Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 25 April 2019

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.  2 Timothy 2:16 (NIV).

Sorry ahead of time:  another rant.   I get into many debates online, standing up for what I believe in (just as those who are on the opposite side do the same).   I wish I could get back the countless hours and words I’ve expended online because I don’t think it has made much of a difference.   It’s a good thing to let others know that you support them, that they have allies.   Beyond that, I don’t see how my debating done much good.   Indeed, I’m ashamed of many things I’ve said; many words were unkind at best, contrary to this faith I profess here.   Hypocrisy:   I’m guilty.   Here endeth this rant as well.

We spend so much of our time these days talking about things that don’t really matter.   Our news is comprised of celebrities, meaningless sports, banal entertainment, and opinions disguised as facts.   Even worse, we gossip online; what else is social media but a new way of saying “look at me” or “did you hear about so & so?”  Even worse still, we thrive on ‘the chew’ in person.   Don’t believe me?   Try breaking into a clique the next time you go to church.  They’re there, just as exclusive as any schoolyard clique.   And they talk.   Boy do they talk!   I mean…boy, do WE talk!

Welcome to the fallen world.   It’s a world of godless chatter, of ancient tendencies and mis-behaviors given new life in person and online.   The more we indulge in it, the more we sully the good words of Jesus, who is still alive in us, who rose and is still King of Kings, here in the fallen world.   The more we do it, the more ungodly we become.   We become hypocrites.

Paul’s advice?   Avoid it.   Stop it if it starts with us, or passes through us.   But if we can’t effect it for good, then avoid it.   Stop the gossip chain with you, or me.   Gory TV?   Switch channels.   Political arguing?   Back out of it.   Better yet, pray for the other guy, and their candidate, and for our overall peace.   Part of a clique?   Go introduce yourself to the new guy.   Maybe give him a cup of that free church coffee and a donut.

It was good advice in the time of Paul, when true persecution really happened quite often.   It’s good advice here in the land of plenty, where we’re far from that kind of physical persecution…at least for now.  Let that be on our list of things to do in our fallen world now that winter has come (and gone), and we’re in a fresh season of growing.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 1:20, 2 Timothy 2:17.

Lord, help me to avoid godless chatter, changing my ways for Your good purpose.   Forgive me the ways I’ve failed You.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 23 April 2019

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.  2 Timothy 2:14 (NIV).

I’m becoming a fan of the Facebook snooze feature.   If a friend of mine sends a view or opinion that is particularly difficult to abide, or if what they say is particularly hostile, I turn off notifications for those comments.   I don’t want to un-friend them, but I don’t need the negativity.  Our comments may be well-received by some but also may be hurtful to others.   The better way would be to simply delete this social media so as to avoid the temptation.   But I enjoy Facebook for the ability to keep up with family and friends, and to share things like this blog, family moments, and things I believe both secular and faith-based.  So, until the point of staying off it altogether, I’m using the snooze.   I bet quite a few folks have done this to my comments already.

Thank God He doesn’t snooze us.  My friend, John, said (on Facebook about Facebook) that social media is a mile wide and an inch deep.   It’s designed to keep us quarreling, not really for our betterment.  Quarreling about words ruins us.   It ruins our relationships.   It ruins our families.   It ruins our politics.   It ruins our lives.

Paul wrote these words two millenia before social media existed.   In his day, social media was called “personal conversation.”   And if you think about it, those personal conversations have been made even easier to destroy by the advent of social media.   Online, you and I can say what we want without the responsibility for prudence that comes with saying those things face to face.   If you say something objectionable to someone face to face, they can (and often do) call you out on it, sometimes physically.   If we do that online, there’s no real response except to that the recipients’ emotions are activated.

Nothing good comes from that.  The book of Titus says that these are unprofitable and useless, producing nothing good that benefits anyone.  It was true then; it’s true now.   I need to act differently.   How about you?

This is the day after the day after Easter.   Jesus is still risen.   He is still alive, at work, living through you and I and all we think, say, and do.   We have the gift of electronic communication to enable us to reach each other instantly across the planet.  How will we use that today?   I’m working to do better, so I’m challenging you to do the same, even if that means snoozing it.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 1:4, Titus 3:9, 2 Timothy 2:15.

