Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 9 August 2018

He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ2 Thessalonians 2:14 (NIV).

My daughter got married over the weekend.  The dress, the cake, the dancing, the reception, the walk down the aisle:   it was time for the whole shootin match.   If I do say so, it was a great party where everyone (over 150 people) had a wonderful time.   Check out the Youtube of just before the bride walked:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LDOH8OB3hI

But big fancy weddings aren’t why we’re here.

And over the weekend, too, we also had a party for my wife, who has a milestone birthday this month.  At the VRBO we rented, a large group of family and friends gathered to celebrate her birthday, our fellowship, and just enjoying life (and Texas barbecue) together.   Again, if I do say so, it was another great time, a great birthday bash!

But that’s not why we are here.

Big parties, our jobs, our churches, shopping at the mall (or at the grocery store), working hard in school, the next big vacation:   none of those are why you and I are here.   We are called to enjoy life and to be good stewards of all the things that God gives us to do.   We are motivated, even inspired, to do our best in all things, and that is a good thing, even a Godly thing.

But NONE of those are what we are called to in this life.   In all of them, we can indeed give glory to God, and we can even share in His glory through doing them.   But make no mistake about it:   we aren’t called to DO things here just for the sake of doing them.   We aren’t called to simply live, even if living means a rich, full, eventful, or moral life.

We are called to serve in God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus.    We are called to believe in Jesus in everything we do.   We are called to share this belief, this faith in His saving death and resurrection, by living it out.   We are called through the gospel, given to men like Paul, Matthew, Peter, John and others, to share Jesus with what we say and do so that others who don’t know – or reject – Him might come to know Him too (and then repeat the cycle with even more others).  In doing these things, we share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ because that’s how we do the work of the God who sent Him.

I loved the wedding; I loved the party.   I love time with family, friends, and even strangers.   But without Jesus, they’re just meaningless events.   There’s no morality without Jesus, nothing good.  Involving Him transforms life into something more, something meaningful, something we are called to live.

For further reading:  Romans 8:28, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

Lord Jesus, thank You for faith, for letting me share You in all these ways.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 24 July 2018

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 2 Thessalonians 2:5 (NIV).

Awhile ago, a minister friend of mine told me he doesn’t think we’re near the end of time because the Gospel hasn’t yet been preached to the entire world.   That’s one of the conditions Jesus established before He returned to heaven:  that His Gospel would be preached to the entire world, to the ends of the earth, so that all might hear of Him before He returns to reclaim His followers.   My friend said that there were still millions of people who haven’t heard about this Jesus.   Knowing that, he said it can’t possibly be time just yet.   I hadn’t ever considered this, but his point was simple and compelling.

And then there are the family members I’ve mentioned over the last month or two.   They don’t know much about Jesus, and what they do know they have rejected.  To them, Jesus is just some mumbo jumbo myth that a bunch of weak-minded dupes with a daddy complex put their misbegotten faith in.  To them, Jesus is just a psychological let-down.  Yet whether it’s by ignorance or rejection (itself a form of stark ignorance), they don’t know Jesus and are, well, out in the cold if the world ends today.

Wouldn’t you like to have sat around the hearth with Paul and just listened?   Or maybe not?  I mean, it sounds like his conversations were deep, weighty stuff.   Paul made tents for a living and instead of talking about his latest Eddie Bauer creation, he would talk with his friends about the end of the world.  From the sound of this verse, he talked a lot about it, about how the man of lawlessness would come and set himself against the Lord.  To Paul, it was deadly serious business.

What would the Thessalonians do if they didn’t know about Jesus, about the peace and hope only He can offer?   What WILL you or I do?

Fact is, most of their world didn’t know about Jesus.   And that is still a fact today.   Most of our world hasn’t heard about Him, or they don’t know much about Him, or they have heard about HIm but our behaviors and attitudes turned them off.   But whether it’s conscious or ignorant, if someone doesn’t know then they don’t know.

What will we do to change that situation?   Will we do what we can to be good witnesses, to use our talents to be kind, to help others?  Will our lives point to Him or away from Him?  If you’ve heard about Jesus and rejected Him (or are apathetic), you’re playing Russian roulette with your soul.  You’re living in damning ignorance.  What will you believe today?   It’s a heavy topic, and we may or may not be near the end, but will you take that chance?

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 3:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:6

Lord, help me to believe and share this belief!

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 10 July 2018

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (NIV).

Sad verse; this is a very sad verse.

