Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 12 February 2019

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV).

That seems like a pretty low standard, doesn’t it, just being content with food and clothing?   Unless of course you’re homeless or don’t have a coat in the cold weather.    Or if you’re one of the 815 million people who are, according to the United Nations, starving or undernourished every day (https://www.worldhunger.org/world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/).   If you live in Africa or much of India, you desperately need clean water.   If you’re in the former USSR or Africa or much of South America, you need reliable medical care.  If you’re in North Korea, you need everything.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to be content in all things because, in all things and at all times, God is with us.   He promised to never leave or forsake us whether we’re in plenty or deadly want.  And the writer of Proverbs 30 (most like a man named Agur) tells us that the only thing he really needs is daily bread.   Do the jump to what Jesus said about not living on bread alone but on every word from God and we can quickly see that we don’t even need food.

Sure, you’ll wither and eventually die without food.  Each of us will die someday, yet even as we are dying, God is with us, Jesus is within us, feeling what we feel and dying again a little bit at a time.   As long as we have Jesus, NOTHING else matters, not even food and clothing.   I’ve spent enough time with homeless people to know that Jesus can be found there as well, even among those who desperately need clothing and shelter.

Yet let’s not be irresponsible and not live thankfully for what He provides us.   When we do have food, we have a gift from God and we should be cognizant of that, 24/7.  Disaster can come on us quickly (from weather, a tempestuous planet, or the wiles of hostile government).   When that happens, our needs become even more acute; duh.  That means now is the time to be thankful and content for food and clothing and water and shelter and all the things we take for granted when disasters are far away.

And let’s also keep it real by remembering that, for those suffering in the gulags of North Korea, Cuba, Russia and China, God must seem far away.  Ditto the streets of our cities, the hell-hardship of being trafficked, and in places where people don’t have enough money to pay for food.  Pray for them.   Pray for ways you and I can tangibly help and be used as Jesus’ hands to feed them.   To give them the hope to be thankful as well.

For further reading:   Hebrews 13:5, Proverbs 30:8, Matthew 4:4, 1 Timothy 6:9.

Blessed Lord, I often fail to be thankful for all You provide.  Thank You for everything because You give everything.   Show me a way to share my thankfulness and bounties today.

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, 4 December 2017

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  Hebrews 13, verses 20-21.

This is a love letter.   It bids adieu like a love letter would.

For many years, people assumed Paul wrote Hebrews.   The words used in concluding it were part of the reason.   Paul closed his letters with flourish, and the writer of Hebrews, whoever he was, did the same.   Not to set myself up as equal to the Apostle Paul (or the writer of Hebrews, whoever he was) but I could have written this.   Why say “bye” in one word when you can use 158?  Paul did this in most of his other letters so it’s understandable that people might think he wrote Hebrews.   Current thinking is that the letter might have been written by Barnabas, Paul’s contemporary.   The fact is, we don’t really know…and it doesn’t particularly matter.   What matters is what the letter says, even how it says it, not so much who said it.

But, you know, letter-writing seems to be an art we are losing.  I have one pen pal who still writes me long-hand letters (and she was my third grade teacher, who is now in her late nineties).  Not so long ago, if you wanted to impart thought, you had to write them down.  In the day of Hebrews, writing was the only way to exchange thoughts long-distance.   Whoever wrote a letter knew that his thoughts could (would) be read over and over by both his intended audience and complete strangers.   Knowing that makes it more understandable why one would conclude their letters with flourish.

Like a love letter.

Not only, but the entire book of Hebrews is a letter explaining the faith to people who needed encouragement in it.  It’s an explanation and re-iteration of the tenets of following Jesus.   Hebrews is a primer for why people should put their faith in this Son of Man.  I’m hoping that we’ve seen how the book explains in common sense ways why Jesus is who He said He is, and why it’s a good thing to follow Him.   With that established, it makes sense that the ending of the letter should contain flowery language, some of it almost a catch-all.

It’s like it’s a love letter…because it is.  It’s a vehicle to show long distance agape love to people who need it.

