Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 24 August 2022. Today’s topic: Of Fear

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.    Galatians 6:12

Another word about agendas, which are sometimes good and sometimes bad.   Agendas can help you keep organized.   In a meeting, working from an agenda can ensure that objectives are satisfied.   Having an itinerary – or an agenda – on a trip helps you ensure you see and do the things you want.  Agendas need not be bad things.

So here’s a generalization:  by and large, those who have negative agendas have them because of some kind of fear. If this is wrong, please tell me how.  Name one dictatorship or tyranny that didn’t control the nation because it itself was based in fear.  Name one controlling boss who isn’t, themselves, controlled by insecurity (which is suppressed fear) or outright fear itself.   Name one bully who isn’t afraid of something, so they bully lest someone else learn their weakness.

Imagine if someone from X side of the political aisle began espousing Y’s beliefs.   The X people would dog-pile them in order to silence, discredit, and vanquish that person.  Imagine if a righteous person began to advocate crime.  Imagine if you switched sides in an argument, fight, or war:  what do you think would happen?

Paul was saying that those who preached the “requirement” of circumcision were afraid of being abused by the Jews who wanted to quash the nascent Way.   The Judaizers said and did what they did because they were afraid of being called out, of being persecuted themselves.   Perhaps, too, they were self-promoting, wanting the glory of being recognized for the kill.   Indeed, the people who wanted to control, then destroy, the new church of Jesus wanted it killed the same way they had killed Jesus.

And it failed.   Isn’t it ironic how efforts based in fear and control nearly always, eventually fail?   Every iron-fisted kingdom or empire of the past is gone.  It isn’t because of chance or even confronting the fearful bullies.   It’s because God is just.   It’s because Holy Spirit can penetrate even the most fearful heart.  It’s because Jesus forgives and transforms all hearts who let Him in.

Even now.  Just this week, Communist China announced it was rolling back some recently re-imposed Covid controls.   Why?   Because the billion-plus population wasn’t going to allow it.   The dictators who rule China are small in number.   They’re afraid of what the nation might do if their true numbers were known.   Imagine what could happen if we each confronted fears wearing the full armor of God, aknowing that He is so much more powerful than the petty fears Satan uses to divide us.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:10-18, Galatians 6:13

Lord, where I’m weak in fear, strengthen me with Your holy love.  Help all living in fear.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 23 August 2022. Today’s topic: The Agenda

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.    Galatians 6:12

One of my favorite author comments is from Michael Crichton who, in an epilogue to one of his books said, “everyone has an agenda…except me.”   Earlier in Galatians, Paul had expressed contempt for the Judaizers who were attempting to have new Christians first be circumcised (like Jews) before joining Christian fellowship.   Paul sharply rebuked them at pointed out both their dangerous idolatry as well as the hypocrisy that drove them to insist this.

Those people had an agenda.   To be fair, so did Paul, but Paul’s agenda was to comply with the words of Christ, not reimpose human traditions.  Let’s be fair:  circumcision had been commanded by God (to Abraham), and all Jews in history (including Jesus) have complied.   Yet Christ freed humanity from having to legally comply with these religious laws, replacing circumcision of the body with circumcision of the heart.

It’s almost like Jesus had an agenda.   And He did.   Christ’s agenda was to reconcile mankind to Himself, redeeming us from feeling we HAD TO follow the law and replacing it with the merciful blessing that we GET TO follow Him.  He had an agenda from the time He was born, and He continues it long after resurrecting.

That’s ok.   Don’t we all have agendas?   Even with our friends and family, when we’re talking, don’t we have agendas, things we want from conversation, relationship. Anything?   Sure we do, and that’s not always a bad thing.   You and I can have an open, public agenda of being Christ-like in how we deal with other humans, of living our lives in ways that make Jesus look better.  We can have an agenda to love our families and friends, to do our best at any task, to be better citizens and neighbors.   To be kind to all people wherever it is possible.  An agenda isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Unless it’s hidden.   Unless it’s something nefarious, or comes from somewhere other than the heart of God.   If what we want isn’t of God, then it won’t be a good thing.   If our agenda becomes something to hide, something to achieve via secrecy or subterfuge, or if it pulls us away from adhering to the blood of Christ, then it’s an agenda up to no good.   We’d be no better than the Judaizers Paul denounced.

Instead, let’s strive to present our bona fide status as followers of Jesus, redeemed children of the King, daughters and sons made by God for His good works.  There’s nothing bad and nothing to hide about that because, as they say, everyone has an agenda…including me.

