Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 5 July 2018

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 2 Thessalonians 1:5 (NIV).

Does God cause us to suffer?   Does God persecute us, or allow us to be persecuted?   Does God persecute, punish, or cause suffering for some people and not others, and does this sometimes cause us to suffer even when we have done nothing wrong?  Repeat after me:   yes.   It’s simply the truth, though we might debate how much we, vs God, actually cause the suffering.  Last question:  does that make God’s judgment wrong or evil?

No.   Of course not.

Yet repeat this too, friend sinner.  We don’t deserve to be saved and our choices merit God punishing us.   Even when we haven’t done anything to merit the ‘punishment’ that seems to be happening to us, we don’t deserve the beautiful grace God gives to us.  That’s what makes it grace.   It’s undeserved, un-asked-for, something we can’t get on our own but is freely given to us because He who gives it loves more than we do.

As a result, it is impossible to see that grace, to accept it, and NOT conclude that God’s judgment is right.  Noodle that thought awhile.  You and I can’t accept that grace is a good thing (and thus whoever gives grace is doing good for us) yet conclude that He who gives it has bad judgment.   Yet be wary of the logical fallacy where B does not necessarily always follow A.

Consider, then, how, with God, He only brings or allows suffering so that grace might increase.   He doesn’t cause grace by invoking suffering but, instead, brings good out of that suffering.   He always punishes only where punishment is earned.   When Jesus allows suffering, he always offers clear paths back to His healing love.  What’s more, God loves us enough to allow us to embrace the consequences of our choices.   Sometimes we choose things are destructive; got skin, got sin.  It is love that respects those choices, love that counsels “you shouldn’t do that.   He offers an excellent, better way” yet stands back when we say “no.”   An all-powerful God could simply compel us to do His bidding.   After all, that’s what we would do.  And that isn’t love.

Where love is, grace is.   Where grace is, God is.   Where God is, there is justice.   Justice follows right judgment.

Let’s conclude by keeping it real.   That also means God’s actions don’t always seem fair; it’s true.  Yet where in the Bible did God promise fairness?   He promised love, forgiveness, peace, and justice, and He gives them.   When you have those things, fair is meaningless.    Indeed, those qualities replace fairness, and those qualities always define God.   That is fairer than we deserve, and that brings us back to grace.

For further reading: Romans 6:1, Philippians 1:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6.

Lord, help me to submit to You and Your right judgment.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 4 July 2018, Independence Day

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (NIV).

Because today is Independence Day, a few words about the United States.

We persevere through faith.   Scratch the surface of the veneer that is our popular culture and you see that we, as the United States of America, persevere.   We persevere because our nation was founded on the idea of human liberty that is a gift from God.   That having faith in God is what makes us successful and able to persevere.  Those who would tear down that notion and replace it with twisted ideologies like socialism miss the point.   Our rights, our liberties, our blessing as a nation can’t be taken away by men.   It was given to us by God.   Knowing that, we persevere.

This isn’t to say that we are better than anyone else because we as a people aren’t.   It’s true that our institutions, our history, and our dedication to freedom do indeed set us apart from every other nation in human history.   Nobody else has done the things our nation has, and that makes America special.   We are indeed a place set apart where you can be what you want to be.   But let’s not get too big for our britches and say we’re better than other people because we just aren’t.

What makes us special, however, comes from the Almighty.   On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare America’s independence from Great Britain.  On July 4th, those same traitors signed the instrument of treason that made it official.   The primary author of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged that man’s rights were given to mankind by “Nature’s God” (Thomas Jefferson’s words, not mine).  Thus, the first nation in history conceived on the idea of liberty was conceived acknowledging that liberty originates with God.   242 years later, informed Americans still believe this is so.

The idea of God-given liberty isn’t in vogue today.   Indeed, the protection of liberty must always be upheld by each new generation if it’s to endure.   We have persevered to overcome the challenges of settling a continent, throwing off the evil of slavery, throwing off the slavery of economic calamity and governmental dependence, and the ongoing challenges posed by evil enemies who hate us because we’re free.   Because we believe in God.   There are nations in the world with deeper faith than the US, that express faith better than we do.  Yet there is no place on earth that has been so uniquely blessed by God  as the United States of America.   We have always persevered because of God.   As long as acknowledge that we are free only through our God, we can continue to do so no matter what persecutions and trials are ahead.

For further reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

Lord, thank You for blessing my home, America.   Help us to always see You as the only source of our liberty.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 3 July 2018

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV).

When was the last time you had a celebrity thank you, or give thanks for you being the way you are?

Over the weekend, my daughter worked at a celebrity event.   She lives in California and worked an event where there were a great many celebrities present.  She said it was surreal, and she got to meet most of the celebrities attending; she’s a bartender so I’d expect that.  Anyway, according to her, the famous people she met were mostly nice but quite common.   I can’t recall her ever saying that any of them said “I thank God for you because I can see your faith is growing and you love so many people.”

