Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 1 June 2023. Today’s topic: Don’t Worry

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Matthew 6:25

After telling us that our heart will be where our treasure is, and that we can’t live with divided loyalties, Jesus now commands us to not worry.   To not worry about anything.

I don’t do it as much anymore, but I spent much of my life obsessively worrying.   I learned it from my Mom, who often recounted the time a professor told her, “Grace, you worry about everything.   You worry about whether or not the sun will come up.  I assure you it will without your worrying about it.”  Mom lived 85 years, and they were more adventurous, full of more experiences, more replete with knowledge and even faith than anyone else I’ve ever known.   Through most of them, though, she worried.   About my sister and I; about our dad, her husband; about making ends meet; about being somebody; about things I don’t even know about.  Maybe she even worried about the sun coming up.

My favorite way of looking at Jesus’ words here is from Psalm 136.   Maybe He had that in mind when He said them.   All through that Psalm, a recurring refrain says, “His love endures forever.”  Psalm 136 is known as “The Great Hallel.”   Quite likely, it is the same hymn the disciples sang at the Last Supper, just before they departed for Gethsemene.   The psalm begins and ends by saying “Give thanks to the Lord,” with the first verse talking about God’s goodness, and the last talking about His dominion in eternity. Then that refrain appears, completing every thought, every new praise.   He who is good is good forever.   Give thanks to Him because of that.

That means we don’t have to worry.   Jesus said so.  He guaranteed it and He is our treasure.

The older she grew, the less Mom worried; that’s a function of aging.  You learn you don’t have to worry about most things because you’ve already seen a lot of what life can throw at you.  In her later years, she also spent more time studying her Bible, going to Bible studies, serving where she could.  I believe that’s the reason why she worried less:   she got closer to the Lord and let Him take the worry.  That made all the difference between a life of experience and an experienced life well-lived.   The sun rose and set regardless.  At just the right time, which only God would know, she learned that His love does indeed endure forever.   That the worry was just foolery.  And that dwelling in the House of the Lord forever meant more than all the worry ever could.

For more reading:  Job 38:41, Psalm 23:6, Psalm 104:21, Psalm 136, Psalm 145:15, Psalm 147:9, Matthew 6:26

Lord, bless You for teaching me to turn all my worry over to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 31 May 2023. Today’s topic: Two Choices

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.  Matthew 6:24

To understand this often misunderstood (and mis-quoted) verse, remember the context in which it was said.   Jesus was talking about where we make our treasure, what we value most.   Just prior to this, He talked about letting what we value most (Him) shine out of our eyes.   Immediately after this verse, He will talk about how worrying is actually a sin against Him and how faith in Him negates our ‘need’ to worry.

Knowing all that, Jesus tells us now that divided loyalties never work.   Eventually, one loyalty will prevail.   If we value what we have, what people think, what we want more than our faith in Jesus, the other value will win out when challenged by faith.   For example, if it’s more important to you to sleep in, chances are you won’t rise early to go to Sunday services.  Or, when you’re paying your bills, if your something matters more than tithing, then the tithe might (literally) get short-changed.

The choice is as old as Joshua, who told Israel to choose something or the Lord.  Centuries later, Jesus used money as His example because He knew that money is often at the center of our focus (a focus more ancient than Joshua).  We easily accept that X kind of money has value, and we pursue our wealth in it to provide for our needs and wants.  After all, you need money to buy things, to survive; that’s just common sense.   Jesus reminds us that it is a bigger common sense to remember that it is God who provides, who furnishes our talents, opportunities, and wealth.   If we value God providing for us, we’ll trust that He provides what we need, even when that’s less than what we want.

This boils down to a simple choice:  trust God or trust yourself.   Trust God that we will have what we need or want, or trust yourself to go get it whether God provides or not.   When you believe, the second choice seems pretty foolish (since God provides even our choices).  Unfortunately it’s the sin-based go-to for humanity.   Maybe it’s the root of all conflict (or, as this verse commonly misinterprets, the root of all evil).   In reality, it’s love of anything other than God that foments evil that the deceiver causes.   If we put our trust in that, disappointment ensues. 

Thus, Jesus’ reminder makes sense.   Choose God and let Him be your sole provider and treasure.   Choose money or something else, and don’t be surprised at what happens.

