Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

We the people tend to remember daring acts of bravery.   Remember the Alamo; remember Pearl Harbor.   We remember times when people do heroic things worthy of memory.  You’ve (hopefully) heard the accounts of people in our world today who are being persecuted for believing in Jesus.  That may seem like something from our distant past, like we of the ‘modern’ world have learned to live beyond such savagery.   But the fact is that we haven’t.   Just last week I read a story about how the communist government in China tore down a large church.  The people who worshipped there are under surveillance, and it’s a good thing to assume quite a few have been questioned or arrested.   Just for believing in Jesus.

And did you know that it is a crime that carries a death sentence to publicly declare or preach faith in Jesus in Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Pakistan?   In Mauritania, Libya, Morocco, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh it is illegal to declare yourself as a Christian.   In the workplace in many cities and states of America it is officially frowned upon to minister to others or even profess your faith (to be fair, not just faith in Jesus, yet faith in Jesus seems to be tolerated least of all).

Outrageous treatment?   To be sure.   Suffering for the faith?   In many places in our world today, yes, this happens.   Stand up for Jesus?   No, that isn’t tough at all…

Those who dare to share the gospel in the face of this treatment are heroes.   Indeed, it is energizing and invigorating to stand up for Jesus in the face of people who oppress you.  It demonstrates courage and a belief in human dignity to act in ways that show the fruit of His Spirit, then to stand up and tell just why you do what you do.   People remember that kind of thing, and I dare say most of them remember it with respect.

Read through Scripture to the end and you know that the end of all things is already foretold.  Evil will be vanquished.   God will once and for all destroy evil and relegate Satan and all who reject God to the terror of everlasting existence away from Him.  Yet before all that happens we are told things will get even tougher for believers.   Tough times are coming; you can even feel it in the air, and people are watching.   What will they see you do?   How will you be remembered?

For further reading: Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, thank You for preserving me through oppression and persecution.   Be the steel in my spine and put Your words in my mouth when people challenge me to deny you.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 25 January 2018

You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.  1 Thessalonians 1 Thessalonians 2:1.

Last time we talked (again) about how actions speak louder than words.   It’s simply a basic truth that this happens.   People believe us more when we do things that make our words credible.   Indeed, it is only our actions that give credibility to our words.   That’s one of the reasons why Scripture is so reliable:   God’s actions always back up His words.

And those words always produce results.

Yes, I mean it (and we aren’t God).   Words always produce results; things happen.   What we say leads to something.   Certainly what the omniscient God says always leads to things happening.  Every page of the Bible speaks of God’s love and consequences when people turn from it.  Every story in Scripture proves that God means what He says.

When Paul and his companions worked with the church in Thessalonica, they saw results.   These missionaries ministered in their actions, in their words, all the time every day.  Their focus was on living out their praise for God in everything they said and did so that their hosts, the Thessalonians, might emulate and believe.  People there responded and the church took root.   It expanded and it spread.  Two thousand years later, we’re reading about it; two thousand years later, the fundamentals of walk the walk and talk the talk when you’re witnessing for Jesus are still the basics of being a missionary.

You’re working:   work for Jesus.   You’re having a beer with friends:   drink (responsibly) for Jesus.   You’re running errands on Saturday morning:  run them for Jesus.   You’re arguing with your spouse:  argue (lovingly) for Jesus.   In doing these things, you’ll see results.   It might be immediate or it might take a while, but you’ll see results all the same.  God uses we imperfect people to spread His word and carry His message in what we say and do.   When we do that, it’s really Him at work through us.   He changes things; He molds them to serve His good purposes.   Like a farmer He prepares the soil, seeds it well, cares for it and tends to it.   And because of that, a good crop can grow.

Sometimes it’s hard to see all this.   We want results now; we’re an instant gratification world.  Sometimes God’s results aren’t instant, and we get discouraged.   It’s important, then, to constantly remain vigilant, to be in His word, to let Him re-mold our hearts from selfish to thankful, to act in ways that exemplify the good fruit of His Spirit.   When we do those things, He shines through us.   That’s the first, best result of all.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:2

Lord Jesus, I pray to have You shine through me.    Produce good results through my words and actions that others would come to know You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 18 January 2018

The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.  1 Thessalonians 1:8-10.

Actions really do speak louder than words, don’t they!  Dovetailing off our theme (from yesterday) that people are always watching, here’s the follow through.   When people are watching and we both walk the walk and talk the talk, God’s work is done and the news spreads.

It’s like the dye in the water thing.   You know what I’m talking about.   You get a glass of water and drop in a single drop of food dye.   Without even touching the glass, soon the dye distributes throughout the glass.  It happens even quicker if you stir the water.

It’s like good news spreading like wildfire (which it is).   Yes, the details tend to differ from person to person – have you read the four Gospels? – but the message is maintained.   No, the “telephone game” isn’t always how things work, especially when there are people like me who play that game and deliberately change the message whispered to us.   In reality, the core message is usually preserved as the core message quickly spreads.

