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!

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 10 August 2018

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NIV).

Why should we hold onto teachings of a bunch of old, dead, white guys?

That’s a refrain you hear a lot in our popular culture these days.   Mostly it concerns the US Constitution, written over 200 years ago by (now) old, dead, white guys; as if being old or Caucasian alone would either qualify or disqualify someone as reputable.  It’s a stupid argument, really, that we should ignore something because the authors aren’t alive anymore or because they were of a certain race.   It’s foolish.

Yet that same argument is used to justify ignoring the teachings of the Bible.   After all, they’re much older than the Constitution.   And the men who wrote them were men (sexism!) and if not white they were at least Mediterranean and Semitic in nature (racists!).   The purveyors of foolishness would have people believe that being male, white, Semitic, or aged should disqualify things they say.   Perhaps that would qualify much of Hollywood and the leaders of popular culture as well…but I digress.

Instead, here’s a chance to ignore all of what those around us would say and stand up for Jesus.  There’s an old hymn that says just that:   stand up, stand up for Jesus.   Stand up today.  Stand up for what you believe instead of being talked down by the vapid arguments of people with other agendas.   More importantly than standing up, though, stand firm.  Be firm and resolute in saying “I believe.”  Every day is a new opportunity to be your own Martin Luther and say “here I stand” by basing your stand in your belief in Christ.

That isn’t easy, especially when the small minds of popular culture have a loud voice.   When academia, media, and even corporate culture are standing against you.   When it’s easier to give in.   When so many evangelicals make standing up for Jesus a difficult, unpopular, and corny thing.  Our world is hostile to this faith; 2 Thessalonians spends much of its verbiage talking about how faith will be challenged at the end of all things.   Of how the world will do what it’s doing to believers, many of whom overseas are being physically martyred for standing up for Jesus.

Stand anyway.

Stand firm in knowing that who you’re standing for, what you believe, and the Savior who makes it possible is standing beside you.   He is with you in Spirit and inside you.   The strength to stand is the strength of God’s Spirit coursing through your veins.  You may be basing your faith on the words of old, dead, white guys, yet those words are given from God Almighty Himself:  He who has no age, eternal life, no race, and is never foolish.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:16.

Lord, I stand for You, for Your love, Your peace, Your strength, Your kingdom.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 December 2017

I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.  Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.  Hebrews 13, verses 23-24.

My son in law is current deployed overseas and he talks with his wife and daughter almost daily via Skype, Facebook, and Marco Polo.   I wish those things would have been available when I was still in the military.   And when my wife was overseas on a mission trip in Romania, we talked online (and did our daily devotion) every day via Skype.    When we were stationed overseas (in Italy) in the late 1980s, my wife and I would call home about once per month.  We looked forward to those calls as a real morale booster.   And, speaking of morale boosters, in the mid-80s, when I was deployed to sea, our team received periodic “personals”:   messages called into our unit office, then transmitted to us on the ship.   Getting one could make (or break) your day.

Still, it’s not the same as a letter.

No matter how you communicate, the important thing is to communicate.   In the days of the Hebrews, letters were the only method.   You could send someone to relate an in-person, personal account of something, and that was convincing (it still is).   But if you wanted to transmit an explicit, word-for-word message, you had to write it down and send it.   Years later, it would still preserve your message.   For instance, consider what you know just from these concluding verses in chapter 13:

  • Timothy, a fellow believer, has been released from custody
  • That same Timothy was on his way to meet the writer
  • Together, the two of them would likely travel to where the recipient of the letter lived
  • The writer fondly thought of his audience and asked them to greet mutual friends
  • Someone from Italy, acquainted with the writer, sent greetings.
  • There was more than one person there from Italy
  • There were things the writer wanted his reader to know

That’s a lot to pack into just a few words, but those are some of the messages the writer of the book conveyed as he closed out his epistle.   Two thousand years (and across five continents), we are still reading his messages.  The only way he could reach people across the Mediterranean and into southern Europe was to write a letter, and that letter enclosed good news about Jesus.   When it was done, the writer wanted to close fondly.   He wanted to end on a positive note, so he sent warm greetings.   How he did it didn’t matter as much, though, as THAT he did it.   That he answered God’s call to share a message with his fellow brothers and sisters.   We benefit from that today.

