Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 27 November 2018

Command and teach these things. 1 Timothy 4:11 (NIV).

Paul doesn’t mess around.   He says “command and teach.”   Not “go get some proper seminary training first and then wear nice robes and sing boring music.”   And he doesn’t say “you need a college degree for this.”   And Paul doesn’t say “think it over and, if you’re feeling up to it, speak up when you get the chance.”

Command and teach already.   Very Captain Kirk:   boldly go where no man has gone before (or where many have gone but their love has grown cold).   Speak up and speak out.

These words come in the chapter where Paul has given out some broad instructions to his protégé.  The goal is to minister to others as Christ ministered.   The aim is to build up the body of believers into more closely following our Savior in how we think, speak, and act.   It isn’t about a bunch of rules:   it’s about Jesus.

And to better follow Jesus, when one is called to speak up for the faith, COMMAND and teach.   Don’t mess around with it.   Don’t walk around thinking “I can’t do this” because you can; because His Spirit will do the talking and teaching for you.  Stand up and be counted and speak the truth plainly, boldly, convincingly.   Even people of timid nature can be forceful in their convictions.   Command and teach.   Do it confidently because the power you have to do it isn’t your own.   It is the power of Him who sends you:   the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Yet remember a few things.   The position and ability to command is given by God but respected by men.   Here on the third rock, we earn respect.   If you command and teach in God’s name by humbly submitting to His authority, you’ll be shocked at what He does through you.   When people recognize that, they’ll listen in respect.

And teach wisely.   There’s no shame in not knowing how to do something, but there is shame in knowing you need to know and then doing nothing about it.   Do it in your own way, using your talents and your personality.  Learn to teach and teach to learn.   Do both in submission to Christ.

Finally, before commanding or teaching, go first to Jesus and seek His counsel.  He is the King of the World and knows what He’s doing.    Pray.   Immerse yourself in the Word.   Open your heart to Him and wait on Him to act; go Psalm 46.   He will, in His own good time, and everyone will see it.

When He does, get up and get going.  Command and teach.   Don’t be a jerk about it; Jesus was never a jerk.   We shouldn’t be either.   But stand firm and speak up.

For further reading: Psalm 46:10-11, 1 Timothy 5:7, 1 Timothy 4:12

Lord, put Your words in my mind and mouth, and help me to command and teach in Your name.   Help me to do it humbly, wisely, and confidently.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 2 October 2018

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 1 Timothy 1:12 (NIV).

Imagine if God called an atheist to preach the Gospel.  Or if He called Louis Farrakhan (or an Iranian mullah) to preach reconciliation with the Jews. Imagine if a Alec Baldwin went on the Tonight Show to preach for reconciliation in the name of Jesus.

That’s Paul.   Think of the worst possible persecutor, the very harshest, the meanest guy you could meet and it was Paul.   He relished what he did for a living:   killing followers of “the Way.”   He was a zealous follower of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and lived in His temple in Jerusalem.   That is, until a roadside meeting with that one true God shut, then opened, Paul’s eyes.   The persecutor became the persecuted, and every time that happened, he doubled down on it.   He gave thanks to Jesus for picking him, the most unworthy of servants, to become zealous for His message and carry it to places unknown.

Today’s verse changes direction from the last few.  Keep in mind that this change of direction happens right after Paul warns Timothy to avoid false teachers and properly invoke God’s law.  Paul has used the first part of his letter to remind Timothy that not everyone is for him…or Him.   Now he begins a section of different instruction, outlining God’s grace and how it is a unique gift from the King to preach the faith to people who need to hear it.

Not everyone is called to that calling.   I’ve never really felt it, other than the daily urge to write these word.  I can’t do much but I can do this.  Some pastors tell me that they innately knew they should become pastors.   One told me it was like God slamming shut every other door in his life until he walked through the ministry one.   Another seemed to relish being a pastor instead of “just a pig farmer’s son” (as if that’s something to be ashamed of…it isn’t).

No matter, to minister to others in the name of Jesus is a calling that I think each of us gets in our own ways.   Some get it to be a full time job.   Jesus molds our lives in unique ways.   Have you ever thought that there are 7.2 billion ministers for Jesus alive right now?   It’s true.   Yet not all know it, or Him.   So it’s up to us to use the gifts He gives us and the good fruits of His Spirit that are kindness, understanding, and love to help others along their way to Him.  Imagine if God called an atheist to preach.   Better yet, imagine how He’s calling you.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:13, Acts 9:15, 1 Timothy 1:13

Lord Jesus, all my praise to You for putting Your love on my heart to follow and preach You in my own way.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 October 2017

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12, verses 22-24.

