Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 12 March 2019

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.   2 Timothy 1:3 (NIV).

Ministry is a family business.   I know more than a few ministers whose parents and even grandparents were also ministers.   Me, I’m not a pastor, minister, reverend, or called servant of Christ.   Except for the desire He puts on my heart to help others and write these words, I’m not much of any kind of minister at all.   I’ve simply never felt that kind of a calling.   Nobody in my ancestry ever did, either.  Yet I know many ministers whose family history is service to God.   Multiple generations going into ministry; spouses, children and siblings all working in various kinds of ministry.   They put their all into it, usually for many hours of low-paying but Godly, satisfying work.

So I thank God, as my ancestors did, that there are men and women who feel God’s personal call into ministry.   They are formal, recognized servants of His Word.  They do a tough job so others don’t have to.  They actually do spend long periods of time, usually daily, in communication with the Lord.   Sometimes it’s formal, private, on-your-knees kind of prayer; sometimes it looks more like self-talk   But it’s the kind of activity that even we of this skeptical age would call “constantly remembering us in their prayers.”  That’s a big deal, you know.   Prayer isn’t just a wish list or some psychological panacea designed to make you feel better.  It’s a vital tool in the arsenal of a Christian warrior.   It’s involving God Almighty in everything for which we pray.   Pastors aren’t bystanders in the daily battles of life:   they’re warriors, leading from the front (as all good leaders must).

Our society favors those who work in a family business.   Farmers, military officers, politicians, stockbrokers, academics, factory workers, even athletes:   some of the most famous names in these fields come from families where multiple generations live, earn and serve in the same field.  It should be no surprise that Godly ministry favors the same dynamic.   Nobody in my family has ever gone into called ministry, though I do have an uncle who worked in prison ministry for many years and he’s the strongest believer I know.  Some of my best friends are pastors; it might surprise you to learn I’ve even partied with them…on multiple occasions.   Pastors are people too.  I thank God for them in my prayers because, long ago and over and over again, they’ve thanked Him for me in theirs.

For further reading:   2 Timothy 4.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for calling women and men to serve you in ministry.   Uphold them, strengthen them, give them courage and health and wisdom.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 8 January 2018

Paul, Silas, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.  1 Thessalonians 1:1.

Welcome to the 5 T’s:   1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus.  Two thousand years after they were written, we are still reading them and drawing wisdom and encouragement from them.  These five letters comprise 5 general letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church and to friends.   They are 5 of the 13 New Testament books written by Paul, which were actually letters instead of books, and they deal with ministry, encouragement, matters of faith, prophecy, and advice on matters of church practice.   Coolest of all, each of them starts with a flourishing greeting which finishes in praying for God’s grace and peace to the reader.   In reality, all of Paul’s letters start this way (though in the Timothy letters he prays for grace, mercy, and peace).

Have you ever started a letter like that?   Instead of a Christmas letter, this year my wife and I sent out a New Year’s letter (mainly because we were away from home over Christmas).   I’d like to think someone will be reading my holiday letters 2000 years from now the way we’re reading Paul’s but it’s 99.9% unlikely.  If they did, I’m sure that (like yours) they didn’t begin with such flourish.

Are you in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?   Sure you are, you might say; you believe.  But have you ever really had someone ask you about it?   At the start of a new year (and a new series of books), where are you in God and your Lord?   Let’s keep it real:   it isn’t up to us to determine where God has us.  It IS up to us to make the choice about whether or not we care about it, though, and what actions we should do if we find ourselves feeling separated from Him.

Make no mistake:   God is never away from us.   If we feel distant, it isn’t because of anything He’s done; sometimes it isn’t even things we do.   Instead, things cloud our hearts that keep us feeling away from Him.   Or the enemy tricks us into thinking God is far when, in fact, He’s as close as can be.  When that happens, it’s important to remember Paul’s flourishing greetings that end with grace and peace.   They’re reminders that God’s undeserved and unfathomable love is always with us, and that the peace only He gives is always within us.

His grace and peace are all throughout these five letters we begin reading today.   Look for them and you’ll see that.   What’s more, you’ll be in Him more as you do so.  He’s in you already.

For further reading:  2 Thessalonians 1:1, Acts 15:22, Acts 16:1, Romans 1:7, Titus 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 2-3.

Lord, infuse me with Your grace and peace.   Thank You for inspiring these letters into Paul so long ago.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 September 2017

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.  Hebrews 12, verses 12-13.

These verses strongly echo Isaiah 35, which says “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”   And it carries the echo of Galatians 6 which cautions men to counsel each other wisely and in Godly love, but to be wise ourselves to not be pulled into temptation.

So I’m attending a School of Discipleship and Ministry at the Calvary Chapel where we attend here in Paris.   This week’s lesson was about how to carry out the mission of the church.  In doing that, Jesus followers are encouraged, even expected, to live in ways that edify and glorify God, that are Godly and upright, and can be a good example for others.   That doesn’t mean being goody-goody or snotty:  it means ‘walking the walk and talking the talk.’   It means being honest and moral.  And that’s tough, especially in a poor town full of drug use, poverty, despair, and economic disadvantages.

Every day you live your life like that is like working out hard in the spiritual gym.   It’s like pumping serious iron of the soul.   Every time you say ‘no’ to temptation, you lift the weight, then put it down.  Every time you walk away when you could be confrontational you run the extra spiritual mile.   Every time…you get the picture.

