Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 22 May 2018

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Thessalonians 5:9 (NIV).

Last night I watched “Platoon.”   Best Picture of 1986.   I first saw it at Fort Meade, Maryland that year in a theater full of Vietnam veterans, nearly all of whom were silent at the end and more than a few were crying.  Besides being about combat, Platoon was about fall and redemption, about receiving salvation by surviving the hell of the Vietnam War.

After that, I watched the first few minutes of “Gladiator,” Best Picture of 2000, also about war.   Near the beginning, Maximus, Russell Crowe’s character, said something profound:  “what we do in this life carries over into eternity.”   Had he been real, Crowe’s character would have lived just after the time of Christ.   I wonder if he would have picked up this thought from those early Christians.

Salvation has indeed come to man and it didn’t come by surviving war, though I’m sure most any war veteran can tell you that returning home safely was awful close.  And salvation came to us specifically because what we do in this life can indeed carry over into eternity.   Without Jesus’ salvation, the idolatrous things we choose here will indeed be fully rewarded to us in eternity.   By accepting salvation, something completely different is in store.

God didn’t appoint Oliver Stone, Charlie Sheen, Russell Crowe, or any of us to suffer His wrath.   He created us to love us, not to hurt us.  Before we were even born, God loved us and breathed life into us so that we may breathe life back to Him; so that we might share His love with other people that they would know His love too.    Being all love, Jesus knew that love-compelled isn’t love at all, so He also gave us free will:   the ability to choose one thing over another.   Even if it means we choose things other than Him, Jesus loves us enough to respect our choices so that we might come to love Him just as freely.  He didn’t create us to feel the Father’s holy wrath of hellish separation, but if that’s what we choose, then He loves us enough to respect us and our choices.

At the end of Gladiator, Maximus dies, having freed Rome from the grip of a tyrant.  At the end of Platoon, Charlie Sheen goes home to attempt to find something good of the world.   We’re not so different, you know.   This verse comes at the end of a section talking about the end of time.   It’s a good reminder of why God made us.  We’re here to learn to love God, even as a world bathed in wrath works against us.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:10.

Lord, love me today and encourage me so that I might avoid wrath and share love.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 21 May 2018

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NIV).

Let’s talk about the full armor of God.   This verse plainly mentions it, putting on “faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”   That verbiage easily lines up with Ephesians 6; go read it and see for yourself.   Think about armor and why it’s needed, who uses it, and what it’s used for.  Then come back to 1 Thessalonians to ask yourself a question:

Who is protected by armor?

Of course the wear is protected; the soldier, the hunter, the defender.  The armor protects the wearer during combat, from elements, while being attacked.  It shields the wearer from harm and gives them confidence to advance, to do their part in battle. It’s no accident, then, that Paul speaks of the fruits of God’s Spirit as armor.   He speaks of faith, love, and hope as real, tangible defenses against the attacks of the evil one.  Faith and love cover the heart, protecting the core of the body.   Hope of salvation, which is a promise and not a wish, protects the head:   home of the brain and four of the five senses.   Faith and love literally keep us alive while the hope of salvation covers how we sense the world – and others – around us.

So ask that question again:   who is protected by armor?   Perhaps Paul is also alluding to the fact that the person NOT wearing the armor of God benefits from it.   Think about it:   faith, hope, and love are all from God and benefit the person not being covered by them as much as they do the person shielded by them.   They are the qualities even un-believers desire and model.   They are the foundation of charity and charitable behavior.   They are the basis for kindness and understanding, even our entire civilization.   Even when someone doesn’t believe in God (and, thus, chooses to not wear the full armor of Him), they benefit from these practical, caring qualities of Him.

This is a tough world.   The other day I mentioned how people close to me are being attacked.   I wonder if they see people around them wearing the armor of God, and I wonder what they think about it.   Jesus never promised the world would be rosy:   He promised He would walk with us through it and never leave us.   When we order our lives around Him, His Spirit begins to impart faith, love and hope into us that we can wear to both nourish us and protect us.  That’s the point, too, when it begins to show to others.   And that’s the greatest protection of all.

For further reading:  Ephesians 6:10-17, 1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:9.

Lord, let me wear Your armor as a defense for the people I meet today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 May 2018

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 (NIV).

Another thought on darkness and falling asleep.

Several people close to me are currently struggling with faith.   They believe, or did believe at some points in their lives, but they’re being attacked right now and are struggling.   One is sick with a chronic disease, marital difficulties, and unbelieving family members surrounding her.   Another is worried about her daughter, burned out by things in life, and wondering where God is in all this.   Another is mad at his church, which over-used his talents and abused his generosity.   They’re ripe for attack by Satan, and he’s doing a top job of constantly buffeting their emotions.  They’re tired.

Then there is me.   I’m unemployed again.   While my prospects for finding a job are good, it’s still a fact that I’m out of work for the third time in two years.   It makes me question so many things, and I feel inadequate, scared.   I feel sure I haven’t done things to label myself as a troublemaker, but to be honest, when your work ends, you find it difficult to feel fully sure about many things.   I feel vulnerable and apprehensive of where to go next.   Lump me in with those who are being attacked by the evil one.  I’m sleepy.