Thirty years ago this week, I started dating the lady who is now my wife.   Our relationship started as friends in Indiana four years before, then stayed long-distance over years and miles before she found me while I was overseas with the Air Force.   Thirty years ago this week, we went out on a date and have been together, through many ups and downs, ever since.   I used to write letters to her like this, letters full of flourish, grand visions, and sparkle.   With time and togetherness came the lazy complacency of familiarity.  Today we share more, and less, and I think we both look back and sometimes wish we could recapture the elegant times when we devoted many words and many moments into building “us.”

That’s a beautiful thing about love letters:   if you keep them and re-read them, they can remind you of what matters most.  They share things you might not get to say any other way, things you want someone to remember.   In the case of the writer of Hebrews, he wanted people to remember that their God is a god of peace.   That He gave His Son for our salvation.  That through Him all things are possible.   That He is worthy of glory that we get to witness and share and grow.

For further reading:  Romans 15:33, Genesis 9:16, Isaiah 55:3, Ezekiel 37:26, Matthew 26:28, Acts 2:24, John 10:11.

Lord, thank You for this love letter You shared with us through Your writer.   Thank You for preserving it so we might enjoy and learn from it so many years later.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 November 2017

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.  Hebrews 13, verses 17-18.

Pastors, presidents, parents, bosses:   they are our leaders.   So are mentors, quarterbacks, famous actors, media figures, teachers, and drill sergeants.   Every group has leaders and followers; it’s human nature.   Some leaders have natural aptitude for it; some have elected authority; some have power they have simply assumed from those around them or the situation in which they find themselves.   Some leaders inspire you to want to follow them in anything; some leaders are complete jerks.   Some are virtuous; some are murderous Communists.  Whether these verses are talking explicitly about ecclesiastical leaders alone misses the fact that these verses actually do apply to all situations.

God allows leaders to be vested with (and use) authority that originates with Him.  Just before ascending after His resurrection, Jesus said that “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to Him.   God the Father owned it and vested it into His Son.  That means Jesus is where the buck really stops.   And because of that word “all,” through delegation, if someone on earth has any kind of authority, they have it because Jesus directly or indirectly gave it to them.   Even people who don’t believe in Jesus have this endowment.

Yesterday evening I was having an online discussion with a friend who doesn’t profess conventional belief in God.   I don’t think of him as an atheist, or even an un-believer as I don’t think his heart is hardened against God.   Indeed, I’m hopeful that God is working on him as we speak.  He’s going through a terrible time right now, and I hope and pray that He learns to seek comfort from the Lord.   He’s having a leadership crisis because he has lost faith in many of the leaders in his life (work, family, etc).  If you told him that these verses required him to have confidence in these leaders he might rip your head off.

Yet think about the writer of Hebrews.   He was saying these words and echoing his contemporary, the Apostle Paul.  Paul exhorted his fellow believers to submit to authorities, and many of those believers were being actively persecuted by those authorities.   Paul himself was imprisoned and tortured by both Roman and Jewish officials.  Unless you have been tortured by ISIS, you and I may not be able to comprehend what kind of character it must take to put trust in leaders who are evil.   But we’ve all worked for bosses who didn’t seem to know how to lead; sometimes those bosses have been us.   And we can each tell stories about parents or people we looked up to who let us down or didn’t do things they should have.

The verses are another of God’s reminders to us that we are to remember that those in charge are in charge because He allows it.   He allows their selection (or assumption of power) because it serves His purposes (even when we don’t understand what those purposes are).  I don’t know what purpose was served by God allowing tens of millions of innocent people to be murdered by Communists in the last hundred years but I do know that God worked to turn that evil for good purposes after.   I don’t know what good purpose was served at Auschwitz, but I do know about the stories of faith and love from people who survived there.   I don’t know what good is accomplished by allowing pedophile priests to rape kids, or presidential candidates destroying classified information, or the exploitation of people for profit and power, but I do know that good people come out of those situations even stronger.   It’s tough to admit but we, as people, have the power to stop many of these things, yet we don’t, and then we blame God when they happen.   But a tangent of this is also true:  when good prevails, you can count on the fact that it was because God was at work through it.

