Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 22 April 2019

Here is a trustworthy saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.  If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.  2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NIV).

Happy Day After Easter, when Jesus is still risen, still alive again, still King of Kings.   To be honest, the day after Easter has always had the potential to be like the day after Christmas:   a let-down.   We had a great day yesterday, with church, a great meal, and lots of time together as a family.   It tired me out greatly, but I was sad to see it end.   Today, it’s back to work; today the kids and grand-kids go home; today is just Monday.  Today feels like a let-down.

Except it isn’t.   Here is a trustworthy saying:   if Monday seems dull, it’s because the light shines bright.   If disappointment rules the hour, joy rules the day.  If it’s tough to get started back at the routine, the routine is a gift from God, an embodiment of Jesus in our daily lives.   All these contrasting things are gifts from a loving Jesus Christ, whose gift of resurrection provides the hope of today and tomorrow to the believers He elected in eternity.  A fallen world can’t contain Him; a bad today can’t stop a beautiful tomorrow.   He defeated death, He defeated Satan.   Nothing can stop Him.   The contrasts make the difference between Jesus and everything else stark.

It wasn’t just Paul who spoke of these contrasts.   Peter did as well, and Peter knew Christ, man to man, better than most anyone else in Jesus’ ministry.  Peter talked about us rejoicing in the sufferings of Christ because it would mean that His resurrection and eternal glory would be all that much better.  The apostle lived in a barbaric time not unlike our own:   we simply have better tools and technology.   But the words he left would have been just as striking to readers of that time, maybe even more so when you consider how those readers personally knew Peter, how some might have personally known Jesus.  We didn’t know Peter or Jesus man to man; we simply have their words.

Think about that and then consider that this is a trustworthy set of statements, a thing on which we can rely.  Jesus lived, died, and lives again because He said He would.   Jesus suffered so we could rest.   Jesus died so we can live.   Jesus lives because the world can’t contain Him.   That’s great news on the Monday after Easter when the bloom seems to be off the rose and the daily world tries to take hold again.

For further reading: Romans 6:2-11, 1 Peter 4:13, Matthew 10:33, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 2 Timothy 2:14.

Easter Savior, You are the reason for our living.   You are the Lord.   You died and live so we may live.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 29 October 2018

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.  A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.  1 Timothy 2:11-15 (NIV).

Before we move on, let’s address a few other things about these verses (even though they’re uncomfortable).

Paul was a first-century Jew discussing first century traditions.   While he was writing what God had inspired in his heart, he was also discussing what was contemporary.   Today, there are still many churches where the roles of men and women are strictly defined.   In some churches, women cannot be ordained as ministers; in others this doesn’t matter.   Are they wrong?   We can’t apply these ancient dictums today without considering the world in which they were written.

Some online research tells how Paul, in both 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, may have been addressing local customs in the Corinthian church as well as churches where Timothy was familiar.  In the letters to the Corinthians, Paul was addressing factions that had arisen in the church there, factions that included women.   Some people think that Paul’s seemingly chauvinist remarks are a reaction to that and a way to re-institute order and discipline.  In truth, we’re speculating.

And yet, in the early church, men and women were equals in most ways.  Women served as deaconesses, with Paul’s blessing even.   The people who went to tend to Jesus on Easter Sunday were women; the first people to whom He revealed His resurrected Self were women.  In Paul’s other letters, he sends greetings to both men and women without indicating any female subservience.   Indeed, trumping even Paul’s seemingly chauvinistic verses is Galatians 3:28 which says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  That equality is the bottom line.

I was confirmed by a woman.   Indeed, I learned more from Pastor Ann than I have from most other men.   A local church with which I’m familiar has a woman as its congregational president.  In most churches, women wholly manage Christian education.  In all these cases, submission to Christ is the only concern.   Male or female, leaders must first submit to Jesus in all ways for in Him we are one.  Any other concerns are secondary.   We should do the same.

For further reading: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, 1 Corinthians 11:3-9, Ephesians 5:22-30, Galatians 3:28, 1 Timothy 3:1

Lord, in all we do, may we submit to You.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 18 July 2018

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us – whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter – asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 (NIV).

Scoffers and skeptics:   they were old news even in Paul’s time.

