Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 20 September 2018

Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 1 Timothy 1:6 (NIV).

It’s a risky thing to take Bible verses out of context and dissect them on their own without considering the context around them…so we won’t do that.   Yet this verse is also like its own proverb.   It is advice on its own.

Years ago, I started this blog to meditate on the book of Proverbs while I was going through a time of repentance and healing.  Eight years (and ten books) of exegesis and hermeneutics later, my tiny attempts to analyze the practical meaning of these Bible verses does, sometimes, turn to meaningless talk.   In fact, it concerns me.   More and more, I strive to avoid having this happen, trying to keep the focus only on Jesus.   Sometimes I fail.

It happens.

Yet when it happens, the thing to do is to turn back to God, ask for help, and jump back in.   Why did Paul say this?  What was the context for saying it? What does it mean to us now?

For this particular verse, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Paul was ministering to Timothy and telling him to be careful.   To not get ‘wrapped around the axle’ with things that pull away from God (things like meaningless pedigrees and focusing on other than Jesus’ love).  In this verse, he’s warning Timothy that there are good people who have turned away from that love (including pure hearts, good conscience, and sincere faith) and decided to cling to other things.

You know it still happens to us now.  We get wrapped around things that distract us and pull us away.   Anything can become our idol and try to pull us away from Jesus.   Job, spouse/significant other, kids, sports, tasks, even the Bible itself:  anything can supplant Jesus’ rightful role as the primary focus of our lives.   It happens.

The way back always leads first to the Cross.   “Lord, I’ve been wrong.   Forgive me & help me.”   Starting there helps us to identify our own meaningless talk & meaningless idols, then to turn from them.   It helps us to see again that “He’s got this.”  We are able to test what we think and do against God’s Word and adjust accordingly.  Sometimes God speaks to our hearts through those distractions, and we shouldn’t be too quick to turn from change, or even things that can distract us, without checking in with Him first.  Yet when we stray away from the straight and narrow, there’s always an exit ramp we can take that reminds us Jesus is actually there beside us, beckoning & guiding us back to His better Way.   We get to be careful because we get to filter what we think & do through the filter of Jesus Christ.

That happens too.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:7

Lord, keep me between “Your lines.”   Help me to avoid meaningless things and meaningless talk and act only as You would have me.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 19 September 2018

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:3-5 (NIV).

Last night I found myself in an online discussion with some other believers about this subject:   love.   We discussed it in the context of gay marriage and the church.   As you can imagine, the discussion got passionate.   Good points were made, and to be honest, a few bad ones as well.  Yet I’m hopeful that we ended the long diatribes with the essence of verse 5 at work.

“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  The Apostle Paul just summed up the whole point of debating anything, especially really contentious issues that we face here on the Third Rock.  If we can’t do it in love, then we shouldn’t do it.  The goal of every conversation, of every debate, of every argument, of everything we do should be love.   Jesus’ love, which is pure and gives rise to pure hearts, good conscience, and sincere faith.   To summarize 1 Corinthians 13, without love, we’re not much.   Without love, the words are empty and meaningless.   Without love, there is no point.

And Jesus is love.   ALL love.   Pure love, which is more than just the emotion of it.   It’s joy, peace, justice, happiness, purity and a thousand other qualities.  It isn’t the free-wheeling hippy love, and it isn’t peace, love and dope.  The essence of God is love that He gives us as Himself in Jesus.  Sure, a world of frustrated distraction constantly wars with this fact, but the world can’t overpower it.   Paul knew this because Paul had experienced Jesus.   It’s impossible to come away from experiencing Jesus without realizing the depth and power of His love.  That depth is indeed daunting but the task of living it out is light.   Yet we can only do it through Jesus.   There is no other way.

Experiencing that love should be our goal; Paul says as much.   We are to do all we to better share and experience the love of Jesus.   In this way, we submit to Him and let Him work through us as He will.

Last night’s discussion was long; to be honest, I bowed out of it about half way through, before the fireworks started in earnest.   I’m glad for that, because sharing the words of Scripture without submitting to the love of Christ is counterproductive.

For further reading:  2 Timothy 2:22, Acts 23:1, Galatians 5:6, 1 Timothy 1:6

Lord, motivate me to always do and say what I do and say only out of love for You

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 September 2018

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 1 Timothy 1:3-4 (NIV).

We love pedigrees, credentials.   We love having people go ‘into the family business’ as if that somehow confers special blessing or knowledge on them.   How many politicians, general officers, pastors, celebrities, CEOs, and high-ranking officials in society are children of the same?   You could drive yourself to frustrated distraction simply naming all of them.

That’s the point, you know:   frustrated distraction.

Frustrated distraction and false doctrine:   WE KNOW BEST.   The Baptists say that (and mean it) but so do the Catholics, and the Lutherans, and the dozen or so other reformed denominations, and the atheists think we’re all messed up.  But we’re each guilty of it.  “I know better than you.”   Throw “because the Bible says” and you’ll either look educated or immensely stupid (maybe even like a total jerk).   Some folks thrive on doctrine, on insisting they know better than anyone else.   More than once I’ve been accused of being a know-it-all and, to be fair, the accusers sometimes have good points.   I’m sure I’m not the only one.   In fact, turn on any of the political talk commentary shows on cable TV and you’ll see a ton of people convinced they’re all correct.

