Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 29 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:2.

Something else needs to be said before we move on.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, without God, everything is meaningless but nothing can contain Him.

I was reading about how Google Home doesn’t recognize the name of Jesus.   A story online said that the in-home smart speaker recognizes the names of Buddha, Allah, and even Satan and can relay to you a whole encyclopedia of knowledge about those names, but that it says “I’m sorry I don’t understand” (or something like that) when you ask it about Jesus or Jesus Christ.  Newsflash, my friends, God doesn’t need Google Home but He loves the people who make and use it anyway.   Ditto Alexa, Echo, Facebook, Bing, and any other gadget or browser we can think of.   Indeed, God’s word will spread even MORE when people deny it.

Crazy?   Yes, actually it is.   The conventional world can’t see how this makes sense, but the world that believes in Jesus can.   His word is too good to be contained; it’s too good to be bottled up or confined by the smallness of human activity.  People can try, but the good news always comes through.   It did in concentration camps.   It does in prisons, and inner cities, and communist re-education camps, and even in Hollywood.  It even happens in organized churches.

In this verse, Paul describes how people strongly opposed his preaching.  In Philippi Paul had been strongly opposed and it stung him.  He considered it outrageous that God’s word would be opposed, that anyone would try to interfere with or target or stop the preaching of words ordained by the Lord Himself.  Yet despite the opposition, word spread.   People all over Greece and Asia Minor wanted to know more about what these missionaries of “The Way” were saying.  Tyrannical Romans couldn’t stop the message.  Hostile Jews and their synagogues couldn’t stop the message.  Skeptical Greeks and hateful pagans couldn’t stop it.  By the time Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he was used to being opposed, and he began to recognize that it was to God’s glory that all this happened.

That was true 2000 years ago.   It’s still true today.   God doesn’t need us to preach His message.   He can get it out any way He chooses.   Yet He chooses us to do it for Him, to talk about it one on one, to build relationships based on common worship and understanding of Him because without Him everything else means nothing.   God chooses to work through us as we love one person at a time.  Nothing could contain that way back then; nothing can contain it now.

For further reading: Ecclesiastes, Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, I pray:  work through me today. Love others through me.   Teach me to represent You.

 

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Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 12 November 2017

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:35.

Giving makes us better people.  Churches that ask for tithes know this.   Your manager at work knows this.  Political campaigns know this (ok, maybe not so much).   Your teenage kids know this (ok, not so much again, though we hope they’ll learn it).

In 21st century America, the most popular symbol of Christmas is Santa.   He’s at the center of what we consider Christmas to be.  But when you scratch off the red velvet and ring the jingle bells you see that the center of Santa is Christ.   It’s impossible to reach any other conclusion without rejecting the words here in Acts 20.  Whether the inspiration is Coca Cola, Hollywood, or pop culture, our notion of Santa Claus always goes back to Saint Nicholas of Myra, the bishop of Myra (in Turkey) who lived from 270 to 343 AD:   only about 240 years after the life of Jesus.  According to Wikipedia, Nicholas is the patron saint of many tradesmen, and his life spanned persecution and torture by the Romans, pardon from the Emperor Constantine (who split the Roman empire) and sitting in the council of Nicaea (in which the early church was reorganized and from which we received the Nicene Creed).

