Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 6 October 2022. Today’s topic: Jesus Returns Fire

Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness. Joel 1:20

This past Sunday, my friend, Andy, preached about putting on the full armor of God so that we are defended fully by the power of Jesus.   We need to do that because it’s Jesus who fights for us; it’s Jesus who wins the daily, minute by minute, battles against sin, death, and Satan.   Those are regular, very real battles that happen to us.   They happen inside us; they happen all around us.   They happen because Satan wants to do anything to pull us away from the Lord.   Satan throws fire all day long.   We need God’s armor to protect us.

And, against the Lord, Satan is powerless.   His fire scorches, burns, even destroys.  It’s starvation, and dread disease; hurricanes and earthquakes; inner city crime and suburban apathy. But know this:   the best the world has to offer is under the control of the Lord.   All things work for the glory of God, who abides with us, giving us His peace and strength even as Satan attacks nature around us. At the end of all things, it will be the Lord’s fire that purify, instead of destroy, everything.

Satan can only do what he’s allowed to do.   He can’t overcome God, so he attacks the creation.  That’s us, and everything around us that is corrupted by sin.  When mankind fell, all creation was affected, including forests, streams, animals, fishes; everything.  Yet the innate nature still yearns for God, yearns to be with Him, to commune with Him, to have Him walk through the garden in the cool of the day.  After all, it wasn’t me who said the deer pants for the water the way our souls pant for God.

If man’s fall into sin so drastically affected nature, have you ever considered that man’s redemption by Jesus also affected nature?   Sin, death, and Satan still battle against God in the realms of the world, but I sometimes think that nature actually rejoices every time Jesus scores a win.   Every time someone comes to faith, somewhere in nature, a flower blooms, a stream flows clean, a bird sings a song.   Biblical in nature?   Maybe; maybe not.   If it isn’t true, though, why does Satan attack so much more than just us? 

He’s only powerful for a little while.   In time, his evil will be defeated.  Until then, wear God’s armor proudly to protect yourself.  You’re under attack now, and Satan attacks without mercy.   Stand with Jesus, in your armor, as His return fire overcomes the enemy.

For more reading:  Genesis 3:8, 1 Kings 17:7, Psalm 42:1, Psalm 104:21, Joel 2:1

Lord God, scour out the sin in my life with Your holy fire.   Restore the soil.   Rejuvenate nature, and plant Your love to grow in the place You alone can make new.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 5 October 2022. Today’s topic: In Days of Trouble

To you, Lord, I call, for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness and flames have burned up all the trees of the field. Joel 1:19

One of the verses associated with Joel 1:19 is Psalm 50:15:  a very famous verse that says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me.”  Keep that in mind for a few minutes because Joel 1:19 seems to actually be about fiery severe drought.  

This summer, most of Texas suffered under a very severe drought.   We went for six weeks without rain.   Then, in five days in August, we got so much rain that all the existing water level shortages were made up all at once.   Now, six weeks after that, we’re back in the drought again.  Things are drying out, plants are withering, soil is cracking.   There’s a chance for rain next week, but not much of one.

Know what that means?   Keeping in time with this week’s themes, we’re in the days of the Lord.   Dry earth and agricultural drought are simply a taste of the fire and destruction that are held in store for judgment.   When God finally pours His wrath on this earth, it’ll be consumed in fire…


…Unless, in a way, that’s also happening now.  In a way, the burning Gospel of Jesus is cleansing out the fields of the world.   Wherever Jesus is preached, sin recedes and wilts.   Wherever Jesus is proclaimed, fresh fire scorches away the wounds and stains of our brokenness, leaving healing and new soil in which to grow a better crop.   Wherever Jesus lives, lives grow in new ways like new branches off an old tree.