For more reading:  Joshua 24:14-15, Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:25

Father, I choose You.   I choose to love You and not money, the world, or stuff.   I know in my heart that You provide everything.  Shine that through me today so others may know You.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 30 May 2023. Today’s topic: A Marine’s Light

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  Matthew 6:22-23

Here’s a true story that my 83-year-old neighbor told me just yesterday.   Years back, she was at a church meeting where a local businessman spoke.  He was the local Dr. Pepper representative for the Gainesville area, and he was a World War II veteran.  He told the story of how he was drafted into the Marines, and how he suffered through basic Marine Corps training with shoes that were too small.   Apparently, he had such big feet that the Corps didn’t have combat boots big enough for him, so they gave him what they had and he made it through training.   Before shipping out to war, the company all underwent medical exams.   Sure enough, the examining doctor looked at this man’s feet, which were blistered and infected from wearing boots that were too small.   The doctor deferred him from deployment and his company left for the Pacific without him.

Not long after, they landed on Guadalcanal and everyone in the company was killed.   Except for this one man, who wasn’t there because his boots were too small (or his feet too big).   He (obviously) survived the war; I don’t know if he was medically discharged or just deferred.   Either way, he survived and used the rest of his life to work at a trade, raise a family, and share his story with others, including church groups.   He believed in Jesus, who had other plans.

This man surely felt every possible emotion over all this, wondering what it all meant.  Yet he persevered; he ‘soldiered on’ (though he was a Marine…Marines aren’t soldiers…ask one, they’ll tell you).  He kept the faith, especially in Jesus.  

His light was fully lit.   Others were inspired by his story, his life, his testimony…because Jesus was at the center of it.   I’m sure this man struggled, both during and after the war.   But something kept him going, and that something was the Lord for a purpose only the Lord saw 20/20.  That’s ok because it’s for His glory.   Bitterness, indifference, or questions can tear us apart, can literally split our lives and destroy us.   The evil one delights in doing just that.   Yet it’s up to us whether or not we listen to him.  We can follow his twisted path and let the unhealthy haze of sin cloud our eyes.   Or, we can follow Jesus, wherever He leads, and let His light shine clearly from those same eyes.   What will people see when they look in your eyes?

For more reading:  Matthew 6:24

Lord, thank You for the story of this man.   Shine Your light from my eyes.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 25 May 2023. Today’s topic: Blessings or Stuff?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.   Matthew 6:19-21

In a way, Jesus buried the lead in this section.   He gives needed advice (commands) on how we must not think our treasure is earthly things, how our treasure is God.   It’s only two verses later when He says why.  That’s ok, though, because it makes an excellent point.  

What do you really value?

Now, I’m a selfish guy.   I just am.  I want my office set up the way I WANT.   I want to do things I WANT to do.   I WANT my way.  You get the picture.   It’s a fact, and an ugly one.   Much as I believe in Jesus, I screw it up.   My old Adam still wants time to stare at himself in the mirror.   He sees a great guy there, not a chubby, middle-aged sinner who might not look so fantastic to others.   My old Adam has a LOT of treasure here (most of it currently cluttering my home office).   Years after giving my life over to Jesus, my daily struggle is still that my old Adam tries to control me in everything I think, say, and do.

Sound familiar?   Does your man or woman in the mirror attack you in a never-ending “Battle of Selfish?”  It’s a battle we each have to fight and we each have to win it every day or it will control our hearts forever.  If it wins, our self is where our heart is.  If we spend all our time focusing on ‘me’ then that’s what we value most.  Would you want someone to carve, “they loved themselves most” on your tombstone?   I wouldn’t either.

So, let’s go back to that lead that Jesus buried.   Where our treasure is, our heart will be.   Let’s use some time today to help others, to give others’ credit, to build up others, to go over and above because it’s what God wants us to do.  Let’s use our time to build up the only lasting treasure there is:   love from the Father.   Let’s put our hearts there and use our time to do the kinds of things He asks us to do:   to serve, to show mercy, to forgive seven times seventy-seven times, to repent.  Let’s give without expectation of reward, knowing that the Lord is watching and He is pleased when we live selfless, believing lives.  When we do that, it won’t take long to realize that our heart is now set on Him and what matters most.  Your office might still be cluttered, but maybe you’ll see blessings instead of your stuff.

For more reading:  Luke 12:34, Matthew 6:22

Show me today, Father, where I can serve You by serving others.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 24 May 2023. Today’s topic: Wanna Help?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.   Matthew 6:19-20

What’s the lesson in these verses:  build up ‘treasure’ for the Lord because He will reward us both in this life and the next.   How do we do that?   You know the answer.  