More than a few are false doctrines there, at least as far as I understand them.  And all of them are frustrating distractions.

The ancient Jews believed in citing genealogies and pedigrees.   God had proclaimed that the Levites would be His priesthood, and the Jews of Bible times took that seriously.  The Gnostics of the first century took this further, believing in a New Age system that mashed Judaism, philosophy and nascent Christianity together into a self-focused belief based on who you were rather than God.   Paul saw that and cautioned his pastoral apprentice to steer clear of these things.  Further, he advised Timothy to teach others to do the same.

Yet what has changed?   Aren’t we still tangled up in the knot of “who are your people” over “who does God say you are?”   A Harvard degree carries bigger vocational clout than one from the University of Phoenix yet graduates of either may have the exact same degree.   It’s nice if your dad, grandfather and great-grandfather were all in the same ministry business but, to be frank, so what?  Oscars mean more than simply great movies.   Nothing new here.

What matters is what God says about us, not what we say about each other.   Credentials and pedigrees can be great things but they can also lead to frustrated distraction.

For further reading:  Acts 16:9, Titus 1:14, Titus 3:9, 1 Timothy 1:5

Lord, help me to focus ONLY on what You say to me and about me.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 September 2018

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith:  Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  1 Timothy 1:1-2 (NIV).

I’m no Apostle Paul; perhaps neither are you.   Yet our purpose here is the same:   we’re proclaiming the grace of God.   We’re in good company, my friend, hanging out with Paul, Peter, St Augustine, Luther, Billy Graham and every other pastor or evangelist in history.

We’re here again to proclaim Christ Jesus, our hope.   As my Concordia reference Bible says, that’s a declaration, not just a throwaway phrase.  Paul refers to his mission as commanded by God Himself and his mission was to proclaim the hope – the promise and the guarantee – of Christ Jesus.

When you say “I believe,” you’re concurring.   You’re putting your dearly held beliefs in line with Jesus, saying “I believe in You.”   “I trust You.”  “I submit to You.”   “I believe everything You said.”

That’s tough.

It was tough for Paul to do, I’m sure.   Jesus called him to turn from persecuting the church and to follow the path of an apostle.   He gave Saul the mission to proclaim Him in a world hostile to Him.   He took Saul’s livelihood, his background, his career, and He even changed his name to Paul.  Even though Paul had been personally visited and changed by Jesus Himself, it still must have been tough.  He had to learn to live out his life as Jesus wanted him to after being turned completely upside down.

Then he found a protégé, an apprentice.   Timothy was a young man who Paul met during one of his missionary journeys (to what is now Turkey).   Timothy had a unique background, training and talents that Jesus could use to reach out to other believers in Macedonia.  So Paul took the young man under his wing and instructed him on ways to better proclaim the risen Christ.   1 and 2 Timothy are Paul’s letters of instruction to his apprentice, who went on to proclaim Jesus long after Paul was martyred in Rome (before he, too, was murdered for the faith).   They’re the basis of today’s seminaries.

Because part of the promise and hope of proclaiming Jesus is accepting the call in to His service whatever it takes, whatever it involves.

Paul knew this.   Timothy knew this.   Augustine, Luther, and Billy Graham knew it, and so do we.   Jesus is all love and His burden of love is both light and deep.  Paul wrote two letters to encourage his apprentice and they’re here for us to read.   And following that encouragement can be awfully tough.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 1:1, Titus 1:3, Luke 1:47, Colossians 1:27, Acts 16:1, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Timothy 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:3

Lord, praise to You for the word You gave to Paul to share with Timothy and us.   Thank You for their words and experience.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 14 September 2018

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.  I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  2 Thessalonians 3:16-18 (NIV).

Another ending.   Like 1 Thessalonians (and his other books), Paul ends with a doxology and invocation of blessings on his friends.

Focus on the peace.   That’s the message Paul intended for you.   It’s what he was looking for you to gather from this letter.  Peace from the Lord Himself.   Peace at all times; peace in everything with you.   Not just you:   all of you.  All of us.   All the time in all ways possible.  THAT is the message of Christianity.   More than Christianity, THAT is the message of Jesus Christ because Jesus is peace.

Jesus’ peace matters above everything else in the closing comments because Jesus matters more than anything else, period.  Jesus’ peace allows us to stay calm when things around us are in chaos.  Jesus’ peace lets us back away from arguments (like the ones I usually have) where we simply must be right!   Jesus’ peace heals all wounds of the heart.  Paul understood this.   He understood the brutal world of malice and conquest in which he lived.   He understood that it would eventually kill him (which it did) but could consume him and anyone else long before unless they could fight it with something stronger.

Jesus’ peace was stronger.   It still is.

As you go into your weekend, remember that there are people today who are hurting.   There are hurricane evacuees worried about losing their homes.   There are people whose loved ones are dying, or have just died.   There are people out of work, deep in debt, plagued by past decisions, living in abuse.   Name your pet sin and someone is being tortured by it.   Those people need peace.   Those people need Jesus’ peace.   Those people are actually you and me.