In a way, we’re living in the day of the Lord right now.   No, it isn’t yet the Judgment Day that will one day come.   That’s inevitable and unavoidable.   But, right now, today, in our lives, the Lord’s fire is burning away the hopelessness and defeat of sin.   Our fallen lives of dishonor and shame are being replaced by eternal lives of Jesus’ peace and joy.  We call on Him during these days of trouble.   He then delivers us, and our natural reaction should be to honor Him.   Sometimes it is, sometimes not.

Most times it is natural.  In north-central Texas, we often drive the back roads.  These days, it’s common to see people burning old branches, leaves, papers, and refuse.   It’s what you do when you live in the country.   What’s left is ash that then becomes useful for gardens, for helping food, flowers, fields, and trees to grow lush next year.  Our lives are very much like this.   They couldn’t become lush again if God’s fire didn’t first devour the trash in our days of trouble.

For more reading:  Psalm 50:15, Psalm 97:3, Jeremiah 9:10, Amos 7:4, Joel 1:20

Lord Jesus, burn away the sinful trash I’ve cluttered into my life.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 4 October 2022. Today’s topic: Another Day of the Lord

Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes—joy and gladness from the house of our God?  The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up.  How the cattle moan!  The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering. Joel 1:16-18

Last time, we talked about how ‘the day of the Lord’ can be any day, can be the day someone comes to follow Him.   Today’s verses definitely talk about that ‘day of the Lord’ being Judgment Day:  the day when Jesus returns to judge all mankind.   On that day, those who didn’t spend their lives following Jesus will believe in Him…too late.   It will be a terrible day of dread for them.

For the unbeliever, Joel 1:16-18 describes every day their focus isn’t on Jesus.  With sin in control, the world is out of control.  Sure, folks who don’t follow the Lord probably don’t understand that.  Literally, they don’t know what they’re missing.   When I finally grasped the true peace of Jesus, I felt ashamed that I’d neglected it for so long.   I was ignorant.

So are all the others.   They literally don’t know what it means to have the guilt of sins taken away.   They literally don’t understand having the fundamental issue of humanity – what happens after death – definitively answered.   They literally don’t grasp the idea that the way they are living now is like the world Joel describes in today’s verses.   In the world of unbelief, this is as good as it gets.   When there’s no food, when there’s no joy, when the crops have died, the stores are empty, the animals are dying, and the hills are all barren, it’s nothing more than nature starving you to death, survival of the fittest.   Too bad so sad if you don’t have enough to eat.

That’s the world of sin.

Yet, unless it’s Judgment Day, when a day of the Lord arrives, they have a choice:   believe or reject it.   The day of decision arrives and what will they do?   What will you do?   Will we cling to the fact that all we have, all we know, everything on this planet is a gift from God, or will we just rely on ourselves?   Will we take hold of the hand that Jesus extends to us, or will we slap it away?  If today is a day of the Lord, will we receive Him?

Judgment Day, the final day, will happen only when the Father says.   Until then, every day is a new day when the Lord can enter someone’s life and sweep away the pain.   Will you let Him?   How will you react today?

For more reading:  Genesis 47:4, Deuteronomy 12:7, Psalm 51:8, Isaiah 3:9, Isaiah 17:10-11, Joel 1:19

Lord, today is Your day!   Forgive me, a sinner.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 3 October 2022. Today’s topic: The Day of the Lord is Today

Alas for that day!  For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. Joel 1:15

At first read, this verse seems out of context in this section.   Typically, when Bible verses say, “the day of the Lord,” it’s usually referring to when Jesus returns to end history.  That day of the Lord, especially when His Son returns to judge the world and usher in His eternal kingdom, will be a terrible day for many, indeed for most of the world.   It will be a great day in history, “great” meaning both fantastic and overwhelming.   Time, history, and the past will end, with the future being one of only two eventualities (both depend on the mercy of Jesus).   What we think, say, and do in our lives matters now, and on that day He will require an accounting from us for all of it.   Did we sin and live unrepentantly, or did we sin and see how terribly broken we are and that only He can fix us?   Our answer to those questions will come from the heart as will His reply.