My Concordia says that the primary theme of 2 Thessalonians is the second coming of Jesus.   It was written to people who knew first-hand, may have even seen, the first coming of Jesus (including Him after He was resurrected).  They intimately knew about the miracle of Him.   Quite understandably, they thought He would be coming back in the near-term, in their lifetimes.   How shocked do you think they would be to learn that it has been over 2000 years since?

You couldn’t blame them if there were some people who scoffed at the notion that Jesus would return from death.   After all, nobody (but Him) ever said they would and had.  The claims Paul and the other disciples were making about Jesus’ coming return were fantastic and illogical (and that’s no small matter given the widespread Greek culture of revering logic and knowledge).  Jesus’ first century resurrection had rocked the religious, political, social and even economic world in ways nothing else had throughout all of history.  Yet the farther they, and we, get from Easter Sunday, the more our world seems to give credence to the scoffers who say it can never happen again.   Many of them say, in fact, the first time never happened.

It makes no sense.   When you’re dead, you’re dead.   It’s physically impossible.   You’re simply believing a fable.   Get a grip already.  A rotted, decomposed body can’t live again.   Fool.   Would you hear those words today (or do you)?   Admit it:  you would have heard them in the AD 30s and after as well.

News flash, scoffers:   the Bible hasn’t been disproved.   The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most thoroughly documented even in all of antiquity.   Science and faith are seemingly mutually exclusive, but while science routinely disproves itself, faith in Jesus (and the veracity of the Scriptures) are consistent.   They are supported by themselves and by faith in them.   What’s more, archaeology and proven history support more than deny the account of the life of Jesus.   His words were and are reliable.   Knowing that, is it unreliable to think they’re true about everything, including his return?   You know the answer.

Jesus came back once.   He promised to do so again.   His Word is reliable and honest.   When the scoffers come, let them say what they will.   It’s only hot air and it’s nothing new.   They were trying to discredit Paul 2000 years ago and their modus operandi hasn’t changed since.

For further reading:  Mark 13:27, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Timothy 2:18, 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3

Come Lord Jesus quickly.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 2 April 2018

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.   1 Thessalonians 4:1 (NIV).

Happy day after Easter, my friend.   I have a confession to make:   this Easter is the first one in a long time when I feel that, well, everything is cool.   We had a meaningful celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord, and I got to hear Him say some things to me that I needed to hear.   I spoke back to Him, and, as He does, He responded by loading some peace onto my heart.   Everything is good.   No, the stresses of the world haven’t gone away.   Yes, calamity could (and may) rush into my life at any time.   Yes, I’m very much still a work in progress in walking my walk of faith with Jesus.   Yes, I still struggle with being a hypocrite and a judgmental jerk.   All that’s true, and it’s cool.   Through Him, I know I can do better.  I know my Lord has my back.

He told me through words like Paul’s how He wants me to live out the life He gave me.   It’s as if He’s saying “Follow me and do what I do, live as I live.”   Listen, learn, understand, forgive; empathize, believe, help those who are afflicted, spend time with Me every day.   I’m working on those things and what improvements happen through me are glory to God who deserves the credit.  Paul’s words taught me these things.  So did my wife, my parents, my kids and friends, my pastors and mentors.

They’re valuable lessons, you know, because it’s still a damn hard world we’re in.   When Jesus rose on that Easter Sunday, He didn’t wipe out all things and start with a clean slate (even though, in a way, He did).  No, He equipped His followers to stand in the world and tell others of His peace, His justice, His mercy, His love.   That’s what Paul had passed on to the Thessalonians:  equipment for following Jesus and succeeding in Him.   The mark of a successful believer is that other people see the attitudes of Jesus showing through what they say and do.

And that’s why I feel things are cool.   For the first time in a long time, I get it.   It’s a gift, and I’m not worthy of it, but He gave it to me anyway because He made me worthy.   On my own, I wasn’t good enough.   Through Him, everything is always so much more than good.

For further reading:   2 Corinthians 13:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Ephesians 4:1, 2 Corinthians 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:2.

Lord, I thank You for Your resurrecting, for Your love in my life, for equipping me to follow You.   Help me to do Your will for others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 30 January 2018

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.  1 Thessalonians 2:3.