But his greatest gift was in giving.  A most likely true legend has it that Nicholas gave a bag of gold to each of a poor man’s three daughters because the father was too poor to afford a dowry.  Some versions of the legend have him throwing the coins through a window, others down a chimney and landing in stockings.   No matter how it happened, over time this morphed into the concept of Santa Claus that we know today.   In the 1800 years since Nicholas died, his tradition has been compounded with that of Father Christmas (dating the Tudor England of the 1500s), practices of Martin Luther (to focus kids on Christ instead of Saint Nicholas), Sinterklaas and Pere Noel in Europe, and Scandanavian Yule traditions.   Here in America, Clement Moore’s famous poem from the 1820s popularized the idea of Santa as did advertising pictures from Harper’s Bazaar and Coca Cola in the late 19th century.   And don’t forget the popular editorial response which said “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Giving is the glue that binds together those representations of Santa; self-less giving to children and the poor.  All along the timeline from Saint Nicholas until today the saint of Christmas gives to those who have not.   He blesses others by giving to them things they want and need.   In doing so, what he’s really doing is giving them the love of Jesus.   He inculcates a gift to a stranger with the strange gift that God gave us.   You and I don’t deserve grace any more than a child ‘deserves’ an extravagant gift under the tree.   We don’t earn gifts but God gives them anyway.   We weren’t looking for the Christ child in Bethlehem but He came there anyway and the angels then sang of His glory.

Without the spirit of Jesus, there is no giving.   Our very concept of Santa is thick with giving and, therefore, replete with Jesus.

Giving makes we better people because it puts aside ourselves.   Gifts are acts of mercy to other people, reflections of what we believe.   To give to someone with no expectation of anything in return is righteous, it is Christ-like.  To give is to share God’s grace.  Nicholas of Myra understood that when he gave gold to women who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to marry (something that would likely have resulted in their resorting to prostitution).   If you separated the concept of Santa Claus from giving, you wouldn’t have Santa anymore.  You wouldn’t even have a good advertising gimmick.  Santa gives to share, to make others better, to give things they wouldn’t otherwise have.  If the center of today’s celebrations is Santa, then the center of Santa selfless giving.   You can’t give selflessly without first having the love of Jesus in your heart.   Apart from Him we can do nothing.   Therefore, apart from Jesus, Santa could give nothing.  s The next time you get down about how commercialism is ruining Christmas, remember that the spirit of Christmas is still Santa and still, therefore, all about Jesus.

For further reading:  Luke 6:38.

Lord, thank You for how giving makes us better people.   Thank You for giving us this gift of mercy, of sharing, of Your Spirit.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 August 2017

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mis-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.  Hebrews 11, verses 24-26.

Moses isn’t Charlton Heston.   Remember “The Ten Commandments?”   Cecil B. DeMille’s last picture, which is one of the most famous movies of all time?   It’s a tradition in America to show it every year around Easter, and it’s one of the movies I don’t (yet) have on DVD (or should I do Blu-Ray?   Get all 2010…).   Here’s a true confession:   most of what I know about Moses, I learned from watching Charlton Heston.   He was manly, gutsy, stoic; if you wanted a statue of Moses, you’d want it to look like Chuck Heston.  But Moses isn’t (as my father called him) “the blue eyed Jew.”  Or Christian Bale (in the not-as-good re-telling from a few years ago).  The movie took a great many liberties with Biblical history, so much so that, when I actually read through Exodus through Deuteronomy, I felt let down.   Only after doing further study did I feel impressed, again, by the story of this great man.   The mis-understanding was mine, not Moses’.

However, make no mistake about it:   no movie star I know of – not even Charlton Heston – would choose to give up Hollywood to be treated like a slave.  Moses was brought up in the palace of Pharaoh.   He was treated like a grandson, even a son, even though he was the known child of Hebrew slaves.   His mother, Pharaoh’s daughter, lavished him in luxury.  She raised him to educate him, to teach him how to rule a nation, master a court, prepare for royalty.  Born a pauper, Moses grew up into a prince, a prince of Egypt:   the heir apparent to rule wealthiest, most splendid and powerful nation on Earth.  It wouldn’t have been unprecedented for a Hebrew, a foreigner, to rule as the power behind a throne.   After all, Joseph had done so.

Yet when Moses came to a crossroads in his life, he unwittingly chose God.   One day, he saw an Egyptian mistreat a Hebrew and he killed the Egyptian.   Long before God forbade it, Pharaoh forbade killing as a way to preserve order in society.   Moses hid the body, until the next day.  He saw two Hebrew men fighting and, when questioning one of them, learned that his crime had become known.   The brave prince of Egypt turned quickly into a coward on the run.   He fled Egypt and didn’t return for forty years.

