Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 5 July 2018

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 2 Thessalonians 1:5 (NIV).

Does God cause us to suffer?   Does God persecute us, or allow us to be persecuted?   Does God persecute, punish, or cause suffering for some people and not others, and does this sometimes cause us to suffer even when we have done nothing wrong?  Repeat after me:   yes.   It’s simply the truth, though we might debate how much we, vs God, actually cause the suffering.  Last question:  does that make God’s judgment wrong or evil?

No.   Of course not.

Yet repeat this too, friend sinner.  We don’t deserve to be saved and our choices merit God punishing us.   Even when we haven’t done anything to merit the ‘punishment’ that seems to be happening to us, we don’t deserve the beautiful grace God gives to us.  That’s what makes it grace.   It’s undeserved, un-asked-for, something we can’t get on our own but is freely given to us because He who gives it loves more than we do.

As a result, it is impossible to see that grace, to accept it, and NOT conclude that God’s judgment is right.  Noodle that thought awhile.  You and I can’t accept that grace is a good thing (and thus whoever gives grace is doing good for us) yet conclude that He who gives it has bad judgment.   Yet be wary of the logical fallacy where B does not necessarily always follow A.

Consider, then, how, with God, He only brings or allows suffering so that grace might increase.   He doesn’t cause grace by invoking suffering but, instead, brings good out of that suffering.   He always punishes only where punishment is earned.   When Jesus allows suffering, he always offers clear paths back to His healing love.  What’s more, God loves us enough to allow us to embrace the consequences of our choices.   Sometimes we choose things are destructive; got skin, got sin.  It is love that respects those choices, love that counsels “you shouldn’t do that.   He offers an excellent, better way” yet stands back when we say “no.”   An all-powerful God could simply compel us to do His bidding.   After all, that’s what we would do.  And that isn’t love.

Where love is, grace is.   Where grace is, God is.   Where God is, there is justice.   Justice follows right judgment.

Let’s conclude by keeping it real.   That also means God’s actions don’t always seem fair; it’s true.  Yet where in the Bible did God promise fairness?   He promised love, forgiveness, peace, and justice, and He gives them.   When you have those things, fair is meaningless.    Indeed, those qualities replace fairness, and those qualities always define God.   That is fairer than we deserve, and that brings us back to grace.

For further reading: Romans 6:1, Philippians 1:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6.

Lord, help me to submit to You and Your right judgment.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 June 2018

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  1 Thessalonians 5:28 (NIV).

What a great way to end a letter!   Read it again:   it’s the perfect way to end a letter to several dozen of your close friends.

Or several billion.

Or to begin your day.

Or to bless your dinner.

Or to greet someone at WalMart (go ahead:   try it!).

Or…or…you get the picture.

Next time you say goodbye, invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into their lives until you meet again.

In fact, shouldn’t this benediction be on your lips at all times?   When we really love someone, when we adore them, when we care enough to send the very best (including a Hallmark), shouldn’t we be blessing them with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them?  At or near the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Paul uses nearly identical words to bless his readers with the grace of Jesus.   He uses slightly different words in Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  The message:   Jesus is the perfect way to end a letter.

Or begin your day…or bless your dinner…or, again, you get the picture.

We can’t do any better than the grace of Jesus Christ.   It’s the grace of Christ that created us, then breathed life into us.   It is the grace of Christ that sustains us in breath, blood and bone every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we live and GET TO LIVE every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we get eternal life after this one, and that we get to be part of that eternity now.   It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can love.

If you could send a Hallmark to your very best friend, wouldn’t you want to end it by giving them the best you had to give?   That’s what Paul is saying here (and in all those other letters).   This was serious stuff to Paul who, just the verse prior to this one, had implored his friends to read the letter to others.   Back then, it wasn’t broken up into numbered verses; back then, Paul probably though people wouldn’t memorize his words.   But he knew that God had spoken through them and that they were important.   They were words that God wanted us to remember.

So it only follows that Paul would end the letter with a benediction that blesses the reader with the present grace of the God-man, Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  With that thought, Paul closes out his letter and so shall we.

See you next time.

For further reading: Romans 16:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Lord Jesus, bless me with Your wonderful grace today that I might share it with others.

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, 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, about Santa Claus, 21 December 2017

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.   Ephesians 4:7.

Finally, let’s talk about Santa and God’s grace.   In our increasingly secular America, where leftist hostility threatens to crowd out any faith except itself, where crime and real hatred work to undo the works of love, and where division with the right is on the rise, at this time of year, Santa is all about grace.

Santa and God’s grace?   I thought the hyper-Christians and Santa-Haters owned the topic of grace!   There actually is an unspoken “war on Christmas” and some of the primary combatants relentlessly defend the position that God Almighty is the author of peace on earth and good will toward men.  The secular ‘god’ of Santa Claus is one of the vehicles the other side uses to fight against the truth of Jesus.   Anything related to Christmas that isn’t all and only Jesus must be eradicated.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Grace is unmerited mercy.   You don’t do anything to earn it or deserve it.   It is love freely given to you by God because He’s God and He loves us.   He loves us so much that He wasn’t willing for us to be apart from him.  Our sins earned us permanent separation from God but He didn’t want that for us because His love is too good to withhold.   So, in the ultimate act of grace, God came here to Earth as a man and gave His life as an atonement for our sins.   All of that was beautifully exemplified on Christmas morning when God gave us that first Christmas gift.

Every year, both religious and secular America commemorate that gift, in part, by celebrating the magnanimity of Santa Claus.  Without Christ there is no Christmas, and without Christmas there is no Santa Claus, whose heart is focused on giving, on sharing with strangers simply because he can.   He does it on and only on Christmas:   the birthday of God.  How is that not grace?

