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.

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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.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 8 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.

Welcome to the 5 T’s:   1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus.  Two thousand years after they were written, we are still reading them and drawing wisdom and encouragement from them.  These five letters comprise 5 general letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church and to friends.   They are 5 of the 13 New Testament books written by Paul, which were actually letters instead of books, and they deal with ministry, encouragement, matters of faith, prophecy, and advice on matters of church practice.   Coolest of all, each of them starts with a flourishing greeting which finishes in praying for God’s grace and peace to the reader.   In reality, all of Paul’s letters start this way (though in the Timothy letters he prays for grace, mercy, and peace).

Have you ever started a letter like that?   Instead of a Christmas letter, this year my wife and I sent out a New Year’s letter (mainly because we were away from home over Christmas).   I’d like to think someone will be reading my holiday letters 2000 years from now the way we’re reading Paul’s but it’s 99.9% unlikely.  If they did, I’m sure that (like yours) they didn’t begin with such flourish.

Are you in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?   Sure you are, you might say; you believe.  But have you ever really had someone ask you about it?   At the start of a new year (and a new series of books), where are you in God and your Lord?   Let’s keep it real:   it isn’t up to us to determine where God has us.  It IS up to us to make the choice about whether or not we care about it, though, and what actions we should do if we find ourselves feeling separated from Him.

Make no mistake:   God is never away from us.   If we feel distant, it isn’t because of anything He’s done; sometimes it isn’t even things we do.   Instead, things cloud our hearts that keep us feeling away from Him.   Or the enemy tricks us into thinking God is far when, in fact, He’s as close as can be.  When that happens, it’s important to remember Paul’s flourishing greetings that end with grace and peace.   They’re reminders that God’s undeserved and unfathomable love is always with us, and that the peace only He gives is always within us.

His grace and peace are all throughout these five letters we begin reading today.   Look for them and you’ll see that.   What’s more, you’ll be in Him more as you do so.  He’s in you already.

For further reading:  2 Thessalonians 1:1, Acts 15:22, Acts 16:1, Romans 1:7, Titus 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 2-3.

Lord, infuse me with Your grace and peace.   Thank You for inspiring these letters into Paul so long ago.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2017

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12, verse 11.

A few more thoughts about this verse before moving on from it.  Life ‘hurts so good’ and we endure pain that can discipline us.  Pain can either break us or make us; talk about a cliché yet it’s true.  Pain made my parents and it disciplined their path home.

I’m going through a tough time right now.  I don’t want to share details at the moment but it’s a time of dread, anxiety, and uncertainty.  It seems like God is disciplining me for things I’ve done, almost like it’s punishment.   Bad decisions, risky gambles, and poor choices seem to be coming home to roost, and I’ve felt more down in the last few days than I’ve felt in years.  I take heart, however, in words like verse 11, knowing that God’s discipline is given to me in order to build discipline.   In this season of change, He’s changing things in my life to prepare for something else, something good.   When I think of it that way then things don’t seem so bleak.  When I think about the pain of these days, I think there’s something better just up ahead.

I think about my dad.   I’ve said before that I grew up thinking my dad was less than he was.  It was only when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer that I saw just how iron-strong he really was.   It wasn’t just Dad’s strength:   it was God’s strength in him.  Dad endured disfiguring surgeries, painful radiation, and sickening, weakening chemotherapy.  He had always been a handsome man, but the cancer treatment robbed him of his looks.   Dad loved to sing and listen to music, but the treatment made both unpleasant.   And even his hobby, watching movies, seemed to be badly affected because it was tough for him to sit still for long periods of time with his body trying in vain to heal.   Or even to see.  But I never heard him complain about it, not even once.   The week before he died, we were talking and he said “I don’t want this but I’ve got it.   I know where I’m going and I know it’ll be ok.”   Is that the expression of a man resigned to a death-fate, or is it the faith of a dying man expressing knowledge that God is in control?   I will always know it was the latter.

