Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 22 March 2018

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?  1 Thessalonians 3:8-9 (NIV).

I don’t know all the people who have come to faith or been encouraged in faith because of me; some day, in heaven, I’ll find out.   Perhaps there are many; perhaps there are few.   Yet, here and now, I’m very encouraged.   Occasionally people do message me, thanking me for sharing devotions like these and others. When I see those messages, I’m encouraged.   They make me realize that doing these things is doing the right thing.   At the same time, they’re a great reminder that ‘it’s not about me.’   Life is about using the talents God gives us to help others in their paths to Jesus.

Jeremiah 29:11 says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   Even on days like today, when there is fear, doubt, and struggle in so many things we do, God still has a plan for our lives.   That plan isn’t to fear and doubt, though sometimes struggle will be involved.   But it will be struggle to remain standing firm in the Lord.  Through it, we will really live.

Paul knew this.   He knew the words of Jeremiah; he had been inculcated in them since he was a boy. Later in life, he had a personal, radical encounter with Jesus, who immediately transformed his entire life.  Paul knew God had plans for him and that these plans were to prosper him, to use his talents to bless others.  Paul’s reward?   Thankfulness.   Joy; incomparable joy before God because of God because of the faith his friends had.

I don’t know what you’re going through today.   Me, today is going to be a tough day.   I have a hunch some big things are coming down in my life today and to be honest they intimidate me.   Yet through them, God is still working in me.   He has plans for me and they don’t involve fear and doubt.   They may not even involve ever really knowing how my words and my actions have benefitted others.   Yet, no matter what’s going on in my world, I do know that God is working through me, like He did through Paul, like He does through you, too.  I know that, here and now, I can celebrate in real joy because He has let me share words of faith with you and that’s important.   Instead of worry, my posture will be to thank Him and ask Him for more.   And in this, there is real life.

For further reading: Jeremiah 29:11, 1 Corinthians 16:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10.

Lord, thank You for using me to share You with my friends.   Help me to do it more.


Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 15 March 2018

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.  1 Thessalonians 3:7 (NIV).

Have you ever thought about the example you set for others?

Stephen Hawking died yesterday.   You’ve probably heard that by now, and how the most brilliant scientist of our age lived his live as a self-avowed atheist.  To many believers this means Mr. Hawking is spending his first full day of eternity in hell.  Other people I know are, like me, hoping Dr. Hawking saw the truth of the Scriptures just before he died and is embracing Jesus in heaven.   Some others I know are angered at anyone insisting we know one way or another.  I’d imagine that more than a few atheists, if they truly don’t believe in God, shouldn’t particularly care.

Me, I’m encouraged when I hear about someone’s faith.

It isn’t up to you or me to know that Stephen Hawking is burning in hell or celebrating in heaven.  That’s up to God.  So I pray God was merciful to this atheist who said God didn’t exist.  We’re supposed to pray for our enemies, right, and unbelievers or dis-believers are, well, enemies of the faith.     Their posture is antithetical to Christ.  If we can’t pray for those people, especially in their greatest moments of need (like dying) then maybe we need a gut check.

So when I hear that there are people in the world who prayed for Dr. Hawking and others like him, I’m encouraged by that.   I’m encouraged to hear about my friend in Uganda who ministers to multiple congregations by both his formal ministry as well as through the way he teaches young people how to farm and garden. I’m encouraged when I think about all the people who celebrated faith not when Stephen Hawking died but, instead, when Billy Graham died a few weeks ago.   I’m encouraged when I meet new people at church who I haven’t seen there before.   And I’m encouraged to teach my grandkids how to say their prayers at night just before they go to sleep.

Because the ways I act concerning these things are examples I set for others.  Other people, like atheists and new followers and grandkids, are watching how I, as a follower of Jesus, act in these times.   The Thessalonians watched Paul and changed their lives to more closely resemble his.   So it is with us today.

I honestly hope and pray Stephen Hawking changed his extraordinary thinking about the truth of Jesus just before he met Jesus.  Scripture is replete with warnings about the eternity of those who reject Christ in this life.   I hope Dr. Hawking “saw the light” before he met the Light. It’s too grim to think otherwise.  One day we’ll each find out.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.

Lord, have mercy on those who are dying without believing in You.  I pray, change their hearts now.  Use my life as a tool to help do that

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 14 March 2018

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.  1 Thessalonians 3:6 (NIV).

I daydream.   A lot.   My daydreams are usually about owning a house on the beach, or a house on a lake.   Sometimes they’re about another trip to Disney, or working in a village in Uganda, or fishing on my favorite lake in Minnesota, or working in my old garden.   Mostly, though, they are about being with other people, usually members of my family.  When I think about the good times in my life, people I love are always involved.

Knowing that, it’s easy to see that Paul was talking about his love for the Thessalonians and how gladdened he was to hear that they missed him.   He was uplifted to learn that his new friends there in Thessalonica wanted to see him as much as he wanted to see them.   More than that, Paul was heartened to learn that their faith and love, expressed as charity for others, was growing.  That the message he had told them about Jesus was growing, that there was love.

