Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 5 March 2019

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  1 Timothy 6:18 (NIV).

As with yesterday’s verse, here Paul is talking primarily about wealth, about Timothy instructing wealthy believers to share with others.   As with yesterday’s verse, let’s construe how it goes deeper than that.

This past Sunday I taught the “tweeners” at our church, the kids in 3-6th grade.   Our lesson was on building the Tabernacle in the Sinai desert, how God instructed the Israelites to give of what they had to complete His work, in this case building the tabernacle tent where God Himself could tabernacle with them (meaning He would abide and go with His people).   God asked them to give in ways that hurt their pride, giving up the gold and wealth they had plundered from Egypt so that it could be dedicated to Him.   He didn’t do it out of vanity.   He did it as a lesson for their hearts.   “I’m your God.   I love you.  Your wealth isn’t your god.   It doesn’t love anything.   Provide these small things as I provide for you.”

Boom.  That’s bigger than some bar of gold, or your 401K, or any of my possessions.  It’s not the economy:  He’s our God.  That’s the message Paul gives his protégé to teach.   Our God provides for us in all ways, including the Savior to save us from ourselves.   Those to whom He has given extra blessings should willingly share those with those blessed in less monetary ways as a gesture of love and respect for Jesus.

Jesus our God, whose whole ministry was about how He could give 100% of Himself to others, how He taught love and justice to the world through the example of serving, of giving completely even up to His own life.   He who gave everything for people who would murder Him still gives Himself up for our sins.   He calls us to a better way, beginning with our hearts.   When so many things draw our hearts away from Him, He still searches for us and wants us to love our sisters and brothers that same way.

Those who have material wealth have worldly opportunities to do this in ways that those without it don’t.  If you have it, what will you do?   If you won’t, you can do other things.   Will you?

Having wealth is a blessing from God, just like having health, having talent, having passion.   They’re gifts from Him; even elementary schoolers know that.   My friend, let’s each do something, for Him, with our gifts today.

For further reading:   Romans 12:8, Ephesians 4:28, 1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Blessing Lord, You are holy and good.   You save us, please forgive us today for the wrongs we do.  Teach us to give and share the wealth, the talents, the everything You give to us for the good of Your Kingdom

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 8 January 2019

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 1 Timothy 4:14 (NIV).

What are your gifts?  What are the gifts you have that are unique to you, that set you apart?  And what are you doing with them?  Have you considered that God gave them to you, just for you, just for what He intends for your life?   Have you considered that He gave you these gifts so that your words and actions would serve His Kingdom in ways that only you can?

There are over 7 billion people here on the Third Rock, and that means God made over 7 billion unique people, each having unique talents, abilities, interests, and thoughts.   I can’t do what you do; you can’t do what I do.   That’s the case with all of us.   It’s how God made us, and it serves His purposes.   My son is a great welder, but I don’t know how to do that.   One of my daughters is great at interior design; the other is a great bartender.   I don’t know how to do those things.  I can write well but perhaps you don’t.  Baking cookies, organizing your garage, chopping wood, leading strangers, speaking in public, video gaming:  are you interested in these things?   You have at least one gift, probably more.   God gave them to you so that you might serve the Kingdom by using them.   What are you doing about that?

Even more, we like to validate those who have gifts.  Ever received an award, or even applause?   That’s validation.  In the church, we lay hands on people to affirm them, to demonstrate that we want to help channel God’s love into them to bless them.   We officiate at ceremonies that designate people as specially blessed; we call these “weddings” and “baptisms” and “funerals.”

Paul’s advice to Timothy is to not neglect his gifts.   To use them well in service to the church and to remember that this church – this underground group of persecuted religious rebels, at that time under threat of death by both the religious and political powers – believed those gifts were valuable.  Indeed, people foretold that “this young man will” whatever.   I don’t know about you but nobody that I know of has ever prophesied about me.   If they had, it would have made me think about what was foretold!

This isn’t to guilt you into doing more.   I’m betting your doing a lot now, and that you are doing the best you can.   Yet if there is something on your heart to do, something about which you’re passionate and isn’t in conflict with the Scriptures but you haven’t acted on it, what are you waiting for?   Maybe God is trying to tell you something.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 1:18. Acts 11:30, Acts 6:6, 1 Timothy 4:15

Lord God, thank You for the gifts You give to us.   Help us to use them well in service to You.

 

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 12 November 2017

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:35.

Giving makes us better people.  Churches that ask for tithes know this.   Your manager at work knows this.  Political campaigns know this (ok, maybe not so much).   Your teenage kids know this (ok, not so much again, though we hope they’ll learn it).

In 21st century America, the most popular symbol of Christmas is Santa.   He’s at the center of what we consider Christmas to be.  But when you scratch off the red velvet and ring the jingle bells you see that the center of Santa is Christ.   It’s impossible to reach any other conclusion without rejecting the words here in Acts 20.  Whether the inspiration is Coca Cola, Hollywood, or pop culture, our notion of Santa Claus always goes back to Saint Nicholas of Myra, the bishop of Myra (in Turkey) who lived from 270 to 343 AD:   only about 240 years after the life of Jesus.  According to Wikipedia, Nicholas is the patron saint of many tradesmen, and his life spanned persecution and torture by the Romans, pardon from the Emperor Constantine (who split the Roman empire) and sitting in the council of Nicaea (in which the early church was reorganized and from which we received the Nicene Creed).

