Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 15 January 2019

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.  1 Timothy 5:3 (NIV).

This section of 1 Timothy talks about how to live with elders, slaves and widows.  Let’s extrapolate a little.   How about we pay attention to all people in need?  Yep:  going there.  As always, if this makes you feel guilty, stop reading.  Go talk with Jesus and get it off your heart.   Drill down as to specifically why you feel guilty.   After that, come back and start where you left off because Jesus is telling us here, through Paul, that we are supposed to look out for each other.

Especially widows.   When you consider that women in ancient Israel (and all over the Mediterranean actually) were treated as chattel, the exhortation to recognize and help widows in need is understandable.  A married woman would share much of the status of her husband, who would provide for her and care for her.   Yet when he died, especially if she had no other family, a widow could quickly become destitute.  She could find herself on the streets, selling herself or worse just to get by.   Starvation was (and is) real and a real possibility; it was a savage time.

Kind of like today, especially overseas.   But let’s not kid ourselves.   The need is real and acute here in the good old US of A.

My mom was a widow for 17 years.  When Dad died, he left her with enough income to live a good life.   Her home was paid off; her bills were small; her transportation was reliable.   Yet I still found myself feeling that I needed to provide for her because she was my mom and, well, because she was a widow.  I hadn’t even really absorbed verses like this one:  I simply knew it was something that I should do.

Flash forward to now.   Is your mom or sister or friend a widow?   Jesus tells us to help them, to recognize their predicament and, to preserve their dignity, help them.  If it means opening our homes, do it; if it means opening our wallets, do it.   If it’s praying, bringing food, listening, helping with work, anything:  do it.   Then let’s apply the lesson to the bigger picture.  Homeless on the street?  Help them.   Someone in prison who is despondent?   Visit and listen.  Neighbor loading a moving truck?  Pitch in.   Paul’s advice to help widows in Asia has much larger applications in our lives than just helping women whose husbands have died.   Remember Jesus’ command:   love the Lord God with all your heart, then love your neighbor as yourself.  What better way to live this out than to give help when & where it’s needed.

For further reading: Mark 12:30-31, 1 Timothy 5:4.

Father God, show me widows and others in my path today who I can help.

Advertisements

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 January 2017

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”  Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.  Hebrews 7, verses 1-3.

Let’s talk about Melchizedek.   He’s been mentioned several times throughout Hebrews, and we’ve chatted about him a little bit already.   In the Genesis account of Abram’s life (before God renamed him Abraham), Melchizedek suddenly appears out of nowhere while Abram is journeying from Mesopotamia (likely in today’s Syria or southern Turkey) to Canaan (today’s Israel).  We know little about him other than he’s a revered man, a holy man, a priest.  He was king of Salem – the predecessor settlement to Jerusalem – and was God’s high priest there.   Not a pagan like the other inhabitants of Canaan, Melchizedek knew the true God and strengthened Abram’s faith.

Wikipedia reinforces much of this narrative.  It also discusses corroborating evidence about Melchizedek from early Hebrew Torah commentaries, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even some Greek documents.   Even the pagan Quran, written centuries later, references Melchizedek.  At the end of all this ancient evidence, we’re still left not knowing exactly who Melchizedek was.   All that we can really know is that He was important to members of both the Jewish and early Christian faiths.  Indeed, if you read these verses closely it’s easy to see why many folks believe Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Jesus (a “Christophany”).  It’s more than possible.   It’s also more than possible that (as we’ve discussed before) Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah, who had survived the flood and was the forefather of the Semites, Abram’s historic lineage.   It seems likely that Melchizedek was the vocational ancestor of all who would be ordained as either royalty or ministers.  But to tell you the truth, I don’t know; nobody does.   And to get wrapped around the axle about exactly who he was misses the main point about him.

Melchizedek represents unquestioning devotion to God.

Melchizedek is ‘king of peace,’ ‘king of righteousness.’   Melchizedek has no historical beginning or end since we don’t know where he was born or where he died.   He simply existed to give praise and meaning to God, encouraging the chosen man of God’s will at a time when Abram needed it.   Abram had traveled many miles from home for many years, living a nomadic life in obedience to a promise God made to him.  God had been faithful to His promise to bless all peoples through Abram, but hadn’t shown Abram just how He would do that.  Enter Melchizedek, who gives selflessly and provides an example for Abram to do the same.  In doing so, Abram’s faith was strengthened and his devotion sustained.   So much so, in fact, that Abram gave Melchizedek a portion of all he owned.   Some translations of Scripture (including the NIV I use) say it was a tenth of all he owned, perhaps instituting the precedent for the ten percent tithe many believers donate to God even today.   After Abram has won a battle against local pagan kings, Melchizedek visits Abram and bestows on him God’s blessings.  Then he disappears.  Melchizedek plays an important part in God’s historic family and then, like so many other believers, is simply gone, lost to history with his part in the play having acted out.

Again, in all these things, it doesn’t matter who he was but very much matters what he did and believed.  Melchizedek represents that unquestioning faith in God.   He followed God.   He lived a life devoted to God.   He was an example of and a precursor to Jesus, who became the inheritor of Melchizedek’s temporal priesthood.   Melchizedek did in act what Jesus would later do in both act and Spirit.

