Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 January 2019

The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.  1 Timothy 5:4-5 (NIV).

In our world, even one slip-up can be devastating.   It only takes a single one-night-stand to get a disease.   It only takes one rejection to have your hopes and dreams dashed during a vulnerable time.  The world is a tough place and jumping out into it is even tougher.  Keep our eyes on God and not the world around us.  Is this blog-post going to be full of platitudes and bland aphorisms?  No; I don’t like those either beyond them being reminders of truths we need to hear.   Yet there are things in those platitudes that matter because people are in real need all around us.

Losing someone you love is the most devastating thing on earth.  We can deal with almost anything but when the person on whom we rely most is gone, our entire foundation is destroyed.  “I can’t imagine losing your spouse and not having faith.”   My mom said those words to me about a year after my Dad died.  Mom had faith and was still the most independent-minded person I’ve ever known.   And while I don’t think she spent night and day praying and asking God for help, in her own way and time she did those things.   She told me that she prayed and talked with God when she was alone until, one day, she had the thought “Grace, you can do this.”   That was after about six months in the fog of grief.   And, for her, that was the start of getting better, of knowing that God had given her all she needed to keep moving forward in life.   She did for another 16 years.

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us to honor our parents.   That can be extended to assume he’s telling us to honor both our parents and our other forbears and elders.  Then, in Romans, he reminds us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may know the will of God.  I’ve never been completely alone, even during the times when it felt that way.  And I have dived deep into living for pleasure and gotten out of it worse.  In all these cases, it’s because I didn’t extend honor, either to God or to anyone involved.   I strayed from working to let God renew my heart and mind, and I’m not even a widow.

Imagine how much worse off things could have been if I had just lost my spouse.   In that light, Paul’s exhortations are common-sense Godly advice.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:1-2, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 3:5, 1 Timothy 5:6.

Lord, help me to give honor to my elders, to live for You in all I do today.

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, 21 May 2018

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NIV).

Let’s talk about the full armor of God.   This verse plainly mentions it, putting on “faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”   That verbiage easily lines up with Ephesians 6; go read it and see for yourself.   Think about armor and why it’s needed, who uses it, and what it’s used for.  Then come back to 1 Thessalonians to ask yourself a question:

Who is protected by armor?

Of course the wear is protected; the soldier, the hunter, the defender.  The armor protects the wearer during combat, from elements, while being attacked.  It shields the wearer from harm and gives them confidence to advance, to do their part in battle. It’s no accident, then, that Paul speaks of the fruits of God’s Spirit as armor.   He speaks of faith, love, and hope as real, tangible defenses against the attacks of the evil one.  Faith and love cover the heart, protecting the core of the body.   Hope of salvation, which is a promise and not a wish, protects the head:   home of the brain and four of the five senses.   Faith and love literally keep us alive while the hope of salvation covers how we sense the world – and others – around us.

So ask that question again:   who is protected by armor?   Perhaps Paul is also alluding to the fact that the person NOT wearing the armor of God benefits from it.   Think about it:   faith, hope, and love are all from God and benefit the person not being covered by them as much as they do the person shielded by them.   They are the qualities even un-believers desire and model.   They are the foundation of charity and charitable behavior.   They are the basis for kindness and understanding, even our entire civilization.   Even when someone doesn’t believe in God (and, thus, chooses to not wear the full armor of Him), they benefit from these practical, caring qualities of Him.

This is a tough world.   The other day I mentioned how people close to me are being attacked.   I wonder if they see people around them wearing the armor of God, and I wonder what they think about it.   Jesus never promised the world would be rosy:   He promised He would walk with us through it and never leave us.   When we order our lives around Him, His Spirit begins to impart faith, love and hope into us that we can wear to both nourish us and protect us.  That’s the point, too, when it begins to show to others.   And that’s the greatest protection of all.

For further reading:  Ephesians 6:10-17, 1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:9.

Lord, let me wear Your armor as a defense for the people I meet today.

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, 7 December 2017

Grace be with you all.  Hebrews 13, verse 25.

Once again, we find ourselves at the end.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ve seen the ending of Hebrews, Mark, The Ten Commandments, Ruth, 1/2/3 John, James, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   That’s a lot of real estate to cover.   Thank you so much, my friend, for reading, sharing, learning, and hopefully hearing the voice of God inside you through these thoughts.

Yet it’s time to finish up this section.   After this, there are other things I’d like to cover.   Next week, we’ll spend the rest of the Christmas season talking about Santa Claus and giving.   After that, I believe God is leading me to walk through the “five T’s” of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; we’ll be walking with the Apostle Paul, so get ready to get real; Paul has that effect.

Until then, grace be with you all.   Grace:  that’s a concept I haven’t given nearly enough thought to even though my mom and grand-daughter are both named Grace.  I used to think of grace as a quiet thing, like sunny meadows and warm tea.  But that’s only part of what it is.  My friend, Bill Brimer, however, calls the book of Ephesians “a grace bomb.”  It’s an explosion of God’s grace in your face.   An overpowering force of enormous power that can undo physical reality.  Ephesians spends much of it’s time explaining God’s grace as a living, vital thing instead of just a pastoral quality.

Boom.

Have you ever really thought about what grace means to you?   My Random House dictionary defines grace as “a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor shown in granting a delay or immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor or love of God, the influence or spirit of God operating in man; moral strength.”   All those meanings (and more) for such a small word.   And to think they could all blow up in your face with the peace of a rural pasture.  In the context of talking about Jesus, grace means all those things, and all of them at once.

