Practical Proverbial, 19 October. Today’s topic: Balaam’s Donkey Today

They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.  2 Peter 2:13-16 (NIV).

Peter doesn’t have kind words for people who have willfully indulged in their sins.   I was one of them, for a very long time.   I think about that now, and I’m ashamed.   Even as I’m so imperfect now, I’m ashamed of who I was, what I said and did, ashamed to have hurt others.  Ashamed to have dishonored God and my family and myself.

Here’s the kicker:   even though I haven’t done such things in years, I did them.   I sometimes still think of them.   Sometimes, the lust creeps back into my mind.   Sometimes the bad language still seeps out of my mouth.   Sometimes I’m still immature and intolerant and angry.   I’m still sinful.  On my own, I still don’t deserve Jesus’ forgiveness.   I recognize it, am sorry for it, wish I could make amends for it.

But I can’t.   And neither can you.   And, best of all, Jesus knows it.   He recognizes it.   He and only He makes you and I righteous.   On our own, we aren’t righteous, but with Him covering us, He makes us worthy, makes us righteous.   On our own, like Peter says, we’re like Balaam, who led the Israelites astray only to be rebuked – and saved – by his donkey.   We’re foolish, pursuing our own brand of wisdom until reality smacks us in the head to get our attention.   With Balaam, it was a donkey, swerving off the road to avoid God’s avenging angel, who Balaam couldn’t see.

Yet with us, it’s that righteousness.   Jesus forgave us.   He took away our sin and the death-consequence for it.   We won’t spend eternity apart from Him, and that eternity begins now.  More, when taking away our sin, He took away our shame, our guilt, our self-punishment.   When those bubble up, He beckons us to think of Him, of the nail marks in His hands, of all He did to build up His church, of His solid love.

In the long run, it’s better to cling to that than the sadness of what’s passed.

For further reading:   Numbers 22:4-30, Deuteronomy 23:4, Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, Ephesians 2:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:7, James 1:8, Jude 12, Revelation 2:14, 2 Peter 2:17

Lord Jesus, always remind me of Your unfailing love and sacrifice for me.   Welcome me home when I forget these things.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 15 October 2020 Today’s Topic: He Was Right

He Was Right

But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.  2 Peter 2:12 (NIV).

I have a confession: I haven’t always professed my belief in Jesus this way.   In fact, I spent quite a few years being a cocky, profane hypocrite.   I said I was a Christian, but I only would have told you that if you had pressed me on it.   I was scared to do otherwise.  Other than that confession, nothing about my words, demeanor, or attitude would have told you I was anything other than just another fool with a loud-mouth who said too much of too little worth.

This point was brought home to me by friends with whom my wife and I visited last month.  We were in Colorado and were invited over to see some friends we hadn’t seen in many years (from our time in Italy, in fact).  Our friend, Wanda, told her husband, Brad, that she had been reading some of these Christian blog posts.   Brad’s remark: “that doesn’t sound like the Dave Terry I remember.”

He was right.   You see, I could have been the guy Peter was talking about in verse 12.   I was an unreasoning animal, a creature of sinful instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed.   My words and actions brought disrepute on God for many years.   Yes, I believed, but I was a hypocrite.   Profane, immature, unreasonable, drunken, unkind, dishonest: keep it up with the negative adjectives and more than a few would stick to me.   As a young man, and for many years, this was my pattern.   Even after God blessed me with a wife, a family, and success; even after rediscovering faith and what it really meant.  Jude could have been talking about me when he said, “these people slander whatever they do not understand.”

Thanks be to the Lord that He’s better than me, that He has outrageous mercy and grace.   That He sends other people, like my friends, to witness with their words and lives.  Sometimes it doesn’t sink in immediately.   Sometimes we push against the goads, we struggle against what we know is right.   Pride will do that to us.   A little pride is the engine of satisfaction, but too much of it can douse that engine in dangerous fuel. 

There’s a better way.   In every moment during my most distasteful days, Jesus was there.   He was patient; He was sinless; He was providing for me; He was beckoning me to change.   It took time for me to listen, and listening meant stripping down my soul until I had no place left to turn but to Him.   And that’s when the good times truly began.