Even in bad times, bad news never endures.   Sure, it’s preserved and we remember the bad times; we must guard against evil.  But bad never prevails; it never outweighs the good times.  The good news of Christ’s salvation was known in full at the time of 1 Thessalonians just as it is now.   That’s the best news humanity has ever heard:   that faith in Jesus means we live forgiven forever.  That news took root even in the first century and grew quickly far beyond the confines of ancient Palestine.  The oppressive Romans eventually fell away.  The oppression of Islam hadn’t happened yet and still hasn’t prevailed.   The terror of war, the hardships of poverty, the hatred of racism are all powerless against the good news of Christ.   They didn’t win out with the Thessalonians and they aren’t winning out with us.   Indeed, the end of human history has already been foretold; it’s central to the Gospel.   God vanquishes evil once and for all and restores what evil tried to destroy.

Those actions will speak much louder than anything evil says because people are always watching and listening.  They’re why the Gospel always spreads quickly and why it can always take root in the fertile soil of needful human hearts.

For further reading:  2 Thessalonians 3:1, Romans 1:8, Acts 14:15, 1 Corinthians 12:2, Galatians 4:8, Matthew 16:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:1.

My Lord, I need Your good news today!   Bless others as You bless me through living out Your Word.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 17 January 2018

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  1 Thessalonians 1:6-7.

People are watching.   That’s one of the most urgent reasons why we should walk the walk and talk the talk.   It’s also one of the things I really stink at doing.  If you don’t walk the walk and talk the talk, people quickly notice because people are always watching.  People are quick to find out if you’re a fraud or a hypocrite.

Have you ever had to learn to do something strictly by rote?   There’s a reason.   And have you ever had to watch what you say around kids?   Kids who are learning to talk will imitate what adults say.   They are always watching.   And what about the jackals of the press?   Sure, a free and independent media is crucial to keeping government within its boundaries but it seems like the American press is everywhere these days and reporting EVERYTHING, fact and fiction alike.   What’s more, we the people enthusiastically gobble up what they feed us.

It’s because we’re watching.   We’re watching each other and learning to imitate what we hear, see and do.

Paul praised the church members in Thessalonica for imitating the behavior he and his companions exhibited.  What was that behavior?   Loving on each other; forgiveness; understanding; patience; forbearance; self-discipline; empathy and caring; you know, the behaviors Jesus demonstrated.  These new believers acted the way they saw their ‘prophets’ acting and, in doing so, led a revolution around them.   It was how the church spread so quickly, not by the sword (as happened later with Islam) but by the conduct of these Jesus followers.   And it did indeed spread quickly, in a generation growing from 12 frightened commoners in Jerusalem to millions of followers through Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, north Africa, and up into southern Europe.

Because people were watching.

Got skin, got sin.   We are always works in progress, but there’s always work to be done on this matter.  Folks who don’t believe are watching us for signs of our hypocrisy, whether it’s foul language, philandering, dishonesty, or what we post on social media.   I’m so guilty of messing up in all these areas; how about you?  Do you ever wonder if unbelievers are actually watching, though, more for reasons to believe instead of just how to trip us up?   We mustn’t let them down.  If, like me, you think you’re guilty of not walking the walk, chances are you are.   The solution, then, is to go back to basics and imitate Paul, Silas, and Timothy.   They imitated Jesus.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 4:16, Acts 17:5-10, 2 Corinthians 6:10, 1 Timothy 4:12, Acts 16:9, Acts 18:12, 1 Thessalonians 8-10.

Lord, please forgive me when I fail you by not living what I believe.   Help me to do better today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 January 2018

You know how we lived among you for your sake.  1 Thessalonians 1:5.

Before we move on, let’s discuss the last sentence of verse 5.

Our dog, Josh, had been part of our family since September 2006, and he got very sick these last few months.   Yesterday, it was time to say goodbye, so we made an appointment with a vet to have hit put to sleep; that’s what you do as a pet owner.   Josh died bravely, and he licked me on the face just a few seconds before he received the injection.   It tore at me but I didn’t want to see my canine friend suffer.  He was my pal, and I loved him.  My wife and I cried together as he died.

I have another friend, not canine, who is battling terminal cancer.   She and I were co-workers, and we’ve stayed friends over the years, commiserating over work, sharing life stories.  My friend has battled cancer already, but this time the disease is likely to win.   How do you support someone who is facing death?  Do we ever really know what to say when they are fighting this battle we all must eventually fight?

The Apostle Paul, Silas, and Timothy had lived among the people of the church at Thessalonica.   They had witnessed to the parishioners, helped them set up things from the start, and helped them to hold fast to this new and fast-spreading faith.   At the time this was happening, Christianity was brand-new.   When the congregation was figuring out how to do things, how to worship in the face of real, physical persecution, they did so without history to guide them.   They were setting that precedent; they were figuring out how to do things for the first time.