For further reading: Matthew 23:25, Acts 15:1, Galatians 6:13

Lord, let me follow only You and do only Your bidding

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 22 August 2022. Today’s topic: Bona Fide

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!  Galatians 6:11

Sometimes we need to establish our bona fides.   That means verifying that someone is who they say they are.  Just last week, the US Federal Government revealed that there is approximately $220 billion in Covid-related unemployment fraud.   Nearly ¼ of $1 trillion was (apparently) fraudulently given out by the US Government because it (the gubmint) failed to verify that the applicants were actually unemployed.   Or that the information on their applications was valid.  Or even if said people were real.  The US government didn’t check the bona fides of the applicants.  We each carry identification of various kinds.   Drivers licenses, social security cards, employer IDs or badges; we carry things to identify who we are, especially to strangers.   It was important that someone authenticate the credentials of recipients, but it didn’t happen.

Paul closed out his first letter to the church in Corinth to authenticate his credentials.   Some speculate that Paul dictated most of his letters, and only signed them, in part, because he had very poor eyesight.   Others say it was to bring emphasis to what he had written.   No matter the reason, Paul was establishing his identity, his credentials, with his friends, readers, and others.   They could know that what was sent to them was genuine.  It was bona fide.

It’s funny, though:  this is the point when I think of “O Brother Where Art Thou,” where Ulysses’ (George Clooney) ex-wife sought out a new husband.  In the movie, as if to defend herself, she kept insisting “he’s bona fide.”   The new husband wouldn’t be a vagabond deserter like the old one.   The new one had established himself as reliable and honest.  

Just like the Spirit did through Paul.  Paul’s words were dictated to him by Jesus’ Spirit, inspiring him to write what he did, so that people would listen.  So that people would hear what God wanted them to hear.   God established His credentials to establish Paul’s credentials to give the message weight, as if God was saying, “listen to this man.   He’s saying something I want you to hear.”

Bona fide…

…Which, in Latin, means “in good faith.”   Everything God tells us is bona fide.   Everything He shared through the 66 books of the Bible was in good faith, was bona fide.  It was all sincere, and said with earnest intent, without fraud or deceit:   all of which are additional definitions of this term.  Because sometimes, even God, through His apostles, prophets, and messengers, wants us to know, in good faith, that He is who He says He is.  Where our treasures are involved, maybe governments could do the same.

For further reading: 1 Corinthians 16:21, Galatians 6:12

Lord, You are bona fide.   You are the Father, Son, and Spirit, creator of everything.   Your words are always honest and true.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 18 August 2022. Today’s topic: Here and Now

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  Galatians 6:10

Because we’re believers in Jesus Christ, we get to be part of eternity with Him.   That isn’t just at the end of this life:   it starts now.   In fact, it starts the moment you say, “I believe.”   Here and now, we get to let Him in; we get to let Him reshape and remold our thinking, our hearts, our words, our actions.  And then, we get to take our remade selves out into this broken old world to do good to all people.   To share His fruits, His wishes, His message that He came to live, die, and live again for the forgiveness of all sins, even the sins of those who don’t accept Him.   We get to be the voices of His message to the world, and that logically should make us want to do good to all people.

Starting from ourselves outward.   It’s natural that we’d want to do good to our closest circle of family in Christ.   It only makes sense that we’d expand good doing beyond there, one person at a time.   If you don’t think that can happen, consider how many people that young minister from North Carolina named Graham touched.   Or the old nun in Calcutta named Theresa.   They started with one next to them, and worked their way outward.

But there’s more.   Along with this great privilege comes responsibility.   We should let Jesus remake our hearts so that we shed behaviors that insult or complicate things for Him.   Anger, jealousy, greed, lusts, profanities:   you know these sins.   Some of us are guilty of some; some are guilty of many.   We get to let go of all of them, but then we also get to take up the mantle of resisting the urge to fall back.  And when we mess up, we get to run back to Christ, repent, and keep moving forward again, one person at a time.

Not all of us have the opportunity to minister to hundreds, thousands, or millions.   But, in fact, not all of us need to.   Instead, we get to take Jesus’ message to one person at a time.   Me, I like it that way.   I used to be fairly introverted, but God put it on my heart to speak out, to tell people how He remade me and got me through awful times, through awful things I’d done.  He did it for me; He can do it for anyone.   All we have to do is share.   That starts by doing good for someone. So go do that today.   Here and now.