And I think about my mom.   By her choice, she spent the last year of her life in assisted living, moving to Texas to live in care and to be near some of her grand-kids.  Quite honestly though, I spent much of that year mad at her.   It had fallen to me to clean out her house and renovate it for sale:   a monumental task.   My wife and sister helped a lot, and my son and son in law helped with the move, but most of the physical, financial, and emotional work was mine.   In the last week of her life, Mom called me several times per day, asking me to come over to her new place and do things, check on things.   In-between her calls and my work, I felt frazzled and exhausted.  On the night she fell ill, her heart started racing and wouldn’t slow down.   I took her to the hospital and they admitted her.   Even though I knew inside that something was happening, I took it for granted that she would recover because she always had.   A few hours later, she had a massive heart attack and was put on life support.   A few hours after that, she briefly regained consciousness.   Confused at first, she quickly understood what was happening and spent her last few waking moments saying goodbyes, giving forgiveness and praise to people who needed it, and even telling a few jokes.   She died a few hours later.   I will always know she went home to heaven because she had expressed to me over many years her faith in God.   In her last moments, she was accepting and ready.

Please excuse all the times I’ve referred to myself in this missive.   I wanted you to know how these good people passed from this life to the next.   They did it with Godly dignity and realistic courage.  Mom died quickly; Dad lingered for months.   Both of them knew the pain of debilitation, and the pain of worry over how to meet their human responsibilities.  Yet the real love of God was stronger for both of them, and when it mattered most, the pain paled in comparison.  I don’t like the things that are happening in my life now, but when equipped with the God-loving faith my parents taught me, I know that the pain is only temporary.   That what I believe is stronger, and that the things of this world, in God’s good time, will pass.

For further reading:  Isaiah 32:17, James 3:17-18, Romans 5:3-5.

My Lord, abide with me and all who hurt.   Love us and forgive us and help us to do the work You set before us.  Help us to trust you more.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 23 August 2017

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.  Hebrews 11, verse 29.

If pop culture wrote the Bible, this verse might say, “by faith they all survived the eclipse of 2017.”  Did you see the eclipse in America this week?  From all the media hype, one might have thought the world was ending.   From what really happened, it was a cool astrophysical yawn.  As are all such things, in fact.  They’re predicted by mathematics (itself a wondrously baffling knowledge gift from God).  Any astronomer who didn’t want to be on TV could have told you that, barring a miracle, the moon would pass between the Sun and the Earth without incident.   Animals (like reporters) would get a little freaked out by the mid-day darkness, but most everything would hum along just fine, which is what happened.  Eclipses happen about every 18 months or so someplace across the Earth.   This one was unique because it would be visible by the easily sensitive US media.  Unusual but, in reality, no big deal.

Unlike crossing the Red Sea, which wasn’t witnessed by the network news.   Four thousand or more years after it happened, we’re still talking about it (but the media isn’t).   We’re still talking about it because Moses, who wrote the book of Exodus, recorded for us what happened.

You know the account.   Pharaoh finally obeyed God’s command to free Israel from slavery.   Yet Pharaoh also soon developed a royal case of buyer’s remorse.   He summoned his army and they set out to chase the departing Israelites.   When the Israelites found themselves bounded on one side by the approaching Egyptian host and on the other by the unmovable Red Sea, God delivered a miracle.   He moved the Sea, cleared a path, and dried up the ground.   Israel quickly hurried through, followed in close pursuit by the Egyptians.   When the last Israelite was clear of the ocean, God closed up the Sea over the Egyptian Army and drowned them.

All because of faith.

Faith?   I thought it was because of God!   Of course it was because of God, but the reason the Israelites made it through and the Egyptians died was that Israel had faith in God.  They believed God would deliver them and He did.   The Egyptians, despite four hundred years of exposure to the faith of the Israelites, had no faith in God.   So God turned them over to the consequences of their unbelief and they drowned.   Would they have lived if they had faith?   Who knows; ask the Lord.   I like to think that, if God saved Israel because of its faith, He would have saved anyone else who believed.