It’s a beautiful thing to realize you’re loved.   Have you realized that lately?

I know a few folks who are going through severe marital problems.  It looks very much like those problems will lead to divorce, and that’s tragic.   It’s tragic to realize that the person you loved and who loved you no longer does.   That another focus has replaced that love in their, and your, life.  You put your heart, your time, your life into someone else’s heart, time, and life, and it ends up as a wasteland.  It’s devastating.

I wonder if my friends have realized they’re still loved.   When depression grabs your heart, it turns everything dark.   It’s so hard to see that others still love you.   That, in the middle of your darkness, the very real life-light of Jesus is still shining for you.   If only you could break through the desperate fog that’s hiding that light…

…that happens when you’re open to hearing good news.  Paul heard good news from his protégé, Timothy, that the Thessalonians believed, that the message of Jesus had taken root and was growing.   That they missed Paul.   When you’re feeling lonely, as Paul was, it is good to hear how others remember you.   Sometimes it can make all the difference in the world.

That’s what I daydream about.   The older I get, the more I cherish time with my family and friends because in those times, the love of God is being shared.   It’s the best thing there is.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:7.

Lord, thank You for times with people I love.   Thank You for sharing Your wonderful love through us.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 13 March 2018

In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.  1 Thessalonians 3:4-5 (NIV).

Several verses are mentioned below to help explain these for today.   Perhaps, however, they are best explained in Mark 4, which is the parable of the sower.   If you’ll remember, Jesus is teaching a crowd so large that it forces him to stand in a boat to speak to them.   He tells them a story of what the kingdom of God is like.   It’s like when a farmer sows seed and we are the soil.  In some of us, the plant grows shallow and it withers, or it is destroyed, or it is neglected to be choked out by weeds, which are troubles in life.   But in some of us the seed finds good soil and the seed takes root to eventually produce a good crop.

Paul was concerned that he had planted God’s word – good seed – in soil where the troubles of this world had choked out a good crop.  He was afraid that Satan had come to distract the Thessalonians and pull them off the straight and narrow path that Paul had set them on.

You know that happens to all of us, right?  Billy Graham was one of the modern heroes of the faith, but the tempter tempted him all through his long life and tried to pull him off God’s path.  Mother Theresa was a modern hero of the faith, but the tempter tempted her all through her long life and tried to pull her off God’s path.   You get the picture.  If it can happen to great heroes of the faith, people with strong public faith who gather millions to follow God, it can happen to little old you and me.

When this life is over, even heroes stand before Jesus individually just like anyone else.  Paul was concerned for his friends that they would have been led into sin, that the seed he had planted that had grown in good soil had withered.  How wonderful it would be to have a friend like Paul, who thought about us this way.   How good it is, then, to have friends who are more than just worldly friends but who also are concerned about our spiritual well-being, about how we’re walking our walk with Jesus.  Do you have someone like that in your life?  Do you have a Paul?

For further reading: Mark 4:17, John 16:33, Romans 5:3, 2 Corinthians 1:4, 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 1 Thessalonians 3:6.

Lord, I praise You for the people you put in my life to support me in faith.   Bless and encourage them, and let me be that someone for somebody else, too.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 12 March 2018

In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.  1 Thessalonians 3:4(NIV).

This is a theme we’ve talked about here many times before:  when you believe in Jesus, you will be persecuted.   You’ll lose friends.   You’ll become alienated from family.   You may lose your job, your home.  If you become a believer in Jesus and you expect your life to be peaches and cream, brother (or sister), you need to be prepared.  Jesus Himself told His disciples – and us – that those who hate you hated Him first.   That those who follow Him will be persecuted but also blessed.  Paul spoke squarely with his friends.  He didn’t varnish this truth for them, he didn’t downplay it.   When you care about someone, you speak the truth to them, and Paul spoke Jesus’ truth.

Put yourself in first century Asia Minor and consider how they might have viewed things.  You have befriended a renegade in this man Paul.   You know his past, that he was once a Jewish Pharisee who, himself, violently persecuted followers of this Jesus.   In listening to him you know him to be a learned man, a man well-versed in the words of the Pentateuch, and the hymns of David, and the accounts of the prophets.  You have been told how he oversaw the murder of Stephen, one of Jesus’ early followers.   You have heard his account of how Jesus met him on a road to Damascus and transformed his life.  You know how he is in conflict with the leaders of the local synagogue (all synagogues in fact) as well as the local government authorities, representatives from Rome and Athens both, and that he is an argumentative though persuasive firebrand.   And you have seen the look in his eyes, the look that combines determination, regret, peace, and something else that you can’t quite nail down.   Whatever it is that gives Paul that look, you want it for your own life.