I read all the “Left Behind” books.  They’re fiction, yet in the scene where Jesus delivers His divine judgment against those who rejected Him, He is described as looking sad.   For those who choose to not believe in Him, it will be a moment of supreme terror and it will show; for believers, it will be shock, and that’ll show as well.  Yet for Jesus, I’m betting the book will have called it right.   I’m betting Jesus will be sad in that moment, maybe even weeping.

Jesus didn’t come to destroy us.   He won’t return with the sole purpose of doing that either.  Even though He will return in mighty justice, heavenly fire, and more power than the world has ever known, that’s not why He’s coming back.   He’s coming back to restore creation to the way He created it.  He’s coming back to permanently restore true love, real harmony, and peace forever.   Jesus is coming back in power and glory to claim His followers to bring them into eternity with Him and it will be the greatest day in history, especially since it will be the last one.

Yet involved in that will be expunging those who chose no part of it.  Those who insisted they know better, those who spurned Him, those who embraced hypocrisy, those who live in hate and worldly pleasure, those who simply don’t care:  they will be punished.   He will unleash His angels to bind and eternally sentence them to be apart from Him.   Oh, they’ll live forever; we are eternal beings whether eternally in heaven or hell.   Yet their forever will be one of eternal punishment, apart from all love, hope, and peace in whatever hell has in store for them.   Whether hell is literal fire or emotional torment (or both) we don’t know.   Whatever is in it, it will be terrible.

I feel sorry for these unbelievers, especially since the Gospel isn’t a game of “I’ve got a secret.”   It’s sad, and I’m thinking that’s how Jesus will feel.   It’s not what He wants; it isn’t what He intended for His children.   He wants brothers and sisters, friends, followers, lovers of His real love.  He wants all of us to be saved, including scoffers.   He wants saints and sinners side by side with Him forever.  But He’s holy and the new Earth refined out of His fire will be holy like Him.  For that holiness to exist, it must be free from all that reject Him.   That means God will punish those who reject Him and who choose to reject the Gospel of Jesus.   And that’s the saddest news ever even as it’s necessary.

For further reading: Philippians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Kings 17:18, Isaiah 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

Lord Jesus, come quickly and have mercy.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 13 February 2018

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.  1 Thessalonians 2:3-4

What good does it do to try to please God?   I mean, if I live a good life, do the best I can, am kind to people (even love people), and do what I can to hurt as few people as possible on my journey through life, doesn’t that please God?

Oh, my friend, that thought is flirting with damnation.   Me, I’ll pass on that option.  I’m not one like Paul, entrusted with the Gospel, approved by God to preach the good news…or am I?   Or are you?

Fact is, if you believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, or if you say “yes, I believe” when someone asks if you believe in Him, then you ARE being entrusted with the gospel.   God has given to you the privilege of sharing the news about Him that says, “I want all people to know about me.”  He wants to use you to tell people that anything other than Him is the way to ruin, and that the way to Him is through following His son, Jesus.

God tests us like this every single day.   Sometimes it’s testing by virtue of trusting Him to put the words in your mouth when opportunities present themselves.   Sometimes it’s by resisting temptations.   Sometimes it’s knowing when to NOT say something, when to listen and be a friend.   God tests us by giving us a gut check, not to accuse us, but to purify us, to clarify us.

Our reaction?  We make that exasperating.   God doesn’t do it to us:   we do it to ourselves.  God’s motives are pure and they’re up-front, not deceitful.  He wants us to love Him from the heart, without reservation or evasion.  It’s exasperating when we complicate it, when we add to it.   When we do that, we seem to act like we need to try to please God.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   God is pleased with us because of His grace, not because of what we do.   Because of this, we get to do the things we do to line up with who He already is instead of trying to do for ourselves something we can’t do.   There is no limit to God’s grace.

Just like there’s no limit to sharing His gospel.   Sure, there are places in our society where you formally aren’t allowed to proclaim Christ.   In those places, do so in your actions.   Be a caring friend.   Listen and love.  Share Jesus in words and deeds.  When we do that, God is pleased.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:5.

Lord, I’m blessed by Your grace.  Thank You for Your Gospel, your tests, and Your Son.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 18 January 2018

The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.  1 Thessalonians 1:8-10.

Actions really do speak louder than words, don’t they!  Dovetailing off our theme (from yesterday) that people are always watching, here’s the follow through.   When people are watching and we both walk the walk and talk the talk, God’s work is done and the news spreads.

It’s like the dye in the water thing.   You know what I’m talking about.   You get a glass of water and drop in a single drop of food dye.   Without even touching the glass, soon the dye distributes throughout the glass.  It happens even quicker if you stir the water.