That’s a lot to understand from someone who is mentioned by name in only three places in the Bible (in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and in the book of Hebrews).   If you consider it, however, that’s more than most people are documented anywhere in history.   Maybe God is trying to tell us something we need to remember.  Maybe God is trying to say “don’t worry about who he was.   Remember who he believed in.” Many thousands of years after he lived, that makes Melchizedek timely and relevant to us.

For further reading:   Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 76:2, Psalm 110:4, , Matthew 4:3, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 5:6.

Lord, thank You for teaching about Melchizedek.   Thank You for his ancient example of faith in You that can still encourage me today.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 January 2015

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” – Mark 4, verses 10-12

Jesus is invoking the memory of Isaiah. If you lived in Jesus’ time, you would have been intimately familiar with the life of Isaiah, who, next to Moses, was perhaps Israel’s greatest prophet. Isaiah prophesied after the united kingdom (under Saul, David and Solomon) split into the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He lived during a time of war, when the Assyrians (of the north) had overrun Israel and the Babylonians (of the east) were threatening Judah.   He prophesied both historically and metaphorically, speaking against the sinful Israelites.   He constantly implored them that they were going to bring God’s wrath on themselves for turning away from Him by worshipping idols and not keeping God’s commands in their hearts.   Yet, hand in hand with that, Isaiah also prophesied that a Messiah would come to deliver them.   Indeed, some of the most identifying prophecies that point specifically to Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah were first uttered by Isaiah.

These were things that mattered to the Israelites of Judea, who, 600 years after Isaiah, were looking for that deliverer as an earthly king.   Their forefathers had been overrun by several empires, and Israel itself had ceased to exist as a political entity hundreds of years ago.   Yet the Jewish people, the direct descendants of the first Israelites (of Isaiah’s time and before), still clung to their identity as God’s chosen people, on being the people through whom God demonstrated Himself to the world and who He had promised to deliver.   They had a rich heritage of miracles; of course they were proud of who they were.   That was their undoing…just as it is ours

So Jesus brought them up short on that. In verse 12, Jesus quotes Isaiah chapter 6, verses 9 and 10 to describe why He said the parable the way He did.   The people of Jesus’ day were no different than the people of Isaiah’s day.   Listening to Jesus’ words but not listening for meaning.   They wanted that political, military deliverer to avenge their centuries of being ruled by pagan outsiders.   Yet here was Jesus, revealing Himself as a different kind of messiah, one who would free their hearts, minds and souls so that matters of the world wouldn’t control them any longer. The people of Jesus’ day were living out Isaiah’s words, having harbored calloused hearts and a dulled sense of love.   They saw Jesus but wouldn’t – not couldn’t – grasp who He was and how He was identifying Himself as the deliverer they needed instead of the deliverer they wanted.

Tell me:   don’t we need the same Jesus?   We look for someone to deliver us from threats, from our responsibilities, from the consequences of our actions and bad choices.   We want someone to make the hurting stop, and yet we fail to grasp that someone already has, that Jesus has already accomplished that.   Just like the Judeans of the first century, we the people of our time are seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding.

Lord, thank You for Your words spoken through Jesus and Isaiah.   Teach me with them today and always.

Read Mark 4, verses 1-20.

Daily Proverbial, from Ruth, 3 February 2014

In the days when the judges ruled,there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.  Ruth 1, verses 1 and 2.

Welcome back, friend reader, and let’s go at this a bit differently.   We’re going to walk through the book of Ruth this time.  I have a number of reasons for selecting Ruth, but the biggest one is simply that it’s where God led me.  Now that we’re here, I’d like to ask you to look at it through a few different prisms.

First, look at it as a time capsule.   This is how people lived centuries ago.   In the days of ancient Israel – in the Bronze Age years of the most advanced civilization on earth at that time – this is how people lived.   The book of Ruth captures their habits, their social mores, and their common practices.   People really did observe the kinsman-redeemer relationship.   People really did thresh grain by hand.   People really did die of famine.  Yet there are still places in our world today where Ruth seems timely, even contemporary.

Once you’ve done that, look at it as a family history.   For some, Ruth is simply a fable, and a saga, and a morality story.   It’s also history.  It’s the ancestral history of Jesus Christ, whose earthly ancestors were Ruth and Boaz; you’ll meet them in the days to come. 

Then, look at it as a love story.   It’s the story of a family’s love.   And the love of strangers.   And it’s the story of a man and woman falling in love.   More than that, maybe think of it as a picture of how God selflessly loves us.

Finally, read the book as relevant to today.  A four thousand year old morality play may not seem very applicable to us in this oh-so-modern twenty first century.   If you stopped reading there, however, you’d be both wrong and short-sighted.   Even today, when outsiders come into our fold, aren’t we still skeptical?   If a person of a different nationality or race marries into our family, don’t even the most inclusive and loving of us still feel twitches of hesitancy?  Don’t we still need to know that a loving God provides for all of us, and that some of the most important lessons He teaches us come from the most unexpected places?   All that happened to Ruth and in the book that bears her name.

This is one of my favorite books in the Bible, and I hope and pray that you enjoy reading through it as much as I hope to enjoy unfolding it with you.

Lord, open our eyes to the story of your servant and ancestress Ruth.

 

Read Ruth 1, verses 1 through 5.

 

Have you heard the story of Ruth before?

What do you know of ancient Canaan and Israel?

What is God telling you today?