To get that look means you have some serious choices to make.   The people around you insult this new sect, deriding it as lunatic fantasy.   A man walking around after he was dead?   The Messiah murdered by the people He came to save?  Love your enemies when your enemies want you dead?  Yet there’s something about Paul’s words, something about the peace of this Jesus, that is calling to you, speaking to you in a place deep inside all you know to be true.   In a world where we seem destined for pain and trouble, the words of Jesus, told by this eccentric tentmaker, talk to the very core of your being.  To accept them means turning your back on everything you’ve ever known and that carries great risk.

My friend, in 2000 years, what has changed?

For further reading: John 15:18, Luke 6:22, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 3:5.

My Lord, I will follow You no matter the cost.


Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 March 2018

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.  1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NIV).

Are we destined for trouble?   Answer:  yes.   Does that mean God is indifferent or not present?   Answer:  no.   Gee, those easy answers couldn’t be more difficult.

“Life is hard.   It’s harder if you’re stupid.”   That’s a meme supposedly quoting John Wayne.   No disrespect intended to the Duke (who, nearly 40 years after his death, is still my favorite actor) but we’re all stupid.  Stupidity is a symptom of sin; bad choices yielding more bad choices is symptomatic of sin starting off the whole process.   And our choices do largely determine our outcome.   Bad choices are almost guaranteed to make hard times even harder.   Don’t believe me?   Ask anyone who’s gotten into crime, or drugs, or adultery, or a web of lies.   Stupidity only makes things worse.

Sometimes it seems like that’s all we’re destined for, as if God has it in for us.   As if God has abandoned us.  Depression entrenches that impression; so do negativity, exhaustion, anger, and pain.  Yet, if you think God does indeed have it in for us, that He sets things in motion but then takes a hands-off approach as we live, how do you explain Him constantly sustaining us in life?  How do you explain the feeling of release that comes from compassion, or forgiveness?  How can we not see that it is the hand of Jesus at work in our lives when we act out in ways that demonstrate His love, His patience, His empathy, His heart?

Paul was lonely in Athens, and Athens was a hostile place for a follower of this new belief system called “Christianity.”  Think of it as the San Francisco of its day, but with a better appreciation for democracy yet having poorer standards of sanitation.  It would have been tough to endure, even for a gifted spirit like Paul.   Yet he sent his friend Timothy to Thessalonica because Thessalonica needed Timothy more.  That wasn’t just Paul being pragmatic or realistic:   it was the heart of Jesus at work in him, causing Paul to act in ways that edified and encouraged others.   Paul knew he could expect trouble, especially when his ‘forces’ were separated and divided.   Yet he knew God would provide, that God would be with him, that even when troubles seemed destined, God would work in him to help him endure, persevere, and build hope.

We’re no different.   Life is harder when we’re stupid; Paul did stupid things, too.   But Paul trusted Christ implicitly and that allowed him to move beyond adversity and into the realm of miracles called “faith.”  I think the Duke would agree.

For further reading: Romans 5:3-5, Thessalonians 3:4.

Lord, help me to rely more on you, to overcome adversity.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 7 March 2018

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 1 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).

This and coming verses explain that Paul loved the Thessalonians.  In context of chapter 2, it’s obvious he did.   That’s not an ordinary thing.  I find myself here in San Francisco this week not knowing how to react to the homeless.   I’ve been to SF many times but I’ve never seen as many homeless people here as there are this year.   What’s more, the city appears to be doing less and less to address the situation of so many folks needing genuine help.   Many are drug-dependent; many appear disturbed; many need help with money, food, hygiene, and health issues.   Our society tells us that we should be wary of such strangers.   Jesus (and probably Paul) wouldn’t have hesitated to help but Dave does.   What can you do to help someone who is in such desperate straits?

If nothing else, pray.  I don’t know the strangers I pass on the street, and the people who yell and scream out of the blue for no reason, or the guy kissing the magazine on the subway give compelling reasons to be apprehensive at least.   But I pray for them.   I pray for them, and I pray God opens my path and my heart to find a way to help.   Until then, I pray.   Pray for health, pray for peace, pray for safety, pray for food and shelter and assistance.  Jesus and Paul would probably do more; I pray, too, that God would enable me to do the same.

So, riddle me this Dave:   how does “best to be left by ourselves in Athens” demonstrate Paul’s love for anyone but Paul?  Did Paul only pray for them?  I think the key is in the first words of the chapter coupled with the last words of Chapter 2.   Recall that 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 said “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”  Paul says those things then immediately intimates that he was left alone in Athens because he loved the Thessalonians, whose love in Christ was Paul’s pride an joy.   He was left alone in Athens because he sent his friends Silas and Timothy to other places to love on other people, including the Thessalonians.

I bet that Paul’s first inclination was to pray for his new friends and the other strangers in their midst.   When you can’t do anything else because of distance, ability or even fear, you and I can pray because prayer is a real, tangible way to be involved.   And in it, you’re never alone.

For further reading: Acts 17:15, Thessalonians 3:2.

Lord Jesus, show me ways I can help.  Show me people I can pray for and help.