We don’t deserve it, but Jesus richly blesses us to live in His grace.   We’ve done everything we can think of to tick him off, to merit His wrath, but, instead, He likes us, wants to be with us, runs to us where we are in the middle of our dysfunctions.   If I listed here even a fraction of the sins I’ve done against Jesus, I wouldn’t list much before you’d see I don’t deserve His grace.   I don’t even deserve air, food, water, and my beating heart.   News flash:  neither you you.   We’re damn dirty sinners.

But we have so much more than air, food, water and life.   We have love, friends, jobs, possessions, liberty, opportunity.   We have each other.   We have seven billion people here to live, thrive and survive with, and we GET TO tell them that this Jesus blesses us all in His grace.   That He wants them to know Him, too.   That’s grace.   When I deserve punishment, Jesus wants love for me.  When I deserve scorn, He lives in my heart.   When I merit revenge, He urges peace.   When I deserved to die, He ran to the cross for me and took my place.   Boom!

When the writer of Hebrews had only a few words left to say, he said that he desired for God’s magnificent grace bomb to explode in the lives of his readers.   “Grace be with you all” is more than just a benediction:   it’s a challenge.   It’s a powerful this-I-know-to-be-true amen.   It’s a quiet prayer but also an artillery-packed lock and load on the front line.  Grace is the quiet strength of Christ from the cross giving you peace.   And grace is the raw edge of God’s knife in your hand, cutting away the scar tissue of sin to cure the flesh below.   When there was nothing else to say to his friends, the writer affirmed God’s presence in their lives and called on them to realize all God does for undeserving people while sharing His saving love with those who don’t know about Him.

I’m not worthy to argue with wisdom like that.   I’ll simply accept it as a gift of love from our God.  Grace in your face, indeed.   Back in the race for us now.  Lace up your boots, pick up your gun, and let’s march.

Until next time, grace be with you all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 13:25

Lord thank You for Your grace, for how You love and provide for me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 November 2016

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.  Hebrews 3, verse 14.

“Original conviction” is believing in Jesus.

Just last week, my wife and I were talking again about feeling faith in God.   I remarked that I’ve never “felt” that God feels I’m special; I believe I’ve shared that here before.   The whole experience & feeling of ‘being saved:’   never had it, never felt it.   The overwhelming feeling of God’s presence that crowds out everything else:   I haven’t yet felt it even as I know in my heart I have experienced it.  Later I learned I’m not alone in this.   On Saturday morning I attended a men’s Bible breakfast here in Paris.  Several of us were talking about this same thing – that feeling of being saved – and I remarked the same thing I’d said to my wife.   One of the other men said that he and his wife had felt a pulling, a calling, to come back to the church in Paris (Calvary Chapel), and that they’d had that same surety of feeling when they bought their house.   It was as if God was telling them “this is where I want you.”   That’s something with which I can relate.   If I’ve never felt ‘saved’ or had that big God-moment when I felt His overwhelming presence, I can also say that on many, many occasions throughout my life I’ve felt that same “this is where I want you” feeling.  If God hasn’t spoken to me one way, He’s made it abundantly clear He’s speaking in others.

When we realize that, it becomes one of the ways we can share Him.   It’s an affirmation of our original conviction, our determination and need to believe in Jesus.  I’ve been a believer all my life, was brought up going to church most every Sunday.   Even when I fell away for a few years, when my wife and I took our family back to church it always felt like it was the right place to be.  It was as if God was telling us “I want you to get to know Me here” and He made our lives worthwhile.  We joined with others who believed the same things, and we were constantly fueled by God through His church, energized and empowered to do the things He’s prepared us to do.

It’s because of Him.   It’s because of believing in Him.  I used to think that people like me (now) were corny, sometimes faking our faith for appearances, sometimes saying we believe almost to convince ourselves that it’s really true.   Sometimes I wonder if I’m not saying I believe in Jesus out of fear of Him.   Not just the respecting, awe-struck fear, but the terror-in-the-night kind of fear, knowing that I’m just a man out of billions, somewhat small in this world.   He’s God.   He’s the creator of everything, the omnipresent and omniscient God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Dave Terry.  Those are some big shoes to fill; I don’t feel qualified to walk in them.  Who am I to believe in this awe-striking God?   Who am I that He would believe in me?

And then I remember that He talks with me.   He lets me know from time to time that He is with me, that He wants me to do A, B or C by those feelings from deep in my heart.   His Spirit speaks to my conscience, letting me know when I should shy away from some things and approach others.   This never happens when I’m on the edges of sin (or knee-deep in it); God’s choices aren’t designed to lead us deeper into wrongdoing.   No, sometimes He speaks to me by a verse hitting me just right, or seeing light rays through a cloud bank, or the satisfaction of being around people I love.   Even sometimes through the realization of a job well done.

Ephesians 3:12 says, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”  That means here and now, today, you and I can approach God fully knowing that Jesus did everything possible and everything necessary to make it so that we could.  We still fear and respect and love God Almighty but we get to approach Him fully and freely knowing that He won’t see us as sinful or worthy of destruction.   He sees us clothed and wrapped in Jesus, made righteous because we believed that Jesus is our one and only Savior.  It’s a convicting belief of determined conviction.  When we fully realize the meaning of that concept, perhaps we also realize that God is speaking to us loud and clear.   Feeling or no feeling, it’s more than enough.

For more reading:   Ephesians 3:12.

Lord, I believe in You.

 

 

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.