Can you imagine hurrying through the walled up Red Sea?   Walls of sheer, rushing water held back by, it would have seemed, nothing.   The noise, the spray, the terror of walking through such power on display:  if you didn’t believe in God when you stepped down onto that path, you would have definitely believed on the other side.   Perhaps there never was before or never has been since such a muscular display of God’s raw power.  Perhaps, that is, until that first Easter Sunday.  But that wouldn’t come for most of another two millennia.  We know about Jesus’ resurrection and the power of God displayed in it, the power of God over death.   All Israel got to see His power on display over war, specifically that army which designed to bring war and death upon them had death brought on itself instead.  The best made plans of the unbelieving Pharaoh were, once again, made to not be so.

Just like it wasn’t to be this week that the world would end because the moon traveled between us and the Sun.   Out here in East Texas, it got dark during the peak time.   I made a pinhole viewer and saw the obscured sun through that pinhole.   I also saw the crescent shapes outlined in tree leaf shadows on the ground.   Stupid me, I forgot to look through a welding helmet.   But I and so many others had faith that this was just a natural phenomena, a display of God’s power of astronomy, gravity, and interplanetary motion.  Come to Texas in 2024 for the next one.   I hope we don’t have to view it while on the run from armed charioteers.

For further reading:  Exodus 14:21-31.

Lord God, thank You for the miracle You did in saving the Israelites at the Red Sea.   Thank You for preserving this story of faith for us here today.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  Hebrews 11, verses 13.

Today’s verse is a powerful conviction of the human race and an even more powerful demonstration of the grace of God.   It’s kryptonite to the world thinking of itself as Superman.  It’s a grace bomb.

Up until now, the writer of Hebrews has mentioned Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham as paragons of faith.   They were men who lived out what God asked them to do.   They weren’t better than anyone else in their day; they weren’t better than you or me.   They simply did a better job at putting all their faith in God.  He said then they believed.  They had faith that, if God said so, it would be so no matter what.  No matter what it cost them (even their lives), no matter what had to happen in the world, no matter anything, if God promised something, it would be so.   His word is more reliable than anything else.  I’ll ask you to back up a bit and consider the unspoken implications of what the verse is really saying.

Faith in God is worth dying for because when you have faith in God you’re a stranger in this strange land.

God created this place to be perfect.   It was perfect for a time, though we don’t really know how long Adam and Eve lived in Eden.  God created Adam and Eve to be perfect and they were for a time, existing in harmony with God and the nature He created.   In the Garden there was perfection and there was even evil.   Yet Adam and Eve lived perfectly with evil present until they accepted evil’s lying proposition.  After that, they (and we) embraced evil in corrupting the perfection of what God had created.   As a result, they (and we) fell out of harmony with God and the perfection He intended for us.

Sin, evil, corruption, sickness, deterioration, death:   those weren’t what the world was created for.   They are the abnormalities that have overtaken the world and made the normal perfection for which it was created abnormal.  We have become abnormal in a world that considers things truly abnormal to be normal.  The way around all this dysfunction, this frustration of God’s good plan, is faith in Him.   Putting our faith in God, in His Son, Jesus, changes the equation of abnormality back into one of true normality.   Disharmony becomes harmony again.

And to have that harmony in full again, unless Jesus returns, we have to die for it.   Loving Jesus fully means being willing to die for Him.  After all, He died for us.

The world of hate that we inherited from Adam and Eve’s idolatrous rebellion thinks itself to be above God.   The men cited here in Hebrews saw past that.   They didn’t have the benefit of the knowledge of Jesus for Jesus wouldn’t be incarnate for thousands of years.   Yet they still put their faith in this unseen God, trusting that He would redeem them from the hatred of sin.  They put their faith in Him doing what they couldn’t.   They hoped He would redeem them in this life, but trusted He would keep His promise whether in this life or the next.