We can share Jesus’ peace by submitting to Him, then living out our lives in the ways He did:   kindness, faithfulness to Him and to each other, patience, forbearance, understanding, and empathy.   You and I GET to put Paul’s benediction into practice by sharing the peace of Jesus Christ with other people by the things we say and do.   You and I get to focus on the peace of Jesus and let Him work His work through us by doing the things He would have us do.  In doing that, we both experience and share God’s grace the way He intended it:   peace for everyone.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:1

Lord, thank You for Paul’s epistles, for the words You shared through him.   Grant us Your beautiful peace to everyone, everywhere.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 12 September 2018

Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.  2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 (NIV).

A friend of mine is experiencing a spiritual revival.  A few days ago I asked her if anything bad had happened and she answered, no, nothing indeed had happened.   She was simply being passionate about the Spirit.   In the last few weeks, she has shared dozens, maybe hundreds, of Spirit-fed blurbs denouncing religion while supporting all things, all thoughts, all preaching, all love and justice Jesus.  Only Jesus.  She would agree with Paul’s exhortation to treat wayward people with love, confronting and warning when they are ‘over the line’ but in a spirit of love and not condemnation.

Yet correct we must…sometimes.   Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus tell us to be mean when we confront each other.   Nowhere in this letter (or any of his letters) does Paul tell his friends to be jerks.   Instead, Jesus (and Paul) tell us to confront each other when it’s necessary, when peoples’ conduct is ungodly and dangerous to the body of Christ (that is the church of believers).   Paul, conscious that his words were being Divinely inspired, urged his readers to treat fellow believers, wayward followers, and those who are ignorant of Jesus with love.   Warn them as if they are your fellow believer, as if they don’t realize they’re making mistakes.   After all, “they” could be me or you at any time; got skin, got sin.

When we confront each other, our motive MUST be love.   It must be out of caring for their welfare as followers of Jesus.   We must seek to confront each other in the kind of motivation that Jesus did, that Paul would.

I once belonged to a church where the pastor was a tyrant.   As a member of the church council, I got to see him up close.  Like good pastors, he asked for, sometimes even demanded, unity in the Spirit.   That we, as the governing body, lead in consensus and be unified in supporting decisions we made.   What he rarely said was that he meant we should carry out decisions HE made.  He didn’t like being confronted about this.  In fact, he became belligerent; he got downright angry when we started to ignore him.

When I think about confronting others, I try to ask myself how someone should or would confront me.   If I’m caught in a sin, if I’ve done something wrong, if I’m doing something bad or hurtful, how would I want someone to correct me?  In those moments, I go back to my friend’s revival and remember that I’d want to hear things in love.   That’s the only answer.

For further reading:  Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 4:14, Galatians 6:1, Philemon 16, 2 Thessalonians 3:16.

Lord Jesus, help me to confront others in Your love.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 11 September 2018

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.  2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NIV).

I listened to a sermon that my friend, Patrick, gave over the weekend and the dominant theme of it was that the life God has planned for us is much better than the ones we have planned for ourselves.   He tells the story of going into an auto dealer with one agenda, talking with a sales agent, and then returning to the store the next day only to have the agent tell him “thanks, you really helped me yesterday.”   My friend didn’t even know he’d said or done anything helpful.

Isn’t that always the case?  It seems like the perfect reason for this verse, doesn’t it?   We don’t know when we might be helping someone (but God does), so we should simply live our lives in Godly ways and not tire of doing those good, Godly things.   They matter.   People are watching.

Today is 9/11.   You know what that means; you know what happened that day.   It’s a day for remembering those who died who didn’t deserve to.   Firemen and police, Port Authority workers, brokerage house staffers, shift workers in uniform, flight attendants and pilots, innocent airline passengers:   all of them senselessly murdered out of true hatred.

And in the 17 years since, it is the good those people did, the good for which they’re remembered, that matters so much more than the hateful terrorist freaks who murdered them.   Folks who worked in the Pentagon or the World Trade Center had no idea what would happen that day.   Nobody who died on Flight 93 knew what would happen; nobody who survived that day knew what would happen in the days and years to come.  But most people DID keep on doing what is good.   The people who rushed in to help, the millions who gave blood, the people who worked to build back:   they never tired of doing what is good.

They are still not tired.

So much of the air in our public life today is taken up by busybodies.   ALL of social media is comprised of busybodies, and we’ve each been those small people.  Yet even this pales in comparison to the selfless love of Jesus shown by caring, by working out the fruits of His Spirit such as kindness, patience, goodness and the rest.  Those things matter more than all the gossip, or troubles, or hateful beliefs that have nothing to do with peace.   They matter even more than losing dear loved ones.  With God’s Spirit guiding what we think and do, the life we can have is indeed so much better than the small, petty lives we try to insist for ourselves.

God bless the families, dearly lost, and surviving friends of 9/11.

For further reading:  2 Thessalonians 3:14.

Lord, bless those who died and those who lived to pick up the pieces.  Help us all to better live out Your Spirit especially on this day.