Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 22 October 2018

And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. 1 Timothy 2:7 (NIV).

Do you have a resume?   Do you keep yours up to date?   In the last few years, I’ve been out of work 3 times.   And I learned things have changed since 2001:  the last time I earnestly sought a new job.  Monster and Dice are still around, but now most tech employers use Indeed and LinkedIn.   I found that looking for a job was less about who I was as a person and more about the raw skills I possess.

As a tech worker, I’ve learned to keep my resume up to date.   Most times I use a 2-page format, and no more than 2-3 bullets per employer.   Some head hunters say to only go back a decade, but I keep all my skills on it, going back to 1986; some of my most important work was back then.   And my resume shows only what I consider most important, only the things that talk about what I can do AND who I am.

Today’s verse is Paul’s resume.   It testifies to his bona fides.   After talking about Christ being the one and only mediator, and after spending the first part of this letter talking about Christ’s grace, Paul goes to the subject of his qualifications to teach the ‘un-churched.’  In several of his letters, Paul discusses his calling as an apostle, that it came from Jesus Himself.   That mattered to the first-century church because that group was being pulled in many directions.   The original 11 apostles had known and walked with Jesus.   He established their resumes.  Now came this man Paul, who had been a famous Pharisee known for persecuting these new followers of “The Way” (as the church was then called).

What’s more, this Paul wasn’t teaching only the Jews, as most of the Apostles and Jewish rabbis did.   No, Paul was speaking about this Jesus to non-Jews:  to non-Jewish people all over the Roman empire.  Everywhere he went, Paul testified that Jesus was the authority to whom Paul gave all credit and from whom Paul had received his calling.

Paul kept up his resume.   You can read it in the twelve books he wrote in the New Testament.  You and I have similar credentials.  God gives us skills to work and talents to advertise, both for His advancement and ours.   He places us in situations to do or prepare us for work He has in mind.  The next time you update your resume, consider your skills and how God would use them – and you – at an employer.  I wonder what that would look like on LinkedIn.

For further reading: Romans 9:1, 2 Timothy 1:11, Acts 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:8

Lord, thank You for establishing Paul’s resume.   And for giving me the skills you want me to have for You in the world today.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 October 2018

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV).

I’ve been in a week-long discussion with people who dearly love the traditional Lutheran liturgy and worship service.   That’s the kind of environment in which I was raised; I love it, too.   These days, I worship in a place that is pretty non-traditional but still within the Missouri Synod structure.   Our services contain all the same elements of doctrine used in more traditional settings.   Yet our church focuses on Jesus’ mission in our lives, on being ‘disciples who make disciples who make disciples.’   On being in mission and worship every day, not just for an hour on Sunday.

Come to our church and you’ll find most people in jeans.   You won’t find hymnals but you’ll find both new and traditional praise music.  You’ll say the same creeds (though not as often) and hear the same Bible.   And you’ll be introduced to the living Christ.  Yet the focus isn’t on Lutheranism but on Jesus.  The letters “LCMS” are on the door but they aren’t where the emphasis is.  The folks with whom I was debating would be aghast at this.

Paul affirmed what others in the early church already knew:   there is one God and one Savior, one mediator between God and man.   That mediator is Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ.   He Himself is God and man, Savior and one representing those who need to be saved, fully man while being fully God at all times, and the Son in the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Spirit.  THAT is the message of the faith.

How we proclaim that message is somewhat up to us.  Lutherans (and others) call anything not commanded by Scripture “adiophora:” neither God-commanded nor forbidden.  In many settings, traditional, liturgical worship works.   It faithfully proclaims Christ while encouraging believers.   Yet in other settings (such as where I live), a different approach works.   My church’s non-traditional methods still faithfully proclaim Christ while encouraging believers.  As long as the focus in on proclaiming Christ, we’re arguing about window dressings.   One isn’t better than another.   They’re simply different ways of accomplishing the same goal, that is proclaiming the one God and one mediator.

If your church uses a generations-old liturgy, traditional hymnals, pastoral robes, and clings to worshipping the same way that generations have, then God bless you!   Keep doing it; God is pleased with that.   And if your church uses other methods like hymns on the screen, contemporary music, non-traditional schedules, and blue jeans, then God bless you, too.   Keep doing those things because they please God, too.   Something borrowed, something blue: it’s contemporary tradition.

For further reading: Deuteronomy 6:4, Romans 3:29-30, Galatians 3:20, Matthew 20:28, 1 Corinthians 1:6, 1 Timothy 2:7

Lord, bless our worship of You, the one and only God and one and only mediator.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 October 2018

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV).

Do you think churches who excommunicate members want them to be saved in the same way Jesus wants ALL people to be saved?  Call me skeptical but I’m betting most congregations practicing excommunication do so with an emotional mix of sadness and anger.  In the middle of that mix it is difficult to remember that the purpose of dis-engaging someone from Christian fellowship is to do something to help heal a breach in their faith.   Congregations don’t enter into this practice lightly, but I’m pretty sure there is un-righteous anger involved in most cases.

