Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 11 April 2019

Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.   2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV).

My wife and I have an ongoing rib about rule-following.   She’s a dedicated rule-follower.   I’m more of a rebel.   It wasn’t always this way; over the years we’ve switched roles.   That happens in relationships.   But, overall, one of her more admirable character traits is her devotion to following rules, staying in-between the guidelines.

This character gift stems from the years she grew up playing in competitive sports.   Basketball, volleyball, and especially softball:  my wife played on numerous teams over the years.   She has a box full of trophies that testify how she was good at it, too.  I never played organized sports.   My parents were anti-athletic, discouraging me from team athletics   I never took the time to learn how to compete by the rules, or train for the race, or run a victory lap.   It’s one of the things I would do over if I could.

Still, that doesn’t negate what Paul says here in verse 5.  In Paul’s day, the Greeks still conducted the Olympic Games.   Thus, his verse here would have meant something to the people of that day who were familiar with the athletic culture that surrounded the games.  They would have understood what it meant to prepare for competition, to race against the best in the sport, and to do so within the confines of rules that made competition fair.   And they would have understood that the competition was for a trophy and the glory that comes with it, both of which don’t last.  If they last, then tell me who were the great champions in the ancient Olympic Games that ran for over a thousand years?

Jesus does that same thing, you know.

Jesus says that human glory dies but He doesn’t.   Jesus knows that the trophy for which we strive – the cross – was already won by Him for us.   Jesus understands that we prepare every day for competition, to race our races, and that He lives within us to encourage us to strive for what is best, competition or otherwise.  And Jesus knows that so much of our life is made up of living in a culture that requires we abide by rules, how His rules – love God and love your neighbor – supersede all human rules while helping us to still live within them.

More and more, I think that’s why my wife is such a rule-follower.   She is constantly improving her outlook, her behavior to live more like Jesus, to share His Spirit with others in how she conducts herself.   THAT is the race she sets out to run every day, and she’s much better at it than I am.  That’s the race that matters.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:25, Mark 12:30-31, 2 Timothy 2:6.

Lord, help me run my race today!  Thank You for running with me.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 15 October 2018

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 1:18-20 (NIV).

If you aren’t familiar with it, to excommunicate someone is to cut them off from communing with the body of believers.   It’s a harsh action, one designed to excise someone whose talk or actions are corrosive and threatening to the health of the church.   But it wasn’t designed to be punishing.   Instead, it was designed to instruct, to give someone over to the sins they seem to be choosing over communion with the saints.   Some churches today still practice this kind of church discipline, and it’s supposed to be done in love, as a way to show the person the drastic and destructive nature of the things they are saying and doing.

Paul is talking about excommunicating Hymenaeus and Alexander.   In the first days of the growing Christian faith, to be excommunicated was a desperate action.   Theirs was a world of physical persecution and very real threat of death at the ‘righteous’ hands of ecclesiastical authorities (Jewish, Roman or Greek).   To be consigned to that was a desperate thing.   Paul did this because these men had crossed a line, saying or doing things that were blasphemous and intolerable.  If they were allowed to continue unaddressed, it could have threatened the nascent church; some things are intolerable for a reason.   Most important, Paul did it to teach the offenders so that they might turn and re-embrace the Lord.

Is that so different from firing a wayward employee?   Or telling a friend “if you keep doing it, we can’t be friends.”   It would be an awful thing to be ‘handed over to Satan’ to be taught a lesson, yet sometimes that’s what God may just call us to do.   Just make sure it’s for the right reasons.   Many years ago I watched a pastor excommunicate a member.   I was a member of the church council and the pastor, the church leader, wanted a member excommunicated because the member was saying terrible things about the church, even demonic things.   The thing about it was that the poor guy was schizophrenic and off his meds, yet the pastor insisted he was sensible and had his wits about him.  We voted to excommunicate him (I voted no).   That seemed like an abuse of excommunication.   For this and other reasons, my family and I left the church a few months later.

I wonder if the man or that pastor ever turned to Jesus.

For further reading:  2 Timothy 2:17, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 2:1

Lord, teach us to be wise with the powers of instruction that You give us.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 18 July 2018

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us – whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter – asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 (NIV).

Scoffers and skeptics:   they were old news even in Paul’s time.

My Concordia says that the primary theme of 2 Thessalonians is the second coming of Jesus.   It was written to people who knew first-hand, may have even seen, the first coming of Jesus (including Him after He was resurrected).  They intimately knew about the miracle of Him.   Quite understandably, they thought He would be coming back in the near-term, in their lifetimes.   How shocked do you think they would be to learn that it has been over 2000 years since?

You couldn’t blame them if there were some people who scoffed at the notion that Jesus would return from death.   After all, nobody (but Him) ever said they would and had.  The claims Paul and the other disciples were making about Jesus’ coming return were fantastic and illogical (and that’s no small matter given the widespread Greek culture of revering logic and knowledge).  Jesus’ first century resurrection had rocked the religious, political, social and even economic world in ways nothing else had throughout all of history.  Yet the farther they, and we, get from Easter Sunday, the more our world seems to give credence to the scoffers who say it can never happen again.   Many of them say, in fact, the first time never happened.

It makes no sense.   When you’re dead, you’re dead.   It’s physically impossible.   You’re simply believing a fable.   Get a grip already.  A rotted, decomposed body can’t live again.   Fool.   Would you hear those words today (or do you)?   Admit it:  you would have heard them in the AD 30s and after as well.

News flash, scoffers:   the Bible hasn’t been disproved.   The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most thoroughly documented even in all of antiquity.   Science and faith are seemingly mutually exclusive, but while science routinely disproves itself, faith in Jesus (and the veracity of the Scriptures) are consistent.   They are supported by themselves and by faith in them.   What’s more, archaeology and proven history support more than deny the account of the life of Jesus.   His words were and are reliable.   Knowing that, is it unreliable to think they’re true about everything, including his return?   You know the answer.

Jesus came back once.   He promised to do so again.   His Word is reliable and honest.   When the scoffers come, let them say what they will.   It’s only hot air and it’s nothing new.   They were trying to discredit Paul 2000 years ago and their modus operandi hasn’t changed since.

For further reading:  Mark 13:27, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Timothy 2:18, 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3

Come Lord Jesus quickly.