Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 13 September 2022. Today’s topic: We Drunkards

Wake up, you drunkards, and weep!  Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips.  Joel 1:5

Something big is coming; big to-doings are in motion.   First, Joel talks about locusts, about how the insects of sin will devour everything in their path.   Now, he’s telling the wine-lovers to wail and cry because the new wine on its way will be much more than they can handle, much stronger than their current swill.

It’s notable that Joel calls out drunks:   people who’ve self-indulged in too much wine that the pleasure of it has dulled their senses.   They spent their leisure time drinking alcohol into sin and now something worse is happening.   Something worse is afoot in the world and the drunkards who should have been ministering, loving, sharing, working are going to be caught unawares.   Locusts are in the crops; disease has rotted something from within.  When they awaken to the issue, it will be too late.

Me and you:  we should heed that warning, too.  Throttle back on what we think is “the good life” before that life overtakes us and leads us down paths we don’t want to take.   “The good life” was the subject of the sermon at my church this week.  My friend, Andy, is our newest pastor, and he gave a gang-busters sermon on how what we think is “the good life” is pretty much the opposite.   And, how, what we assume will be dull and boring and tepid – the life of a follower of Jesus – is actually the life of adventure we seek.  The life spent following Jesus is a life of meaning, purpose, challenge, love, and fun.

Hundreds of years before Jesus, the people of Joel’s time had sought those things but found bitter wine instead.   They’re not so different from any of us today, though.  We mistake sensuality for sensibility, feelings for affections, posing for purpose.  The Israelites, and we, searched all their lives for meaning, and, like us, they didn’t find it.   So they tried to escape.   Pick your poison:   liquor, drugs, sex, spending, work:  any one of them could be the intoxicant of choice that’ll help you avoid the world around you.

Until it’s too late.   Until you’re like a driver on the road who sees the barrier too late.   Or the man who loses it all because he was too lost in his work, his golf game, his diversions.   Or the woman who fills up every spare minute to avoid the loneliness that comes with so much of modern living.  It’s almost like we’re drunkards, dulled so that we don’t see the calamities building all around us.

For more reading:  Isaiah 24:7, Joel 1:6

Oh Lord, please help me avoid the fate of the drunkard.   Help me to wise up, to follow you instead of every shooting star

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 12 September 2022. Today’s topic: Swarms of Locusts

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.  Joel 1:4

Our sins are locusts.   They will consume us if we let them.   One sin will destroy us while the consequences of others pig-pile on and break us further.   Then, other sins can do even more, maybe even worse.

Let’s say we do something really terrible:   murder, or really dirty adultery, or stealing from a church or a poor old woman with nothing.   Let’s say you do that and you get away with it.   Eventually, the exhilaration of not getting caught will wear you down.   That’s when the guilt will start.   It’ll be guilt that won’t leave you alone.   No matter what you do, you won’t be able to shake it for long, won’t be able to fill up your time with meaningless activities to avoid dealing with that guilt.   One day, though, you’ll grow numb to it; you might be able to bury it and think you’re moving forward.

But it never really stays buried.   Maybe your conscience will bother you.   Maybe something small will happen that will unravel the blanket you’ve built to cover it up.   Maybe you’ll find it takes a lie, or a series of lies, to keep it quiet, keep it buried, keep it hidden.   Maybe what shred of integrity you think you’re holding onto will unravel you bit by bit, day by day.   Maybe, one day, you’ll look in the mirror and not recognize the good person who you thought you once were.

You’ve been eaten by locusts.   The big sin ate at the harvest of your good will, and you let it eat away at your relationship with God.  And when you accepted the big sin, then lesser but even more destructive sins began to take root.   Like slow drips of water, they erode your senses of Godly honor and honest character.  What God said to you so long ago still matters, but, in time, you lose your hold on it until the simple truth He always tells seems like lies in a foreign language.

Friend, there’s still a way out for us; there’s always a way out.   There was a way out for Pharoah, but he never took it.   There was a way out for ancient Israel, but they usually turned away from it.   There’s always a way out for me and you when we lose our way, if only we have the common sense to look up, cry out for Jesus and forgiveness, then repent.  Only then we can move forward, out of the swarm of locusts.

For more reading:  Exodus 10:5-15, Deuteronomy 28:39, Amos 7:1, Nahum 3:15, Joel 1:5

Lord, I don’t want my life destroyed by the locusts of my sins.   I’m sorry for what I’ve said and done.   Help my unbelief.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 8 September 2022. Today’s topic: This Is Important

Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. Joel 1:3

This is important.   This thing matters.   You need to hear this.  Like George Strait sang, “write this down.  Take a little note.” Tell it to your family:   your kids, your grandkids, your great-grandkids; your friends, your acquaintances, your co-workers, strangers on the street.  I want you and everyone after you to remember and share this.

