Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 6 November 2018

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV).

One of the verses that helps to amplify Paul’s meaning today is listed below (referenced from my Concordia).   1 Corinthians 10:32 says “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God.”   This is Paul’s goal in meting out advice to his protégé.   “Whatever you do, Timothy, keep these things in mind so that the members of our church of God don’t cause others to struggle in their faith.”

Simply brilliant.   Whatever we do as ‘the church’ should be upright, consistent, caring, and loving so that God is increased and we are decreased.   We should do these things, as followers of Jesus, to encourage, build, and strengthen the faith of others, especially the faith of those who are weak in it or new to it.

That’s been on my heart a lot lately, even more so during the last days of this political season.   I’m guilty of arguing online about my political views, and I have to confess that I don’t think I’ve changed anyone’s mind for the better.   There’s great value in standing up for what you believe, both to take that stand and to encourage friends with similar beliefs.  Yet in doing that, I confess I’m guilty of saying things that don’t glorify God and sometimes cause other people to stumble (both in their spiritual beliefs and their political ones).

On this election day, I therefore take great comfort in Paul’s advice, his urging to Timothy (and to you and I) to conduct ourselves in ways that show even strangers that we believe in Jesus.  The church of the living God acts out of love, even when it, too, takes hard and political incorrect stands.  The church of the living God conducts itself in ways that show what we believe about the love of Jesus.   We don’t give up our temporal political beliefs because we follow Jesus:  we learn ways to do them better.

I haven’t done that very well; have you?   I bet I know your answer.

And if that’s true, then Paul is advising us, too, to remember how we should conduct ourselves, especially today.   Our political choices, for now, conclude in the ballot box.   Our lives as Jesus’ church go on regardless of politics, pop culture, or what the pundits and celebrities think.  We’re the church of God walking around in a world hostile to Him.   Let’s remember to act like it.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 10:32, Matthew 16:16, Timothy 3:15

Lord, forgive me for failing You in my words and actions.   Encourage me to do better, to be a more faithful follower in Your church.   Help me to help others.

 

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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 Hebrews, 28 September 2016

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2, verse 4.

Segueing off an earlier post, Jesus doesn’t need the signs, wonders, and various miracles…but we do.  John 4:48 records Jesus saying, “unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.”   Indeed, while wandering in the desert before Sinai, the Israelites repeatedly asked for reassuring miracles.   It seems they, like we, too easily forgot the wonder of how God delivered them out of slavery while ignoring the daily miracles that accompany just living.   Wonders with the staff, ten plagues, the Red Sea, water from the rock, manna and quail:   what miracles?   Never mind the birth of a new baby, the miracle of healing from sickness, and so many other things that happened so often they simply didn’t notice them.  Yet that didn’t make them any less miraculous.

Those things weren’t enough for the Israelites to remember that God was always with them and always all-powerful.   No, they always wanted more.   So do we.   We’re always looking for proof, more razzle dazzle.   We say it’s because we’re skeptical but maybe it’s just old fashioned idolatry.   “I know better than you, Lord.   You’ll have to prove it to me again.”   What does God do?   “Ok, Mr. Texas Hold ‘Em.   Call.”  God brings it, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ones.   You can explain it away to nature or chance how just the right amount of money sometimes shows up right when you need it.   Or a storm de-intensifies when it wasn’t supposed to.   Or how your friend seemed to get better and the doctors can’t explain it.  Maybe nature, or maybe it’s God testifying by signs, wonders, and various miracles.

The Apostle Paul reminds us, too, that we all have different gifts (1 Cor 12).   Some people actually can use the power of God to work what we could consider to be miracles.  According to this verse in Hebrews (and referencing the one in Ephesians 1), this is according to God’s Spirit.   It is God who gives us the power (talent, inspiration, ability) to perform such miracles as microsurgery, a green thumb, empathy for strangers, mathematical brilliance, or even multi-tasking.   Some folks may think that these are just the results of preparation or blind luck.   We know differently.

