ.   Do you remember the day you were born?  If not, let’s talk about what that means.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 3:14, Acts 13:14-16, Colossians 4:16, Romans 8:39.

Lord Jesus, grant rest to our departed friend, comfort to his wife and family, and give us opportunities to grow in our faith in You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 10 October 2018

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well. 1 Timothy 1:18 (NIV).

Suit up, fellow warrior.   You’re in a fight.   You believe in Jesus, so you’re in the fight for Him.   You need to be prepared for it, both in your armor and in letting go of your control.   Be ready to pick up your sword, but then stand back and watch Jesus do the hard work.  God has always done this:  fought for His people.   Yet He asks us to be ready to stand with Him.

It’s not that Jesus can’t (or doesn’t) do the heavy lifting for us.  We don’t HAVE TO do anything to earn His love, or earn Him fighting off evil for us.   We don’t do anything to contribute to our salvation by standing up for Jesus, or for our sisters & brothers, or even just by standing up for those who can’t.  We can’t do anything to become more powerful than God; it’s not possible.   Whom God intends to stand against, He will, and they will be defeated.

But…there’s always a but.   But Jesus asks us to do it anyway.  It’s not because we have to:  it’s because we get to.  Because He sent His Spirit to reshape us and give us the heart of a spiritual warrior.  Because He prepares us over time to accept His love, inculcate His teachings, and ready ourselves to face down the evil one.  All that happens to us it to prepare us for this moment, for now, to serve Jesus and stand for Him.

You may not realize it but you fight evil every day.  Hold the door for a stranger:   you’re fighting back evil.  Listen to your kids (or your mom and dad):  you’re thwarting Satan.   Do your best at work:  fighting for God.  Forgive someone who hurt you:  fighting for God and bringing a tear to Jesus’ eye.  “Here’s what the Bible says” when someone asks you why you believe what you do:  suit up, get up, and stand beside Jesus in the unending line of warriors on the front line.   You’re fighting in the battle of the ages:  one kind word at a time.

Paul was always ready to stand up for God.   After giving praise to God, he then coached Timothy, who himself was in training as a soldier-of-God.   Paul consistently used his words to give Timothy tools he could use.  The lesson for is the same:   give praise and get ready.  In World War II, there was a popular song, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”   That’s good advice; Paul might have said it himself.   Get up, soldier.   The fight is now.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 1:30, Joshua 23:10, Nehemiah 4:20, Ephesians 6:10-20, 1 Timothy 1:19

Lord, I praise You for Your mighty hand.  Uphold me as I stand for You.   Help me to always be on Your side.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 November 2017

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”  Hebrews 13, verse 6.

This verse actually goes hand-in-hand with verse 5; as you’ll remember, that verse concludes with “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  God will never forsake us and never abandon us no matter what we’ve done.   Even if we lead a life of despicable sin, He will work until our very last moment to turn our hearts back to Him.  When we realize that, we GET TO shed even our worst fears.

Knowing that gave Jesus the courage to hang in agony on the cross.   Knowing that let all His disciples save one to go to their deaths as martyrs.   Knowing that has allowed missionaries for two thousand years to go into the field, turn their worlds upside down, and even risk death for the sake of being “there” and being able to say “do you know this Jesus?”   Knowing that enables you to stand and say “I believe” even when pressures of friends, family, and the world challenge you to deny it.

The world, the devil, and other people can kill your body but nobody can extinguish your soul.   That’s the ultimate truth of faith, namely that eternity really does matter most.

Have you considered that, if you’re consigned to hell, you’re alive?   You aren’t annihilated.   You’re conscious there of what’s happening and you know it forever.   The “life” one leads in hell isn’t the living for which we’re intended.   Indeed, it’s the full consequence of the sins we embrace in this life that separate us from the heart of God.  It is the ultimate separation from the love that makes life worth living.  Misery, anguish, sorrow, pain, torture:  they exist from the inside out for all who walk through hell’s gate.  Hell isn’t a place to which God sentences us:   it’s the place we choose while we’re here by continually rejecting Him.

Here on the Third Rock, each of us lives as a sentient body for only so long and then we enter eternity.   During our time here, God continuously provides for us life, food, water, air, shelter, and love.  He does it until our very last heartbeat.   It’s up to us what we do with those things He gives to us.   Do we only consume them, or do we consume and share them?   Are we only existing or are we existing and thanking God that we are?   Can we get by with what we have or can we get by and then use our time, talents, and treasures to share with others as God shares?   What will you believe and then what will you do about that?