One of my favorite Christian songs is “Days of Elijah.”   There’s a particularly good version of it by Twila Paris that’s not saccharin, not too rock & roll, not too corny.   It’s just uplifting, and one of the verses in the song says “out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.”  Look up the geography of Jerusalem and you see that Zion is the hill on which the first and second temple’s were built.   It was literally God’s home address on terra firma.  It’s where the Temple was located, where King David reigned and is buried, where the Last Supper was held, and it’s not far from Calvary.   In contemporary usage, Zion refers to the land of Israel itself, and to the cause of establishing the modern nation of Israel.  Yet in days of old it was where God lived.

That’s a lot to draw from just a few verses.  Then again, Jerusalem has been ground zero for most of human history, and Zion is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem.   There’s a lot to consider with it.

The writer of Hebrews invoked Zion to symbolize heaven made possible by Jesus.   It is the new heaven, the new dwelling place of the living God.   You and I get to go there, to worship in His true temple, to make our home with Him (to tabernacle with Him).   Where Sinai symbolizes our need for Jesus before heaven, Zion symbolizes our heaven with Jesus both here in this world and in the next.  Sinai was a place of power and fear:   Zion is a place where the greatest power in the universe – God’s love – took root and grew.   Sinai was law:  Zion is love.   Sinai was remote:   Zion is connection.

I can hear Twila singing about “righteousness being restored.”

Read, too, about Abel.   The writer recalls Abel, invoking that the sacrifice of Christ means more than the sacrifice of Abel (both the blood of the animal Abel sacrificed as well as his own as the victim of history’s first murder).  Abel gave a representation of divine blood in a sacrifice about his personal faith; Jesus actually gave His own blood as the faith sacrifice for all persons.

Read, too (again) about the firstborn.   Recall the story of Esau and Jacob (or, for that matter, Cain and Abel, or any of the first-born sons of the patriarchs).   Jesus makes us all as if we are first-born.   We ALL get to inherit the best of the family.   We all get to be treated as special because of what Jesus did in dying on that rugged cross.

“These are the days of Elijah declaring the word of the Lord.”   Elijah declared God’s word to an unbelieving world.   You and I get to do the same, thousands of years after Elijah, thousands of years after the Word of the Lord Himself.

Finally, there is the new covenant.   We’ve discussed how a covenant is more than just a contract or an agreement.   It’s a blood oath, a God-affirming vow made in faith and justice.  God had made covenants with humanity all through the age of the patriarchs yet all of them were made to point us to our need for His redemption.   When Jesus came, He delivered that redemption and made it possible for men to speak directly with God.   He restored balance by making the perfect atonement.   He made a path for us to spend both now and eternity in God’s presence.  The Old Testament covenants pointed us to our need for God, yet the covenant made by Jesus points us to God in our lives.  God has always judged all people yet now we get to see His judgment more clearly, more as an act of loving justice instead of punishing vengeance.   We get to see that God’s holy law from Sinai was made perfect by His holy sacrifice from Zion.   That the covenant Jesus made by Zion is one to which we can still be bound today.

Go download Twila’s song.   I guarantee you’ll like it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 24:23, Revelation 14:1, Galatians 4:26, Exodus 4:22, Revelation 20:12, Genesis 18:25, Psalm 94:2, Philippians 3:12,Galatians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:2, Genesis 4:20, Hebrews 11:4.

Lord, thank You for so many messages in so few words.   In these days of Elijah, help me to declare Your Words to those around me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 October 2017.

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.  Hebrews 12, verses 16-17.

Esau.   We’ve talked about Esau before, early on in discussing Chapter 11.   Refreshing your memory, Esau was Jacob’s brother who was rash, impetuous, and emotional.   He and his brother knew their father and grandfather had been promised by God Himself that He would make them into a blessed nation.   It was their family inheritance; it set them apart from everyone else on the planet.   It’s logical to assume Esau grew up hearing these accounts (first-hand even, from both Abraham and Isaac), yet Esau treated God’s promise with casual contempt.  One time, Esau’s emotions got the best of him and it had eternal consequences for mankind.   He traded his birthright – perhaps the most important thing a man of antiquity possessed – for a bowl of stew.   Later, following his brother’s trickery, he was subjected to being a second-place citizen in his own family even though he was first-born.

Admit it:   the reason Esau did this was that he was godless.   Specifically, he craved less God in his life except when it served his own purposes.

