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.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 22 March 2018

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?  1 Thessalonians 3:8-9 (NIV).

I don’t know all the people who have come to faith or been encouraged in faith because of me; some day, in heaven, I’ll find out.   Perhaps there are many; perhaps there are few.   Yet, here and now, I’m very encouraged.   Occasionally people do message me, thanking me for sharing devotions like these and others. When I see those messages, I’m encouraged.   They make me realize that doing these things is doing the right thing.   At the same time, they’re a great reminder that ‘it’s not about me.’   Life is about using the talents God gives us to help others in their paths to Jesus.

Jeremiah 29:11 says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   Even on days like today, when there is fear, doubt, and struggle in so many things we do, God still has a plan for our lives.   That plan isn’t to fear and doubt, though sometimes struggle will be involved.   But it will be struggle to remain standing firm in the Lord.  Through it, we will really live.

Paul knew this.   He knew the words of Jeremiah; he had been inculcated in them since he was a boy. Later in life, he had a personal, radical encounter with Jesus, who immediately transformed his entire life.  Paul knew God had plans for him and that these plans were to prosper him, to use his talents to bless others.  Paul’s reward?   Thankfulness.   Joy; incomparable joy before God because of God because of the faith his friends had.

I don’t know what you’re going through today.   Me, today is going to be a tough day.   I have a hunch some big things are coming down in my life today and to be honest they intimidate me.   Yet through them, God is still working in me.   He has plans for me and they don’t involve fear and doubt.   They may not even involve ever really knowing how my words and my actions have benefitted others.   Yet, no matter what’s going on in my world, I do know that God is working through me, like He did through Paul, like He does through you, too.  I know that, here and now, I can celebrate in real joy because He has let me share words of faith with you and that’s important.   Instead of worry, my posture will be to thank Him and ask Him for more.   And in this, there is real life.

For further reading: Jeremiah 29:11, 1 Corinthians 16:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10.

Lord, thank You for using me to share You with my friends.   Help me to do it more.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 15 March 2018

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.  1 Thessalonians 3:7 (NIV).

Have you ever thought about the example you set for others?

Stephen Hawking died yesterday.   You’ve probably heard that by now, and how the most brilliant scientist of our age lived his live as a self-avowed atheist.  To many believers this means Mr. Hawking is spending his first full day of eternity in hell.  Other people I know are, like me, hoping Dr. Hawking saw the truth of the Scriptures just before he died and is embracing Jesus in heaven.   Some others I know are angered at anyone insisting we know one way or another.  I’d imagine that more than a few atheists, if they truly don’t believe in God, shouldn’t particularly care.

Me, I’m encouraged when I hear about someone’s faith.

It isn’t up to you or me to know that Stephen Hawking is burning in hell or celebrating in heaven.  That’s up to God.  So I pray God was merciful to this atheist who said God didn’t exist.  We’re supposed to pray for our enemies, right, and unbelievers or dis-believers are, well, enemies of the faith.     Their posture is antithetical to Christ.  If we can’t pray for those people, especially in their greatest moments of need (like dying) then maybe we need a gut check.

So when I hear that there are people in the world who prayed for Dr. Hawking and others like him, I’m encouraged by that.   I’m encouraged to hear about my friend in Uganda who ministers to multiple congregations by both his formal ministry as well as through the way he teaches young people how to farm and garden. I’m encouraged when I think about all the people who celebrated faith not when Stephen Hawking died but, instead, when Billy Graham died a few weeks ago.   I’m encouraged when I meet new people at church who I haven’t seen there before.   And I’m encouraged to teach my grandkids how to say their prayers at night just before they go to sleep.

Because the ways I act concerning these things are examples I set for others.  Other people, like atheists and new followers and grandkids, are watching how I, as a follower of Jesus, act in these times.   The Thessalonians watched Paul and changed their lives to more closely resemble his.   So it is with us today.

I honestly hope and pray Stephen Hawking changed his extraordinary thinking about the truth of Jesus just before he met Jesus.  Scripture is replete with warnings about the eternity of those who reject Christ in this life.   I hope Dr. Hawking “saw the light” before he met the Light. It’s too grim to think otherwise.  One day we’ll each find out.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.

Lord, have mercy on those who are dying without believing in You.  I pray, change their hearts now.  Use my life as a tool to help do that

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 March 2018

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.  1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NIV).

Are we destined for trouble?   Answer:  yes.   Does that mean God is indifferent or not present?   Answer:  no.   Gee, those easy answers couldn’t be more difficult.