It’s like good news spreading like wildfire (which it is).   Yes, the details tend to differ from person to person – have you read the four Gospels? – but the message is maintained.   No, the “telephone game” isn’t always how things work, especially when there are people like me who play that game and deliberately change the message whispered to us.   In reality, the core message is usually preserved as the core message quickly spreads.

Even in bad times, bad news never endures.   Sure, it’s preserved and we remember the bad times; we must guard against evil.  But bad never prevails; it never outweighs the good times.  The good news of Christ’s salvation was known in full at the time of 1 Thessalonians just as it is now.   That’s the best news humanity has ever heard:   that faith in Jesus means we live forgiven forever.  That news took root even in the first century and grew quickly far beyond the confines of ancient Palestine.  The oppressive Romans eventually fell away.  The oppression of Islam hadn’t happened yet and still hasn’t prevailed.   The terror of war, the hardships of poverty, the hatred of racism are all powerless against the good news of Christ.   They didn’t win out with the Thessalonians and they aren’t winning out with us.   Indeed, the end of human history has already been foretold; it’s central to the Gospel.   God vanquishes evil once and for all and restores what evil tried to destroy.

Those actions will speak much louder than anything evil says because people are always watching and listening.  They’re why the Gospel always spreads quickly and why it can always take root in the fertile soil of needful human hearts.

For further reading:  2 Thessalonians 3:1, Romans 1:8, Acts 14:15, 1 Corinthians 12:2, Galatians 4:8, Matthew 16:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:1.

My Lord, I need Your good news today!   Bless others as You bless me through living out Your Word.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 October 2017

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12, verses 22-24.

One of my favorite Christian songs is “Days of Elijah.”   There’s a particularly good version of it by Twila Paris that’s not saccharin, not too rock & roll, not too corny.   It’s just uplifting, and one of the verses in the song says “out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.”  Look up the geography of Jerusalem and you see that Zion is the hill on which the first and second temple’s were built.   It was literally God’s home address on terra firma.  It’s where the Temple was located, where King David reigned and is buried, where the Last Supper was held, and it’s not far from Calvary.   In contemporary usage, Zion refers to the land of Israel itself, and to the cause of establishing the modern nation of Israel.  Yet in days of old it was where God lived.

That’s a lot to draw from just a few verses.  Then again, Jerusalem has been ground zero for most of human history, and Zion is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem.   There’s a lot to consider with it.

The writer of Hebrews invoked Zion to symbolize heaven made possible by Jesus.   It is the new heaven, the new dwelling place of the living God.   You and I get to go there, to worship in His true temple, to make our home with Him (to tabernacle with Him).   Where Sinai symbolizes our need for Jesus before heaven, Zion symbolizes our heaven with Jesus both here in this world and in the next.  Sinai was a place of power and fear:   Zion is a place where the greatest power in the universe – God’s love – took root and grew.   Sinai was law:  Zion is love.   Sinai was remote:   Zion is connection.

I can hear Twila singing about “righteousness being restored.”

Read, too, about Abel.   The writer recalls Abel, invoking that the sacrifice of Christ means more than the sacrifice of Abel (both the blood of the animal Abel sacrificed as well as his own as the victim of history’s first murder).  Abel gave a representation of divine blood in a sacrifice about his personal faith; Jesus actually gave His own blood as the faith sacrifice for all persons.

Read, too (again) about the firstborn.   Recall the story of Esau and Jacob (or, for that matter, Cain and Abel, or any of the first-born sons of the patriarchs).   Jesus makes us all as if we are first-born.   We ALL get to inherit the best of the family.   We all get to be treated as special because of what Jesus did in dying on that rugged cross.

“These are the days of Elijah declaring the word of the Lord.”   Elijah declared God’s word to an unbelieving world.   You and I get to do the same, thousands of years after Elijah, thousands of years after the Word of the Lord Himself.

Finally, there is the new covenant.   We’ve discussed how a covenant is more than just a contract or an agreement.   It’s a blood oath, a God-affirming vow made in faith and justice.  God had made covenants with humanity all through the age of the patriarchs yet all of them were made to point us to our need for His redemption.   When Jesus came, He delivered that redemption and made it possible for men to speak directly with God.   He restored balance by making the perfect atonement.   He made a path for us to spend both now and eternity in God’s presence.  The Old Testament covenants pointed us to our need for God, yet the covenant made by Jesus points us to God in our lives.  God has always judged all people yet now we get to see His judgment more clearly, more as an act of loving justice instead of punishing vengeance.   We get to see that God’s holy law from Sinai was made perfect by His holy sacrifice from Zion.   That the covenant Jesus made by Zion is one to which we can still be bound today.