But but but…what about that naughty and nice list?   If the fruit of God’s Spirit is visible through good works, and those good works are lauded by both God and Santa Claus, then is it unreasonable to expect both God and Santa would disapprove of our naughty works?   God turns us over to the consequences of our unrepentant hearts.   Is it any wonder that part of the Santa story would include the same thing?  And yet, even knowing we naughty people deserve punishment, God still gives us our lives, our health, and everything we are.   It’s pure grace.  As for Santa, be reasonable:   other than my parents and politicians, do you honestly know of anyone who has ever put a lump of coal in your stocking?    Grace again.

Christ apportioned true grace for us by giving His very life so we wouldn’t have to give ours.   He bridged the chasm between damnation and salvation and made it possible for us to avoid the former.   Christ gives the gift of salvation that Santa doesn’t, and He did it out of the kind of love that makes Santa’s look cheap.  Face it:   Santa doesn’t love the way Jesus loves; that’s simply the way it is.  Yet love it is from Saint Nick all the same, and when we consider how many people in our world need love, well, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn it.   Maybe the idea of Santa Claus is simply an extension of our faith in God, of appreciating His grace in giving us things we want but don’t deserve.

Thank you, my friend, for reading these words, and Merry Christmas to you.   I hope they’ve helped you and made you think of things you might not otherwise have considered.   More than that, I hope they’ve planted in you the seed of curiosity to investigate God’s Word even more.   In parting this year, I’ll challenge you to take a few minutes on Christmas Eve and read Luke 2.   Read it in the King James version because, in my opinion, the first twenty verses of Luke 2 when read in that 15th century English are the most beautiful words ever written.   Take a few minutes to thank God for them, and for sending His only Son to be born on Christmas as a man.   Then thank Him, too, for the coming Easter that fulfills the promise of eternity.  Last, thank our Lord for the gift of the story of Santa Claus and how jolly old St. Nick is actually a herald of our Savior in Bethlehem.

For further reading:  Luke 2 (in the King James version).

Thank You, Lord, for Your grace, Your gift, and Your love.   Thank You for Christmas…and Easter.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 December 2017

Grace be with you all.  Hebrews 13, verse 25.

Once again, we find ourselves at the end.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ve seen the ending of Hebrews, Mark, The Ten Commandments, Ruth, 1/2/3 John, James, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   That’s a lot of real estate to cover.   Thank you so much, my friend, for reading, sharing, learning, and hopefully hearing the voice of God inside you through these thoughts.

Yet it’s time to finish up this section.   After this, there are other things I’d like to cover.   Next week, we’ll spend the rest of the Christmas season talking about Santa Claus and giving.   After that, I believe God is leading me to walk through the “five T’s” of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; we’ll be walking with the Apostle Paul, so get ready to get real; Paul has that effect.

Until then, grace be with you all.   Grace:  that’s a concept I haven’t given nearly enough thought to even though my mom and grand-daughter are both named Grace.  I used to think of grace as a quiet thing, like sunny meadows and warm tea.  But that’s only part of what it is.  My friend, Bill Brimer, however, calls the book of Ephesians “a grace bomb.”  It’s an explosion of God’s grace in your face.   An overpowering force of enormous power that can undo physical reality.  Ephesians spends much of it’s time explaining God’s grace as a living, vital thing instead of just a pastoral quality.

Boom.

Have you ever really thought about what grace means to you?   My Random House dictionary defines grace as “a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor shown in granting a delay or immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor or love of God, the influence or spirit of God operating in man; moral strength.”   All those meanings (and more) for such a small word.   And to think they could all blow up in your face with the peace of a rural pasture.  In the context of talking about Jesus, grace means all those things, and all of them at once.

We don’t deserve it, but Jesus richly blesses us to live in His grace.   We’ve done everything we can think of to tick him off, to merit His wrath, but, instead, He likes us, wants to be with us, runs to us where we are in the middle of our dysfunctions.   If I listed here even a fraction of the sins I’ve done against Jesus, I wouldn’t list much before you’d see I don’t deserve His grace.   I don’t even deserve air, food, water, and my beating heart.   News flash:  neither you you.   We’re damn dirty sinners.

But we have so much more than air, food, water and life.   We have love, friends, jobs, possessions, liberty, opportunity.   We have each other.   We have seven billion people here to live, thrive and survive with, and we GET TO tell them that this Jesus blesses us all in His grace.   That He wants them to know Him, too.   That’s grace.   When I deserve punishment, Jesus wants love for me.  When I deserve scorn, He lives in my heart.   When I merit revenge, He urges peace.   When I deserved to die, He ran to the cross for me and took my place.   Boom!

When the writer of Hebrews had only a few words left to say, he said that he desired for God’s magnificent grace bomb to explode in the lives of his readers.   “Grace be with you all” is more than just a benediction:   it’s a challenge.   It’s a powerful this-I-know-to-be-true amen.   It’s a quiet prayer but also an artillery-packed lock and load on the front line.  Grace is the quiet strength of Christ from the cross giving you peace.   And grace is the raw edge of God’s knife in your hand, cutting away the scar tissue of sin to cure the flesh below.   When there was nothing else to say to his friends, the writer affirmed God’s presence in their lives and called on them to realize all God does for undeserving people while sharing His saving love with those who don’t know about Him.

I’m not worthy to argue with wisdom like that.   I’ll simply accept it as a gift of love from our God.  Grace in your face, indeed.   Back in the race for us now.  Lace up your boots, pick up your gun, and let’s march.

Until next time, grace be with you all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 13:25

Lord thank You for Your grace, for how You love and provide for me.

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.