I saved the 1987 personal message that my (now) wife sent to me while I was at sea, asking for me to call on her when I returned home; as you’ll remember, thirty years ago yesterday I did.    It’s hanging in a small frame on the shelf as I walk into my closet.   Somewhere out in my storage unit I have several small boxes full of cards and letters that Hunnie and I exchanged when we were dating.   I also have boxes with that same correspondence from my parents in 1950s Germany, and even my grandparents thirty years before that.   One day, I’ll go back and read those old letters.   They still have something to say.

So this is a challenge to you, friend reader.   This Christmas, send out some Christmas cards (my wife and I are actually sending a New Year’s card this year instead).   Pick just one person you know and write a letter to them, then mail it.   Actually use snail mail.  Better yet, share a little Jesus in that letter, and close it out with warm regards.   Years from now, someone may just read it and cherish.

For further reading:  Acts 16:1, Acts 18:2.

Lord, thank You for communicating with us!

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 June 2017

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  Hebrews 10, verses 32-34.

Is this calling us to actively give up our possessions?  Is it telling us to be content in all circumstances, even when we’re being mistreated?   Actually, yes it is.   It ISN’T saying “be happy about it.”   God doesn’t tell us to enjoy suffering.   But He does tell us to put our trust in Him alone and be content with Him because He is more than enough to overcome any suffering.  He doesn’t promise Easy Street:   He promises to abide with us on any street.  Is this also telling us to turn the other cheek?   Again, yes it is.  When suffering happens, we should focus our joy on it’s true source, Jesus.   Instead of focusing on hurt, to stop the ‘bleeding’ of our suffering, we should focus on He who is with us even to the point of turning the other cheek to the one who is making us suffer.

A few days ago, my Billy Graham devotion reminded me that “joy” doesn’t equal “happiness” as the world defines happiness.   Brother (and sister), I understand this.   I’m sure you do, too.  Without divulging too many whines, my family is going through a difficult time.   For the moment, my wife and I are unemployed.  Just as He did the last time we went through this, God has a plan in all this.   To be honest, we don’t know what that plan is right now, but we do trust Him and His daily provision.   We’re still eating; we’re still breathing; midnight to midnight, we are still above the dirt.   Everything else is a gift from Him, even the struggles.  We pray the time will be short, and we’re blessed to be able to use it to do things that need to be done here on our farm.   God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Yet it can be a struggle to see happiness or joy in this.   “How could it” you might ask?   “Dave, you’re on the unemployment line again; you expect to be happy?”  Happy no, joy yes.   Every struggle, even unemployment or financial struggles, is an opportunity to make a choice for Jesus.  The verses aren’t saying that my problems will disappear.   It’s only saying that my unseen baggage from them can when I fix my eyes and hope on Christ.  If nothing else, why not ease that emotional burden?

And let’s get real:  the author of Hebrews wasn’t talking about a First-World situation like unemployment or paying your bills online.   He was talking about struggles like being tortured in Roman prisons.   About living in a world with astronomical infant mortality, real starvation, life expectancy of 45 years, and a host of other problems that most of us can’t fathom.   The first audience for verses 32-34 was comprised of people who lived in the primitive first century nations of the Mediterranean.  He was telling them to put all their trust, their hope, their everything on the shoulders of Jesus and let Jesus take the heat.   The author was telling his reader to rejoice in Jesus even when the branding iron struck your flesh, or you were kidnapped to row in a galley, or your family was sold off into slavery because you couldn’t pay your debts, or when they nailed you to a cross.

My puny problems pale compared to those things.   If our ancestors could trust Jesus through things like that, I can too.

I’ll admit:   it’s a struggle.   We are having to ‘skinny down;’ going through possessions, putting our farm up for sale, applying for jobs (literally) all over the world.   It’s hard to face being let go and rejected; it’s hard to face doing without things you’ve worked for or desire.   It hurts to go through this.  Jesus understands that.   He’s with us during these times and is calling us to put our faith in Him.  When the tough times are past, the lessons He’s teaching us today will come in handy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 6:4, Philippians 1:29-30, 1 Corinthians 4:9, Philippians 4:14, 1 Peter 1:4-5.

Lord, help me to trust You in all things.   Forgive my weakness and how I’ve failed You.   I trust You in Your teaching, Your provision, and Your discipline.