And what is Jesus wanting us to be saved from?   If you believe that we are sinners, the answer “sin” comes easily.   Yet there are so many people who posit that, once saved by Christ, we aren’t able to sin again.   Last night, during a Bible study, this subject came up.   We are saved once for all and walk forever in a state of grace no matter what we do, even when we sin.   We are foolish to think that once-saved believers also can’t harden their hearts or disavow the faith they embrace.  Or to choose sin instead of that grace.  Thank the Lord for His Way back.

What good is the knowledge of the truth?  Pontius Pilate is famously quoted as saying “veritas?” to Jesus when Jesus tells him that He is the truth.   It isn’t just the foundation of honesty to which Jesus is referring:   it is Himself.   Paul re-iterates this when he says that our Savior wants all people to have a knowledge of the truth.   In other words, Jesus wants all people to know Him.

Finally, does pleasing God (by praying, or doing other things) earn us points with Him?   To be frank, I can’t answer that; neither can you.   When something pleases God it’s up to Him what He does with it.   We don’t earn salvation; it is freely given by Christ to us because of who He is and not anything we’ve done.   We don’t have to pray for our leaders, but we should as a way to support them and to exercise our faith.   We don’t have to do good works, but we should because this pleases God and demonstrates our faith.   We don’t have to go to church but we should to worship, to build up others, and to be fueled ourselves.   I don’t know if this earns points with God, but I do believe living our fruits of His Spirit pleases Him and spreads His Gospel.   It means we choose Him, choose life.

Choose life; choose Jesus.   That’s the answer.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 5:4, Luke 1:47, Ezekiel 18:23, Titus 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:5

Lord, there are so many questions that I have.   Help me through them and thank You for my life of grace.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 October 2018

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV).

After talking about excommunicating wayward members, Paul then shifts to urging Timothy (and us) to pray for authorities.   The church leaders of then (and now) are authorities in our lives.   So are police, governments, the UN, bosses, corporate CEOs of companies whose products we use, pastors and leaders, and senior family members (in fact, all senior citizens).

Tell me, progressives:   when was the last time you prayed for President Trump?   Or my conservative friends, how often did you (or do you) pray for President Obama, or Ms. Pelosi, or George Soros?   If you’re like me, in this regard, you’ve failed.   You and I don’t usually pray for those with whom we disagree (or just don’t like).   If you don’t like President Trump or his policies, you may not be praying in thanksgiving for him.  If you didn’t like President Obama or his policies, chances are you didn’t pray in thanksgiving for him, either.

That’s a shame.   We’re losing great opportunities here because Paul recognized that prayer and thanksgiving (especially) are active, vital ways to participate in peoples’ lives, even those of far-off, remote leaders.   They are pure “get to” activities.   We get to pray for the president, our employees in Congress, and others we elect to do things for us that we can’t do ourselves. We get to pray for our bosses, managers, and executives that they would make good use of the time we entrust to them.   We get to pray for our parents, and for seniors who have lived long, useful lives that can teach us many things.

We should take every opportunity to pray in thanks for those who are above us in any way.  Sure, it’s altruistic but even Ayn Rand (who rejected religion) would have supported the idea of supporting leaders who are working for the betterment of all.   I don’t know Donald Trump, but I get to be actively involved in his life when I pray for him.   I don’t know Barack Obama, but I’m actively involved in his life when I pray for him.  Bill Gates, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Dalai Lama, the owner of your company, your pastor, that stranger who flipped you off on the road, and starving kids in India:  you may not know any of them, but Jesus gives you the opportunity to be part of them by actively praying for them.

We spend so much of our time excommunicating other people from our lives.  How about we re-communicate with them by first praying to our Lord for their benefit?

For further reading:  2 Timothy 2:17, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 2:1

Lord, today, help me to pray for leaders, and show me today just one person for whom I can pray.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 15 October 2018

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 1:18-20 (NIV).

If you aren’t familiar with it, to excommunicate someone is to cut them off from communing with the body of believers.   It’s a harsh action, one designed to excise someone whose talk or actions are corrosive and threatening to the health of the church.   But it wasn’t designed to be punishing.   Instead, it was designed to instruct, to give someone over to the sins they seem to be choosing over communion with the saints.   Some churches today still practice this kind of church discipline, and it’s supposed to be done in love, as a way to show the person the drastic and destructive nature of the things they are saying and doing.

Paul is talking about excommunicating Hymenaeus and Alexander.   In the first days of the growing Christian faith, to be excommunicated was a desperate action.   Theirs was a world of physical persecution and very real threat of death at the ‘righteous’ hands of ecclesiastical authorities (Jewish, Roman or Greek).   To be consigned to that was a desperate thing.   Paul did this because these men had crossed a line, saying or doing things that were blasphemous and intolerable.  If they were allowed to continue unaddressed, it could have threatened the nascent church; some things are intolerable for a reason.   Most important, Paul did it to teach the offenders so that they might turn and re-embrace the Lord.