For further reading: Proverbs 3:27, Ephesians 2:19, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 4:17, Galatians 6:11

Holy Spirit, You bless us by giving us the strength to talk about You, to witness, to share.   Help me to do it today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 17 August 2022. Today’s topic: Like How I Want to Be

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

As with all Bible verses, we should always remember the context in which they were included.   With today’s verse, the entire section reads: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

In other words, we should continue to do good because God rewards us for the life we’ve lived.   It isn’t about stacking up all the good works we can do.   It’s about following Jesus in all we do, understanding that Jesus will put more than enough opportunities in our paths to do those good works for Him…and blessing us.

It means that, in a divided America, we stand up for what we believe without demeaning the person who believes differently.   It means that we look for opportunities to do kind things for family, friends, and strangers all.   It means that we get to celebrate good times and have fun without either being goody-goody or wading into impropriety.   It means we get to understand others’ faults (because we have them too) without tolerating or encouraging them.

All these things and so much more fall under “doing good.”   We live in ways that walk away from sin and things opposing God because, when we don’t, we will reap the consequences.   So much more, when we walk Jesus’ walk, we reap His blessings.

This is all perfect to mention today because it’s my wife’s birthday.   She’s the best example I know of someone who dedicates her every day to doing the most good.   Sure, she isn’t perfect; none of us are.  But she has learned to train her thoughts, her words, her actions to model the faith in Jesus that she studies every day.   Faith is a practical matter for her.   It’s not just something she says:  it’s something she does.

Now and forever, Jesus is using Kim to reap a harvest of souls:  people who see her faith in Him and think, “I want to be like her.”  That’s the context in which I’ll live through today.   Like my birthday Hunnie.   Like Jesus.   Like how I want to be.

For further reading: Job 42:12, Psalm 126:5, 1 Corinthians 15:58, 2 Corinthians 4:1, Hebrews 12:3, Revelation 2:10, Galatians 6:10

Lord, thank You for my wife and her new trip around the sun.   And just thank You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 16 August 2022. Today’s topic: Hosea and Paul

Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Galatians 6:8

One of the verses referenced today is from Hosea: “they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”   Even people who don’t follow Jesus have heard of this verse.   They may also know of another verse referenced here, from Romans 6: “for the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   Perhaps those two verses best list how to understand Galatians 6:8.   When we live in unbelief, we’re living in sin and we earn for ourselves the whirlwind:  the consequences of sin. They may just blow our world apart.   Yet when we live following Christ, we realize that our unbelieving selves deserved that whirlwind – and death – but that God Himself gave us the way out, the way to eternal life, that is Jesus.

If you walk away from today’s post feeling irritated, guilty, or cocky, then I urge you to open your heart and get with God.   Tell Him what you’re feeling and why.  Paul’s verse here is a statement of fact as well as a statement of faith.   We can cause destruction by the things we say and do.   We can cause rejoicing in heaven by the things we say or do.   We, as sentient humans, usually do both in living our lives.   Paul is saying, “if you’re living for sinful things, you’re going to find ruin.   And if you’re living for the Lord, you’re going to live with God forever.”  Hosea reminded us that our sin leads to unpredictable ruin, and then Paul reminds us that God’s gift to us is Jesus, who forgives all our sins.

Sometimes, that’s a hard thing to say to a world that doesn’t want to hear it.  Most of the world wants love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control.   But most of the world also doesn’t want to give God His due in acknowledging those are the fruits of His Spirit.  Instead of those nine fruits, most of the world is violence, disease, division, greed, and all the things that are opposite of what’s stated in Galatians 5.   Hosea and Paul remind us that people who choose the ways of the world will get what the world gives them.

Yet Paul also reminds us that Jesus rewards those who believe in Him.   In doing that, He also gives us harder work to do, namely to witness to all those others.   But He promises to empower us, to do the work with us, and to always encourage and love us through it all.  Hosea and Paul would agree.

For further reading: Job 4:8, Hosea 8:7, Romans 6:23, James 3:18, Galatians 6:9

Lord Jesus, abide with me as I walk through this world.  Help me to be Your witness today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 15 August 2022. Today’s topic: Farming Today

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Galatians 6:7

It’s August 15th and we are planting a garden.   We moved into our house in June, and the hottest part of the summer seems to be passing, so my wife and I are planting a second-season garden.  I’ve staked out a 10X20 space in my backyard, and I’ve started piling grass clippings, ash, and such onto it.   Around Labor Day, we’ll till it in and plant seeds.   We’ve already started tomatoes and peppers inside.   And I have a large planter on my back patio where I’ve sown lavender, parsley, mint, dill, and lettuce; everything but the lettuce is up.  We have other pots of herbs growing around the house.   If all goes well, in early to mid-November, we’ll get beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and possibly even potatoes.