No it isn’t breaking news from the Web.   No, it isn’t the latest from Megan Thee Stallion (or George Strait).  No, it isn’t fashionable or trendy or something the cool kids or the glitterati will adore.  What “it” is just happens to be a message from God Almighty, spoken through an unknown prophet who had no past and left no record other than the few words recorded in this book.  We haven’t yet covered what that message includes; as of verse 3, we only know that Joel has introduced himself, inferred he has something to say that will include locusts, and now that God wants everyone to remember it.

So remember it.

That’s an easy order that’s tough to carry out, especially in a time when so much information is available through a smartphone.  Too much information can cloud our perceptions; too little can do the same.   God cuts through the fog and tells us, “tell your children”, meaning “this is important.”  It’s a simple command, not difficult to understand or accept.  And yet, many of us fail to do just that.  WE, not He, let the worries of the world or the distractions of the world crowd out our remembering things that are important.

The CEO of my company is big on first principles.   He echoes the modus operendi of a man for whom I also worked almost 30 years ago.   He, too, believed in core principles, in keeping your core beliefs front and center in all you do.  Doing so helps us to stay focused on our mission at hand.   For us as followers of Jesus, that mission is to share His words, tough and easy alike, with the rest of the world.  Put first things first.

To do that, again, just remember it.   Write this down; take a little note.  Commit it to memory that, when God says something is important, that it’s important for us to remember it.   Memorize when He says this.   Read it over and over.   Research it for meaning and context.   Most important, put it into play and pass it on to others so they can do the same.  Megan Thee Stallion and George Strait do that with songs; we should do the same with more important things (like Scripture) because this is important.

For more reading:  Exodus 10:2, Psalm 71:18, Joel 1:4

Oh Lord, help me to remember, emphasize, and pass on You holy precepts and Your words.

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 7 September 2022. Today’s topic: Attention Getter

Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land.  Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors? Joel 1:2

Joel in 21st century speak: “Listen up, dog.   Stuff like nobody has ever seen is happening right now.  Got it?”

Got it, right?   That’s a pretty good attention-getter.  It’s necessary because Joel is going to spend the rest of this chapter slapping people around, telling them to wake up out of their complacency.   Crazy things were happening in ancient Israel.   Locusts had shown up to devastate their crops.   Here in America, people don’t worry much about locusts.  There are so few farmers left in the country (who grow all the country’s food and more.   THAT ought to be an attention-getter) so most of the population doesn’t worry about when bugs arrive to eat the crops.   Besides, pesticides can kill them off when they do appear.

Not so in ancient lands.   If locusts showed up, they were a life-threatening pestilence.   They could eat all the green leaves and crops in the space of a few days.   Then, they’d leave and move on to the next food source.   What they left behind, however, was starvation.   There was no global food supply network in the ancient Levant.  If bugs ate all your food, unless you had some stored up, you starved.   You died.  It was the end of your world.

Tell me:   what happens if locusts attack your soul and you don’t know Jesus?   In a world of amazing events, good and bad, what happens when disaster strikes and you don’t have the reassuring peace of Jesus to fall back on?   “Oh, I don’t go for all that religion stuff.”   Or, “Christians are such hypocrites and I don’t want anything to do with that.”   Or, “if God really loved me, he wouldn’t let this happen to me.”   Sorry, my friend:   those are all cheap excuses.   They’re brush-off’s, designed to avoid the tough truth that we need Jesus in a fallen and sometimes terrifying world.  They’re dangerous because locusts may be feeding on your soul.

Evil is a locust and it’s real.  Devastating floods.   Political upheavals becoming tyranny   Widespread crime.   Spreading poverty.  100-year heat waves.   Broken supply chains and broken food supplies.   It’s almost like we’re being attacked by invisible locusts.   Solomon would say that there’s nothing new under the sun, that this has all happened before, and that’s true.   But it hasn’t happened to us, or even like this.

Cue the locusts.   Cue Joel standing up and saying, “listen up, folks.   Big things are in motion.   You’d better go to God.”   He first said it to people many centuries ago.   He might as well be saying it to us. Do I have your attention now?

For more reading:  Hosea 4:1, Hosea 5:1, Joel 1:3

Father, You have my attention.  Have mercy on Your people!