For further reading:   Psalm 49:12, Jude 10, 2 Peter 2:13

Lord Jesus, all I can say is “thank You.”

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 12 October 2020 Today’s Topic: Keep It Real

Keep It Real

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darknessto be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.  2 Peter 2:4-9 (NIV).

Let’s keep it real:   there is more to these verses than simple explanation…except that there actually is a simple explanation.   I won’t keep you in suspense:   God abhors sin.  He won’t tolerate it.   He can’t because He’s God and He’s holy.  These verses give repeated examples of how God both punished unrepentant sin and preserved those who repented.  Peter gives several examples of this.   Rebellious angels; Noah; Sodom and Gomorrah; Lot:   Peter lists them all as examples of those who both rebelled against God and those who clung to God’s promise.

Which one are you?   Be real, be honest.  Answer:   both.  

Make no mistake: “the Lord will not leave them in their power.”   The wicked will only rule so long; sin will only look like it is victorious.   In reality, in the long-game, in talking about both now and in eternity, the Lord NEVER abandons those who believe in Him.

Yet look in the mirror and make no mistake about something else (especially if you think you’re doing just fine):   we all have the potential to rebel against God.   Even the most ‘righteous’ among us.   Without the righteousness of Jesus covering us, we’re as bad as those condemned to hell.   The angel removed Lot and his wife from Sodom before it was destroyed, yet Lot’s wife doubted God and went rogue.   Even Noah, who had trusted God for a century or more while building the ark, gave in to temptation and got himself good and drunk.  

Even you.   Even me.   Even in every one of us is a sinful nature, screaming to break free at each and every moment.   In each and every one of those moments, remember Jesus.  Remember that He isn’t indifferent in our lives.   Remember that He’s always there with us, beckoning us to turn and start over. And, even when we fall, remember that He who abhors sin is always there to pick us up and begin again.

For further reading:   Genesis 6:1-8, Genesis 19:16&24-25, Numbers 26:10, Psalm 37:33, Matthew 10:15, Romans 9:29, Romans 15:31, 1 Timothy 3:6, Hebrews 11:7, Jude 6-7, Revelation 3:10, Revelation 20:1-2,  2 Peter 2:10

There’s a whole world here, Lord, fighting against You.   Grant me your strength to be in it but not of it.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 8 October 2020 Today’s Topic: No Matter Who

No Matter Who

In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.  2 Peter 2:3 (NIV).

On one side of the political aisle, the presidential candidate was accusing his opponent of being a disloyal so-and-so who would bring about bloodshed.   The opposing candidate responded in kind by attacking his opponent as a big government tyrant who wanted to be king.   Both men were famous and accomplished; both said they wanted what was best for the country.

Sound familiar?   Only if you’ve read about the election of 1800 between President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson.   Vitriol knows no bounds, and it fairly split the young United States.   That election ended up in the House of Representatives, where Jefferson was elected and Aaron Burr was elected as Vice President (Four years later, while still Vice President, Aaron Burr murdered Alexander Hamilton). 

Or there was the 1860 election in which the man now regarded as the greatest of American presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was viciously slandered by two opposing political parties.   When Lincoln won, one of those parties eventually led eleven states to secede and start the Civil War.  Even during the war, Lincoln was called terrible names by his own people and supporters.   How much things haven’t changed.

Were those stories, names, and such fabricated?   Some were, some weren’t.  The Ninth Commandment doesn’t seem to care.   We are not to bear false witness no matter what; period; no matter who’s on the ballot, no matter who it puts on the cross.   We are not to lie under any circumstances.

We are to remain truthful because most people seek the truth, seek to be part of the truth.   Nobody likes being lied to, and nobody wants to be called a liar.  Jesus knew this with the same heart that He knew how people IN HIS CHURCH would willfully lie, slander, and do whatever they needed to do to gain power.  That hasn’t changed, either.   Why, hardly a month goes by without some news story concerning sexual abuse in the church.   Sex crimes, embezzlement, lying, tax fraud, adultery, violence, even murder:  it’s almost as if the church is made up of sinners, in desperate need of a Savior.   Good thing we have Him.