Is that so different from firing a wayward employee?   Or telling a friend “if you keep doing it, we can’t be friends.”   It would be an awful thing to be ‘handed over to Satan’ to be taught a lesson, yet sometimes that’s what God may just call us to do.   Just make sure it’s for the right reasons.   Many years ago I watched a pastor excommunicate a member.   I was a member of the church council and the pastor, the church leader, wanted a member excommunicated because the member was saying terrible things about the church, even demonic things.   The thing about it was that the poor guy was schizophrenic and off his meds, yet the pastor insisted he was sensible and had his wits about him.  We voted to excommunicate him (I voted no).   That seemed like an abuse of excommunication.   For this and other reasons, my family and I left the church a few months later.

I wonder if the man or that pastor ever turned to Jesus.

For further reading:  2 Timothy 2:17, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 2:1

Lord, teach us to be wise with the powers of instruction that You give us.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 11 October 2018

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 1:18-20 (NIV).

How do we fight a spiritual war, and what happens when we give up?

An acquaintance of mine is suffering from Satan.   He and his brother are mired in the consequences of dabbling in Satan’s arts and humanism in general.  I’ve written about them before, but it’s still happening.   Just a few days ago, he sent a social media message asking ‘how to hold back the darkness.’   We don’t talk much, and that makes me sad.   But my wife and I pray for him daily, and we reach out as best we can, and we offer up that there are indeed ways to beat back the darkness.   They all start with going to God…and that’s precisely what these young men refuse to do.   Thus, the spiritual darkness is still happening all around them because they aren’t fighting the right way.   They’re shipwrecked.

It’s still happening because the spiritual war is ongoing.   It has been going on since Adam and Eve.  It has caused every war in human history, and it’s dividing America even today.  Got skin, got sin.   Our problem is a sin problem (Si Robertson said that), not a Democrat vs Republican problem.  Sin is why Jesus came, and died, and rose, and saved mankind.   If only my friends would embrace that simple, liberating truth.

But that’s tough to do.   It requires putting our trust in Jesus.   It requires letting down our guard..   More than that, it requires saying “you know better, Lord”, then letting Him take control of our lives.   We don’t “do” anything to cause, earn, or deserve our salvation; even Paul reminds us that salvation is a gift of love through God’s grace.   The only things we bring into the ‘salvation equation’ are our sins, the ways we’ve realized we need Jesus.  If you don’t sin, you don’t need Jesus.  But, as said earlier, got skin, got sin.   You may not like it, but you’re a sinner.   You aren’t making it out of here alive because death is the penalty for sin, and you will die.  The way to set things right is through Jesus.

I wish my friends could see that.  Instead, they’ve shipwrecked their hearts on the foolishness of insisting they know better.   That simple assertion has caused more pain than anything else in history.  It gives Satan a toe-hold in our lives.   It’s time to end the shipwreck disaster.   It’s time to fight the war.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 2:1

Lord, suit me up then fight for me in this war against the evil one.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 10 October 2018

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well. 1 Timothy 1:18 (NIV).

Suit up, fellow warrior.   You’re in a fight.   You believe in Jesus, so you’re in the fight for Him.   You need to be prepared for it, both in your armor and in letting go of your control.   Be ready to pick up your sword, but then stand back and watch Jesus do the hard work.  God has always done this:  fought for His people.   Yet He asks us to be ready to stand with Him.

It’s not that Jesus can’t (or doesn’t) do the heavy lifting for us.  We don’t HAVE TO do anything to earn His love, or earn Him fighting off evil for us.   We don’t do anything to contribute to our salvation by standing up for Jesus, or for our sisters & brothers, or even just by standing up for those who can’t.  We can’t do anything to become more powerful than God; it’s not possible.   Whom God intends to stand against, He will, and they will be defeated.

But…there’s always a but.   But Jesus asks us to do it anyway.  It’s not because we have to:  it’s because we get to.  Because He sent His Spirit to reshape us and give us the heart of a spiritual warrior.  Because He prepares us over time to accept His love, inculcate His teachings, and ready ourselves to face down the evil one.  All that happens to us it to prepare us for this moment, for now, to serve Jesus and stand for Him.

You may not realize it but you fight evil every day.  Hold the door for a stranger:   you’re fighting back evil.  Listen to your kids (or your mom and dad):  you’re thwarting Satan.   Do your best at work:  fighting for God.  Forgive someone who hurt you:  fighting for God and bringing a tear to Jesus’ eye.  “Here’s what the Bible says” when someone asks you why you believe what you do:  suit up, get up, and stand beside Jesus in the unending line of warriors on the front line.   You’re fighting in the battle of the ages:  one kind word at a time.

Paul was always ready to stand up for God.   After giving praise to God, he then coached Timothy, who himself was in training as a soldier-of-God.   Paul consistently used his words to give Timothy tools he could use.  The lesson for is the same:   give praise and get ready.  In World War II, there was a popular song, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”   That’s good advice; Paul might have said it himself.   Get up, soldier.   The fight is now.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 1:30, Joshua 23:10, Nehemiah 4:20, Ephesians 6:10-20, 1 Timothy 1:19

Lord, I praise You for Your mighty hand.  Uphold me as I stand for You.   Help me to always be on Your side.