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.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 14 August 2018

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).

If you study the spread of Christianity, you see that Paul’s prayer was answered.   A word of mouth proposition, Christianity spread all over the known world in a matter of a few years.  That’s unprecedented.   The faiths of the Norse, Japanese, and indigenous tribes in the Americas never spread out of local areas due to many factors.  Already an established faith at the time of Jesus, it took hundreds of years for Buddhism to spread beyond India.   It also took many decades for Islam to spread out of Arabia and then it happened only through violence.  Yet it took only a handful of years for the message of Jesus Christ to spread from Jerusalem to Assyria, Greece, Asia Minor and all over the Roman Empire.   Within only a few decades, it spread into pagan Europe and up into India.

Good news travels fast.

Mark Twain and Winston Churchill were right:  A lie gets halfway around the world before truth puts on its boots.  Bad news travels fast, too, especially if you’re on the internet.  Yet I maintain that good news travels faster.   Bad times don’t last but they hurt while they’re here.   Yet when good news travels and takes root, it’s there for good.   True, we can misplace that good news but when it travels fast, it travels fast while establishing itself.

The good news of the Good News took root wherever it went.  Moreover, it took root in the face of adversity.   It traveled by word of mouth along ancient roads and trade routes.   It sailed the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and across the Black Sea.   It climbed mountains and was spoken across language barriers giving new-found hope to those who would open their hearts.  People accustomed to the family of Greek and Roman Gods and the plethora of ancient tribal deities heard, for the first time, that the God of all loved them.   That He forgave their sins, and wanted to live through their hearts and hands.   Revenge was replaced with hope; hope could finally spring eternal.

And all because people talked with each other.   Because people took Paul’s letters and shared them, preserved them, used them as a way to get to know this Jesus.   Because God answered Paul’s prayer.  Word traveled fast.   It still does today.   If you don’t believe that, consider that, in less than 4 decades, over 200 million people have come to faith in the dictatorship of Communist China.   In the years to come, there could (and probably will be) more Christians there than anywhere else on earth.   Good news travels fast and it can put down deep roots even in the harshest soil.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:2.

Lord, I praise You for Your word traveling fast!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 23 May 2018

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  1 Thessalonians 5:10 (NIV).

Jesus died for everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, whether we accept Him or not, so that we may spend eternity with Him.  Dear unbelievers, read verse 10 again.   Then have a nice day.  No that isn’t smug:   it’s a plea.   It’s an invitation.   It’s a statement of fact.  It’s a mission statement.  It’s a challenge.  It’s a matter of life and death, both His and ours.

In reality, it’s almost unfair to talk about this verse apart from the ones immediately preceding and succeeding it; I encourage you to read both.  Jesus died for us so that we don’t have to live in wrath, or anticipate God’s wrath.   He did it knowing that this would be the best news humanity would ever receive:  IF we chose to accept it.

Preachers are fond of (correctly) saying that Paul was the greatest missionary who ever lived.   When you read his books again and again, you find that Paul easily, seamlessly mixes both practical and supernatural arguments for Christ.   To him, the supernatural was matter of fact, an accepted thing.   We of the ‘enlightened’ post-modern world seem to have a hard time believing that the supernatural is true (even though we don’t seem to have much difficulty thinking comic book movies are reflections of how we wish we could be).

That’s just now how things were with Paul, and with the people of his day.   They had lived in the time of Jesus, seeing Him personally both before and after resurrection.   They had witnessed miracles performed by Christ and by His followers.   They lived in a world that accepted God (and gods) as facts, as part of the natural order; indeed, people of the first century more readily accepted divine creation than we did, and they lived in a time where science and logic ruled the public square even more so than now.

Yet, then as now, they still questioned, marveled, and wondered at how Paul could say the things he did and mean them.   After all, people simply didn’t die and come back the way Jesus did.   People then as now were skeptical, even hostile, to ideas that offended their sensibilities.