We know that God works through us in ways we don’t always see.  I’ve come to disagree with those who say God is disinterested in our lives, that He simply created the world then walked away to watch it spin on its axis.   That doesn’t account for the miracle of life, or the changes in nature every season, or a thousand other ways we could list if we only stopped to notice.  Indeed, a look out of my office door at the woods where my house lies shows an intricate, vastly complex and beautiful nature unfolding in infinite ways every single morning.   And that’s just on a few acres here in North Texas.   It’s a miracle to behold nature; it’s a miracle to contemplate life.

And it’s all a gift from God, a gift that testifies to His nature and His goodness.   He shares with us the talents best suited to us.   Perhaps these are abilities that He has that He knows we would enjoy and be able to use to help others.  I can’t perform neurosurgery but I do know how to bake sugar cookies.   I can’t explain how a tree grows but I do know how to plant and nurture one.   I don’t understand why catfish and codfish taste different (and great) but I do know how to catch and fry them.   God didn’t give to me the talents He gave to you, but I do believe He gave each of us some way we can use to live in better service to His Kingdom.   Everyone has something valuable to contribute, some more than others and some less.   All of them are valuable.

And, again, it’s all a gift from Him.   He doesn’t need us to do anything to make Him more God.   But He does continually want to share with us and give to us because that’s a part of His loving nature.   Think about it long enough and I bet you’ll see how that’s the greatest miracle of all.

For more reading:   Mark 16:20, John 4:48, 1 Corinthians 12:4, Ephesians 1:5.

Lord I praise You for the miracles You share, the ways in which You give to us to build us up and enrich our lives.   Help me to use the talents You give me in service to You and others.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 April 2015

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.  Mark 6, verses 45-46

You have seen my write here that I like movies.   I have a fairly extensive collection of them, in fact; my wife says I have a DVD obsession (and she has a point). There’s a movie due out this summer that I want to see because I think it will make a point with which I agree.   The Kendrick Brothers are releasing another Christian movie called “War Room.”   From the previews I’ve seen, the theme seems to be how prayer is a powerful tool for us to be actively engaged in fighting for what God believes in. That theme matters in today’s verses.

Keep in mind what has just happened.   Jesus just fed the 5000. Prior to that the Disciples had spent several weeks on their own, ministering and healing.   They were all spent.   They were exhausted, even Jesus (who was fully God but also fully man all the time).   They needed the power of God to recharge them.   And they needed God’s holy weapons in their hands to ward off the temptations and desires that creep up on us when we are vulnerable (such as when we are exhausted).

So Jesus modeled the example (and did it for Himself as well) and went off to a quiet, private place to pray.   Jesus knew better than anyone how prayer is a two-way activity.   Putting our thoughts, concerns, feelings, actions, everything in front of God is our part, as is opening our hearts to His answer.   And God does routinely answer prayers, actively putting real tools in our hands with which to engage in spiritual combat here and now. The weapons He places in our hands are faith, love, tolerance, listening, wisdom, and all those fruits of the Spirit mentioned in 1st Corinthians 13. Even more, however, is how God actively intercedes in the world through and around us in ways we can’t even predict (and may not even know are happening).

The way to “get on God’s level” in all this starts with prayer. While it’s good and powerful to pray in public (before meals, with others, routinely, etc) it is equally important that we each make regular private prayer in our own ‘war room’ an important part of our lives.   Please understand:   I’m not trying to guilt you into doing this.   I’m simply repeating a fact and urging you to do something about it in your own way. Public prayer matters and publicly standing up for your faith with others matters, especially in 2015 America.   Yet private prayer in your own ‘war room’ also matters deeply.   It matters because it’s the time when God can personally recharge you, and when you can take your own private matters to Him to let Him begin to work them.   God isn’t a magic genie; prayer isn’t a wishing well.   The answers and solutions He gives may not be immediately apparent (or they may) and they almost certainly won’t be easy.   Yet sin is never easy and its consequences are always much more serious than we expect.   Because of that, we need to arm ourselves with the full armor of God (see Ephesians 6) and get battle ready in our own war rooms.  We are all warriors.   Suit up and engage.

“War Room” hits theaters this August.

Lord, I take my all to you.   Equip me to fight in the war for You.

Read Mark 6, verses 45-56.