Sometimes on a faith-walk, we fall asleep.   The world tires us out and we let ourselves become distracted.  Satan uses those distractions to twist understanding, trying to yank us away from Jesus.   He knows he can’t yank Jesus away from us, but he can pull us away from Him by working to shift our focus.  We fall asleep to Jesus but remain too awake in the world.  When that happens, sin ensues.  I’m betting that anyone who realizes they’re being attacked by Satan could tell you similar stories.

The good news in all this is the Good News.   Jesus lived, died, and lives again to redeem sinners like me and my family and friends and you.   When we let ourselves fall asleep to faith and fall into sin’s grasp, He’s there to remind us that He is the better way.   That we’re forgiven and that it’s time to wake up to His light.   His light is daytime, and it’s warm, embracing, cleansing, loving.  It’s another chance.  Everything that needed to be done to set me right with God – and be at peace in this world – He has already done.

Struggles will happen; we’re sinful by nature, and sin will be in our lives as long as we have a pulse.   Just remember that, at any time, it’s time to wake up to the light.

For further reading:  Romans 13:11, Matthew 25:13, Acts 24:25, Acts 2:15, Romans 13:13, 2 Peter 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

Lord, wake me up today.   It’s time to rise for You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 15 May 2018

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 (NIV).

WHAT??? Is Paul (and Jesus) telling us to get drunk?  I’ll admit it:   every now and then I’d like that, especially when I want to escape my problems.   Getting drunk would seem to numb the worries for a while, but that isn’t what Paul is telling us.

Is Paul telling us to spend our time sleeping?   I’ll admit it (again):   I envy people who can sleep for long stretches of time, twelve hours or more every day.   That’s an ability I don’t seem to have because I rarely sleep more than 4-6 hours at most.   But that isn’t what Paul is telling us either.

These verses allude to self-control.   Huh?

Remember that verse 5 talked about being in darkness, i.e. being in sin, not being wise about faith (or with our faith).   Those who don’t believe in this Jesus are in darkness and unwise.   Yes, many (maybe even most) are good people who live good lives and are upright, reputable, and friendly.   But they’re still unwise because the truth of Jesus is self-evident and they ignore it.  Indeed, Jesus Christ is the foundation of truth, the bedrock of it.  It’s a tough thing to say “I believe in Him” because it almost certainly guarantees you a tough row to hoe.   It’s hard to walk a faith walk, especially in a world that seems to chew up and spit out so many good people so easily.

That’s the fate of those who walk in darkness, willfully walking without Jesus.   They are asleep to Him, unaware of what goes on around them while they slumber through the reality that is God.  They aren’t sober; they’re drunk on the self-focused idolatry of saying “I know better.”  When you boil it down, that’s the profession of anyone who says they don’t believe in Jesus.   It’s a selfish, dark, empty thing.

When you’re asleep to Jesus, it is all night all day.  It is darkness because Jesus is the only light of the world.   What Paul is reminding us in these verses is that those who deny Jesus, refuse to follow Him, or even are ignorant of Him are in spiritual darkness.  Lest we think believers are any better, remember that hypocrites walk in darkness, too.   The antidote?   Start with self-control.   Control our wisdom; control our words.   Soberly place thoughts under our control, and consciously re-think on the light whenever darkness creeps in.   Do these things because non-followers are watching even while asleep, because these things give glory to God.

For further reading:  Romans 13:11, Matthew 25:13, Acts 24:25, Acts 2:15, Romans 13:13, 2 Peter 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

Lord, I pray, shine Your love-light for me today.   Guide my eyes to it, and shine brighter when my sight shifts elsewhere.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 14 May 2018

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief1 Thessalonians 5:5 (NIV).

One of the verses my Concordia reference cites for 1 Thessalonians 5:5 is Luke 16:8, which is the verse in the parable of the shrewd manager where Jesus talks about how the shrewd manager was commended by his creditor for acting wisely according to the ways of the world.   The manager was astute and sharp about practical things – debts – that were owed to his boss.   He did this to gain standing with people because he realized his position in the world was in danger.

Have you considered that Jesus gives us faith to be shrewd with it?   We are to be generous, outgoing, joyous, giving, sharing, submissive, and loving in how we share our faith, yet we are also to be astute and wise.   The devil is often called “the prince of this world” because he has set himself up as the ultimate authority, the ruler, of all things earthly.   Even though it isn’t so and even though he has already been supplanted through eternity, it is also still a fact with which we must deal here.   In being bold warriors for Christ, we are tasked with using our faith wisely, sharply, astutely as we defeat the many tactics of the evil one.

That means being wise around each other.   If a friend is weak in faith, we should do things to build them up, encourage them, be a friend to them.   If a friend is strong in faith, we should find ways to support their mission.   If someone wrongs us, we should always examine ourselves to see if there is indeed wrongdoing in our response or ourselves, and then we should readily forgive and seek understanding.   These are behaviors that are wise, measured, and prudent – you know:  shrewd – for God’s people to exhibit when interacting with each other, especially if the other person doesn’t follow Jesus.  Such shrewd, wise behavior may just be a way Jesus can use to touch their heart.