My friend, Bill Brimer, likes to talk about ‘grace bombs.’   This is a big one.   It dropped right in front of you and exploded in your face.   Blew you away, in fact, with it’s power of love.  The ‘you’ that revels in the sensuality of our world is paled by the ‘you’ who is better than all that.   You’re better than all that because God re-made you to be better.   He remade you by redeeming you even when you and I distrusted Him.  His grace overcame our grudges.  He exploded his grace in your face by being His Word, by giving His word, by keeping His word, by being Himself for us.   All we have to do is believe because He does everything else and He does it because of love.   He proved it to these biblical forbearers.   He does it still.   BOOM.   Take that, wannabe Superman.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

Lord, thank You for exploding Your grace in my face, for all You have done and do today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 July 2017

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  Hebrews 11, verses 5-6.

Do you know the story of Enoch?   Outside of the Bible, to our society today, he’s pretty irrelevant.  From Genesis 5:  “When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.  After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”   So let’s recap.   Compared to the others in the line from Adam to Noah, Enoch didn’t live very long (only365 years) and he had kids when he was a “young” man of 65.   Enoch was the father of Methuselah (who is recorded as having lived 969 years:  longer than any other human in history).   He had other unnamed children.   And Enoch “walked with God.”

In the rest of the narrative, that phrase matters.   None of the other men or women in the narrative (from Adam to Noah) are said to have “walked with God.”  My Concordia Bible reminds that “walking with God” is different from merely living.   Seth, the child of promise after Cain murdered Abel, isn’t said to have walked with God.   Not long-lived Methuselah, and not his son, Lamech, who became the father of Noah.  Only Noah is said to have also ‘walked with God’ and that was long after Enoch.

It wasn’t for not knowing God.   Genesis 4 says that, around the time of Seth, men began to call on the name of the Lord.  This means that men and women knew God and knew they depended on God.   Adam and Eve had known God perfectly and had rejected Him.   Their son, Abel, had known and understood God, but had been killed by his envious brother.   Cain knew God face to face and flaunted Him.   Cain’s brother, Seth, and then Seth’s children and children’s children all knew God and started to call on Him for things He would do and provide.  Yet they didn’t walk with God.   Only Enoch did that.

We can’t know for certain how many people were on the Earth in those days.   A website, https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/how-was-the-world-populated/, mathematically postulates that the pre-flood world population could have been massive by the time of the flood; at least as much as the 6 billion people alive now.  That makes for a great many people who knew God, or at least knew of Him, yet the Bible says only Enoch walked with God.   Enoch believed in God, put his faith in God, trusted God all through his 365 years. Enoch lived to seek God, to know God more.  Not until King David many centuries later is there a person mentioned in the Bible who sought God’s heart this way.  At the end of His life, Enoch didn’t die.   Like Elijah the prophet, God simply took Enoch.   One second he was here and the next second he wasn’t.  That’s a rare gift from a graceful God since the Bible records it happened to only one other person.

Knowing God isn’t enough.   Instead of simply knowing of Him, which even un-believers do, we need to believe in Him, to put our faith and trust in Him.  We NEED to do as Enoch did.  Instead of simply saying “I believe in God” because “In God We Trust” is on our money, we need to believe in God in such a way that we let Him become a truly intimate partner in our lives.   We involve ourselves with Him.  We talk with Him.   We plan with Him.   We cry, obsess, think, scream, laugh, and do everything with Him.   Like Enoch, we learn to walk with God.   We our faith in God and this pleases Him because we do so from the heart.

Maybe it was easier for Enoch.   Maybe God walked and talked with Enoch the way He had with his ancestors Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel.   Or maybe not; Scripture doesn’t say and, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters to us is walking with God.

For further reading:  Genesis 5:21-24, Hebrews 7:19.

Lord, I pray, let me walk with You today.   Walk with me today that I might know You more and model my day in Your way.