Wanna build up treasure in heaven?   Do what Jesus did.   Treat people honestly, kindly, fairly.  Yes, you may occasionally turn over tables, but we’ll talk about that later.   For this, start with family, becoming the patient listener instead of the constant irritant.   Help neighbors, look in on the elderly and folks who need assistance.   Offer up a meal; mow a lawn; drop by for a visit; help someone move or clean their garage or clear out the brush or whatever needs to be done.   Do it with the heart of a friend and the selflessness of expecting nothing in return.

The pile of treasure starts to grow.

Next, spend some time reaching out to the homeless.   Volunteer at a shelter; try Metro Relief; go buy a meal for the guy panhandling on the corner.  Spend a day with Habitat for Humanity.  Volunteer for a mission trip; volunteer to help at a local food pantry, because they’re all busy and in great need these days.  Volunteer at the nearest USO.  After you’ve started helping others in small ways, expand your horizons and look for how to help in bigger ways.  You will find a way because God will lead you.  As the saying goes, be the hands and feet of Jesus and do His work even if you never say His name.   Do it with a smile.

Your treasure is starting to look like Harry Potter’s Gringotts vault, except that this treasure isn’t cheap gold.   This treasure, your real wealth, is the love the Father will shower on you.  He will lavish on your life in ways you can’t even imagine right now.

But, know this:  this is more than you may be ready for.   When God lavishes on you, He might also give you much more than you expected.   Not just favor, but also responsibility.   And, He might scour out the dank areas of your heart, shining His cleansing light on them.   It may overwhelm you.   It may hurt but it’ll also heal…and it’ll be more than you can handle, so much more that you’ll feel compelled to share it, to tell others, to share why you want to help.

And, in doing so, before long, you’ll find He has made wealthy in the ways that really matter.

For more reading:  Proverbs 23:4, Luke 12:16-21 & 33, Luke 16:9, Luke 18:22, 1 Timothy 6:19, Hebrews 13:5, James 5:2-3, Matthew 6:21

Father, show me ways I can help others today so that I might do things pleasing to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 23 May 2023. Today’s topic: A Reliable Guidepost

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  Matthew 6:17-18

So, instead of fasting to focus on us, Jesus wants us to fast to focus on God.  In order to do that, He tells us to look normal.   Put on your best, most normal clothing.   Wash up and look fresh.   If you look like you’re suffering, put on some (oil) makeup.  Do this so that the rest of the world around us doesn’t know we are doing this thing to honor God.   In this way, we’re hiding in plain sight while our sacrifice is visible to God the Father, but nobody else.

Is this abnormal?   No, it allows us to keep living and being productive.

Isn’t that making a show of fasting?  No.  It’s preserving normal outward appearances so that our ‘sacrifice’ is private, shared only with God. 

Isn’t it deceptive?   Again, no.  See “preserving normal outward appearances.”  Besides, the heart of deception is the heart.   We aren’t intending to deceive.   We’re simply looking to appear normal, as if nothing is out of the ordinary (when, in fact, it is) so as to preserve our privacy and effort for the Lord.

Isn’t this a little ridiculous?  Finally, again, no, unless you consider it ‘normal’ for people to put on a show whenever they fast, whenever they do things for the Lord that look a whole lot like they’re doing them for themselves.   If you think about it, that could be much of what we do.   That isn’t normal:  it’s sin.

Please understand:  this isn’t spin.  God’s Word, His commands and ideas and practices need no human spin.   Sometimes they’re difficult to comprehend, but usually that’s because we’ve complicated them somehow. What Jesus tells us to do here, regarding our fasting sacrifice to God, is easy to do and easy to understand.  In everything he said or did, Jesus was always concerned with our honesty, our being genuine in our dealings with Him and each other.  He calls out this particular practice because it was prominent in his own time, and because (I believe) He knew it would be a good object lesson for generations to come.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to NOT fast.   Instead, He reminds us to be honest about it, and to do things that preserve our integrity.   Today, fasting is “a thing” again.  Jesus directed us to downplay the effects of a fast so as to keep this demonstration of our devotion to God pure.  When you think about it, that applies to so much more than simply skipping a few meals.   It’s a reliable guidepost for everything that we do.

For more reading:  Matthew 6:19

Father, remind me today to be humble for You, to fast quietly so I may focus more on You and all You’re doing.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 22 May 2023. Today’s topic: Fasting Show

 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  Matthew 6:16

People can spot a phony; we’ve talked about this before.   The fact is that any of us, me and you included, have phony moments.   We fake remorse; we fake tears; we fake happiness, or laughing, or sympathy, or whatever.   We.  Fake.  It’s easy to do where fasting (not eating) is concerned.  In fact, Zechariah called out all the people when he prophesied (from God), “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?’”