Then there’s his brother.  Jacob’s deceit was two-fold.  First was the verbal acquisition of Esau’s birthright by taking advantage of Esau’s own foolishness.  Then came the physical blessing of their father, Isaac, through active deception and playing on Isaac’s own loving words.  No objective analysis of Genesis 25 and 27 can reach any conclusion other than that Jacob was a crafty deceiver, maybe even dishonest.  He must have been a conflicted man, harboring deep, real faith in the living God while still clinging to the worldly ways of taking what you want.  Before the world was made, God had marked Jacob to carry His lineage and fulfill His purposes.   Even without Jacob’s participation, I’m sure God would have found another way to include him.  It’s amazing how God can turn human dysfunction into Divine glory.

Yet none of this excuses Esau.   Esau treated the gift of divine birthright as a cheap thing.  He didn’t regard it as important.   He didn’t consider the implications of rejecting it.   Instead of saying to himself “I’ll get a bite someplace else”, Esau demanded his weaker brother feed him.   Jacob pressed Esau with what must have seemed a silly demand, that Esau forswear his first-born birthright to property, blessing, and special status as God’s chosen vessel of the redemption promise.   Rather than taking this seriously, Esau flippantly signed away his birthright in exchange for a full stomach.   I hope it tasted good; I’m betting Esau didn’t give it a second thought.

And when the time came for their father to die, Isaac wanted to bless his sons respecting that birthright.   Jacob tricked Isaac and got the blessing that had been intended for his older brother.   But Isaac was a man of character, an upright and faithful follower of his Lord.   He couldn’t go back on his word even when his favorite son pressed him for something you and I might consider fair.   The firstborn blessing had been given and Jacob would become heir to all Isaac was and owned.   And it had happened because Esau had shamefully regarded God’s promise.

Moral of the story:  don’t treat God’s gifts cheaply.

I mentioned yesterday that it seemed strange that the writer of Hebrews would talk about the powerful concept of sexual immorality in only a few words before spending the next two verse talking about Esau’s immorality.   Those words were almost an off-hand comment.  Yet perhaps the message of these two subjects actually fits together.   It’s not about the sex; it isn’t about hunting for wild game.   It isn’t about the lust for flesh or the lust for status.   Immorality is immorality no matter what form it takes, and the writer cautions followers of Jesus to be on our guard against it.   If we, like Esau, treat God’s gifts cavalierly, it should be no surprise to us when all we receive in return are cavalier rewards.  If we, like Esau, think God-less thoughts from our hearts, is it any surprise we might find ourselves dis-inherited and at war with the world of our own making?

For further reading:  1 Genesis 25:29-34, Genesis 27:30-40.

My Lord, I pray You had mercy on Esau.   And I pray here for Your guidance that I might not treat Your many gifts flippantly.   Help me to appreciate Your value in all times.  

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 15 August 2017

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.  Hebrews 11, verse 22.

I respect wisdom; I only wish I practiced more of it.   Like I said the last time, I’m Jacob.   I tend towards living out the unwise even as I crave to be wiser.  If I’m Jacob, that makes Joseph my son.  It’s as if my Dad and I had switched roles.   When I think of Joseph, I think of my Dad because I believe they shared a similar temperament.

If you don’t know the story, Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son.   He’s his son by Rachel, the beloved wife for whom Jacob had slaved seven years.   Joseph is animated, insightful, lively, and honest.   He’s also naïve and wise, and not very tactful.   Joseph alienated his older brothers so much that they wanted to murder him, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it.   So they sold him as a slave to passing travelers, who carried him away to Egypt.   There Joseph became a slave in a rich man’s house.   Over ups and downs, God provided for Joseph in everything, abiding with him when he was unjustly thrown in prison, and abiding with him when he rose to great power afterwards.   Second only to the king, Joseph worked miracles in using the knowledge and talents God gave him to prepare for seven years of famine.   Because of Joseph’s faith in God, all Egypt had food to eat during that famine, so much so that the extra was sold to foreigners…including Joseph’s family.   After some drama even Hollywood couldn’t imagine, Joseph is reunited with his family, and his father, Jacob, is able to die in peace.