Besides, those in charge will have to give an accounting for how they used the power entrusted to them.   Did they use it in ways to further God’s Kingdom?   Was love increased because of things they did?   To God be the glory or was it to the person waving the flag?  It’s important to remember that we must not hold God to standards that we ourselves won’t abide by.  Thus it’s a fool’s game to blame God for all evil because doing so simply means we’re putting ourselves in His place as God.   I don’t know of anyone who’s worthy of that.

I’ve been fired from jobs, and it’s hard for me to do honor to my former employers but that’s what God calls me to do.   There are leaders in our government whose words and actions I detest, but Jesus tells me to abide and follow them.   Some of what elders and mentors tell me is tough to hear, and some of it is dead wrong, but the Lord still tells me to respect them.   All of this is true because God entrusts them with the authority they have and we all serve His purposes in one way or another.

For further reading:  Isaiah 62:6, Acts 20:28, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Acts 23:1, Romans 15:33, Matthew 28:18.

Lord, abide with humanity’s leaders.   Empower them, instruct them, guide them and forgive them.   And teach me to do the same as I follow them.   When I follow, I’m following You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 July 2017

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.  Hebrews 11, verses 1-2

Hebrews 11 spends an entire chapter illustrating the faith of our forefathers.   Forty verses are used to explain deeds of the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament.   It starts in Genesis and walks through the books of the prophets.  Not every person who stood up for God is mentioned, but some of the more prominent ones are.   Over the next few days, we’ll join in by giving a 50000 foot overview of why their faith is commendable.

Let’s start by examining that statement “faith is commendable.”   Why is faith commendable?  Why would people spend most of 10000 years lauding Enoch, Abraham, and dozens of others?   The simple answer is that they said and did commendable things rooted in their faith in God.   But that faith itself:   what’s so special about that?   Have you ever really considered what faith is?

Verse 1 says faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Noodle that concept.  If you have faith in Jesus, you can be 1000 percent confident that things you have heard about all your life are 1000 percent true.   You don’t have to see heaven to know it’s real.   You don’t have to see Jesus face to face to have Him actively participate in your life.   You don’t have to see His peace to live in it.   You can be as sure as your soul that He and all He promised are true.   All that’s needed is to believe it.   All that’s needed is to have faith in Him.

That’s a tall order in today’s skeptical world, isn’t it?  We’ve hardened our hearts to believing in only what we see or touch.  What’s more, thanks to things like “Star Wars” and the Sixties, we trust our feelings more than our faith…”Luke, reach out with your feelings.”   “If it feels good it must be right.”   Horse hockey.  Feelings are deceptive.   They’re a barometer, not the air itself.   They’re a gauge, not a substance.   Somehow, many of us have lost sight of those facts and turned our lives over to trusting our feelings instead of trusting our God.  If we can’t know it or feel it, we find it hard to accept.  Is it any wonder our society is plagued by so many fundamental problems?

So along comes a book like Hebrews that tells us to trust our faith and not our feelings, and then it gives examples of people who did and how they were blessed for it.  Hebrews tells us that faith is the substance, not the measure.   Faith is the conduit through which God reassures us of His promises.   Faith is the glue with which we’re bound to Jesus forever.  It’s a reality, not a feeling.  When we trust Him, it becomes the means by which God brings glory to Himself and blesses us in doing.   When we put our faith in Jesus, He clothes us in the blood of His sacrifice.  It covers all our wrong-doings, atones for the harm they inflicted, and sets things right with the Father.   God sees us through His Son and sees a redeemed child who is once again made perfect to stand in His presence.

All through faith.   All through faith proven by the words and deeds of people mentioned in the book of Hebrews.   Come back next time and let’s meet them together.

