Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 18 June 2019

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.  2 Timothy 4:9-10 (NIV).

Here are a few more realistic, matter-of-fact verses that give credibility to Paul’s account.   Paul was asking Timothy to come quickly to his aid because Paul knew his death would be soon.  At the end of his ministry, the apostle felt deserted because some of those whom he had trusted to partner with in that ministry were gone.   Demas, who was also mentioned in Colossians, had fallen away from Paul’s work, and had gone to Greece.   Crescens is mentioned in Scripture only here.  While we don’t know whether or not he and Paul parted on bad terms, we do know he was away.   And Titus, to whom Paul would write another New Testament letter, had also left.   Because of that book of Titus, it’s unlikely that he and Paul had a falling-out.

Sometimes people are in our lives for a season; other times they’re in our lives for a reason.

No matter the season or reason, Paul was mostly alone and lonesome.  Have you ever felt that way?

I grew up that way.   We moved around a lot when I was a kid because my Dad worked for the Army.  We’d live someplace for a few years and then move to a new place.   We’d be there just long enough to make some friends and then leave them.   One summer, I felt especially lonely after moving back to Iowa.   I been able to re-connect with friends I had known before, and felt abandoned by my friends from other places.   Kids don’t write letters, this was before cell phones, and long-distance phone calls weren’t cheap.

So I can identify with how Paul must have felt here; perhaps you can too.   Perhaps there has been a time in your life when you were (or at least felt) abandoned by the people you counted on most.   Perhaps you’re in that season of life now.

You know what’s coming:   we’re never alone.   Paul was never really alone because Jesus was with him.   I was never really alone during that long Iowa summer because Jesus was with me.   You’re not alone now, even when the wolves howl outside, because Jesus is with us.

“Some consolation that is,” you might be thinking.   “I can’t see, feel, or sense Jesus here.”   Yet He’s here all the same.   He closes your eyes at night and keeps watch by your bedside.   He feels your loneliness when you feel abandoned.   He cries inside when you do.   He’s real because you’re real, because He promised to always be with us, even to the end of the age.

For further reading:  Titus 3:12, Colossians 4:14, 2 Corinthians 2:13, Matthew 28:20, 2 Timothy 4:11

In season and reason, You are with me now, Lord Jesus.   I’m asking for Your comfort and help.

Advertisements

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, 9 January 2018

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.  1 Thessalonians 1:1.

A few more words, please, about the opening to this letter.   Notice that it speaks for three people:   Paul, Silas, and Timothy (as does the opening to 2 Thessalonians).  As mentioned yesterday, all of Paul’s letters open with a flourish, and all of them open by naming (at least) the apostle.  Romans opens with Paul only (as do Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus), Paul and Sosthenes open 1 Corinthians, Paul and Timothy in 2 Corinthians (also Philippians, Colossians and Philemon), and Paul and “all the brothers with me” begin Galatians.

What does this mean?  To me, it speaks of the honesty of a growing movement.   Put yourself back in the First Century Mediterranean world dominated by Rome.  It was a barbaric culture spread across three continents.  Paul wrote many of his letters to churches in modern day Turkey (Corinth, Galatia, Colosse, and Ephesus are there) while Timothy was from that same area.   Philippi and Thessolonica are in Greece (with Thessalonica actually being in Macedonia), and it is believed Philemon was from Colosse.   All these churches grew out of Paul’s missionary efforts that began on the road to Damascas (in modern day Syria).   If you look at a map you see that Paul’s missionary journeys took him north from the Transjordan, around the Mediterranean coast, and even as far west as Rome (where he was eventually martyred).   That’s a distance of hundreds, even thousands, of miles:   all of it by foot, wagon or boat.

That doesn’t happen without reason.

All along the way, people listened.   Many listened, some rejected, but others believed.   Enough people believed to start churches, formal underground groups of followers committed to this new message of Jesus Christ, Himself only recently crucified.   The movement grew in spite of Roman physical oppression and Jewish ecclesiastical persecution.   It grew across languages, cultures, and boundaries.   Indeed, the three men who wrote just this letter were all from vastly different backgrounds with Paul being Judean, Silas a Greek, and Timothy from what we consider to be Turkey.

Again, that doesn’t happen by chance.   The fact that three men from different countries could come together to evangelize a radical new belief system that preached real non-violence, peace, and love towards enemies speaks volumes.   Even with 24/7 global communications, that rarely happens even today.   Yet that’s what happened in Paul’s day, in Paul’s life.   Before now, maybe you didn’t consider the implications of a simple though eccentric greeting in an obscure letter.   Hopefully after this, you’ll never forget it.

For further reading:  Read the first verses of the first chapters of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

Lord, thank You for the spectacular nature of Your church and the diverse leaders who started it.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 September 2016

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Hebrews 1, verses 5-6

There is comfort in knowing some of the intricacies of faith that contribute to its rich history.