It’s nothing new when people we entrust with power – teachers, leaders, clergy, etcetera – abuse that power.   Usually the first indication is how they’ve lied about it.   And they need to be held accountable.   We need to do what Peter would have done:   tough love and discipline.   That will only work if it is first begun with the love of Jesus and honest forgiveness.   We need to call out the exploitation, caringly but in determination.  Otherwise, we share in their sin, no matter who they are on the ballot, in the pulpit, or looking back at us in the mirror.

For further reading:   Exodus 20:16, 2 Corinthians 2:17, 1 Thessalonians 2:5, 2 Peter 2:4

Lord Jesus, help me to forgive as You do.   And help me to uphold Your loving standards and justice.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 7 October 2020 Today’s Topic: The Bakker’s and Us

Sister Aimee, The Bakker’s and Us

Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.  2 Peter 2:2 (NIV).

Do you remember Aimee Semple McPherson?  If you don’t, Ms McPherson started the Foursquare Church.   She was one of the most famous charismatic preachers of the 1920s and 1930s.   Her church still has 7 million members worldwide.   That’s an amazing testament to the power of God’s Word because, like so many others, Ms McPherson proved herself all too human.   In 1926, she was reported as kidnapped from a beach in California.  Several weeks later, she was found in Arizona, where it was reported she had been living with a former church worker.   Over the next 18 years, there were unconfirmed reports of other affairs and other shady behavior.  “Sister Aimee” died of an accidental Seconol overdose in 1944.

Or there was Jim Bakker.   If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll remember the story of Jim and Tammy Faye:  televangelists famous for their outrageous ‘prosperity gospel’ ways that ran contrary to the simple message of the real Gospel.  It wasn’t surprising (but was tragic) how quickly the Bakker’s life disintegrated following the revelation that Jim had an affair with a staffer, then paid to keep her quiet.   Jim and Tammy Faye divorced.   He served time in prison; she remarried before succumbing to cancer in 2007.   Jim Bakker was paroled in 1994, and in the 26 years since, has remarried, started another thriving ministry, and is back on TV again.

Those who are entrusted with the privilege of carrying the Word of God will find themselves under attack by the evil one.   That shouldn’t be surprising.  Satan doesn’t attack people when & where they’re strong:   he hits us in our weak spots.   He attacked Sister Aimee, and the Bakker’s, and Jimmy Swaggart, and the Schuller family.   If you stand up and say “I believe in Jesus,” Satan will gladly paint a target on YOUR back.   He’ll enthusiastically use others to do it.

But even worse than that is letting him lead others astray.  Those entrusted with the Word of the Lord must always be on their guard that they are faithfully ministering it.   If they don’t, Satan will hit those weak spots and exploit them.   In doing so, he’ll wreak havoc on the trust and faith of others, and bring disrepute on good works that God has already done.   When the Bakker’s fell, many thousands of trusting believers became disenchanted.   Something similar happened to many people who followed Aimee McPherson.

It’s true:   our God is much more powerful than that.   But why put Him to the test?   Wouldn’t it be much better to simply stay on the straight and narrow and not allow evil to gain a foothold?   Sure, it would, but in our fallen world, that’s easier said than done.   Temptations are tough to resist; I know this.   So did Bakker; judge against God’s Word whether his current ministry is true to that Word, then respond accordingly.  Forgive generously while moving forward wisely.

For further reading:   Jude 4, 2 Peter 2:3

Lord Jesus, forgive those who work against You.   Help me to stay true to Your way.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 6 October 2020 Today’s topic: What About Differences

What About Differences

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.  2 Peter 2:1 (NIV).

“Is it according to the Bible?”   That’s the only test to apply to things people say and do about God and how we should follow Him.  Is what they’re saying in line with God’s Word?   Is it something Jesus commanded?   Is it Godly?

As of the 2010 census, Celina, Texas (where I live) has a population of 16,315 people.   At present, there are 16 churches, of which six are Baptist.   The rest are non-denominational, Assemblies of God, Mormon, Methodist, Roman Catholic, or Church of God.   Within the rest of Collin County, there are over 100 other churches serving over 1 million people.   Each one of them teaches something slightly different about Christianity because many people may believe slightly different things.

