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.

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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.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 July 2017

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For in just a little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.”  Hebrews 10, verses 35-37.

Persevering is tough; duh.

I’m entering the third week with a new job, and it’s a true blessin.   In reality, all work is a blessing, but it’s even more noticeable when you get the rare opportunity to go back to a place where you were successful before.   Both my wife and I were out of work for just over a month yet that’s ending.   As mentioned, I’m starting my third week.   As of this morning, my wife is also starting a new job.   God has been so good in so many ways, and at the (hopeful) end of unemployment, I’ll confess that it was only through persevering in God that we were able to make it through.   Because we did persevere in Him, He’s rewarding us with new opportunities.   Not because of our perseverance, but because of His grace.   All we did was trust Him.  Yet I’ll admit it was tough.

Living can indeed be tough.  Just this morning I saw a picture on Pinterest of a Revolutionary War veteran.   Yes, you read that right:  a photograph of a veteran of the American Revolution.   In fact, he was the last veteran.   The photo was taken in the 1860s of a man named Daniel Bakeman, who died as the last veteran of the American Revolution on April 5, 1869.   If you search on the internet, you can find pictures of other Revolution veterans as well.   By the time photography was invented, they were already very old men.  Yet it amazes me to see a picture, not a painting, of someone who actually fought in the American Revolution in the 1700s.   It’s a connection to exactly what such people looked like instead of a representation of them.  Such men lived long lives of perseverance and reaped the reward of living in a free land they had helped to build.

It’s a tough thing to persevere, to push yourself forward in faith even when things tell you not to.   God never promises us that things will be rosy when we believe in Him.   Indeed, He promises we’ll be persecuted because we’re siding with Him.   When we say we believe, we’re saying that we reject the world which rejects Him.   That’s most of humanity, and most of humanity doesn’t take kindly to having a Christian finger stuck in its eye.   Yet that’s what we do.   We do it by saying “I believe” when logic tells us not to.   We do it by thanking God for both the good and the bad.   We do it by trusting Him to live out His will in our lives no matter what happens because we know He will bless us through it.

We do it because verses like 35-37 tell us to.   Because they point us back to the truth that faith in Jesus is rewarded personally by Jesus.   It isn’t rewarded with a new job; it isn’t rewarded with long life after a long war.   Faith in Jesus doesn’t make you wealthy, or prosperous, or worldly, or famous.   All of those things may or may not happen to you, but if they do, they’re blessings from Jesus and not the singular consequence of His grace.

You know where this is going.

Faith in Jesus results in Jesus in your life.   Jesus in your life results in forgiveness of the guilt of your sins.   It results in you being made right again with God:  something you and I can’t accomplish on our own.   Jesus in your life results in you being rewarded with living forever.   In a little while, He’ll keep that promise to make it true in physical fact.   Right now, He’s already kept it because He’s already done the work to make it happen and you’re already a part of His eternity now.   For the rest of your life here, you can live knowing the Creator of the universe personally knows, loves, and wants you for His family.   When this life is over, you get to be with Him forever and see Him face to face.  In the mean time, He promises to abide with us as we struggle when life gets tough.

Would you rather have peace now and later or a new job and a long life?

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:3, James 4:12, James 5:11, 2 Peter 1:6, Hebrews 6:15, Hebrews 9:15.  Matthew 11:3, Revelation 22:20.

Lord, You bless me in so many ways.  Thank You for Your gifts of peace and rewards.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 May 2017

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10, verses 19-22.

Before moving on, let’s talk about “a sincere heart.” It’s mentioned there in the verses above and it bears some extra pondering.  The verse talks about being active, about doing something:  drawing near to God…but under two conditions.   One, that we have a sincere heart and, two, that we are blessed with the full assurance (of forgiveness) that faith brings.

There’s an old country song, a Clint Black song, “Something That We Do.”   It’s a love song, of course; a sonnet from Black to his wife.   One lyric stands out to me: “love isn’t something that we have, it’s something that we do.”   I like sappy old songs, so naturally I like this one.   Yet let’s apply that lyric to these verses.

Love isn’t just something that we have it’s something that we do. We have to DO something to demonstrate love to God.   It’s not something that He requires us to do, or needs us to do to satisfy a command.   It isn’t even something that He asks of us.   Let’s keep it real:   God doesn’t NEED us to do anything for Him.   He’s God and we aren’t.  Instead, if we are to be near God, and if we are to be blessed by His presence, then we have to ‘draw near.’   We have to do the physical action of reading His word, praying with Him, confessing to Him, talking with Him.   Those are things we do that we’re motivated to do because of His love.   That love is both what He does and what He is.   It’s very much a ‘both/and’ kind of thing.

And with what do we draw near?   You know:  that sincere heart.   According to dictionary.com, the most common meanings for ‘sincere’ are “free of deceit, hypocrisy, or falseness; earnest, genuine; real; pure; unmixed; unadulterated.”   We GET TO have a sincere heart because of the love that is something He does.   He makes us new.   He makes us righteous.   He takes away our sins, our guilt, our shame, our anxiety and, in return, He makes our hearts sincere.   He does that because that’s genuine and real.   God operates exclusively in the realm of genuine and real.   There is nothing disingenuous or unreal about Him.  Accordingly, He makes us whole to draw near to Him so that He can be earnest, pure, free of deceit, and unadulterated with us.  And when God does that, He is blessing us beyond measure, giving us the full assurance of His forgiveness and His constant presence in our lives.

He does it from the inside out.   It’s the heart that God remakes.   It’s what’s dearest inside of us, closest to what we really believe and really feel, where God moves.   God operates on us to make our hearts blameless and sincere again, like they were before we clouded them up with the insincerity of sin.  Like a little baby’s heart; like my little granddaughter, Kaleigh Grace’s heart.  She seems so uncompromised by sin, so pure starting out.   Yet deep inside even that precious little girl lies the nature of rebellion.   You hear it in desperate crying and a refusal to be comforted easily.  Already, even at only four days old, she desperately needs the love of a sincere God to be something that He does.   That’s much better than an old country song.

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12, Leviticus 16:2, Ephesians 2:18, Hebrews 9:8.

My Lord, thank You for blessing me by being in my life. Thank You for loving me in a way that I couldn’t do myself.