These messages are delivered to you electronically.   We’re blessed to have an Internet that allows us to easily, quickly, cheaply exchange information.   Yet even though this is true, let’s face it:   there’s a LOT of disinformation and outright lies on the internet.  News, opinion, statistics:  we live in the era of fake news.   Let’s not even get into the mire about how that moniker affects our current politics.   Much of what you see, read, and hear today isn’t real.

And it isn’t anything new.

Within minutes of hearing about the resurrection, the political and religious elites of the Paul’s day were concocting cover stories about Jesus’ body being stolen, about drunken guards, and other angles; initially, Paul was one of those elites.   Everywhere the Apostles went they were confronted by people who didn’t believe it was possible for any man to come back to life.   Even when Paul discussed his own conversion in intimate, one on one settings, he wasn’t believed, wasn’t trusted.

Nothing has changed.  Don’t believe me?   Try arguing an atheist out of his science and his faith in the knowledge he has about the origin of species.   Two thousand years later, people still argue about the reliability of the gospels.   About just what did happen at that garden tomb on that first Easter morning.   As you can read from today’s verse, people argued with Paul about it (and they were centuries closer to the actual event than you or I), even as there were still (at the time) guards and witnesses who had seen Christ alive after the Resurrection.   What would make Paul talk about all this?

You know.

The appeal Paul made to the Thessalonians wasn’t any different from the appeal his words make to us.   They talk to us of things about God, and they are trustworthy and true because God has never been disproven in His words.   God’s words, spoken through men like Paul, speak of truth and love and forgiveness.   Any other quality would have long since been disproven; any other thing would simply have fallen apart.   Not so the witness of the Apostles.   Nothing could contain God’s word, and nothing would stop it from spreading.   When God spoke to Paul, Paul simply HAD TO share it because what was entrusted to him was too good to hoard.

Yet his readers, like us, are just people, and people are skeptical.   So Paul testifies and reminds his reader that his motive is pure, that he’s passing on what was given to Him by the Lord.   You and I can take that to the bank even if you read it on the Internet.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:4.

Lord, thank You for speaking through Paul, and for touching my heart to hear and grasp Your words.

 

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 21 December 2017

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.   Ephesians 4:7.

Finally, let’s talk about Santa and God’s grace.   In our increasingly secular America, where leftist hostility threatens to crowd out any faith except itself, where crime and real hatred work to undo the works of love, and where division with the right is on the rise, at this time of year, Santa is all about grace.

Santa and God’s grace?   I thought the hyper-Christians and Santa-Haters owned the topic of grace!   There actually is an unspoken “war on Christmas” and some of the primary combatants relentlessly defend the position that God Almighty is the author of peace on earth and good will toward men.  The secular ‘god’ of Santa Claus is one of the vehicles the other side uses to fight against the truth of Jesus.   Anything related to Christmas that isn’t all and only Jesus must be eradicated.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Grace is unmerited mercy.   You don’t do anything to earn it or deserve it.   It is love freely given to you by God because He’s God and He loves us.   He loves us so much that He wasn’t willing for us to be apart from him.  Our sins earned us permanent separation from God but He didn’t want that for us because His love is too good to withhold.   So, in the ultimate act of grace, God came here to Earth as a man and gave His life as an atonement for our sins.   All of that was beautifully exemplified on Christmas morning when God gave us that first Christmas gift.

Every year, both religious and secular America commemorate that gift, in part, by celebrating the magnanimity of Santa Claus.  Without Christ there is no Christmas, and without Christmas there is no Santa Claus, whose heart is focused on giving, on sharing with strangers simply because he can.   He does it on and only on Christmas:   the birthday of God.  How is that not grace?

But but but…what about that naughty and nice list?   If the fruit of God’s Spirit is visible through good works, and those good works are lauded by both God and Santa Claus, then is it unreasonable to expect both God and Santa would disapprove of our naughty works?   God turns us over to the consequences of our unrepentant hearts.   Is it any wonder that part of the Santa story would include the same thing?  And yet, even knowing we naughty people deserve punishment, God still gives us our lives, our health, and everything we are.   It’s pure grace.  As for Santa, be reasonable:   other than my parents and politicians, do you honestly know of anyone who has ever put a lump of coal in your stocking?    Grace again.