Go download Twila’s song.   I guarantee you’ll like it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 24:23, Revelation 14:1, Galatians 4:26, Exodus 4:22, Revelation 20:12, Genesis 18:25, Psalm 94:2, Philippians 3:12,Galatians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:2, Genesis 4:20, Hebrews 11:4.

Lord, thank You for so many messages in so few words.   In these days of Elijah, help me to declare Your Words to those around me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 March 2017

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!.  Hebrews 9, verse 14.

You know what I’m looking forward to most in heaven?   A clean conscience.  In heaven, there won’t be guilt, or tears, or angst, or sorrow over things we’ve done, said or thought.   There simply won’t be a place or time for them when living eternally in the presence of the Triune God.   Knowing Him fully will crowd all that out.

Until then, there’s faith.

Ah faith.   Please understand, I’m not bad-mouthing faith because it’s faith in Jesus that imparts into us His salvation.   Yet I must confess I find it tedious and a cop-out for Christians (like me) to constantly use “well, in heaven…” as our fall-back position.   I’m thankful Jesus secured eternity for me, but what about now?   I desperately need His help now to get through every day here.   Temptation lurks in every minute, and my conscience bothers me about things I’ve done here on the Third Rock.   Perhaps my faith is weaker than I know because, all too often, my conscience zings me about sins long ago forgiven, even forgotten.

My judgmentalism; my impatience; my adulteries; my foul language; my lying; my hatred; my idolatry; you name a pet sin:   I haven’t done some of these in years yet the fact that I did them, or even that things were done to me, still greatly bothers me.   Occasionally, the burden wells up from my soul and I feel real despair.

It’s a taste of what Jesus must have felt hanging there on the cross.   For the first time in His life, His eternal life, He set aside the dignity and self-control He lived and allowed sin to overwhelm Him.   Things He hadn’t done:   Jesus allowed all that guilt, angst, loathing, and insecurity to flood Him and take Him.   Indeed, only a few hours before, He had been on His knees in the garden, sweating rivulets of blood so great was his overwhelming sorrow at the knowledge of what He must do.  Now that sorrow truly overwhelmed Him as He not only felt my guilt but took on Himself the penalty for it.   He who could not die was killed by it, killed for us.

I don’t deserve that.   I’ve never done anything in my life to deserve such a thing from anyone, let alone my Creator and Savior.  My whole history has been one of sin, from my first cry on that day in 1966 until just now.   I’m guilty as hell for all of it and I should be.

…Except that I shouldn’t be.   Not any more.   Dealing in “should” is a chancy proposition because “should” is so subjective.   Here’s one instance where should is actually quite sure.  I shouldn’t be guilty anymore because, in Jesus, I’m not guilty.   I’m not guilty by reason of substitutionary sacrifice.   I’m made not guilty by Jesus hanging there on the cross and taking my guilt on Himself.   I’m made not guilty by Him saying “I’ve got this.   Go and sin no more.”   And I’m made not guilty by the very last words He offered us while He was here: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”   That’s hope for right now.   Right now, in whatever I am going through, Jesus is with me, in me, seeing through me, acting through me.   He’s down for my struggle right now, and it’s His Spirit that gives me the courage to turn back temptation and turn away from causing myself more hurt.

Every time my conscience bothers me, I get to remind myself that Jesus offered Himself as a living sacrifice so that my conscience is cleansed from acts that lead to spiritual death.   My judgmentalism:   judged not guilty any more.  My impatience:   forgiven by God’s patience.  My adulteries:   made innocent again by the intimate soul of my Savior and true friend.   My foul language:  cleaned up and turned for a better purpose.   His purpose.   His mission.   I get to live the rest of my life as a worker in His fields, using the talents He gave me for the mission He has me on to meet, greet, and welcome others with the Gospel.   And when it get’s tough, the Jesus living through me is a whole lot tougher.

Yesterday, the pastor at church here in Paris shared a quote.   To paraphrase, it isn’t faith in Jesus that unites us as believers.   It isn’t church, or what we do, or even following the Bible.   The Gospel of Jesus is what unites us as believers.   It is the good news of His salvation that unites us and forgives us and gives us the promise of real hope.   Without the gospel, there is no good news or redemption.   With it, there are only unlimited possibilities for God’s real good here and always.  That’s hope for here and now to use throughout the rest of our lives.   And it’s hope to live past our numbered days here to start a life forever that will have no number or end.  On that our hearts and our conscience can always be clear.

For further reading:  1 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 5:2, Psalm 51:2, Psalm 65:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Zechariah 13:1, Hebrews, 10:2.

My Lord and my God, all praise and thanks to You for cleaning my conscience, for forgiving my sins when I don’t deserve it, for loving me when I’ve been unlovable.