“Life is hard.   It’s harder if you’re stupid.”   That’s a meme supposedly quoting John Wayne.   No disrespect intended to the Duke (who, nearly 40 years after his death, is still my favorite actor) but we’re all stupid.  Stupidity is a symptom of sin; bad choices yielding more bad choices is symptomatic of sin starting off the whole process.   And our choices do largely determine our outcome.   Bad choices are almost guaranteed to make hard times even harder.   Don’t believe me?   Ask anyone who’s gotten into crime, or drugs, or adultery, or a web of lies.   Stupidity only makes things worse.

Sometimes it seems like that’s all we’re destined for, as if God has it in for us.   As if God has abandoned us.  Depression entrenches that impression; so do negativity, exhaustion, anger, and pain.  Yet, if you think God does indeed have it in for us, that He sets things in motion but then takes a hands-off approach as we live, how do you explain Him constantly sustaining us in life?  How do you explain the feeling of release that comes from compassion, or forgiveness?  How can we not see that it is the hand of Jesus at work in our lives when we act out in ways that demonstrate His love, His patience, His empathy, His heart?

Paul was lonely in Athens, and Athens was a hostile place for a follower of this new belief system called “Christianity.”  Think of it as the San Francisco of its day, but with a better appreciation for democracy yet having poorer standards of sanitation.  It would have been tough to endure, even for a gifted spirit like Paul.   Yet he sent his friend Timothy to Thessalonica because Thessalonica needed Timothy more.  That wasn’t just Paul being pragmatic or realistic:   it was the heart of Jesus at work in him, causing Paul to act in ways that edified and encouraged others.   Paul knew he could expect trouble, especially when his ‘forces’ were separated and divided.   Yet he knew God would provide, that God would be with him, that even when troubles seemed destined, God would work in him to help him endure, persevere, and build hope.

We’re no different.   Life is harder when we’re stupid; Paul did stupid things, too.   But Paul trusted Christ implicitly and that allowed him to move beyond adversity and into the realm of miracles called “faith.”  I think the Duke would agree.

For further reading: Romans 5:3-5, Thessalonians 3:4.

Lord, help me to rely more on you, to overcome adversity.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 6 March 2018

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 (NIV).

In the last two verses, Paul talked about how Satan kept him from visiting the Thessalonians.   Here he talks about why he wanted to visit them.   It’s simple, actually.

Have you ever been really, really proud of someone?   Maybe a child who has graduated, or your baby the first time they walked?   Have you ever led a team through completing a difficult task?   Have you ever been part of something that you really loved, and seen it through to the end?  Maybe you got a taste of what Paul felt.   But, no, it wasn’t just pride.

Have you ever been caught up in the moment and felt so glad to simply be alive?   Or have you ever felt so moved, so overwhelmed with feeling that you could barely contain it when you realized how you felt?  Have you ever…have you ever.  We could go on and on here.   Like I said, it’s really quite simple.

What is our hope, our sure-fire promise?   What is our joy, that incomparable quality of godliness?   What is the crown, the reward and symbol of majesty, honor and power?   How, who and what is Jesus Christ if not all these things and more?  You know:   it is Him.  Quite simply, it is the love of Jesus Christ that surpasses all understanding and breathes life into lifelessness.

I can honestly say some of my proudest accomplishments in life come from knowing I have been privileged to lead a few souls to Christ.   Not many, but a few.   They’re a few people who will spend eternity with Jesus, alive and celebrating in heaven in the presence of Him who loved them first.   They won’t be ones who spend that same eternity in hell with Satan, who knew Jesus but rejected Him out of their pride, which can be hate; that same Satan who still divides people today, putting up wedges and walls between people and their God.

No, the folks who have come to faith with my words and actions make me proud.   And humbled.   I’m the worst of sinners, yet somehow they came to believe in Jesus, the ultimate love in the universe, through sinful me.   That’s an overpowering feeling, an overwhelming honor for such and under-whelming man.  Why would I feel so overwhelmed?   It’s simple:   it’s Jesus, His love.   It’s the love of Jesus, shared between people who love Him back.  It’s what Paul felt for the Thessalonians.  Have you ever?

For further reading: 2 Corinthians 1:14, 1 John 2:28, Thessalonians 3:1.

Lord, the greatest honor in my life is to follow You.   Thank You for using me, your servant, to carry your message.   I pray, use others around me to do the same.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 21 February 2018

 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  1 Thessalonians 2:9 (NIV).