We’re sowing generously.   Even though it’s late in the season, some vegetables will produce and some won’t.   Even if it doesn’t produce much, it’ll help build the soil for another garden that I’ll till in next February.  If all goes well, that garden will get a full season to produce, then we’ll repeat the process come next July.   I love doing this, and I sometimes wish I was a farmer instead of a software consultant.

There’s more important seed to sow, though.  Planting the seeds of Jesus will produce a much more abundant crop than simply food.  Gardening with God’s word is a more imperative use of my time because someone will always be planting vegetables.   Not everyone plants Jesus into people, and the season is always scorching hot against life producing a crop.

But that’s what we’re each supposed to do.   The one who dies with the most toys doesn’t win.   They simply die.  The one who dies having spread the word of God widely is rewarded richly by being in full communion forever with Jesus.  It isn’t just for our pastors to do even as that’s their primary job.   Instead, God intended each of us to be farmers and pastors with His word, sharing it in our own ways for Him to harvest new believers.   We’re to work so He can turn rocky ground into rich soil.

What we’re planting is the knowledge of God, how He is both merciful and just, loving and disciplining, faithful and new, Lord and savior of all.   That we’re made in His image.  We’re sharing Jesus in ways that will cut bone from muscle to tone us up and make us new.   God will then make the growth happen and, when the time is right, He will ‘harvest’ believers to be with him forever.

How will you farm today?

For further reading: Proverbs 22:8, Jeremiah 34:17, Hosea 10:12-13, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 2 Corinthians 9:6, Hebrews 4:12, Galatians 6:8

Father, thank You for letting me plant the seed of Your Word…and for my garden.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 11 August 2022. Today’s topic: Our Pastors

Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.  Galatians 6:6

This is an interesting segue.   Paul has reminded his Galatian friends that they should carry each other’s burdens and that they should share Jesus in doing so.   Now, he tells them that they should share any benefit they get from this with him (i.e. the instructor who instructed them on the ways of the Lord).

In reality, why should this be surprising?   We should each carry our own load; we should each be willing to ‘be Jesus’ for people who may not know Him, who may need Him in ways we don’t know.   And, too often, we don’t.   Not only, but especially in our secular-led world, many people don’t know where to start in faith.   Many people are not fully instructed in Scripture, the deep meanings of it, the picture of how it is matters to all of us.

Enter the pastor.  Pastors help us carry the load.  They’re are imperfect vessels called and taught how to carry the perfect message.   They’re people, just like anyone else, and they have an immensely tough job.   How would you like to have God make it known to you that He’s going to use you to talk about Him to people who want nothing do to with Him?   Ever feel like Jonah?   Or John the Baptist (who lost his head in the end)?  Have you ever had a job that, at times, felt rewarding down to your soul but, at other times, left you frustrated, discouraged, and distraught?

Again, the pastor.   To become a full pastor takes years of education, including post-graduate studies, just like a doctor or a lawyer.   Indeed, that shouldn’t be surprising.   It takes monumental effort to learn all about the human body and how to treat it, or all the complexities of the law.   So it is, as well, with how to minister to God’s people with His sometimes nuanced, sometimes complex, always challenging Word.  A minister’s entire career is spent teaching the black and white words of Scripture to people whose lives all operate in gray.   It can be the most rewarding job you ever hate to love (and sometimes hate to love) but do anyway.   They aren’t superheroes, but sometimes we expect them to be.

So pay them.   Pay them well.   We all talk about how teachers deserve more compensation, and they do.   But also pay our pastors.   Their work is often thankless but they do it because God put it on their hearts, because they want to honor Him.  If you don’t want to pay them Joel Osteen’s salary, then please give them much more than a pittance or junk for Jesus.  They’re worth it.

For further reading: 1 Corinthians 9:11&14. 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Galatians 6:7

Lord, bless our pastors and thank You for using people like them to minister to us.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 10 August 2022. Today’s topic: You’re Beautiful

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.  Galatians 6:4-5

You’re beautiful.   We’re beautiful people.   We’re beautiful not just because of our physical attractiveness, or even because of the quality of our hearts.   No, we are beautiful because Jesus Christ is in us, because His Spirit lives in us and works through us.   Our faith in Christ is the load we should gleefully bear. We should be proud of being Jesus’ followers.