Why would we want that?   Yes, it’s even Godly to ask this, and you know the answer:  because God loves all people and wants all to be saved.   Eternity matters most, both being part of eternity now and an eternity with Jesus and His followers forever.   Have we considered that those who don’t follow Jesus are in darkness?   When the end of time comes, it will come as a surprise to them.   They’ll be caught thinking “but I need more time.”   Living our lives wisely, shrewdly, lovingly is the best witness we can give each other so that they will begin to walk with Jesus now, and rejoice when He returns instead of cowering in dark fear.

For further reading:  Luke 16:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:6.

Lord, I live in Your light.   Constantly teach me to be shrewd with my faith so that You may use my days to reach others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 10 May 2018

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief1 Thessalonians 5:4 (NIV).

Not in darkness…can we even fathom that thought?

My friend Patrick preaches a lot about light versus darkness.   In many places in the New Testament, Jesus refers to Himself as the light, and how in him there is no darkness.   There can’t be.  Darkness symbolizes void, emptiness, ignorance, the absence of light (and what is good).   Jesus is none of those things.   Where Jesus is, there is undeniable, life-giving light that makes the darkness flee.   It fills the void, replaces the emptiness.   In Jesus, there is everything.

Just yesterday I was reading a devotion where it mentioned how Jesus revealed everything about the Father to His disciples.   Imagine that.   Jesus revealed EVERYTHING about the Father.   There was nothing about Him that Jesus knew that He didn’t reveal to His friends, these imperfect, sinful people like you and me.  The voids, nooks and crannies of their empty souls were filled by Jesus’s revelation of the Father.  Everything that there was to know about the Father was told, and there was nothing more that anyone could know.  The Bible verse was in John, and it was short and subtle, understating the importance of such a mind blowing concept.   God the Father, the creator of all things, making Himself fully, completely known through His Son.

What’s the point?   The light that filled the disciples made it so that there was nothing about the return of Jesus that would be surprising.  They had known Him fully, and would soon know Him in death, then again in resurrected life.  After that, NOTHING about Jesus could or would surprise them in any way.   The Father had revealed everything they needed to know about it to prepare to meet Him for eternity.

That same thing is true for us today.   I struggle with the practice of turning everything over to Jesus, of so fully opening up my heart to Him that He crowds everything else out.   In futility, I cling to “I can do it” and push Jesus aside.   Is it any wonder when I feel alone?   And when I feel alone, there is darkness.  Yet I also know that, if I let my guard down to Him fully, He’ll fill me back up with His light.   His light feels like love because that’s what it is.   It’s peaceful, patient, understanding.  When I feel the presence of my faith in Jesus, even though I have tried to keep Him at arm’s length, I feel good.   That’s something I can fathom.

For further reading:  Acts 26:18. 1 John 2:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:5.

Lord, fill the empty places of my life with Your holy light.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 May 2018

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape1 Thessalonians 5:3 (NIV).

“I see a bad moon rising.  I see trouble on the way.”   Creedence Clearwater Revival and that describes our complacency as the end of time approaches.

Have you been following the volcanic eruption in Hawaii?   I’ve been fascinated with volcanoes since I was a boy, and I’m even more fascinated with this one because my wife and I are supposed to see that volcano in August.  It’s an awesomely powerful thing to watch the earth spew out metric tons of hot molten rock with the ease of a child throwing a toy.  Scientists had been predicting an eruption for quite awhile but the speed and severity of how Kilauea has erupted caught even them off guard.

How much more off guard would be we be caught if Yellowstone erupted?   In the last few years there have been thousands of small earthquakes in the Yellowstone region indicating violent subterranean activity.   If you didn’t know it, Yellowstone National Park is actually the caldera of a super-volcano.   If, or when, that super-volcano erupts, scientists think it could cover most of the United States in sulfur and ash and possibly kill one hundred million Americans.   It might even launch the planet into an ice age.

All the while, in the weeks and months leading up to that eruption, our authorities would urge us to remain calm, to act in safe ways.   Can you blame them?   Who would want three hundred million people to panic all at once, especially over something they can neither affect nor prevent?  Tell me:   do you think that we can prevent the end of time when God wills it to be so?   We’d have better luck trying to affect the volcano.   What God wills to destroy WILL be destroyed, and this earth, our only home, is marked for eventual destruction.

But tell me this, too:   do we need to be destroyed when that happens?   You know the answer.

Jesus doesn’t will for us to be destroyed.   Indeed, He lived, died, and resurrected to prevent our destruction.   His saving grace is the only saving we need.   Even if our earth is destroyed, even if our bodies die, we can live with Jesus forever when He comes to make all things new.  All it takes is “I believe.”   When the chips are down and the troubles begin, do you?

The end will come.   People have been predicting it since Jesus left the first time, and every age interprets signs in nature to mean the end is coming in their lifetime, yet here we are.   Yet here we are with the same dire need they had as well: to be ready now.

For further reading:  Jeremiah 4:10, Ezekiel 13:10, Job 15:21, Psalm 35:8, Isaiah 29:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:4.

Lord, prepare me every day to meet You, to see the signs and be ready.