Now, it’s nothing new that, if you can’t find what you’re looking for in one church, you can go to another (especially in north Texas).   That goes back all the way to the Protestant Reformation.  Yet, in truth, it goes back all the way to the time of the disciples, just after Jesus ascended to heaven.   In those days, the small but quickly growing sects of Christianity met in peoples’ homes.   Then as now, as long as it was preached that Christ was crucified, the rest of what was taught was of secondary importance.

Then as now, when teachers of old would attribute their own opinions and teachings to Jesus, trouble soon arose.   Heresy doesn’t require much to take root.  In fact, all it takes is a little human pride and darkness and soon the seeds of division begin to sink toxic roots.

In our day, hundreds of denominations in the Christian world preach slightly different messages.   One would hope that the only denominator between them would be the Word of God.  “Ecumenism” as a theory seems appealing; that there would be truths which are universal to Christ’s church.   In practice, well, that rarely seems to be the case.   Hence, in a small town like my own, there are sixteen different formal congregations and who knows how many others.   They start because one or more people find something about church doctrine or practice that just doesn’t scratch their itch.

And that’s the problem.   After all, it’s not about me.

It’s about Jesus.   Peter knew that.   He knew that divisions would come, groups would splinter, even in his own time when there were still hundreds of people alive who had personally encountered Christ.   People would either deliberately or inadvertently steer the church wrong.  He warned his friends – and us – to beware of such things.   The good news is that the Good News is the only standard by which we need to compare.  If what is said lines up with the Good News of Jesus, then all’s well.   If not, well, then maybe it’s time to pass it by.

For further reading:   Deuteronomy 13:1-3, Jeremiah 6:13, Acts 3:18, 1 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 2:2

Lord Jesus, please always keep Your holy word before us.   Let it be the only standard by which we may gather in Your Name.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Peter, 5 October 2020 Today’s Topic: Prophets

For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  2 Peter 1:21 (NIV).

Peter echoed Samuel in this verse.   In 2 Samuel 23, the Israelite judge said “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.”   Samuel was a prophet; he spoke words that God inspired him to speak on His (God’s) behalf.  So, what is a prophet?

A prophet is a person chosen to speak for God.   In Old Testament days, God Himself chose His prophets.   Sometimes that person was a rabbi, or a teacher; think Samuel or Nathan. Others, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, were charismatic men who God chose to reveal His messages.  Still others, like David and Solomon, were known leaders.   In our time, there are people who term themselves “prophets” though it is unclear whether or not their commission as prophet is God-ordained or not.

No matter who the prophet was (or is), they carried a message from God.   Moses spoke directly with God and led His people out of slavery.  Samuel told Eli (the chief judge) that his sons were doing evil.   Samuel also took God’s anointing to Saul to bless him as Israel’s first king.  Nathan confronted King David about his sins and vectored David back to repentance.  Daniel interpreted dreams and befriended his enemy on God’s behalf.   Isaiah and Jeremiah pronounced God’s punishment for centuries of Israel defying Him.   Today, we know these things happened because they are contained as accounts in God-inspired Scripture.   There are many others.  They’re still vital to our understanding who God is and how we, His people, should live our lives.

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul said that, “all Scripture is God-breathed.”  All of it, even the uncomfortable parts (like the ones in Joshua where Israel smites the rebellious people of Canaan…or the ones where Jesus and so many others condemn sins that we overlook today).   All the Bible is God’s divinely inspired word that He revealed to dozens of authors over fifteen hundred years.  The Bible we read today is astoundingly identical to the earliest fragments we have of Psalms, the book of Isaiah, and many books of the New Testament.   We know this from archaeological evidence.  

It’s as if God wants us to know something about Him.   As if He chose us to say things for Him.  Imagine that.

That’s what the words God gave to the prophets tell us.   They revealed aspects of God’s character, His will for us as His treasured creation, and how He wants us to live with each other.   People have always struggled with this; it’s the story of mankind going back to Eden.  And yet all the prophets, even up to Peter, still carried the true message that God is our Lord of love, justice, forgiveness, and life. 

For further reading:   2 Samuel 23:2, Acts 1:16, Acts 3:18, 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 2:1

Lord Jesus, You give us Your words through the prophets.   You spoke through them to give us messages we need to hear.   Thank You.

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