Time to name drop.  I’ve personally met Billy Graham, Louie Anderson, Barack Obama, Jeff Goldblum, James Taylor, Ross Perot, Keith Ellison, Chuck Horner, Alex Trebek, and all of Blink 182.   Up close and personal I’ve seen Bob Hope, Chuck Yeager, Betty White, and I’ve seen every president (except President Trump) going all the way back to Jerry Ford plus more than a few famous performers on stage    Celebrities are just people who are famous.   Their blood is red; their hair gets messy; they have body odor.   As it was with my daughter, I can’t recall any of them saying “I thank God for you.”

But Paul did.   He had gotten to know the members of the church in Thessalonica, and he had become famous throughout the known world of the Mediterranean.  When Paul wrote his epistle to his friends in Thessalonica, he said that he (and Silas and Timothy) always thanked God for them.

Imagine a celebrity saying that about you.   We all get star-struck, and more than a few people in Thessalonica may have been star-struck about Paul.  Yet he said it about them, about their lives, about their faith in God.   Two thousand years later, we’re still reading about it.   Except for Mr. Obama, two thousand years from now it is very unlikely people will read about, or know about, any of the celebrities I mentioned above.   In as little as one hundred years, most people won’t even know about you or I.

Yet Jesus will because He always does.   Paul the celebrity thanked God because Jesus the Son of God lived and died for him, and for the Thessalonians, and for you and me.   Jesus, the creator of the universe, knew you and me before we were even born.   He knows us now.   He knows us intimately.  One hundred years ago and a hundred years from now, Jesus knew and loved each of us.  When Jesus name-drops, He drops YOUR name, and Jesus is the ultimate celebrity.

For further reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:4.

Lord Jesus, thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 2 July 2018

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:  Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2 (NIV).

Is your ‘church’ “in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?”

Over the weekend I went to a new church while visiting my kids near College Station.  My wife and I were there to watch our grandson sing at a VBS performance.   It was nice enough, but you know what’s coming:   nobody said “hello” or introduced themselves.   That is, unfortunately, true in most cases at most places.

My reaction:   no big deal.  It isn’t the first time I, as a stranger, have been ignored at a new place.   It wouldn’t even have been the first time if I had been in my own home church, where some folks can be cold as ice while others are the nicest, most outgoing people you’ll meet all week.   I’m betting that most of the ‘strangers’ at the College Station church were only strange to me.   I’m guessing that more than a few of them hold the door at WalMart, or would help a neighbor pick up trash that blew on the yard.   I’m guessing they would pitch in for friends and even other strangers if they knew such people were in need.

Surprise:  this blog isn’t to nag you about being friendly inside the confines of your church building.   Being ‘the church’ outside the building is so much more important.   Perhaps being friendly is our best way to witness that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ have taken up residence in our hearts.   Hold the door; smile back; help out; be a friend.  To quote Kenny Chesney, “get along.”  In doing so, we share Him who inspires us.

We share His grace and peace.   We enjoyed the VBS performance a lot.   Yes, it was cheesy and, yes, it was typically what churches do every year.   The VBS kids perform; the mission kids come back and talk about their trip; the Christmas in June fundraisers talk about big goals.   They’re all ways of sharing His grace and peace.

What’s more, they’re ways of sharing grace and peace that show how we’re in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Such American summer rituals as VBS help churches (supposedly) reach out to kids and prospective new members.   More importantly, though, they share a little Jesus by being kind, fun, and outgoing.

Here’s your challenge:   do those things without stepping over the threshold of a building.   Formal churches can be unfriendly to strangers.   Instead of that, share a little of Paul, God and Jesus by sharing His grace and peace by just being you.   Today, in your own way.   In God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

For further reading: Acts 15:22. 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Romans 1:7, 2 Thessalonians 1:3.

Lord, teach me to share Your grace and peace with strangers today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 June 2018

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  1 Thessalonians 5:28 (NIV).

What a great way to end a letter!   Read it again:   it’s the perfect way to end a letter to several dozen of your close friends.

Or several billion.

Or to begin your day.

Or to bless your dinner.

Or to greet someone at WalMart (go ahead:   try it!).

Or…or…you get the picture.

Next time you say goodbye, invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into their lives until you meet again.

In fact, shouldn’t this benediction be on your lips at all times?   When we really love someone, when we adore them, when we care enough to send the very best (including a Hallmark), shouldn’t we be blessing them with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them?  At or near the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Paul uses nearly identical words to bless his readers with the grace of Jesus.   He uses slightly different words in Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  The message:   Jesus is the perfect way to end a letter.

Or begin your day…or bless your dinner…or, again, you get the picture.

We can’t do any better than the grace of Jesus Christ.   It’s the grace of Christ that created us, then breathed life into us.   It is the grace of Christ that sustains us in breath, blood and bone every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we live and GET TO LIVE every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we get eternal life after this one, and that we get to be part of that eternity now.   It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can love.

