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

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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.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 January 2016

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. Mark 14, verses 4-5.

Mark doesn’t say it but he’s most likely talking about a conversation led by Judas Iscariot.   Judas was responsible for carrying the Apostles’ money, and he used to frequently dip into the purse.   Thus, it makes sense that he was indignant that the expensive perfume was being ‘wasted’ because it could have been a huge windfall for the taking.

But tell me something:   do you and I act like Judas with our treasure? You bet we do.

Huh?   “You’re insulting me by comparing me to the man who betrayed Jesus Christ?”   Yes, my friend, that’s exactly what I’m doing.   I’m doing so in love; please let me explain.

Just a few days ago I was sitting in the sauna praying.   When I’m alone in the sauna at the gym I often pray. It’s a time of personal solitude, and I believe it cleanses both body and spirit.   Today, I was praying thanks for a bunch of random things.   My family, food, that gym, health, our home, a job, belongings, pets; you name it.   I prayed thanks to God for everything that came to mind, considering that every blessing, even small ones that I sometimes don’t consider, is a gift from God Himself.

Here’s a confession about it:   praying was tough.   It was tough for me to open up to God and really, truly give heartfelt thanks for all the ways He takes care of me.   Maybe it was because I was in a sauna.   Maybe it was because I was trying too hard. Maybe it’s because I was actually still guarding my heart from Him and didn’t fully open up.

Wanna know a secret?   I think that was what started Judas down his destructive path.   He didn’t fully give Himself over to Jesus’ message.   It was the genesis of selfishness, ambition and sin. Judas didn’t start out as Jesus’ betrayer:   he became Jesus’ betrayer because of the sins he embraced.   Pride, arrogance, selfishness, ambition:   they were some of Judas Iscariot’s sins.   They are exemplified in the verses quoted here today.   Those sins were Judas’ downfall.

They’re ours too.

You and I dip into the purse and sin against Jesus when we choose anything over Him.   No time to simply give thanks?   Take a coin.   Holding onto that grudge?   Grab a drachma. Still running around on your spouse?   You’re Judas.   You’re betraying God’s Son by choosing something that isn’t Him or of Him.   In that way, we’re no better than Judas Iscariot.   Indeed, we keep doing it over and over even as we know exactly who Jesus is.   Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends and even he didn’t fully realize exactly who Jesus was; he didn’t have the luxury of knowing about Easter.   We do.   If you think about it, doesn’t that make our betrayal even more acute?

It’s not about how much you give or even what.   It’s about the heart from which we give it.   Where is yours? Whether it’s praying alone, giving of your time, putting into the collection plate or anything else, where is your treasure focused?

Lord, thank You for Your generous heart.   Rebuke, teach and mentor mine to better follow Your lead and give selflessly.

Read Mark 14, verses 1-11.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 21 May 2014

You shall not steal. Exodus chapter 20, verse 15.

Ok, so we get it.   We shall not steal.   It’s one of the foundations of every peaceful society on earth. I travel a lot, sometimes between 150 and 200 nights per year.   Everywhere I go I watch the local news and hear about robberies, cars being stolen, and the like.   It’s everywhere, all over the world.   Does that make us, as mankind, better?   I think not, and I’m betting you would agree. Sometimes I feel that, wherever heaven is, Jesus must be shaking His head in disappointment at all our debauchery.

Isn’t it time that we changed that paradigm?

“From a distance;” do you remember that song?   It came out during the first Gulf War, in the early 1990s. From a distance, do you think God is watching us?   I do.   From a distance and up close both. And since God is watching us, wouldn’t it be a better place if, instead of conspiring ways to take from each other, we conspired on ways to share, be more generous, to give, and to help each other?   I’m not naïve: I know ours is a fallen world.   I know that all the pretty words, even all the ways we use to explain the 8th commandment, aren’t enough to quickly put an end to all the thievery we commit.

I’m not asking you to change the world. Just your part of it.

Let’s change the game. I’m challenging you to start right now, where you are, today, and walk the higher road. Today, find some way to be generous towards someone. Preferably it would be to a stranger but someone all the same. Pay it forward the next time you go to Starbucks. Give of your time to the people closest to you, whether they’re family, co-workers, or even strangers. Honestly try to help someone in whatever way they need it.   Start small, but start anyway.

Start because the commandment still stands as a reminder: we are not to steal.   Yet remember that, those beautiful words, Jesus is pointing us to a better way, to not just get hung up on the negative edge of that commandment but, instead, to listen to what He’s saying. What He’s imploring us to do. Instead of stealing, thou shalt give. Instead of taking from each other, how about we use today to find ways to do that?   Like I said, I’m not naïve; it won’t make the evening news, and it might not even be a very big thing.   But it will make a difference.   From the ground up, it will make a difference to someone, and that’s how movements for good should begin.   Beside, just like the song says, “God is watching us…from a distance.”

Lord, watch me, empower me, embolden me, live in my heart, and guide me to give as You want me to.

 

Read Exodus chapter 7, Pharoah’s hardens his heart, so the plagues begin…