But his greatest gift was in giving.  A most likely true legend has it that Nicholas gave a bag of gold to each of a poor man’s three daughters because the father was too poor to afford a dowry.  Some versions of the legend have him throwing the coins through a window, others down a chimney and landing in stockings.   No matter how it happened, over time this morphed into the concept of Santa Claus that we know today.   In the 1800 years since Nicholas died, his tradition has been compounded with that of Father Christmas (dating the Tudor England of the 1500s), practices of Martin Luther (to focus kids on Christ instead of Saint Nicholas), Sinterklaas and Pere Noel in Europe, and Scandanavian Yule traditions.   Here in America, Clement Moore’s famous poem from the 1820s popularized the idea of Santa as did advertising pictures from Harper’s Bazaar and Coca Cola in the late 19th century.   And don’t forget the popular editorial response which said “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Giving is the glue that binds together those representations of Santa; self-less giving to children and the poor.  All along the timeline from Saint Nicholas until today the saint of Christmas gives to those who have not.   He blesses others by giving to them things they want and need.   In doing so, what he’s really doing is giving them the love of Jesus.   He inculcates a gift to a stranger with the strange gift that God gave us.   You and I don’t deserve grace any more than a child ‘deserves’ an extravagant gift under the tree.   We don’t earn gifts but God gives them anyway.   We weren’t looking for the Christ child in Bethlehem but He came there anyway and the angels then sang of His glory.

Without the spirit of Jesus, there is no giving.   Our very concept of Santa is thick with giving and, therefore, replete with Jesus.

Giving makes we better people because it puts aside ourselves.   Gifts are acts of mercy to other people, reflections of what we believe.   To give to someone with no expectation of anything in return is righteous, it is Christ-like.  To give is to share God’s grace.  Nicholas of Myra understood that when he gave gold to women who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to marry (something that would likely have resulted in their resorting to prostitution).   If you separated the concept of Santa Claus from giving, you wouldn’t have Santa anymore.  You wouldn’t even have a good advertising gimmick.  Santa gives to share, to make others better, to give things they wouldn’t otherwise have.  If the center of today’s celebrations is Santa, then the center of Santa selfless giving.   You can’t give selflessly without first having the love of Jesus in your heart.   Apart from Him we can do nothing.   Therefore, apart from Jesus, Santa could give nothing.  s The next time you get down about how commercialism is ruining Christmas, remember that the spirit of Christmas is still Santa and still, therefore, all about Jesus.

For further reading:  Luke 6:38.

Lord, thank You for how giving makes us better people.   Thank You for giving us this gift of mercy, of sharing, of Your Spirit.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 23 December 2013

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.  James 4, verse 15.

Christmas Eve is tomorrow.   My wife and I were talking just the other day about the disappointment that so often occurs after Christmas; the big let-down.   We were saying that some of the let-down is due to not getting the anticipated reaction from people.   Whether it’s giving gifts, cookies, meals, or just a simple act of generosity, there are fewer things that can pop your Christmas bubble quicker than apathy or satisfaction at something you give or do.

Wouldn’t it be better to simply give the gift no matter what could happen, saying “if it’s the Lord’s will, I will live?”

And  then there are New Years resolutions.   I’ve said it before:   I don’t make them.   My history with keeping new year resolutions isn’t very successful.   To be honest, I’ve made more than I’ve kept, and some that I’ve kept haven’t been for the best.   These, too, can be a let-down when I fail, once again, to modify my behavior or live up to some unreasonable expectation that I’ve set for myself.

Wouldn’t it be better to simply resolve this, saying “if it’s the Lord’s will, I will live?”

Like every other year, this Christmas season has been busy.   Work, travel, parties, baking, shopping, meals, gifts, travel, family, cooking, eating, movies, music:  need I go on?   Worse, does it sound familiar?   Do people in other countries obsess about Christmas the way we do in America?   And even worse than that, can they?   Dr. Seuss is right:   Christmas will still come whether all the Who’s in Whoville put up their fluff and stuff or not.  It will come and it will still be Christmas no matter what decorations, presents, foods, or whatnot we do or not.   We aren’t in control of that.   God is.

In other words, if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.  To get on James’ level, wouldn’t life be easier, maybe fuller, if we simply lived like that?

Not long ago, someone in the media opined that “we would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”  When you think about it, that’s saying what James is saying.   We would be better off to simply love God and love each other.  That’s especially true at Christmas if we want to avoid the letdown which is waiting just a few days up the calendar.   If we let it, that letdown can ruin a perfectly good day that just so happens to commemorate Jehovah Emmanuel.     If it’s the Lord’s will, I’ll live this week to see that day.   If it’s the Lord’s will, I’ll simply live to do this or that, let yes mean yes and no mean no.

Lord, Merry Christmas, Your day.  Thank You for the reminder to live in today.

 

Do you find yourself all wrapped around the axle at this time of year?

Do you find yourself feeling sideways at Christmas, and have you asked yourself why that is?

What do you think about simply living according to the Lord’s will?