Joseph was wise.   He recognized the hand of God in all good that had come his way.   When bad things happened, he thanked God for providing rescue and knowledge.   When good things happened, he gave all credit to God who had made it so.   Yet Joseph never underestimated the power of human depravity.   He understood the fickle nature of politics, and of being a foreigner serving a foreign king; Joseph believed there would be trouble after he died.   Thus, he prophesied that a time would come when his Israelite kinfolk would become a nation in need of deliverance.   “God will come to your aid” was what he told his children and grandchildren.  Joseph was a wise realist.   He ‘played long ball’ were good and when they weren’t.   He knew that, in both, God is still God and over it all.  His faith didn’t decrease even when he realized he was dying.   Indeed, he clung onto it steadily even when he knew God would see him die in a strange land.

My dad was a Kenneth, not a Joseph.   Yet I’m reminded of Joseph when I think of my dad.   Dad wasn’t a deeply religious man.   He went to church nearly all his life, yet it seemed like he taught my sister and I to be Sunday morning Christians.   It wasn’t that he was a bad man, or that he lived a moral life on Sunday and immoral otherwise; nothing could be farther from the truth.   Dad always believed in Jesus.  It’s just that his faith wasn’t something he practiced openly.   That is until he was dying.   Dad died of cancer in 1997.   The disease took him in a little over two years of up’s and down’s and painful treatments.   Through it, like Joseph, Dad learned to cling onto his faith.   Even up until the last time I talked with him, Dad was content with his life and realistic about his death.   “I know where I’m going.   I wish it wasn’t now, but that isn’t up to me.”   His words; not mine.

My Dad wasn’t a perfect man, and he didn’t try to be one.   He did his best.   His father did the same even as he, my grandfather, wasn’t a particularly strong example of the kind of man my father once wanted to be.  Dad worked to teach the people around him to have faith and be better.   He did his best to prepare us for hard times that would one day come.

If I as the son am more Jacob – an impetuous believer – then I remember my Dad as more Joseph:  a wise believer.   God took Joseph from obscurity to the depths to great fame.   God took my Dad from obscurity, through the hills, and to a quiet grave in a green field of white stones.  Yet I remember him as wise, and prospering, and usually laughing, and good.   I learned from my Dad to always try my hardest, and to ‘give it my all’ no matter what ‘it’ is.  And I learned from him the basics of believing, of learning how to trust God.   I’m betting Joseph could have said the same thing about his dad.

For further reading:  Genesis 50:24-25, Exodus 13:19, Joshua 24:32.

Lord, thank You for letting me be my Dad’s son, and Your created son.  Thank You for the example of Joseph, for all he did.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 August 2017

 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.  Hebrews 11, verse 21.

Jacob:   he is revered yet he is reviled.   I’ve heard Biblical critics savage the Scriptures because of Jacob.   He was a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel.  He was the radically imperfect vessel through whom God chose to display His grace.   Later there was Moses, and Ruth, and David, and the prophets, and Paul.   Much later came you and me.   Like it or not, got skin, got sin.   You, Jacob, and I are cut from the same cloth.

Yet you and I aren’t going to be remembered in the Bible whereas those other people are.   Jacob was an old man by the time the story of Joseph fully played out.   He had known the consequences of the sins of his youth as well as those perpetrated against him.   He married two sisters who quarreled.   Said two sisters hated their father, and this animosity carried over into the next two generations.   His wife had played favorites with their children, just as Jacob’s had; just as Jacob did himself.  Those children, twelve sons from multiple women, quarreled again and sold their youngest brother into slavery.   When Jacob was praying like this, he was in danger of losing both his life and his family.  Indeed, at the time Jacob praying while leaning on his staff, he and everyone around him was still in real danger of starving to death.

Through all of it, two things remained.   One, Jacob remained a cheeky fellow, and two, Jacob came to rely more and more on God.  God had sustained him when he journeyed in the desert to his uncle’s land.  The pillow, the ladder, the visions, the miracle food:  all God’s provision.  In return, Jacob worshipped and prayed, built altars, dug wells, and dedicated his life to God.  Through God’s woven plan, Jacob regained the son whom he thought had died.  When his life was nearly over, he blessed his sons and their future in the name of the God he had come to know well, the God who had sustained him physically and spiritually against long odds.

Do you know any Jacobs in the world today?  Better yet, do you know of any in your own life?   Are you one of them?

I’ll admit:   I have a soft spot for Jacob.   When I was a boy, I was quiet like he was; I would have rather stayed around the house than go out hunting in the open country.   I’m still that way.  I’ve done my share of deceiving to get what I wanted, and I’ve come to own the consequences of sins I wish I had never done.   Yet I also know God.   I rely on Him more and more, even as so many times I still rail against Him.   I’m not wealthy like Jacob, and I haven’t yet known real famine.   Yet I have been in real danger of destitution and death many times, many of them times of my own making.   In all of them, I grew closer to my Maker because He sustains me in the bad times and provides for me in everything.   Anything good I have known is from God and nobody else.