It will be a supernatural day, full of destruction, fear, loneliness, dread, and ‘great’ knowledge for all who rejected Jesus in this life.   It will also be a supernatural day for those of us who spend our lives trusting in Him, using our time to help others know Him, too.   I’m no better, you’re no better, we’re no better than the ones who reject Jesus.   We simply accept Him for who He is and know we have no future without Him.   The ‘rejecters’ don’t seem to understand that.   A terrifying future in hell awaits them.   For believers, an eternity of unending adventure and love will simply be the start.

Yet my Concordia says that the phrase actually refers to any time God intervenes in history.  Any time.  You and I can have a part in when that happens, you know.   No, we can’t cause it or make it happen; only the Lord can.   But, when we have opportunities to talk about why we know peace, patience, and hope, we can & should talk about Jesus.   Be Jesus to strangers through what we think, say, and do.   Be His hands and feet in a world that usually rejects Him.  Be His ambassador in a place that starts out hostile to Him.   Be in the world but not of it.   In that way, perhaps God can intervene in some stranger’s history, causing them to know ‘the day of the Lord’ as the day they began to know Him.  It’s the day a past and future of sin is replaced with one of hope.  That day might be today.

For more reading:  Genesis 17:1, Isaiah 2:12, Jeremiah 30:7, Ezekiel 30:3, Malachi 4:5, Amos 5:18, Zephaniah 1:14, Zechariah 14:1, Joel 1:16

Lord, help me to be Your witness in this world today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 22 September 2022. Today’s topic: Stop Feasting and Start Fasting

Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly.  Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Joel 1:14

Imagine what would happen if Joe Biden stood up and said, “we have all collectively sinned against God and I am declaring a month-long fast.   We need to pray to the Lord for forgiveness.”  Half the country would denounce him (some just because of his politics) and the other half would call him crazy.  Or, imagine if Joel Osteen showed up at his Houston megachurch wearing only a burlap sack.  He would walk to the microphone and say, “I want you all to join me in this.   We have sinned against the Lord and we need to humble ourselves.   Take off your fancy clothes and put on sackcloth like me.”

Imagine if Cardi B did that.   Or Tucker Carlson, Anthony Fauci, Jerome Powell, or any other well-known figure in public life.  Imagine if your pastor did it.  Let’s be real:  the likelihood of anyone except your pastor doing this is pretty small.  And, to be frank, I don’t even expect any of my pastor friends to do it any time soon.   It would seem like a gimmick in our culture, like some publicity stunt to get attention.   That isn’t what Joel was telling us to do.

Imagine if you or I, me or you, did that.

Instead, Joel was telling us to declare a fast and cry out to the Lord for forgiveness, for His mercy.  It’s not to draw attention to ourselves, or even to draw attention to Joel’s message.   It’s to turn our eyes towards God and ask for HIS attention, for His message into our hearts.   It’s because we need to be humble.  It’s because we’ve sinned so badly that God has removed His favor from our lives.   God isn’t some wish machine:  ‘I pray and He blesses me;’ that isn’t His character.   But, when He warned His people for centuries that they were setting themselves against Him over and over and over, eventually His patience ran out.   When that happened, God removed His favor and let the consequences of sin run their course.

The same thing happens in our world.   Joe Biden (and others, and me, and you):  are you listening?

What should we do when we’re in mourning that our sins have come home to roost?   Fast.   Declare a fast.   Deprive ourselves in worship and humility.  Gather the leaders and have them publicly repent, cry out to God for mercy.  Then, let each of us follow their example.   Exchange our proud clothes for rags and pray humbly.   Stop feasting and start fasting.