During that time, Moses went from prince back to pauper.   He became a shepherd in what is possibly now western Saudi Arabia.  He actively shunned his past, perhaps out of fear, but perhaps out of humility.  Moses fled Egypt at about age forty and he lived in the desert another forty years.   He raised a family, worked from his in-laws, and disappeared from public life.   What did he do during that time?  What did he think?   What visions filled his dreams?  Surely Moses must have used much of that time to wonder why his life had gone off track.   I wonder if he had a crisis of faith, perhaps wrestling with faith for the first time in his life.  Eventually, he accepted that his life wasn’t off track but had, instead, traveled on to a different one.  He who had been born no ordinary child now lived the most ordinary, unrecognized of lives and what had it all been for?

But God recognized him, and Moses chose to accept the invitation.  He saw the burning bush on the mountain and hiked up to see it.   From then on, all history changed.   Moses definitely did.   God shook Moses out of his navel-gazing rural complacence and called him to the task God had prepared for him (and prepared him for).  He knew that the generation which had wanted him called to Egyptian justice was dead, but that the mission God had called him to perform might also get him killed.   Yet He went.   After some grumbling and stalling (in front of God Himself; can you imagine?), Moses went.   And then everything changed.

All because Moses looked heavenward.  All because Moses believed.   Charlton Heston couldn’t have done any better.

For further reading:  Acts 7:22, Exodus 2:10-Luke 14:33, Hebrews 10:35, 1 Kings 4:30, Isaiah 19:11.

Lord, thank You for the example of Moses.   Thank You for guiding Him, and for delivering Him from the slavery to his past while You delivered Your people from the injustice of real slavery.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 11 June 2014

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Exodus chapter 20, verse 10.

There’s a country song on the radio now in which one of the refrains keeps singing, “Oh my God…this is my song.”   I like the guy singing the song, but call me old fashioned enough to think the he shouldn’t be singing it. It’s blasphemy. I’ve used that language; perhaps you have as well. In fact, I used to have a really, really foul mouth. And, since I’m in true confession mode here, sometimes I still do.   Sometimes it’s in the name of ‘good humor.’   Sometimes it slips out.   Sometimes I just rant and engage my mouth before I consider what I’m saying and whether or not I should say it.

No matter the situation, it’s wrong.   It’s mild compared to some of the stuff we hear on the airwaves these days, but wrong is still wrong. It’s wrong because it’s blasphemy to misuse the name of God. That includes casual references in lyrics like those I mentioned.   Or countless others. You know what I’m talking about.   If we say it and we think we shouldn’t, then probably that’s our conscience talking through.   It isn’t tough to figure out.

It has implications on our faithfulness because the Lord says that He reads our hearts.   He knows that what we say starts in the heart, deep down inside.   In reality, bad language – or good language – that impugns or misuses God’s name in any way paints us accurately as the hypocrites we are.

Now, I’m not here to guilt you out because, as I said, I’m guilty of it.   The worst actor, comedian, or rapper in Hollywood sometimes sounds prudish compared to things I’ve said. I wouldn’t say such things in a job interview, or in the workplace, or in front of my grandson, or in intimate conversation with my wife. Why would I say them, then, at any time about my God and my Savior?   I wouldn’t damn the people I love most in the world in my conversations with or about them; why would I do it to my God and my Savior?

The folks talking about a war in our culture have a point when they insist that one of the main ways we’ve allowed our culture to coarsen is through our course language.   Indirectly or directly, all of that language starts with how we misuse the name of our Creator.

It’s sin.   Petty, wrong, uncaring, blasphemous sin.   There is a better way.

Lord, forgive me for my foul language and how I’ve used it to misuse Your good name.

 

Read Exodus chapter 15, Moses and his sister sing, then God gives everyone a drink.