Yet it’s true.  In order to walk a Godly walk we have to choose the best path.   We have to train ourselves up in the ways of the Word.  That requires studying Scriptures.   That requires personal prayer with God.   That requires doing things that Jesus wants us to do:   loving, listening, helping, serving, being selfless.  When all I want to do is buy a six pack and forget my many troubles, God calls me to write these words instead.  To listen to other believers, to share my story and work to serve others.   To walk away, confess my pain, accept His peace.

Man, that’s a tall order.   You better believe, then, our Savior is a tall, tall man.

During this School of Discipleship and Ministry, the pastor is talking about core beliefs of the church, about church history, about mission and vision, about leadership in the Lord.   The center of all he’s taught is Christ and only Christ.   I find that refreshing, and even though change is coming in my life I intend to keep returning to finish out the course.  I find it refreshing because so much else of the world in which I walk is focused elsewhere.   You know yours is as well.   NFL debates, same sex marriage, public corruption, celebrity wreckage, divorce, unemployment, kids having kids and kids aborting kids:   pick your poison.   In 2017 America there’s plenty to go around.   So I find my respite these weeks in going back to God, in focusing on first principles.   First of those is Jesus Christ is God who lived, died, and lives again to redeem sinners like me and you.   He did everything necessary to make that happen, and now He asks us to follow Him.   To follow requires a spiritual workout where you’ll flex muscles of the soul, sinew of the conscience, blood pumping and heart racing to new beats.

Yep:   that’s a tall order indeed.  Are you willing to stand up for the mission?   “I don’t think I can” you might be saying.   It might seem too embarrassing, too inconvenient, perhaps even too risky given the social world we live in.  But let me propose that, if you’re even thinking about it, God’s Spirit is already working within you, calling you to a new purpose, a new mission.   He’s giving you a mission He’s prepared just for you, and He’s going to ready you for it.   Put on your gym shoes, my friend.   We’re in training.

For further reading:  Isaiah 35:3-4, Proverbs 4:26, Galatians 6:1.

Lord, help me to train up more to serve You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 February 2017

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.  Hebrews 8, verse 3.

Think about that first statement:   every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.   I’ve never been part of a committee to hire a pastor, but I know a little bit about the process.  The pastoral calling is a calling, to be sure.   But it’s also a job.  Like other jobs, you’re vetted by potential congregational employers.   You network with other pastors and peers.   You can move around from place to place, moving  up, down, and around the pastoral chain of command.   And you can be fired or promoted.   You’re called by God into the ministry, but you’re hired by people to do the job.   You’re appointed.   You’re appointed specifically to perform pastoral duties that other leaders in other careers don’t perform.

Except Jesus.   Jesus wasn’t a Levite; we’ve talked about this before.   Jesus wasn’t part of the political structure in the synagogues or at the Temple.   Jesus was taught and trained by rabbis as a younger man (so much that He was frequently called “rabbi” (or ‘teacher’) by His followers), but he wasn’t an ordained priest.   He didn’t serve in the rotation to offer sacrifices at the Temple.  No, Jesus was the high priest simply by virtue of Him being Himself.   It wasn’t that the rules didn’t apply to Him:  it was that He kept them so perfectly that they no longer mattered.

So if Jesus isn’t an appointed priest, why does He need to have something to offer?   You know the answer:   He doesn’t, at least not by virtue of His being divine.   No, Jesus offers His personal sacrifice not for His sins, which were none, but for yours and mine, which are legion.  The priests of Jewish antiquity would slay animal sacrifices, then sprinkle the blood on altars and on the people as a way to remind them that their sins were paid in full.   Once a year, he would even sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant to fulfill God’s command and serve as yet another reminder of that salvation.   Jesus sprinkled His own blood on the sins of all mankind so that all men might benefit once.  Those animal sacrifices would no longer be necessary.

If you’re an unbeliever, this is the part where you’re saying “so what, big deal.”   Fair enough; yes, actually, fair enough.   Your lack of belief in the need for all this would be understandable.  Yet Jesus still offered it for you as well.   And what else He offers is something that wouldn’t have been available any other way except by the shedding of His own blood:  access.   Jesus offers access.   You reject that access if you choose to dis-believe, but He offers it too you anyway.

Jesus offers access to real peace, tranquility while living out the rest of our lives here on the Third Rock.   Jesus offers access to understanding of how belief in Him is the foundation of intellect and the purpose of reason.   Jesus offers access to the communion of saints, participation in a millennia-old following of the greatest people in history.   Jesus offers access to freedom, freedom from guilt and shame and all the negative things that can bog a man down.  And Jesus offers access to Himself, an opportunity for you to have a personal relationship with Him, one on one, so that you might share in His love and glory while giving those things to Him as His due:  all by loving other people as an expression of loving Him.   He created everything in love.   You get personal access to Him, our creator, because He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for things He didn’t do.

Make no mistake about it:   Jesus Christ is the central figure in all of human history.  It isn’t Marx; it isn’t Confucius; it isn’t Mohammed; it isn’t the Buddha.   It is Jesus and Jesus alone who stands at the center of all human history, human endeavor, human thought, and human potential.   He appointed Himself to supersede and make complete the need for and history of ritual sacrifices.   And in doing so, while at the center of all that is, He offers true access to what only He can offer.   Tell me, good friend:   why would you resist that?

For further reading:  Hebrews 2:17, 5:1, 9:9, 9:14.

My Lord and my God, I praise You for offering Yourself as the only atoning sacrifice for my wrongs.   I praise You and thank You for giving me access to You and, through You, to an eternity of love.