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Practical Proverbial, from Joel, 6 September 2022. Today’s topic: With Joel

The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel.  An Invasion of Locusts.  Joel 1:1

We’re going old-school for awhile.   We’re going into the Old Testament to spend some time with Joel, one of the “minor prophets” whose book appears toward the end of the OT.  It’s sandwiched in-between Hosea and Amos; open your Bible and read for yourself.   It won’t take you long:  Joel is only three chapters long.  

You’ll find that the book describes invasion of locusts (meaning times of great strife and anguish), and how the grace of God pours down on us throughout.  It describes the return of Jesus.  In fact, at Pentecost (as recorded in Acts 2), the apostle Peter quoted Joel by saying, “No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Peter was in the last days.   You and I:   we may be in the last days.   Only time will tell.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.   That’s the good stuff at the end of the book.   Before then, there are hard truths we need to face together.   Just like the Israelites of Joel’s day, the people of our world are in a pretty bad way.  

Not much known about Joel.  Joel may have lived around the time of Hosea and Amos, or during the time after the Babylonian exile, when Israel returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. He may also have lived during the time of Elisha, approximate 300 years before.   No matter when he lived, the word of the Lord – prophecy and truth from the Word Himself – came to Joel and he started speaking.  Joel’s name even means “one to whom Yahweh (God’s name) is God”.

Joel’s book is kinder, gentler than the other prophets, some of whom breathe fire and brimstone.   Yet Joel’s message is also stark, one we need to heed right now.  Tribulation and judgment await us; Jesus is coming back; are we ready?   To be honest, most of us aren’t, not when ¾ of the planet doesn’t follow Jesus.   Join me over the next few weeks as we search for answers with Joel.

For more reading:  Jeremiah 1:2, Acts 2:16, Joel 1:2

Lord, bless my understanding of the book of Your prophet, Joel

If you’d like to know more about Practical Proverbials, contact aspiringwriterdt@gmail.com for more information

Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 1 September 2022. Today’s topic: Regular Benediction

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.  Galatians 6:18

Paul ends Galatians the same way he ends most of his letters:  by praying the grace of our Lord Jesus on the reader.  Maybe that’s a good way to end all conversations.   Our letters, our phone calls, our emails, our in-person visits.   The next time you talk, or hit send, or are getting ready to leave, tell the other person, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

In our world, they’ll probably look at you funny.   Or maybe they’ll say, “well alrighty then,” in disbelief.  Or, perhaps, “um, ok then.”   If you say that to someone in the West these days, chances are you’ll get some kind of response that indicates the recipient of your blessing thinks it’s a little bit strange that you’d say it.

That’s a tragedy.   You and me, we need more Paul in our world.   More than that, we need much, much more of the grace of Jesus in our world.   More than coffee, I need the grace of Jesus to rule me through my mornings, through the tedious tasks that comprise my daily job.  I need the grace of Jesus to govern my conversations, and my responses to my wife, and the things that I put on my to-do list in my age-old Franklin Planner.

You need the grace of Jesus for some of those same reasons, perhaps others.  Without the grace of Jesus, my friend, we’re doomed.   No, that isn’t some churchy feel-good platitude that we say to express our faux humility.   It’s a bare-knuckled fact of life.   The grace of Jesus is the glue that holds gravity together.   It’s our only real peace.  It is what keeps instant worldwide anarchy at bay.   Without the grace of God Himself through His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ our Savior, we are vulnerable to being overrun by the evil one himself.

Yes, there really is a spiritual war for your soul happening right now.   Untold forces of Christ fight on your behalf and my behalf every minute.   Sometimes their battles spill over in our lives in things that happen that we don’t understand.  Sometimes the suffering persists, even entrenches.   But the grace of Jesus means that He sends His legions to fight to protect us:  so that we might be His eyes and ears and hands, sharing His love.   It’s very real and it’s very much happening right now even when we don’t see it.

Praying the grace of Christ over someone blankets them in His protection, His peace.  It’s part of doing our part in that war against evil.   So, the next conversation you have, end it like Paul does:   the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

All thanks and praise to You Jesus.   Cover us today in Your grace and peace.

If you’d like to know more about Practical Proverbials, contact aspiringwriterdt@gmail.com for more information

Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 31 August 2022. Today’s topic: In Suffering

From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.  Galatians 6:17

Have you ever suffered for something you loved?   Maybe it was training for a marathon, or some other sport.   Maybe it was preparing for the toughest test of your life.  Maybe you denied yourself to reach a goal, or to benefit your family or friends.  Or, it could be something with darker meanings.  Maybe it was enduring a tough divorce, or living with an abusive spouse.  Maybe it was prison.  When the suffering was done, how did you feel?   Were you relieved it was over but proud of yourself for enduring it?