For more reading:  2 Chronicles 20:3-4, Hosea 4:1, Jonah 3:8, Joel 1:14

Lord, thank You for blessings.   I confess my sins to You and ask for Your mercy.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 21 September 2022. Today’s topic: Mr. Ollivander’s Words

Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed.  The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the appletree—all the trees of the field—are dried up.  Surely the people’s joy is withered way. Joel 1:11-12

With these verses, Joel finishes out this first section of his book.   Remember that it began talking about how locusts have invaded the land.  This is a picture of how sin invades our lives and destroys everything.   Today, the verses complete that thought.

When sin is done with you, the only thing you’ll be left with is desolation.  When our world is our focus, all we can do, when it is devastated, is despair, wail, grieve.   Everything that brought us joy is gone; everything that we had counted on is gone.   Crops are dead; fruits destroyed; fields are barren; joy is gone.  Joel talks about this, using figurative language.

Using real language, what happens when sin has taken over your life?   Depression.   Anger.  Crime.  Violence.  Hopelessness.   With sin in control, you get fatherless homes.   With sin running the show, you get child and sex trafficking.   With sin running your life, you get lies, and abuse, and adultery, and deceit, and brokenness.   With in in control, you get us.

Don’t kid yourself, my friend:   on your own, sin is in control of you.  It’s in your nature.   It’s practically woven into your chromosomes.   With sin as your foundation, there really isn’t much hope for you.  Like Mr. Ollivander said in the last Harry Potter movie, “on your own, I’m afraid you really don’t stand much of a chance.”

But there is A chance; our only chance.   Enter Jesus.   Jesus seeks us out in our brokenness.   He longs to make right the wrongs in our lives.   Jesus takes us as we are (and we are ALL broken all the time without Him) and He changes us.   Think of Jesus as the gene therapy for our corrupted sinful DNA.  We don’t have to settle for the tawdriness and hopelessness of sin:  we can do better when we let Him do better through us.   When we put our faith in Him alone, He cleanses out our nature and changes our attitude.   And when the consequences of bad choices come to haunt us, He stays with us, bears with us, strengthens us in our weaknesses.

With Jesus, the locusts stop their frenzied feeding and fly elsewhere.   Sin has no choice but to obey Him.  Without Jesus, on our own, we really don’t stand much of a chance.   With Him, we cannot fail.

For more reading:  Exodus 9:31, Job 6:20, Isaiah 15:6, Isaiah 17:11, Amos 5:16, Haggai 2:19, Joel 1:13

Lord Jesus, I will always fail without You. Forgive me, renew me, strengthen me, and abide with me to do Your will.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 20 September 2022. Today’s topic: Look Like Diamonds

Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the Lord.  The priests are in mourning, those who minister before the Lord.  The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the olive oil fails. Joel 1:9-10

Are you Britney Spears?  Recently, the bubble gum pop star turned online exhibitionist stated that she no longer believes in God.  She’s had a tough life in the popular eye.   The media made her, and the media savaged her.   Britney used her God-given talent to build back stronger (“Stronger” is even a song she wrote), and she’s persevered through tough relationships, abuse and misuse of her career, and public humiliations at every turn.   Britney’s response?   She takes off her underwear, opens her camera app, and gives God the collective finger.   It makes me feel genuinely sad for her because the field of her life, successful or not, is ruined.  Once, new wine and offerings were the product of how she used the talent God gave her.   Now, her choices have made her life into a dried-up wasteland.

Or, are you Queen Elizabeth, who was buried just yesterday?   Yes, I know there are many detractors of the English monarchy; yes, I’ve heard the conspiracy theories.   And, yes, I’ve spent the 10 days since Elizabeth died, listening to all the times over the years when she embraced Christ.   That’s so much more powerful than detractors or conspiracies.  Elizabeth spent all of her seventy years as queen professing her devotion to Christ, saying it was the foundation of her life, of her service, of her power to even sit on the throne.   At every turn of her life, not even counting her time as head of the Anglican Church, the Queen gave credit to Jesus as her reason for being who she was. 