These first two verses do some heavy hitting in the early church.   The Gospels tie Jesus and His lineage to the Jewish Patriarchs (Luke takes it all the way back to God Himself through Adam), but these verses in Hebrews tie Jesus directly to God the Father through the Psalms.   That matters.

According to the NIV, Psalm 2 is heavily messianic; I encourage you to read it.   In it, the Lord speaks to His people in song saying both “you are my Son” and “you are my son in the line of King David.”   Remember that Jewish men were instructed in the synagogues on the Torah and the Psalms.   The Psalms were hymns they sung, poetic verses they memorized and carried all their lives. Psalm 2 is traditionally credited to King David as the writer.   Thus, a tie to Psalm 2 is one that early churchgoers would have easily understood and absorbed, especially since the author then ties it to (what were at the time) contemporary eyewitness accounts from Matthew and John, as well as the (then) contemporary writings of Paul to the church in Colosse.

As if that wasn’t enough, the reference from 2 Samuel (which is the story of King David), then also ties Jesus directly to King David.   Of David, the book said “you will be my son” who would be punished on behalf of the people for wrongdoings.   As Jesus was a direct descendant from David – something that may not have been fully understood at the time Hebrews was written – the author is, thus, tying the Son of God to the revered royal lineage of Israel’s most famous warrior king.

Pretty heavy indeed.   Here’s a bit more heaviness for you:   so what?

I mean, so what?   What does this matter to us today?   Jesus and David have been dead for thousands of years, many centuries.   Why does that matter?

Really.

It’s been over 200 years yet people are still quoting Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.   It has been decades and we’re still quoting John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.   If for only historic reasons, it matters that, centuries ago, ancient writers used (already) ancient texts to tie Jesus of Nazareth – someone of their own time and day – to Jewish tradition and royal lineage.   Doing so helps us today understand the religious, social and even political impacts that the new Christian faith was having on the world at the time.   That helps us to better understand how things came to be.

Yet move beyond that to matters of your own heart in the here and now.   Your faith is a supernatural thing.   Having faith in this Jesus is highly illogical, something that the world dismisses because it requires putting trust in something you can neither see nor feel.   Yet you can sense it.   You can sense the very real peace and clarity that come from expressing faith in Jesus Christ.   You can’t touch it, but you can know it’s real.

Even though this is so, you and I still experience moments of questioning.   It’s natural; it isn’t abnormal; it isn’t even condemned by Jesus, who restored Thomas’ faith after logical doubts threatened to cloud his continued belief.  Having occasional questions or doubt doesn’t make you un-Christian:   it makes you a normal person. It is growing that doubt into dereliction of faith, rejecting God, that is a sin, not occasionally questioning or doubting His purpose or movement in our lives.   Even Jesus doubted, screaming “My God why have You forsaken me” as He was dying on the cross. In moments of question and doubt, it helps to know there are corroborating proofs, independent evidence, supporting what you believe.   It helps to know there were other people who did the same, men like King David and the author of Hebrews, who sang both praises and mourning through the Psalms, as expressions of the faith they had in God.

For more reading:   Psalm 2:7, Matthew 3:17, 2 Samuel 7:14, John 3:16, Colossians 1:18, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 97:7.

My God, thank You for weaving these intricate histories into my faith in You.   Thank You for the deep proofs, then subtle meanings, that come with believing in You as my only Savior.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Before moving off verse 3, let’s talk about that “purification for sins” part.

This was the whole purpose of Christ’s life.   His life wasn’t just a great morality lesson.   He didn’t come here to be just a teacher, wise man, prophet, or all around good guy (like George of the Jungle). Jesus of Nazareth came here and died to provide the purification for sins.   As a result, everything changed.

On a Tuesday after a holiday weekend, does that blow your mind?

Dictionary.com defines “purification” as “to make pure; free from anything that debases, pollutes, adulterates, or contaminates; to free from foreign, extraneous, or objectionable elements; to free from guilt or evil; to clear or purge (usually followed by of or from); to make clean for ceremonial or ritual use.”

You and I: we’re impure.   Mother Theresa: impure.   Pope Francis and Billy (or Franklin) Graham:   impure.   The Dalai Lama, Orthodox patriarchs, your saintly grandmother, a newborn baby not five minutes old, the best person you can think of:   all impure.   All of us, every human ever born of man, are impure.   We’re thick with sin, tainted irrevocably with it.   And what is sin?   Going back to dictionary.com, sin is “transgression of divine law; any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle; any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense.”

Whether it is by a single thought of selfishness or the murder of a hundred people, we have sinned against God, against Jesus.   We have transgressed against Him by willful and deliberate violation of His principles.   We’re guilty of great fault and offense against the pure love that is Him.   Every time we choose anything but God or what is of Him, we sin.   We become guilty and impure whether it’s in thought, action, or both. There’s no getting away from that fact.   It’s part of who we are as people.

