Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 24 March 2020

 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.  Philippians 4:17 (NIV).

A Twitter friend of mine lives in Cincinnati and was riding his bike around the downtown where the streets are mostly empty…except for homeless people.   The homeless have no place else to go:  no home in which to shelter in place, no family to take them in, nobody to look after them if they get sick.   They desire many things, I’m sure, but the even the simplest things that we take for granted – food, clean clothing, a place to sleep – are beyond their grasp.   My friend said he wished he knew of a way to help them.

How about you?   Do you or I wish for that?   Perhaps, during this crisis, we should find a way to take food to the homeless.   Maybe we should even open our homes.  Imagine what God would credit to our spiritual accounts if we did that.

Yet don’t get the big head thinking we can buy God’s love.   We can’t.   No, what God wants is for us to selflessly love other people in need without much thinking about what He would think of it.   What God wants is for us to selflessly, even unconsciously care for each other, especially those in need, with the gifts of our hearts, our time, our resources.  Go ahead and know that He’d be pleased but then leave it at that.

Look at your reflection in the mirror, then resolve to do that today.   Tonight, if you’ve failed at doing it, look at yourself again and ask yourself why you failed; I’ll leave you to your own answers.   But before you take your eyes off the man (or woman) in the mirror, remind them that God loves them anyway.   He loves you and me the same as he did this morning.   Tomorrow, get up and honestly try again.

And thank the Lord that He gives us each other to pass around those gifts, no matter what they are.  He gives us all we need to survive, then thrive.   More importantly, He then gives us each what we need to share with others so that His love – His true provision – might be shared as well.  Knowing this, maybe go find a homeless person and find a way to really help.   And if you can’t do that, then take a meal to your local ER or firehouse, where the crews are working exhausting, sometimes frightening shifts.   Call up a friend and see how they’re doing, maybe take them a plate of brownies (I have a great recipe if you need one).   And do whatever you do in the name of the providing Lord Jesus Christ, who gives us what we need at the proper time.

My friend in Ohio might agree.

For further reading: 1 Corinthian 9:11-12, Philippians 4:18.

Lord Jesus, thank You for providing for us.   Empower me today to reach out in Your name to help someone else.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 23 March 2020

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.  Philippians 4:15-16 (NIV).

What are you doing to share with those in need during this Wuhan virus crisis?  This isn’t to guilt you over things.   It’s to make you ask yourself.   So I’ll ask it again: what are you doing to share with those in need during this virus crisis?

There were homeless people before the virus.   They’re still homeless.   Indeed, because they don’t have shelter or safe food or hygiene or medical care, they’re probably more at risk than you or me.   There were old people in nursing homes before this who needed cheer.   Even if we can’t visit in person, they’re still there and still in need of something to lift their spirits.   There were grudges you held, sins against you that were unforgiven, things that still made you angry many years after they happened.   I’m betting those are still a thing.

You’re in need and Jesus reaches out to you through dozens of methods every day.   These words, your own readings, the kindness of friends and family and strangers.  Moments of clarity; moments in the sun; all the ‘coincidences’ that seem to line up just right.   Have you ever considered that maybe those are Christ’s way of reaching out to you because you’re in need of Him.

Hint:   He does it all the time.   He does it because we are in need.   Not just me and you:   all of us, especially right now.   There are 195 countries on this planet.   As of yesterday, 141 of them had COVID-19 cases or fatalities.  There’s a need.   There are real people who really need help and encouragement now.   I read yesterday that there are over a billion people at this moment who are on some kind of lockdown or quarantine.   Whatever is happening, it is upending our systems and our way of life.

The church in Philippi began to share resources with Paul as soon as they heard the Good News of Jesus.  They shared with him as he traveled through Macedonia, knowing his work would help spread the news of salvation everywhere.   He simply needed support.   So they gave it.  Because God gave to them and they were grateful.

Perhaps now is our time to support others the same way.   Lockdown or no lockdown, even if it’s only in prayer, there are active things we can do to support the growth of Christ’s church.   How will you do them?

For further reading: Acts 16:9, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, James 2:18, Philippians 4:17.

Lord Jesus, show me today how I can support Your work in this world that needs You so much.   If You aren’t returning yet, then work through me to help someone today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 7 March 2018

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 1 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).

This and coming verses explain that Paul loved the Thessalonians.  In context of chapter 2, it’s obvious he did.   That’s not an ordinary thing.  I find myself here in San Francisco this week not knowing how to react to the homeless.   I’ve been to SF many times but I’ve never seen as many homeless people here as there are this year.   What’s more, the city appears to be doing less and less to address the situation of so many folks needing genuine help.   Many are drug-dependent; many appear disturbed; many need help with money, food, hygiene, and health issues.   Our society tells us that we should be wary of such strangers.   Jesus (and probably Paul) wouldn’t have hesitated to help but Dave does.   What can you do to help someone who is in such desperate straits?