Now, if you ask self-appointed ‘beautiful people’ – celebrities, glitterati, the in-crowd, those disconnected by wealth or status – if they are beautiful, if they are special, if they are gifted above others, you should be prepared for their answer.   Some would be humble; some might say they aren’t.   And some might be honest in telling you that, yes, they’re beautiful, special, and gifted beyond others.   I mean, it takes a lot of work to do this, look like this, to be me!  Do they test their own actions to see where their beauty lies?  

But let’s not be hard on them without being hard on ourselves.   When was the last time we examined ourselves for why we think we’re special, why we think we’re pretty, why we think we’ve got something worthy of praise.  A few verses ago, Paul reminded us that, if we think we’re special because of ourselves, we deceive ourselves.   Overblown self-esteem comes from how we compare ourselves to others, from others telling us we are what we aren’t.   In a story Jesus told, a Pharisee went to pray, beginning by praising himself for being better than others, especially the nearby dirty tax collector.   The tax collector, on the other hand, humbly and desperately cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Who am I?   Who are you?  Of what are we proud?  Are we the Pharisee or the tax collector? When we look in the mirror, do we see just our reflection there, or do we see ourselves as someone in whom resides the Savior’s heart?   Are we doing our best by giving Jesus our best?  What does your heart say?

When we lay down our pride and thankfully see ourselves as Jesus’ redeemed children, we see that this is the only pride, the only load, we need to bear.   We’re beautiful because of Christ.  Sure, it’s great to have others praise us, and we should always want to present our best selves.  But we don’t need to heap much praise on ourselves.  We should carry others’ loads instead, sharing Jesus with them so that they, too, might look in the mirror and see who He died and rose for.

Remember today:   you’re beautiful.

For further reading: Jeremiah 31:30, Luke 18:9-14, 2 Corinthians 10:12, 2 Corinthians 13:5, Galatians 6:6

Lord, You make me beautiful.   All praise to You alone.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 9 August 2022. Today’s topic: No Bragging

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.  Galatians 6:3

This is great advice in the age of social media.   Boxing legend Mike Tyson once said (of social media), “Social media made y’all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.”  Log on to any social platform and you’ll find people bragging, arguing, insulting, and more.   I’m guilty of it; I bet you’ve had your run-in’s as well.

It comes from thinking too much of ourselves, of thinking we are what we aren’t.   That we’re better than we are.   This isn’t to say that some peoples’ abilities aren’t worthy of praise.   Achievement, Godly-character and actions, and more are always praiseworthy.   What’s best in humanity is worth self-pride; it’s a good thing to realize you’ve been kind, talented, and good at something.

But let’s, please, stop there.  If we think we’re more than we are, then we’re deceiving ourselves.   It’s not just the Apostle Paul saying this:   it’s common sense.   It’s how the world works.

Tom Brady has natural, God-given talent to be a quarterback.   Larry Ellison has natural, God-given talent to be the CEO of a software company.  Billy Graham had natural, God-given talent to preach the gospel to large audiences.   My mother-in-law has natural, God-given talent to be the best cook in the American South.  You know people who have abilities to do things in a superb manner.   They bring to bear ability, passion, interest, and circumstances to produce wonderful things, whether it be football games, Microsoft, vibrant crusades for Christ, or the best coconut cream pie in Florida.   If they bragged about that ability, it wouldn’t be unwarranted. 

But let the bragging stop there.   Let them (and each of us with our talents) brag that they are on loan from God (as Rush Limbaugh used to say, he being a talented personality).  If Tom, Larry, Billy, Connie, or Rush tried to, say, trim trees or implement HealthRules or design treehouses or raise crops in the desert or work in a call center, perhaps their output would be considerably different and less.   Perhaps there should be no bragging at all because he who thinks he is something that he is not is deceiving himself (or herself).

The best way to think of ourselves is to remember we are redeemed children of the Most High.   That He Himself bought us back from sin by shedding His own perfect blood.   That He pours His Spirit into our lives to do things on His behalf so that others may come to know Him, too.   THAT is the only thing of which we should boast.  Try putting that on Twitter or Facebook.

For further reading: Romans 12:3, 1 Corinthians 3:18, 1 Corinthians 8:2, Galatians 6:4

Father, let my only boast today be to be Your child, Your servant in this world.

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