One celebrity spurns faith and another fully depended on it.  But let’s not be too hard on Britney nor too easy on Elizabeth.   They’re both sinners, and they need Jesus, whether they believed in Him or not.  We resemble both, sometimes even at the same time.

Today’s verses from Joel are an observational warning of the consequences of abandoning God.  What will people say about me or you?   Will they celebrate our faith in Jesus?   Or will they see our lives as barren, comprised of sour wine and polluted oil, because we exchanged that faith for something tawdry?  Do we use our lives now to live in praise of God, thanking Him for how He provides all we have?   Or do we praise ourselves, buffing the dull rocks of our existence and telling ourselves that someday they might look like diamonds?

For more reading:  Numbers 18:12, Isaiah 5:6, Isaiah 22:12, Jeremiah 3:3, Hosea 9:2-4, Joel 1:11

Lord, all praise to You alone for all I know.   All I know is a gift from You.   Thank You!

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 19 September 2022. Today’s topic: Mourn Like a Virgin

Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the betrothed of her youth. Joel 1:8

Picture what Joel is describing.   Picture yourself weeping like a young woman pining for a lost love.   Picture yourself as someone who is hurting so deeply that you walk around wearing torn burlap, refusing to be comforted as the tears pour out of you.  Picture yourself as someone who lives and breathes grief, regret, and longing in every moment, grieving and regretting and longing for someone you once loved who is now gone forever.

You’ve lost your faith:   the true love of your life.   Grieve.

In ancient Israel, men and women were considered married in what we might call “engagement”.   In our “modern” world, when men and women marry, they usually consummate the marriage not long after the ceremony (i.e. honeymoon).   Not so in Old Testament Israel, where a man and a woman could be married and be legally married for awhile, weeks or months even, before making love.   The best-known example of this is, of course, Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ earthly parents.   They were betrothed and considered married even though they had not consummated their relationship (and, on command from the angels, wouldn’t until after Jesus was born).

Now, picture the grief of a young woman who had been married but hadn’t known her husband yet because he had died.   It’s a terrible tragedy to watch anyone grieve, old or young.  We never really get over losing someone, even when they are a believer and go to be with the Lord.   Their loss is acute, irreplaceable.  We simply learn to live through it.

But I think it is toughest on the young, especially those who lose a spouse at such a young age.  So much hope seems lost; unrealized promise, permanent incompleteness, physical yearning.  Consider the lot of the lost love.   How would you feel if you lost your faith in God?  

Joel wants us to picture our endangered faith, our loss of faith in God, as something we’d grieve over like a young virgin widow would.  He reminds us that our faith in the Lord should be the most valuable love we have, the deepest belief we could ever imagine.  Joel said what he said to remind us that all we own in this world is gifts from God…and they pass away.   Possessions will fail or fall away.   Wealth and poverty both won’t last.   People will die; all of us will die.   Yet God is eternal and our faith in Him is as well…unless we let go of it.   When that happens, if it means what it should, we should deeply mourn, like a virgin widow.  What does faith mean to you?

For more reading:  Isaiah 22:12, Amos 8:10, Joel 1:9

Oh Lord, You are the most important person in the world to me.   Never leave me, never abandon me, I pray.   All my devotion is to You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 15 September 2022. Today’s topic: Laid Waste My Vines

It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees.  It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white. Joel 1:7

The invading locusts of sin will show you no mercy.   They will destroy your prime crops, your livelihood, your way of life, your protections and security.   Left unchecked, the locusts of sin, small but mighty, can eat away at your very soul…if you let them.

The references for today’s verse are from Isaiah and Amos and they talk of how God Himself brings locusts on His unrepentant people.  It isn’t my place or yours to say “God directly did this to me” when calamities occur.   And they do occur.  Death, storms, catastrophic bills, mass layoffs:   name the calamity and it’ll happen at some point in your life.