If nothing else, pray.  I don’t know the strangers I pass on the street, and the people who yell and scream out of the blue for no reason, or the guy kissing the magazine on the subway give compelling reasons to be apprehensive at least.   But I pray for them.   I pray for them, and I pray God opens my path and my heart to find a way to help.   Until then, I pray.   Pray for health, pray for peace, pray for safety, pray for food and shelter and assistance.  Jesus and Paul would probably do more; I pray, too, that God would enable me to do the same.

So, riddle me this Dave:   how does “best to be left by ourselves in Athens” demonstrate Paul’s love for anyone but Paul?  Did Paul only pray for them?  I think the key is in the first words of the chapter coupled with the last words of Chapter 2.   Recall that 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 said “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”  Paul says those things then immediately intimates that he was left alone in Athens because he loved the Thessalonians, whose love in Christ was Paul’s pride an joy.   He was left alone in Athens because he sent his friends Silas and Timothy to other places to love on other people, including the Thessalonians.

I bet that Paul’s first inclination was to pray for his new friends and the other strangers in their midst.   When you can’t do anything else because of distance, ability or even fear, you and I can pray because prayer is a real, tangible way to be involved.   And in it, you’re never alone.

For further reading: Acts 17:15, Thessalonians 3:2.

Lord Jesus, show me ways I can help.  Show me people I can pray for and help.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 1 November 2017

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.   Hebrews 13, verse 2.

Do you still believe in angels?   Did you ever?   Angels are mentioned 273 times in the Bible.   Scripture talks of them as real beings, not as glorified human beings.  Contrary to our pop culture concept, you don’t become an angel when you die.   Sorry to disappoint you but, while there may be angels named “Clarence” there isn’t an angel named “Clarence” who used to be human as in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  They aren’t Cary Grant or Denzel Washington either.  Instead there are beings called angels who were created by God to be ministering beings with super-human abilities we don’t fully understand.   Some angels minister to God, serving Him in heaven.   Others minister to people, providing messages, guidance, and help in ways that people can’t.   Angels are powerful beings, capable of doing things men cannot and using supernatural abilities that ordinary people don’t seem to possess.

I believe I’ve had encounters with them.   One time, when my son was a toddler, we lived in a two story house.  I was cleaning on a Saturday morning and playing the radio, and I quickly ran downstairs to get something, leaving my son upstairs alone.   All at once I heard the music blaring, much louder than it had been a few seconds before.   My first thought was that Dillon had climbed the shelves and turned up the stereo.   Thinking he could get hurt, I rushed upstairs.  Much to my surprise, though, Dillon was no where near the stereo shelves.   He was, in fact, all the way across the room and had gotten a bottle of bleach water out of the cleaning bucket.   He had sprayed himself with it and bleach had gotten into his eyes.   Here I had thought he was playing with the radio but there was no way possible he could have gone from where I had left him to the stereo, then back over to where I found him.   And yet something , someone, warned me to come back upstairs immediately.  I believe it was an angel.

Another time, I took food to a homeless person in San Francisco.   I spent 3 years working in downtown San Francisco, and occasionally took food to homeless people.   The deal was you’d get food from the concierge lounge, then find a homeless person on the street – there were always dozens on the way to work – and give it away.   This particular morning, I got strawberries and coffee, then tried to give them to a lady on Mission Street.   She spent several minutes arguing with me:   she didn’t want food but she did want money, which I refused to give.   So I continued on towards the office.   That’s when I saw the man.   He was a large, hulking, smelly black man wearing rags and shuffling around aimlessly as if he was stoned.   “Him” I seemed to hear a voice inside of me say, and I reluctantly went over to him.   I walked up to him, held out the food and coffee, and I said “this is for you my friend.”   I’ll never forget his response when he lucidly looked into my eyes and said “thank you, my brother.”   He was calm, controlled, and he had piercing blue eyes that weren’t clouded, hazy, or drug-addled.   I’ll always believe he was an angel, sent to give me food for my soul instead of the other way around.

Today’s verse reminds us that we should be hospitable in what we say and do because we don’t know exactly who we might be conversing with.   In Bible times, angels appeared to men and men didn’t always recognize them.   What’s more, Christ Himself appeared pre-incarnate to bring news to people such as Sarah, Abraham’s wife, or possibly as Melchizidek the priest of Salem.  We don’t always know the strangers we meet in the street, so God encourages us to practice genuine hospitality from the heart.   We are to be honest, graceful hosts, offering up ourselves, our possessions, even our homes to people who meet us.   They could just be divine visitors.  In this day and age, that isn’t easy to do, especially when the world around us doesn’t feel very safe.  Yet God asks us to do it anyway, knowing that our trusting Him for our safety and provision only strengthens our bond with Him and our witness to others.

Today, when you meet someone, offer up yourself to them starting with simple kindness.  You never know who you might be talking with.

For further reading:  Job 31:32, Matthew 25:35, Genesis 18:1-33, Genesis 19:1-3.

Lord, I praise You for the angels You created and for sending them into my life to help.