If you could send a Hallmark to your very best friend, wouldn’t you want to end it by giving them the best you had to give?   That’s what Paul is saying here (and in all those other letters).   This was serious stuff to Paul who, just the verse prior to this one, had implored his friends to read the letter to others.   Back then, it wasn’t broken up into numbered verses; back then, Paul probably though people wouldn’t memorize his words.   But he knew that God had spoken through them and that they were important.   They were words that God wanted us to remember.

So it only follows that Paul would end the letter with a benediction that blesses the reader with the present grace of the God-man, Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  With that thought, Paul closes out his letter and so shall we.

See you next time.

For further reading: Romans 16:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Lord Jesus, bless me with Your wonderful grace today that I might share it with others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 27 June 2018

Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.  1 Thessalonians 5: 25-27 (NIV).

We live in really perilous times.   Our political discourse has descended into shouts, invective, and violence.   From the looks of things, that is going to get worse in the near future.   Our economy is booming but there are real, ominous signs of a serious economic correction dead ahead.   Even in good times, there are still many in need.  Worst of all, we seem to be losing our way.   We are turning away from God’s guidance in so many ways and our society, our lives, are suffering because of it.   Abortion, gun violence, media / political corruption, apathy, anger and hatred:   they’re all negative barometers that are flashing red in 2018 America (maybe even 2018 planet Earth overall).

Pray for us.   Brothers and sisters, if you aren’t already, pray for us.   All of us.   Let’s be real:   the world WAS much more dangerous in 1914, 1939, 1962 than it was now.   There have been many times in history when things were more perilous than they are now, yet now is all we have to contend with.   We need prayer.   We need each other to invite God into our processes, into our lives, to help us seek His better ways.

Let’s greet each other with the holy kiss of our day.   If you come up to me and want to pucker up, I won’t; in this culture, that’s weird.   Overseas it’s pretty normal, and it would have (obviously) been normal in Paul’s culture…but it isn’t here in North Texas (at least not in my circles).   But the kiss isn’t the point:   the point is fellowship of the Spirit.   We should greet each other in ways that show unity in the Spirit and love from the heart.   Kiss, handshake, hug, smile, fist bump, bro slap, whatever:  we are to do that.

Further, let’s spread the Word.  Paul’s letter was indeed read to all the churches; all his letters were.   He was the greatest missionary in history and his letters comprise most of the New Testament’s non-Gospel books.   We should read them again and again, putting Paul’s advice into practice.   We should prayerfully live our lives using these letters and the Gospels they echo as our guide.  God, who is always faithful, will teach us, lead us, and work through us the more we grow in His Word.   Let’s use our lives, then, to spread that Word.

That way, whether the times are perilous or plentiful, we will be living in such a way as to amplify God’s grace to everyone.

For further reading:  Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:3, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Romans 16:16, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 1 Timothy 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:28.

My Lord, let me share You affectionately, with enthusiasm, and with my full heart.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 June 2018

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NIV).

Paul isn’t talking about himself here:   he’s clearly talking about God.   Some folks have used verse 24 to say “see, it’s Paul saying it, not God.   He isn’t speaking for God.”  Let’s just go there:   that’s dumb.  Of course Paul is talking about God and of course he’s talking for God (specifically, it’s God talking through Paul).   The proof?   “The one who calls you is faithful.”

Face it:   other than God, anyone who “calls” you isn’t faithful.   We’re human; we’re people; we’re fallible.   We make mistakes, even when we’re motivated by love and good intentions.   At some point, any person who calls you to do something, change, be, or whatever will fail you.   Why?   Because they’re human, people, fallible:   just like you.   And me.   At some time, we fail each other.

God never fails us.   Even when we don’t see or understand His actions – and especially when we don’t like them – He is always faithful in keeping His word to us.   He doesn’t change; God doesn’t evolve.   His love is always where He says it is and is always powerful, faithful, and true.   If we feel disconnected from it, chances are we have listened to the call of something or someone other than just the Lord.  Whether we feel Him or not, however, He’s still reaching out to us and always does.

He will always do it because He is always love and justice for us.   He is always faithful.  When we feel those times of disconnect, we can ALWAYS go back to God and repent.   “I was wrong.   I did X and I’m sorry.   Forgive me.   Help me to change, to turn away and follow You better.”   Say something like that from the heart and you’re on the road back.   When you ‘get there’ you find God never left.   In fact, He was there in and beside you even when you thought He wasn’t.   He is ready to help you transform.   He is there to give you His peace, to sanctify you, to keep you blameless, to DO in your life.   How He does that differs for each of us, but He does it all the same.   Why did He let us suffer?   Maybe the better question is “why did WE let us suffer?”   God always rescues because God is always faithful.

Satan can’t do that.   You can’t do that.   The invented ‘gods’ of Asatru can’t do that.  Your friends, your sainted Aunt Sadie, and your most devout churchgoer can’t do that because they aren’t God.  Only God can be truly faithful to us.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:25-28.

Lord, forgive me for when I’ve been unfaithful to Your heart.   Help me to always know You are with me.