And yet, when all the skepticism quieted down, Paul’s words still stood, un-recanted and unchallengeable.  This Jesus, murdered by Jerusalem and Rome together, died even for them so that even they might live in peace with Him forever.  In a hostile world, Jesus’ words offered a better way, a fresh start.   They’re truth to live and die by.  It was, and is, truth to make us rise again.

For further reading:  Romans 14:9, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Lord Jesus, only You could live and die for us.   Thank You for Your selfless death and resurrection.

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, 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 Hebrews, 6 December 2016

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Hebrews 5, verses 5-6.

First let’s discuss the Son and Father:  there is nobody else in all of human history who can hold that title other than Jesus Christ.   Christ is the only Son of God the Father while still being one with the Father.  He could have taken on the glory of accepting God’s calling to be an ordained high priest of the Jewish faith, but He didn’t.   He could have assumed God’s glory for Himself, but He didn’t.   If He had done these things, He wouldn’t have been the perfect Christ who satisfied the hundreds of Old Testament Biblical prophecies about the Christ.   And yet Jesus did become the ultimate priest, the ultimate pastor and Good Shepherd of God’s flock that is the church.   It is only Jesus who intercedes for us with the glorious Father, who demands perfection to satisfy His just holiness.   It is only Jesus who sacrificed Himself so that something could be done that had never been done before and couldn’t have been done since.   Only Jesus could atone for all of humanity’s wrongdoings; nobody before or since has so satisfied all the requirements of being the penultimate and perfect Passover lamb.

And then there’s Melchizedek.   Verse 6 quotes Psalm 110, which says “you are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizidek.”  Perhaps ancient Jewish discussions focused a lot on Melchizidek, who is a minor, almost obscure figure in the early part of Genesis.   But he was important.  Melchizedek is the “king of Salem” who came out to meet Abraham and to whom Abraham gave a tenth of all he owned (providing precedence for our practice of ten percent tithing).   Historically, almost nothing else is known of him though it’s interesting to note that “king of Salem” likely means that Melchizedek was the ruler or high priest of Salem.   That location was, according to some scholars, what became Jerusalem.  How fascinating is it, then, in knowing this considering the later importance of Jerusalem to the stories of King David, King Jesus, and even in our world today.

Some Bible scholars say that Melchizidek may have been a pre-incarnate Jesus, come to reside for a short time with His people but, as the author of Hebrews notes, “a priest forever” (and the only priest forever).  Other Bible scholars think Melchizekek may actually have been Shem, the son of Noah.   Shem had been on the Ark with Noah and the rest of their family, and is regarded as the father of the line of Semites (“Semite” being derived from the name Shem).   Shem was the son whom Noah blessed after Noah’s post-Flood sin of drunkenness.  He lived an extraordinarily long life both before and after the flood; after the flood he and so many others bore many children to repopulate a lonely and empty earth.  If you flow out the timeline, you find that there is a short period of overlap in the lives of Shem and Abraham, so the theory becomes possible, maybe even plausible.  That about exhausts my non-internet-researched knowledge of the topic; if more is to be known, we’ll have to consult Google, Bible scholars, or both.

In a few chapters we’ll talk more about Melchizidek; much of Chapter 7 is about him.  Whether he was the pre-incarnate Jesus or Shem or someone else altogether, if we navel-gaze about who he was we miss the point of what he represents in this verse (and in Psalm 110).   Melchizidek was the example of an ultimate high priest, one who would be able to intercede for man on man’s behalf.   Pastors do this.   They are men of character who both minister to us in ways we need, and pray to God on our behalf, which we also very much need.   The priesthood was and is a necessary function to human existence even when we don’t hold it in regard.   Pastors and priests, other than Joel Osteen, don’t make much money.   We hold them in high esteem yet we insist that the most effective of them live in near poverty.  Like God Himself, when times are good most of us don’t seem to want our pastors around, but when we fall on hard times we want them there immediately.   Whether he was Jesus, Shem or someone else, this is the kind of person Melchizidek must have been.   He must have been a deeply spiritual man who sought God’s will and God’s wisdom.   He must have been a man of impeccable character.  Melchizidek is a man from whom we can learn much even if we actually know very little about him.