Is it God doing that to you?   Honestly, the best any of us can say is “maybe.”  God does indeed directly bring hardship and evil on some people.   Don’t believe me?   Read the book of Exodus, specifically chapters 7 through 12, when God directly brought plagues on Egypt.   Read about how God directly touched Jacob, giving him a permanent limp.  Read about how Paul pleaded with Christ to take away his thorn, and how Jesus responded.   In these and so many more stories, God did directly bring calamity and adversity on people.

Yet in so many more cases, especially in our own world, God ALLOWS calamity to barge into our lives.   Wars, turmoil, disease, you name it:  if God doesn’t directly cause these things (and we don’t know that He doesn’t), then, at a minimum, He allows them into our world, allows them to affect us, allows us to be left stripped and bare. 

What’s common between these?   He uses them to bring glory so that we might be disciplined.   Keep in mind that not all discipline is negative; the root of the word “discipline” is “disciple.”   God may bring or allow evil to affect us in order to refine us, prepare us, help us cast off the sins that are laying waste and ruining our lives.  God uses evil and calamity so that His good may come from it, and so that more people will come to know Him.  So that we may be His disciples.

Twisted?   Egomaniacal?   Only if you reject the fact that God is and has this undeniable love that is too good to horde.  He knows our sins, and that our sins are sharp and painful.   But He loves us more.  So, as all good parents do, He sometimes uses or allows an evil circumstance so that we will learn to avoid the sin that shows no mercy.   If we let Him.

For more reading:  Genesis 32:22-32, Isaiah 5:6, Amos 4:9, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Joel 1:8

Lord, all praise to You for Your mercy, for how You use the sins I’ve done to advance Your good will.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 14 September 2022. Today’s topic: The Locusts of Sin

A nation has invaded my land, a mighty army without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. Joel 1:6

Full disclosure:   we don’t fully know exactly when Joel was written.   Placed among the books of the minor prophets, Joel could have been a contemporary of Hosea and Amos, and could have written his book around the time they were alive.   Or, he could have written it independently, during a time Israel was occupied by Babylon, or Persia.   Or, he could have written it at a time we can’t discern.

No matter, Joel also wrote what God inspired to speak a message into your heart about your own life right now.   You see, if you’re like me, your sins are sharp.   Even the little ones, even the ones so insignificant (to us) that I don’t even remember them.   But they bite all the same.   Not a pinprick:   this bite hurts.   Our sins are like fire ants.   Have you ever been bitten by fire ants?   The ants are tiny, some no bigger than specks of dirt.   Yet when they bite, they leave a red mark that quickly swells, developing a painful bump full of pus, and irresistibly itchy.

That’s my sin.   That’s your sin.   It has a sharp bite, a powerful poison that becomes irresistible, that you feel you have to scratch.   Keep scratching and it’ll blister, then become infected, then become something much worse.

If you’re like me, the tiny sins of this world invade the land of my life and attack.   They work to devour me, to destroy.  They’re the locusts of sin, sometimes tiny mighty and unstoppable.  Like a swarm of invading locusts, sin invades my life and eats away at everything.  Sometimes the damage is isolated; most often, it becomes widespread and too public.  I don’t know when Joel was written, but the prophet could have been writing about my life, could have been writing about the plague of sin that has enveloped our world.

If you let them, the locusts of sin will invade your land too.   What will we do to fight them back?

Enter Jesus.   Specifically, let Jesus enter the fight.   He will fight for you.   He will strengthen you to stand by his side, to resist the temptations that come from the evil one.   Jesus will empower you with His holy word, enabling you to speak against the evil locusts of sin, driving them back.   In doing so, He will be the one doing the real work.   He will simply do it through you.   But it will be a real fight all the same. 

Wake up, my friend.   The time for hiding from the fight is over.   An enemy is invading the land.   Call on the Lord, then stand up with Him to fight.

For more reading:  Psalm 105:34, Revelation 9:8, Joel 1:7

Lord, I call on You.   Let me stand with You!

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