Sometimes I see Jacob in the mirror.   God hasn’t made me into an Israel yet, but there’s still time.  What He has done is bring me from long ago days that seem fearfully ancient into today, where I am unafraid to talk of God and talk about Him in this life.   Where there have been mixed blessings, the ‘mixed’ part has always been because of something I or someone else did.  The blessings overwhelmingly come from God.  There are people who revere and revile me equally; it’s all fair.   Put it on my tombstone that I wish for them to revere God instead and revile the bad choices they, too, have made.   I’m Jacob.   How about you?

For further reading:  Genesis 48-49.

My Lord, You and only You sustain me, just as You did Your servant, Jacob.   Thank You for this.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 10 August 2017

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.  Hebrews 11, verse 20.

Perhaps the story of Jacob and Esau is a good example of ‘mixed blessings.’  If you don’t know much about Jacob and Esau, they were twins born to Isaac and his wife, Rebekah.  Esau was born first, only minutes before his brother, but was the blood-born heir as firstborn.   Yet God wasn’t with Esau as He was with Jacob, and Jacob shrewdly talked his brother out of Esau’s birthright, then deceitfully gained his father’s first-born blessing by posing as Esau.  Shady story?   Perhaps, yet I’d ask you whether or not such things happen in our world today.   You know they do:  from families to nation-states, each of us acts in our own best interests.

Sometimes those interests are in line with how God is blessing us.  That was the case with Jacob.

When Isaac was old and nearly blind, he wanted to give his formal, ecclesiastical blessing to his first-born son.   In cahoots with their mother, Jacob and Rebekah schemed to deceive Isaac so that Jacob, and not Esau, would receive that blessing.   You’d be mad enough to kill if your younger brother had taken away everything that was supposed to be yours.   Esau was, and he swore to kill Jacob, then prepared to make good on that vow.  That’s what happened yet in being both fascinated and repulsed by this story, don’t overlook the miracle of it.

Isaac blessed his sons because he had faith his God would bless them accordingly.   What’s more, God blesses Jacob and Esau both after the deception.

Isaac lived his life knowing God, having seen God bless both his father, Abraham, and himself.  Isaac gave his blessing when he was old and while Abraham was still alive.   In doing this, Isaac is a witness to his belief that God was good and would bless and prosper the world as He said He would.   Such faith in adherence with worldly customs like birthright blessing shows trust in God and thankfulness for all that God has given us.  Isaac seems like a bit-player in Biblical history yet his faith is most important.   God made the covenant with Abraham to bless the world through him.  It is Isaac who puts that covenant into motion by passing on his faith-based blessing to his son.   God kept that covenant promise despite Abraham’s shortcomings (like lying about the identity of his wife) or Isaac’s (who did the same thing about his own).

And when the world (via Jacob) intervenes with the sin of deceit, God still uses that to make good on what He promised.  Hearing about Esau’s vow, Jacob, again with the help of his mother, flees to her homeland and is, himself, deceived by his uncle.   Jacob falls in love with his cousin, Rachel, yet is deceived by Rachel’s father into marrying her sister, Leah, in exchange for seven years of work.    Eventually, Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel and fathers twelve sons who will become the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

In the meantime, God blesses Esau by giving him wealth and a large family through his cousin Ishmael’s line.  Esau never forgot his vow to kill his brother, yet God blesses him with the spiritual gift of mercy.   Many years later, a wealthy Jacob returns home to submit to his brother’s will (itself an act of faith).   Instead of murder, Esau forgives his brother, and the families are reconciled.   When God sees Jacob’s willingness to submit to his brother’s punishment for the deceit of years before, His heart is moved and He renames Jacob “Israel.”   The rest, as they say, is history.

Read the story of Isaac, Jacob and Esau in Genesis; start in Genesis 27.   I’m hoping you see how yesterday’s themes of foreshadowing, devotion, reason and resurrection play out in all their lives because, in some ways, they are both the picture of the life of Jesus to come as well as a picture of the kind of lives even we live today.  Each of our lives is a bag of mixed blessings.   It’s my prayer you come to see how, mixed or otherwise, they’re all still blessings from above.

For further reading:  Genesis 27.

Lord, thank You for mixed blessings.   And thanks for the story of Isaac and his dysfunctional family.   May it be a blessing to my own.