You might have something in common with Paul, who ended his letter to the Galatians by telling his detractors to buzz off.   He had suffered enough because of the selfish actions of others.   The apostle was fed up and he didn’t mind telling them.  It wasn’t that Paul was unwilling to suffer more for Jesus’ sake.  In other letters, Paul bragged of being in chains for Christ, or of all the ways he had been mistreated, tortured, for preaching the message of God.

Yet, here, he was simply done with taking the abuse.   I think that humanizes Paul.  He had suffered at the hands of small people for preaching the Gospel.  He rejoiced at being able to say he had endured and persevered for Jesus’ sake, but he was tired, sore to the soul.   He wanted it to stop.   Even Jesus surely felt that way sometimes, fed up with rejection, fed up with the torture of the cross, but willing, even eager, to endure it for the glory of the Father.

Paul wasn’t comparing himself or his predicament to Christ.   Instead, he was simply saying “I’ve suffered for this mission He gave to me, thankfully to His glory.   But it hurt all the same.   Lord willing, make it stop.”

Plenty of people today can identify with that line of thinking.  I don’t want to suffer in life; I don’t want to have to endure pain or torture.   But my prayer, like those of Jesus and Paul, is always “thy will and not mine be done.”   I trust that God’s plan for me, even if it includes suffering, is for my good and the good of others.  That He won’t give me more than I can bear.   That He will be with me through it.   And, when it happens, I pray it will quickly end and those who inflict it would simply move along.

As long as we have breath, though, there will be suffering in this fallen world.   When it happens, let’s pray that it passes quickly and for Jesus’ strength throughout.

For further reading: Isaiah 44:5, 2 Corinthians 1:5, 2 Corinthians 11:21-33, Philippians 1:12-30, Colossians 1:24, 2 Timothy 3:12, Galatians 6:18

Lord, I pray for You strength, endurance, and patience through suffering.

If you’d like to know more about Practical Proverbials, contact aspiringwriterdt@gmail.com for more information

Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 30 August 2022. Today’s topic: The Man of the Hole

Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.  Galatians 6:16

We’re almost done with the book of Galatians, so now is a great time to remember that the only thing that matters is Jesus.   Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, Catholic or protestant, Republican or Democrat, black or white, male or female, Star Wars or Star Trek matter.   The only thing that matters is Jesus.  May His peace and mercy bless everyone who follows this concept, especially His chosen people.

And, while we’re on that word (“chosen”), here’s another shameless plug for “The Chosen.”   If you haven’t watched it, The Chosen is the streaming, crowd-funded TV show about the life of Jesus.  The “chosen” people of the series are both those whom Jesus chose to invite into His closest circle as well as those who chose to follow Him (whether disciples or other followers at-large).  You and me:  we are the chosen.   We chose to follow Jesus, who chose to send His Holy Spirit into our lives to remake us for the purposes in which He works through us. 

Now consider this:  there was a story on CNN yesterday (https://edition.cnn.com/2022/08/28/americas/brazil-indigenous-man-in-the-hole-death-intl-hnk/index.html) about a Brazilian indigenous man who recently died.   He was the last member of his tribe, and had been un-contacted by outside humans throughout his entire life.  Known as “the man in the hole,” he was found dead in the jungle, apparently of natural causes.  His entire life had been watched from afar, as the man stayed away from all efforts to communicate, meet outsiders, or receive direct outside help.  Researchers had studied him for years, watching as his entire tribe was slowly killed off by outsiders or other causes

The name “Israel” means “one who struggles with God.”   The Man in the Hole struggled with keeping the outside world at bay.   Did he die without Jesus?   Possibly, maybe even likely.  Maybe, as one who lived totally within nature, he came to somehow know the God who made it all.   Maybe, at some earlier point in his life, he heard from someone who had heard of how God chose to save all people through Himself through a man called Jesus.   We don’t know; it isn’t likely, but perhaps it’s possible.   Perhaps he was chosen like we were.

Please pray that God has mercy on this unknown man, who God made and called His “very good” creation.   Pray that there was a way we don’t know about where He knew Jesus in his heart and was welcomed home to the One who knew him within and without.   And while we’re at it, pray for those anywhere, not just in the jungles, who don’t know Jesus.  And how you might be able to help.   They’re all the man in the hole.

For further reading: Galatians 6:17

Lord, have mercy on the man not known by the outside world.   I pray he’s with You now.