God didn’t make us to be sinful; our ancestors chose it and tainted us.   We each choose it willfully whether we’re children or adults.   Don’t agree?   Have you ever had a “no” argument with a toddler?   How about any kind of argument with anyone else?   Ever wondered lustily what your neighbor looks like in the shower? Knowingly fudged your taxes or driven over the speed limit?   Ever told a white lie?   No matter the human consequences, these and so many more are sins against God.   They’re unholy impurities in us that are an affront to the pure, just love that only He offers.

God tells us to be Holy but we don’t listen; in truth, we can’t on our own.   He tells us to be holy because He is holy and He created us to be in union with Him.   We can’t be in full union with Him as long as we’re unholy.   Our sins make us unholy because each one of them is a subtle (or loud) rebellion against Him.   It’s a chasm we can’t bridge on our own.

Enter Jesus.   Enter Jesus the one and only Savior who came here to bridge the chasm and purify us from our sins.   He willingly lived and died an agonizing death bearing the spiritual consequences of every sin humanity ever undertook. Fully God and fully man, He who could not die willingly died a hero’s death on that cross so that He could restore balance to creation. He did it while still preserving our ability to be made holy and to live in free will, choosing to love Him rather than being compelled to. He takes away the eternal damnation consequence of those sins.   He makes it possible for us to be in union with God again by clothing us in His righteousness and imputing it to us as our own.   In doing that, He makes it possible for the holy Majesty who is God the just Father to not see the millions of sins I’ve done in my life. Instead, He sees only Jesus’ pure perfection.   My impurities no longer keep distance between us.

Buddha didn’t do that.   The Dalai Lama can’t do that.   Neither Billy Graham nor your pastor can do it. No imam, holy man, or shaman can do it.   Nothing any of us can think, say or do can do that.   But Jesus did.

Now does that blow your mind?

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I’m in awe of Your purifying, righteous love.   Thank You for doing for me what I didn’t deserve and could not do.   Thank You for purifying me of my guilt and restoring Your true love to my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Where do you start with that?   How about at the beginning, especially since that dovetails on the ‘beginning’ theme from the last blog entry?

First off, we don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews.   Some old Bibles list Paul as the author, but more recent scholarship has disproven that.   According to my Concordia NIV translation, the author might have been Paul’s companion, Barnabas.   Or it might also have been Apollos (Paul’s contemporary) or Bartholomew, one of the other disciples.   In truth, we just don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.

Piecing together the ‘news’ from Hebrews and comparing it to the other New Testament books shows that the book was written to Jewish converts who were familiar with both the Pentateuch and the Talmud; this too is from Concordia.   The new believers were also familiar with the events of First Century Judea (in the rise of the Christian faith). The writer apparently penned the book to encourage & teach believers in the new churches that grew in the Mediterranean region.

Finally, Concordia also says that the book is a practical guide to practical faith. As we walk through Hebrews, you’ll probably notice that the author talks about what faith means, tying it to events and people throughout Biblical history.   This was practical knowledge that the Jewish converts in the early church could use. If you read it, you’ll probably find the same thing.

What does all this have to do with verse 3?   When you consider that all of Scripture is God’s word – God’s very thoughts and words transcribed by men who were divinely inspired by Him – you get to remember that these words are things God Himself is saying.   They are thoughts that come from Jesus’ heart. When you read them, you’re getting a communication directly from God through Jesus’ Spirit.

Hold onto that thought, then merge it with the knowledge that those words truly represent who God is. In absorbing them, you take part in His goodness.   You see how He is above, over, around, and through all things.   This universe He created (just by speaking) is something He created as an expression of His love, of His nature. What’s more, He created it all, then hand-made humans like you and I to take part in it.   To oversee and tend to it; to help it grow and flourish. God is still over all creation, keeping it alive and in place through His powerful love, but He made human beings to be his partners in tending to it.   He’s the source of life…we are His keepers of it.

This isn’t some esoteric theory; it’s not a speculation with millions of years of holes between transition points.   This is God’s fact, the very essence of nature. In the days of the Bible, people would have been more open to this concept even as other pagan beliefs about the origin of the world would have been present (just as evolution is in our day). God plainly stated in Genesis “this is what happened.   This is how it all went down.” He spoke plainly so people could understand plainly how God still held things together in Himself even in their day.   He hadn’t deserted His people.   If anything, He took their Creator-creation relationship to a new level.

The writer of Hebrews uses that fact to transition us through the idea that this same God, this same Jesus who is God and was present in creation, is the same Jesus who had just recently walked the earth.   Who showed His divine nature and died for all sins.   Who rose to heaven on His human death and is there now, fully present and fully alive, at the same time His Spirit is fully here, fully then and now, fully present and fully alive.   Fully inspiring all we think, do and say in the same way He did for the Hebrews of first century Judea. Indeed, for all people of all times.   That’s practical knowledge we can use to live.

Where do you start with that?   Perhaps the better question would be “how would it end?”   Soon we get to see that there is no ending to it, and that’s the biggest miracle blessing of all

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, You are the magnificent Creator of all that I know.   I believe in You, that You are present now and forever, that You’re over and through nature, and that You made this place to be an expression of Your beautiful being.   Thank You for all these blessings!