Hold on to these thoughts…we’ll need them in a little while.

For more reading:   Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 7:1-22, Psalm 110:4.

Lord Jesus, thank You for the life of Melchizidek, and for the example He set in how You want Your priests and pastors to live here.   Indeed, Lord, for how You desire all of us to live.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 October 2016

He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.  Hebrews 3, verse 2.

Moses was God’s servant.   When Moses was a tiny baby, floating in the reed ark in the Nile, Jesus knew him.   When Moses murdered the Egyptian and fled in hypocritical fear, Jesus knew him.   When Moses stood in front of God’s presence and doubted himself and this God, Jesus knew him.   When Moses was an old man dying on top of Mount Nebo and looking into the Promised Land he was told he would never enter, Jesus knew him.  And when Moses, along with Elijah, appeared to Jesus, Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration, Jesus knew him.

You get the picture.   Jesus knew Moses.

And Moses, try as he did otherwise, knew Jesus.   He may not have known Jesus as the man incarnate, yet Moses knew Him as the three in one.  As Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 6 in the great Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”   Moses saw the Three in One personally, as God, as three persons in One.  He knew Jesus was God’s person abiding with Israel as it struggled with its newfound identity.   He knew Jesus as his deliverer and mediator when he stood in God’s presence and pleaded for his rebellious people.   He knew Jesus when He spoke comfort into Moses’ doubting heart.   And, after death, He knew Jesus as Lord, friend, man, and brother, talking with Him on that mountain in the desert where Jesus revealed a taste of His glory to a hungry world.

Through it all, Moses was God’s servant.   Just as Jesus was God’s servant.   Just as you and I are God’s servants.   Noodle that thought for a minute.  You and I have things in common with Moses and Jesus, the two greatest figures of antiquity, the deliverers of millions, the founders of Western civilization, and one of whom is God Immanuel the Savior of all mankind.  It isn’t just similarities, chance behaviors or traits we have in common with figures in history; you could say that about anyone.    No, we have a brotherhood, a familial bond with Jesus and Moses that goes beyond our shared humanity.   By God’s grace, He considers us to be His servants, doing His good and loving will in a world that needs to know Him.

I don’t know about you but I’ll admit that my independent American nature doesn’t like being told the best I can be is a servant.   I’m no slave…and yet I am one.  God forgive, then, my stupid head and ignorant heart.

Just this morning at the gym, I spent 10 minutes alone in the sauna.   I often do this at the end of my workout, and today I spent my time praying.   Going in, I decided I would only pray thanks to God for things that crossed my mind.   That and I wouldn’t pray for the same thing twice; it would only be new things that came to me during the prayers.   10 minutes doesn’t seem like that long of a time, but in reality it was.   Yet the longer I prayed, the harder – and easier – it became to pray for things.   By the end of it, I was praying for even simple things I’d taken for granted, things like dry floors and warm showers and clean clothes and even the air I breathed.

When I was done, I was left full.   I felt both satisfied and tired; can you imagine the thrilling exhaustion of praying for days-straight the way Nehemiah did before rebuilding the Jerusalem walls?   As I was walking out, I prayed again:   where would You have me serve today, Lord?   The God who appointed Moses to lead Israel out of slavery and into a new birth of liberty is the same God who sent His Son to deliver all of humanity out of slavery to sin and into the true birth of real liberty.   He is the same God who was with them in their most glorious and most trying moments.  And He is the same God who lives in the fires of the sun, the renewal of springtime, and the simple miracle of a newborn child.  God speaks to us in many ways, but in all those ways He calls to us to serve Him by using our lives and our talents in His purposes here on the Third Rock.  When we do this, we’re channeling our brothers Moses and Jesus, who were also God’s faithful servants:   servants we can know here and now.

For more reading:   Hebrews 3:5, Numbers 12:7, Deuteronomy 34:5-7, Joshua1:1-2, Psalm 105:26, Deuteronomy 6:4.

Lord God, I am Your servant today.   Thank You for blessing me this way.  Uphold me to do Your bidding as we will today, in service to You and Your good Kingdom.