If you’d like to know more about Practical Proverbials, contact aspiringwriterdt@gmail.com for more information

Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 29 August 2022. Today’s topic: Only Jesus Matters

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.  Galatians 6:14

Finally, Paul gets to the nub of the issue.   X or Y don’t matter:  Jesus matters.   What me and you think doesn’t matter:   Jesus matters.   Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matter:   only Jesus matters.

So, one of my best friends died last week.   I went to visit him yesterday and he’s doing much better.   If all that sounds strange, it is.   He was on vacation, and his heart stopped beating; literally just stopped.  Thankfully, there were responders nearby who worked on him and shocked him four times before his heart decided it would beat again on its own.   But he was out for around 20 minutes.   Yep:  twenty minutes of technically being dead.  He spent the rest of his vacation in an ICU bed, and got a pacemaker and an implanted defibrillator.  He and his wife got home on Saturday, so please pray for a full, quick, painless recovery.

A large part of that recovery will be coming to terms with the new creation.   That is, every new day.  Each and every day, indeed each and every breath, is a freshly created gift from God.   Nothing else matters.   What matters most is eternity:  the eternity that they’re a part of now because they believe in Jesus.   Because Jesus made them (and each of us) someone new through Him.   What matters most in every new day is following where it leads because it’s where Jesus has us on mission.  Some days that mission ranges far; my friend and I once went on a mission trip to China.  Most days, though, our mission field starts in our own home. 

After a major life episode like ventricular fibrillation, you get to evaluate that.  How can I serve today?   What’s my purpose now?   What does this mean?  Where will You have me go now, Lord?   What do You want me to do today?   Why?  In reality, those are questions we should ask every day, not just on days when memorable events crash the party.  They simply become more imperative when our world gets rocked.  

But that’s why Jesus came here (and it’s why Paul pointed out that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters); that only Jesus matters.  Jesus came here to shake us out of spiritual slumber and reposition us to do His work in new ways.   My friend and his wife know this.  They did before.  They’re strong believers, our siblings in Christ, for many years now.  Yet something has changed, and it very much has the potential to be a change that will rock their world.  That can be a good thing, especially after you’ve died and come back to tell about it.  A little bit like Jesus did.

For further reading: Galatians 6:15

Lord, bless the recovering patient and his wife as they sort through all that’s happened.   Be their Savior, brother, and strong tower.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 25 August 2022. Today’s topic: Have Confidence In Your Faith

Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.  Galatians 6:13

Have confidence in your faith.   Jesus chose you and you alone to be you.   He’s satisfied with you as you are, and He loves you just as you are, warts and all.   Sure, He wants you and me to turn from our sins and do better, but He loves us anyway.   He wants to be your friend and brother because He’s God and it’s who He is.

Remember that when you get into the inevitable discussions about faith with people who don’t have it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve let myself get roped into “discussions” about faith with people who call me hypocrite, liar, and worse because I’m not perfect like Jesus; because I say I’m living to be more like Jesus but I’ve also said and done terrible things.  Increasingly, I bow out of those discussions, especially if the other person devolves into name-calling.   That doesn’t help.  It’s a lesson a better man would have learned long ago.  

More often than not, the people who accuse us of shortcomings are themselves guilty of terrible things themselves.  I’m sure they have their motivations, maybe even reasons.   Occasionally, some of those reasons may be valid, but most of the time they aren’t.   That’s a generalization, but it’s accurate.   Sometimes some people want others to hurt the way they hurt, and there are some people who set fire to things simply to watch them burn.

Paul knew this.   He knew such people needed to be confronted, then stopped, and Paul didn’t shy away from doing so.   Yet Paul also knew another truth that you and I know as well:  Jesus died for all people.  When we accept Jesus and all He’s already done for us, we’re accepting that our old lives have been crucified.  He forgave all sin, including ours, including the things people would hold against us.  It becomes our pleasure to focus on Him and where He’s leading us in going forward.  The past no longer holds us.

Some folks don’t agree.   They’ll judge and try to manipulate us, then justify it as they do.   But Jesus forgave them, too; they’re included in “Jesus died for all people.”  When we’re confronted, love, patience, and self-control get to be our go-to choices instead of knee-jerk reactions, anger, or grudges.   That isn’t easy, and Jesus never promised our lives would be easy.   But He did promise to abide with us through them, including the times when we get to respond to others.   That becomes more apparent when we let ourselves become more confident in faith.

For further reading: Romans 6:2-6, 1 Corinthians 2:2, Galatians 6:14

Lord, I’m confident in my belief in You.   Thank You that You have me where You want me.

If you’d like to know more about Practical Proverbials, contact aspiringwriterdt@gmail.com for more information