What a comfort it must have been to have these storied men live among them, be themselves among them, and help them through this difficult time.

Perhaps that’s a lesson we can remember now, in difficult times when we lose loved ones and face the troubles life gives us.  God gives us people in our lives to live among us for our sake.   He gives us each other to support each other, encourage each other, love on each other.   God chooses to live among us by living through us and letting us share Him through how we live.  Famous people don’t make the world go around:   you and I, living out our faith, do.

What do we say when our friends and family face death, when times are tough and we don’t know what else to say or do?  We love them as Jesus would, listening, talking, feeling for them when they hurt, even saying goodbye.   We do what Paul and his friends did, for their sake, for their comfort.   For Jesus’ glory.

For further reading:  Colossians 3:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Romans 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:6.

My Lord, teach me to live Your love for other and to others in my circle.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 15 January 2018

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.  1 Thessalonians 1:4-5.

These are perfect verses for Martin Luther King Day (which is today).  I’m not one to beatify Dr. King because he was a just a man; a brave, great man who said and did big, great things that needed to be said and done but still just one more sinful man.  Yer it’s undeniable that, during his short life, Dr. King moved among us with the power and deep conviction of God’s Holy Spirit.   He lived, preached, spoke out, stood up, and made his life count by relying on the power of his Savior to guide him.

Tell me, what are you doing with the life that God has chosen you to live?   You and I don’t have the position, history, or impact of a Martin Luther King; that’s true.   Yet you and I do have the exact same thing he had:   a gospel that came crashing into our lives with power and God’s conviction.   It’s the kind of conviction that speaks of its truth instead of just the legal conviction of your guilt.  You may not feel sure of God’s power and love in your life every minute, but it’s still there.   You may have questions for Him about why you’re going through whatever you’re going through, but Jesus’ love and power are still within you.   You may be angry at Him for reasons only you can explain, but the divine power and love of the Three In One God are still THE truth and still your truth.   You may even say you reject all this, but God’s love and power doesn’t depend on your rejection, and (I’m sorry to tell you) they aren’t lessened by it either.

So, again, what are you doing with the life God chose you to live?  He chose you.   He made you exactly the way you are.   Right or wrong, fair or unfair, sick or healthy, rich or poor, no matter what color or sex you are, God chose you right where you are to be you, to live your life and do your part in His overall plan.  You don’t have to be Martin Luther King; he wasn’t you.   You don’t have to do famous, big things (or maybe you do).   You simply have to live the life God gave you and do your best within it by living out the faith He chose you to live.   For the final time, what are you doing with the life God chose you to live?  We know what Martin Luther King did with his.   What say you?

For further reading:  Colossians 3:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Romans 1:16.

Lord, thank You for this life.   I pray use me to Your glory.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 11 January 2018

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Thessalonians 1:3.

I like to work.   In the last year, I’ve been out of work twice, twice let go (ok, fired) from jobs I enjoyed for which I was qualified.   Twice I was let go when I didn’t deserve it.  Years ago, a friend said to me that the best way to destroy a man is to destroy his ability to work.   He was correct because unemployment feels like a depressing cycle, like you’re swirling in a whirlpool of mire and you can’t pull yourself out.   All you want is a chance to earn, to contribute, to prove yourself and you don’t get that chance.   What folks say about being older and out of work is true.   It is tougher when you’re in your fifties to be out of work than it was in your twenties.   You question your worth more, you’re scared of the future, and you feel even more powerless to stop the cycle.

This is a good time, then, to re-read the verse above, and remember that work done through faith in God is NEVER meaningless and always produces more than it uses.   This past time of unemployment and uncertainty has only been ameliorated by faith in God.

Sure, it’s still scary, but it’s less scary than it could be when I remember that God has been using this time to prepare me for other things (new job, new places, new missions).   He has taken things out of my life that I don’t need anymore, or to which I can’t usefully contribute; it’s not about me and may indeed be about other people I don’t even know.  Whatever the reason, God has been using this time to draw me closer to Himself and teach me things I might not have learned otherwise.

God has been using this time to give me other work, like this blog and a new devotional I’m writing and a new book that’s underway.   These are labors of love, like the farm I worked and the marriage which is thriving because my wife and I drew closer together in our faith.  And God has built up our endurance because there are good days and even harder days ahead when He wants us to be able to endure, persevere, and succeed.  Without faith in God, all my work is meaningless.   With Him, it’s a way of life and a daily mission field of adventure.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:20, Galatians 5:6, 2 Thessalonians 1:11, James 2:14-26, 1 Thessalonians 3:6, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Romans 8:25, 1 Thessalonians 1:4

Father God, thank You for the hardships in my life.   Thank You, more, for using them to teach me, build me up, and to let these struggles be a blessing to others.