When we turn to God, He begins His work in us.  For us, it starts with “I believe”, realizing that Jesus has already done everything needed for that to happen.  The path to hell is changed into a guaranteed entrance into heaven.   He takes up residence in our hearts and begins to work from the inside out.   He helps us in all we think, say, and do.   No we don’t always get it right, and sometimes we do terribly wrong.   That doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.   It means we’ve chosen something else.   Yet even in the middle of those choices, God’s Spirit is still within us and beckons us to choose differently.   We get to choose life even when we’ve previously chosen death.  To turn from the heart-attitude that caused us to sin and let Him scour it out.   He helps us and flourishes in us.   When that happens, we can’t help but share it, we can’t help but want to follow and do His better will.

When that happens, we begin to realize that nothing can extinguish His love inside us, and nothing can take it away, and nothing can overcome it.  Satan and his world may kill us for it but that won’t stop it.   In the next life, God’s love comes to full miraculous fruition.   Can you imagine, then, what even a hint of His love could do here and now?

The robbers next to Jesus on Calvary both heaped insults and scorn on Him as they hung there dying.   Yet sometime during that day, one of them realized his sin and appealed to Christ for mercy.  In that very moment, Jesus promised the man eternity in paradise; you can have confidence that he’s there now.   Even in those moments of physical torture, God filled up this man’s heart and gave him the courage to die and then truly live.   There are stories of mercy even in the Holocaust of World War II.   There is the story of the girl at Columbine who stood up for her faith and was summarily murdered for it.   Just this past weekend, 26 believers were slaughtered by a lunatic who had gleefully abandoned God.  Those people are more alive now in heaven than they ever were here; I feel pity for the killer who is probably alive some place else.  All of these are manifestations of God’s promise to always help us and quench our fears.   When He is with us, there’s no need to ever be afraid of anything the world thinks it can do.

For further reading:  Psalm 118:6-7, Matthew 13:50, Revelation 20:14-15.

My saving Lord, thank You so much for always being with me.   Thank You for inspiring courage in me.  Thank You for always working Your will in my life.   Help me to better live out Your wonderful will today.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 December 2015

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. Mark 13, verses 7-8.

Watch out and be ready.   Read the signs.

Every day we are looking for signs for the second coming of Christ.   As you can read, it’s something that Jesus Himself told us we need to do.   Watch out and be ready.   Look for the signs and heed them.   Heed them to be ready.

Now, I am not going to speculate on whether or not we are in the end times.   Dozens of generations before ours thought they were because they saw wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines and violence.   Remember the fall of Jerusalem less than a generation after Mark’s Gospel was written?   Or the fall of Rome a few centuries later.   The Crusades a thousand years ago, the Muslim invasion of Europe in the 1400s.   The Hundred Years’ War; The Thirty Years’ War; World War I and especially World War II. The generations that lived through those things must surely have thought they were witnessing the end.   So it is with ours.

Maybe it’s never happened in my lifetime or maybe I’m just paying attention to it now but the signs are appearing again.

And the moral of the story is still “watch out and be ready.”   Right now; today.   That’s what Jesus told us.

I can honestly say that I hope it happens.   I honestly hope for the time when this life can end and the life without time can begin.   Perhaps it will indeed happen in my lifetime.   Just today, with ISIS on the move again and with Russia threatening nuclear war with Turkey, wars and rumors of wars are abounding.   I heard a radio ad (not a preacher, an advertisement) speculating on whether or not we are witnessing the start of the war prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel over 2500 years ago. High profile radio hosts are openly talking about how we are in the beginning of World War III but we haven’t faced up to it yet.   Some are saying “end times.”

Watch out and be ready.

Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you.   Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you into thinking they are the returning Jesus. He is coming and soon but none of us know the date or time.   All we can understand through our view of the trees is that only Jesus can truly see the whole forest and He will return to govern it when God the Father deems it to be the time. Until then, we have only one job.

Watch out and be ready.   Watch out and be ready by helping others to do the same.   Help others to do the same by using the talents Jesus gives each of us to His glory, for His purpose, in His ways.   Share our stories, use our abilities, do what we can to be Jesus for other people so that they, too, may ready themselves for Jesus’ imminent return. Heed the signs by reading and interpreting the signs.   Be ready to stand, then to leave, when Jesus comes back for you. Watch and be ready.

Lord, I anxiously await Your return.   Until that happens, help me to understand the signs and be ready for You.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.