So, again, do we fake it when we fast?  Confession time:  I haven’t fasted.  I’ve violated this command.  Leviticus outlines observances when the LORD commanded that people fast as a way to honor and focus on Him.   Yet their fasting wasn’t always earnest, or honest.  They made a show of it to focus on themselves.  The dirty secret is that this became the norm in all things, not just fasting.   Why?   Got skin, got sin.

Enter Jesus, who had skin but no sin.   He fasted.   He was a devout Jew who perfectly kept all His Father’s commands.   He observed the required fasts; he did much more than that.   Recall His temptation in the desert, when he went FORTY DAYS without eating.   THAT is fasting!   He did it so that His mind and heart could synch clearly to focus on God.  When He was out there, hungry and lonely, do you think He occasionally thought about food?  About His stomach growling?   And how would Jesus have looked at the end of it?   He probably looked weak, gaunt, even starving; after all,  Jesus wasn’t immune to the physical effects of food deprivation.  Yet He would have looked genuine; He would have had nothing to hide or any reason to put up a false front.

Today, fasting is a popular, effective way to lose weight.   People will deprive themselves for 12-20 hours a day so that their bodies metabolize fat.   Let’s be honest:   that’s not a bad thing.   What do most people do when they do this?   You guessed it:  social media.  “Hey, this is (whoever) and I’m on hour 11 of my 15 hour fast.  It’s so tough!”  Genuine?   Maybe.   But let’s keep it real (and social):   some of it is for show.  Maybe most of it.  That isn’t how Jesus tells us to fast.

Instead, we are to follow His example:  fast to honor God.  When we do, it’s ok to let hunger show, but be honest.   Fast to focus on Him, not on the man in the mirror.

For more reading:  Leviticus 16:29-31, Leviticus 23:27-32, Numbers 29:7, Isaiah 58:5, Zechariah 7:5, Zechariah 8:19, Luke 4:2, Matthew 6:17

Father, teach me to fast to honor You.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 18 May 2023. Today’s topic: Heart-Thing

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  Matthew 6:14-15

Here’s why Jesus taught us His Lord’s Prayer.  It’s a heart-thing.   What good does it do to pray to the Father if we have unrepentant, hard hearts?   Think about it by considering this situation.   Let’s say you have kids.   One does something to wrong another, so you tell the one, “say you’re sorry.”   The kid crosses their arms and pouts until, finally, they reluctantly say, “sorry.”   It’s a half-hearted, disingenuous “sorry;” they’ve said the words but don’t really mean them.   Are they truly repentant?   What about the kid who was wronged?   Same drill, and they give a similar reaction:  have they really forgiven?

So, if we pray this holy prayer, taught to us by God Himself, and we haven’t forgiven the people who have wronged us – who have sinned against us – then why would we expect the Father to forgive what we utter?

It’s true:   Jesus died and rose to forgive ALL our sins.   There’s nothing conditional in that:  He did it all, leaving nothing for us to do to make that forgiveness complete.  What about the new sins we do (meaning every one of them)?  Are they forgiven if we don’t forgive others when they hurt us?   Yes…and no.   Yes, all the redemption work is complete and Jesus forgave every one of them all at once.   No, if we harden our hearts and reject that forgiveness by demonstrating our refusal to forgive others.   Nothing can TAKE away our salvation or force Jesus to reject forgiving us, but we can refuse to accept it or repudiate what we once believed.   Worse, we can say we believe yet not do things that demonstrate we actually do.

All of those go back to that heart-thing.   Do we truly forgive and mean it?   When our spouse cheats, when our company loses faith with us, when someone slams into our new car, when that person online really torques us off, when when when:  the list of “when’s” is unending…as are our likely sinful responses.  

The better way is to forgive.   To call to mind whatever wronged us, then immediately forgive them.   Specifically forgive whatever was done wrong.   Do it out loud; say “I’m letting Jesus take this.”  Beat back the feeling, whenever it bubbles up, by reminding yourself that you turned it over to Christ.

Know what happens then?   The Father smiles.   The Son smiles.   The Spirit works well through you.   And forgiveness flows because that thing called your ‘heart’ has been changed by Him to make forgiveness your go-to reaction.  That grows peace.   That spreads love.   That is the work of the Lord growing fruit in the world.