Christ apportioned true grace for us by giving His very life so we wouldn’t have to give ours.   He bridged the chasm between damnation and salvation and made it possible for us to avoid the former.   Christ gives the gift of salvation that Santa doesn’t, and He did it out of the kind of love that makes Santa’s look cheap.  Face it:   Santa doesn’t love the way Jesus loves; that’s simply the way it is.  Yet love it is from Saint Nick all the same, and when we consider how many people in our world need love, well, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn it.   Maybe the idea of Santa Claus is simply an extension of our faith in God, of appreciating His grace in giving us things we want but don’t deserve.

Thank you, my friend, for reading these words, and Merry Christmas to you.   I hope they’ve helped you and made you think of things you might not otherwise have considered.   More than that, I hope they’ve planted in you the seed of curiosity to investigate God’s Word even more.   In parting this year, I’ll challenge you to take a few minutes on Christmas Eve and read Luke 2.   Read it in the King James version because, in my opinion, the first twenty verses of Luke 2 when read in that 15th century English are the most beautiful words ever written.   Take a few minutes to thank God for them, and for sending His only Son to be born on Christmas as a man.   Then thank Him, too, for the coming Easter that fulfills the promise of eternity.  Last, thank our Lord for the gift of the story of Santa Claus and how jolly old St. Nick is actually a herald of our Savior in Bethlehem.

For further reading:  Luke 2 (in the King James version).

Thank You, Lord, for Your grace, Your gift, and Your love.   Thank You for Christmas…and Easter.

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 20 December 2017

For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.   Matthew 25:29.

You know the best thing about giving?   It’s giving again.   Just ask the men who play Santa Claus.

Recently there was a story in the local (Dallas) news about a woman who took her kids to see the same Santa Claus every year for decades.   She had several dozen picture of kids, year after year, sitting with the exact same actor.  He was like family to her, and when he moved to a new location, she loyally took her business to see him.   This year is different, however, because in 2017 the man passed away.   The story outlined the woman’s sadness at losing the man who had become a part of her life.   And it also focused on her thankfulness for having known him.   Something about him kept her coming back to him year after year.

And something about being Santa kept him coming back year after year.  I’ve never worn a Santa suit but I’m betting that the reason so many people do so year after year is a giving heart.   It’s about giving little kids a smile, and a little agape love, and seeing them happy.   It’s about sharing part of the magic that is the Christmas season.  Even unbelievers can’t deny that there is a buzz in the air during Christmas.  That buzz is love, and it’s love exemplified through giving.

Here in Matthew 25, Jesus said that a giving heart compounds love.   Don’t be sucked into a materialistic interpretation of the verse:   what Christ is really talking about is love.  When you love, you get love in return.   When you give out of love, you receive more than you give (even if you receive nothing physical in return).   When you love unconditionally, you begin to know God’s heart.  It’s the heart behind it that grows.   More importantly, God’s glory grows as His love is shared.   What’s more, when we give out of love, we store up real treasure in heaven, where we will be able to fully embrace all of God unencumbered by the hazy filter of our sins.

We all want more of that.  Even those who believe in neither Jesus nor Santa Claus want more love.  If you want to break the ice with someone who’s hostile, you start with kindness, giving them the gift of yourself unsheltered.   As the walls break down, you give more and more, and the hostile person’s demeanor usually changes.  After all, what was missing in Mr. Scrooge’s heart?   Love, and when there was no love his capacity to give, to share, dried up.  When the love returned, so did his giving.

That’s the aspect of Santa Claus which is so attractive.   It isn’t really the idea of getting something you want for free.   No, what keeps kids believing in Santa is that he loves freely and gives even more freely.   It doesn’t take much effort, then, to mature from Santa to learning about the life of Jesus and the real reason for Christmas.   Noodle it for awhile and you see that the love of a giving Santa is, perhaps, the best expression of Jesus’ giving love in our world today.  And the more you learn about Jesus, the more you see that the real holiday of love isn’t Christmas Day or even Valentine’s Day.   No, the real holiday that centers on giving and love is Easter.   At Easter, God’s love was completely fulfilled for us.   Without Christmas, there would be no Easter, and without Easter Christmas is just another birthday.   Besides, the Easter Bunny is no Santa.

For further reading:  Ephesians 4:7.

Lord Jesus, as we celebrate Your birthday, help me to better give as You give:   selflessly, with a loving heart, and unconditionally, so that I may know an abundance of You.