For further reading:  Hebrews 11

Lord, I pray for You to increase my faith in You.   Thanks for the stories of people who lived in faith before my time.   Thanks for increasing their faith and helping us to know about it.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 April 2017

When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.”  In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  Hebrews 9, verses 19-22.

The author of Hebrews is walking us through some subtle but powerful lessons.   All throughout the book he has drawn parallels between the Old and New Testament laws.   He has also outlined comparisons between Jesus and Melchizedek and how Jesus’ role supersedes that of the old priests.   Finally, here he is describing how blood was used to transmit forgiveness.   In the verses immediately previous to these, the author tells about how only blood could atone for sins.   In other words, blood was the only payment God would recognize to make amends for all the ways we go wrong.   Here, the author goes beyond atonement and ties blood to forgiveness.   It’s not just making amends that God does through His own blood:   it is completely forgiving all the guilt and consequences of the things He amended.

I know:   this is actually basic Christianity.  If you’ve been in the faith very long, this isn’t new.   This is pretty basic stuff, and from folks who are steeped like tea in the Bible, I’m hearing a collective “duh” all over the electronic fruited plain.   “Jesus forgives all sins…I get it.”

News flash, fellow believers:   most of the people in this world don’t understand this basic stuff.   Out of the 7 billion people breathing oxygen here, more than 6 billion either have never heard all these basic truths or have rejected them.   While we’re flashing that news bulletin, here’s another one.   Those are our brothers and sisters.   Those strangers in Uzbekistan, Canada, Ecuador, and the MS-13 filled ghettos around Washington DC are people handmade by the everlasting God to be His special creations.   He wants every single one of them to live with Him forever in the same way He wants you and I to live with Him forever.

If they don’t know that Jesus’ blood has made full atonement for their sins, and that Jesus’ blood has made His forgiveness of all their sins and guilt, then they’re damned.   Eternally cut off from God forever, both now and in eternity.   You and I have been given the good news of this atoning forgiveness to share with all people, not just the ones who look like us or make us feel comfortable.   We aren’t supposed to be jerks about it, and we aren’t supposed to compromise our own faith in Him to get the job done, but other than that we are commanded to get that job done.

We’re supposed to live out faith in Jesus in everything we think, say, and do.  That means living out the blessings of His Spirit.   We are supposed to live our lives – every word, action, and second – in loving ways so that people will see Jesus through us.   It isn’t our place to do what the Old Testament priests did with the blood of animals.   It is our place to live our lives and be ready to talk with anyone around us about what the ultimate high priest, Jesus, did for us with His own blood.   Most of the people in this world don’t know this, have never understood it, and are maybe even hostile to this truth.   You and I probably don’t know all the intricacies and subtleties of Old Testament history and why it’s still relevant today.   That’s ok.   Neither do those 6 billion strangers.   That’s common ground.  What will you say to them?

I’m not here to accuse you.   I’m guilty as hell for failing in so many ways to carry out Jesus’ simple instructions.   If the author of Hebrews were here today, or perhaps the Apostle Paul, well, I wouldn’t want to stand in front of them.   The tongue lashing I’d deserve for all my ugly sins would be blistering.  A few years back, I heard an interviewer ask Billy Graham what he would love to hear from Jesus when he died.   To paraphrase his response, Rev Graham said, “I’d love to hear Him say ‘well done good and faithful servant.’   But I don’t think He will.   I don’t deserve it.”  Tell me, do you?   You and I NEVER have to doubt that Jesus sprinkled His scarlet blood over our thousands of scarlet sins and washed them away forever.   We can never do anything to earn that, or make ourselves worthy of that.   But we can live our lives to reflect it so that others might want to know more about this Jesus who died on a cross.   When a stranger or a friend asks you, what will you say?

For further reading:  Hebrews 1:1, Exodus 24:6-8, Matthew 26:28, Exoducs 29:21, Leviticus 8:15, Leviticus 17:11, Romans 12:9-21, 1 Corinthians 13.

Lord Jesus, speak through me and put the words in my mouth so that I might be Your witness to people who don’t know You.