Usually I write these blog posts the night before I post them.   Last night, I was busy calculating my taxes so I didn’t get to write until morning.   I take that as yet another proof that God knows what He’s doing and is active in even the little details of our lives.

Word came this morning that Billy Graham has died.   I think of a few things when I think of Rev Graham, mostly that I met him once, saw him twice, and turned off the TV when he was on dozens of times when I was a kid.   Today I think that 1 Thessalonians 2:9 is a fitting verse by which to remember him.

The words I write and share here won’t reach 2 billion people, but Billy Graham’s did.   I’ve never met 9 presidents and witnessed the gospel personally to them, but Billy Graham did (indeed, George W. Bush credits Graham for personally ministering to him in a way that let him turn cold turkey from alcoholism and never turn back).   I never traveled behind the Iron Curtain for the specific purpose of talking about Jesus, but Billy Graham did.  I never did this or that or one or the other but Reverend Graham did.

So what? Through it all, Mr. Graham was just like you and me.   He was a sinner.   On his own, he wasn’t worthy to lick God’s bootheels.   Without God’s intervention, he was damned.  Because of Jesus, none of that mattered.   Because of Jesus, Billy Graham got to meet Him face to face today:   just like you and I can when our lives are over.

I once went to a Billy Graham crusade; I once met him in person.   In those days, that was simply another happening to me, another check box I could fill about having done something for God.   I didn’t realize that Graham, as a speaker, was using his platform to tell me what God had already done for me.   In time, I came to admire that, came to better understand it.   There was no decision for Christ I made other than simply acknowledging what Jesus had already done in full.  Yet when that understanding came, it made all the difference in my life.

Today you’ll read a great many things about Billy Graham, then tomorrow the world will move on to its next big thing.   That’s how it goes here, and really that’s how it should be.  But for today, celebrate the kingdom work of a man who used his time to tell us all “Jesus loves you.”  The longer I live, the more I see that’s the most fitting epitaph of all.   Rest in peace Reverend and welcome home.

For further reading: Thessalonians 2:10.

Lord, thank You for this good servant.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 19 February 2018

…but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children1 Thessalonians 2:7 (NIV).

You and I know many, many people who are going through tough times.  Divorce, death, unemployment, drugs, alcoholism, bankruptcy, starvation and hunger, grudges, societal collapse, school murders, loss of homes, loss of friends, loss of self, loss of faith:   need I go on?   You and I both know people, perhaps ourselves, who are enduring these real hardships in this fallen world.   Living through them can really make you wonder where God is in all of this and how it can be that He is actually with us when we’re going through them.

Might I suggest that we should live life like children.   For the good of our faith in God, for the good of those around us, and for our own good, we should out our faith like young children.

This isn’t to say we should be immature.   This doesn’t say we should give up wisdom, lessons-learned, knowledge or experience.   That isn’t what the Bible says; it certainly isn’t what Paul is saying.   Remember that the previous verse reminded the Thessalonians how they, like Paul, had the authority of Christ Himself as the basis for their personal authority.  This one reminds them (and us) to exercise that authority like moms and kids would.

Go into today with the child-like innocence to accept things at face value.   Later there will be time to analyze, to think it over, to be wise and wary, but accept ‘yes’ as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ as ‘no.’  Trust.   Simply trust people.   That doesn’t mean we should be foolish or unwise in granting our trust, but when given the opportunity to trust God and trust others (or even to trust our abilities), then go for it and trust.  Smile.   Love.   Accept happiness.   Be forthright and generous.   Play, look for fun, and jump in the mud puddle already.   Be childlike and accepting in how we look at the world today.  When it hurts, too, go ahead and cry.  All of it is ok and Godly.

Through it all, don’t forget to also act like a mother, a parent, watching over someone’s childlike innocence.   Protect the people you love and guard their hearts.   Give your own and give of yourself so that others might prosper.  If you don’t know what to do in this tough old world, ask yourself what a good mom would do.

Better yet, ask that kitschy question “what would Jesus do?”  You know that the cure for the common tough times is a whole lot of Jesus.   And Jesus abides with us this way.

Here there will always be tough times.   As long as day turns to night, we’ll have those.   Jesus doesn’t promise we won’t go through them:   He promises He’ll be there with us when we do.   When that happens, let’s accept it like kids.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:11, 1 Thessalonians 2:8.

Lord, bless me with child-like faith in You.