For more reading:  Mark 11:25-26,  Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13, Matthew 6:16

Lord, I forgive all who wronged me.   Help me to always forgive.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 17 May 2023. Today’s topic: More About Evil

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.  Matthew 6:9-13

God the Father delivers us from the evil one.   He protects us from Satan doing even worse things to us than he already does.   In Job, God only allowed Satan to do certain things to Job (so that Job’s faith might increase and Satan be defeated).  Revelation 12 talks about how John was shown the time when Satan was cast to the earth.   Since then, he was and is active in venting his hatred for God by attacking God’s creation.

The “evil one” is real.  So is the evil he creates.  I think of evil as the further expression of sin.   If sin is any rebellion against God, then evil is the consequence of that rebellion.  It is murder; it is sexual abuse.   It is our government lying, the Holocaust, communist torture camps, bullies who hurt kids, and eating ketchup on a hot dog (ok, maybe not that one).   Evil happens when sin gives birth to more sin.  Evil is the work of Satan and it starts in his wicked heart.

Then it takes root in ours.   So many people say, “if there is a God, why does He allow evil?”   Good question.   Ask Him, not me.   Maybe the better question is, “because evil is real, why do we allow it?”   God is holy; He doesn’t allow evil in His character.   Why should we?   Why should we allow it or encourage it or promote it?  Waiting to God to stop evil means you (and I) tolerate it…be careful because that seems a lot like sin.t

Enter God.   Let Him enter our lives.  How does God deliver us from evil (and the evil one)? gives an excellent, common-sense explanation.   God defeats evil by giving us the tools to fight it off.   God’s Word, His followers, His people:  God gives us tools of faith and knowledge because filling ourselves with those hedges protection around our hearts.   Yes, we can resist evil.   Yes, we can overcome temptations and desires.  Yes, we can change our ways. 

No, we can’t do any of those things on our own, and God doesn’t ask us to.   Only by steeping ourselves in applying Scripture can we fight evil as God intended us to fight it.  None of this is easy, and Jesus didn’t promise us that it’d be easy.   Instead, He promised to abide with us, to be with us until the end of time so that we might see God defeat evil and the evil one forever.

For more reading:  Job 1 and 2, Matthew 13:19, Revelation 12:9, Matthew 6:14

Deliver me from evil today, Father.   Fight through me in this life.

Practical Proverbial, from Matthew, 16 May 2023. Today’s topic: Deliver Us from the Evil One

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.  Matthew 6:9-13

The last part of the Lord’s Prayer is asking for Him to guide us in His ways and protect us from Satan.  After this, there are no additional words or phrases.   Most churches add a doxology that says something like, “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.”   Those words don’t change what Jesus originally said, and they’re offered in praise, not to overpower or add to (or take away from) the prayer itself.   To be honest, they aren’t even necessary.  But, they’re there.

What is necessary is to implore the Father to protect us from the evil one at all times.   At all times and in all ways, Satan attacks us.   He attacks our thoughts; he attacks our motivations; he misuses our feelings; he abuses our actions.   In everything we do, Satan considers us vulnerable targets.   He hates us.   It’s a level of hatred we can’t understand, can’t change, can’t ameliorate.   Because Satan hates God, he hates us more when we follow God.

Against this, on our own, we are defenseless.   The devil has more power, cunning, and resources at his disposal than we do.   As the saying goes, Satan is playing chess while we play checkers.  He is several moves ahead of us, anticipating what we will think, say, or do and how he can use it against us.   Make no mistake: independently, against this, we will fail.

Now, make no mistake about this, either:  the devil is insignificant against God.   Satan only does what the Lord permits him to do.   Yes, that means God permits Satan to do quite a lot, but all of it is so that the Lord might demonstrate His unending love and mercy.  At a time in history known only to the Father, God will end this history, end Satan’s involvement in it, and remake this world into the paradise He designed it to be.   Believers in Jesus will spend their eternity with Him; non-believers won’t. 

Until then, it becomes even more important for us to continually pray to the Father for His constant protection against the evil one.   For Him to remove the evil one from our lives.  The devil will misuse temptations and lead us into falling for his evil schemes.  Some in our world think this is ridiculous, even childish.   Maybe, though, that’s simply proof that Satan already controls them.   They’re wrong.   The better way – the only way – is to regularly go back to the Father and ask for His mercy right here, right now, in delivering us from the evil one.

For more reading:  Matthew 6:14

Father, deliver me from the evil one and his lies today.