Forgiving Lord Jesus, help me to use the gifts of conversation and media responsibly, for Your benefit, in ways that help others.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 14 March 2019

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.   2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV).

The other night, during our Tuesday night online Bible study, we were talking about sharing our faith.   About how this can be a difficult thing to do, especially in our age of trepidation over what to say in public (lest someone else be so easily offended).  One of the participants brought up that talking about faith is a way of planting a seed.  We speak honestly (without being a jerk about it), and trust that Holy Spirit will do whatever He needs to do in order for our words to help His work.  At the time, we probably won’t know if we’ve helped someone.   But later, in some time of need, perhaps what we say will have taken root and lead them in some Godly way.   That part isn’t up to us.  It’s up to Him.

Reading today’s verse, that discussion becomes a little clearer.   In verse 4, Paul talks about remembering Timothy’s tears.   Here Paul says that this memory reminds him of Timothy’s sincere and honest faith in Jesus.   Timothy obviously walked and talked the same message, and something he did – crying – was an honest expression of that.  What’s more, Paul goes on to praise Timothy’s grandmother and mother, who had been the first people to express this faith to Timothy.   Maybe they cried a little, too.

Seems like they’d have lots of company.   What they did was to share their faith and their honesty about it.   Our outward posture often reflects our inward positions.   For Timothy (and probably Paul, Lois and Eunice), tears were an outward posture that reflected the inward position of a rock-solid faith in Jesus.  Timothy knew the Gospel was all true, that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life.   He had seen it for himself in the faith of others; he lived it out as he ministered to believers in Asia Minor.

That faith matters when the chips are down.   Times of need are one of the reasons why we’re encouraged to grow our faith in Christ because, through Him, we can have the strength to endure and overcome them.   People who see that know it.  Paul wrote 2 Timothy when he was imprisoned and knew he would soon be executed.   There could be no time of greater need, so sincere faith mattered deeply.   It matters the same to us, day by day.   Indeed, our daily practice of faith is perhaps more essential if we are to act on it when those critical times arrive.

For further reading:   Acts 16:1, 1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 6.

Lord Jesus, when times are tough, abide with me.   Strengthen me to strengthen others to stand true and firm in our faith in You.   Most important, teach us to live that out in love so that others might come to know You as well.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 6 February 2019

These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.  1 Timothy 6:2-5 (NIV).

True confession time:  I fail at this.   Paul could be talking about me.  I like to debate, I like to discuss things.   Mostly it’s because I love to learn, even from those with whom I disagree.  Yet that sometimes devolves into arguments, especially online.  I sometimes don’t know when to let up.  I may be getting better at holding my tongue, but that isn’t God’s standard.   His standard is “love your neighbor as yourself after you love Me first.”

To be honest, arguing online about politics, religion, and other topics of similar small stature isn’t godly teaching.

Paul reminds Timothy that the things he has said in this letter are godly teaching.  It’s not just from Paul:  it’s the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, revealed to Paul and shared here.   He reminds Timothy that not everyone will heed this teaching.   He reminds us of the same thing, and that seems even more apparent in the age of social media and world-wide internet.  Finally, Paul reminds both Timothy and us that there is no such thing as the Gospel of Jesus that will make you rich.   The so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ is no good news at all.   And it isn’t godly.

And that’s where I come back to admit, again, that I fail at these things.   My actions don’t measure up well against Paul’s admonitions, and my failings as a Christian are ungodly words and deeds that bring discredit on my Savior.

How about you?  If Jesus came back today, could you (or I) stand before Him and say “yep, Lord, I followed You in everything I said and did?”  I couldn’t say that; I doubt you could either.   We’re broken.  Paul’s words convict us because they’re true.

Yet we can’t leave it there.   When we confess these things to Jesus, He is always forgiving.  He heals the broken us.  He always reminds us “I paid for it.   I did everything that was needed.   You can let it go now; I’ve got this.”  Instead of constantly re-regretting the ungodly sins we confess, we are free to move forward.  THAT godly teaching is the foundation of everything Paul says.  That teaching turns our confessions of ungodly things into knowledge that will help us live forever.

For further reading: 2 Timothy 3:4&8, Titus 1:15, 1 Timothy 6:6.

Amazing Lord, You are holy.   I’m not.   Thank You for Your forgiveness, and help me to always remember it – and share it – today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 19 November 2018

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  1 Timothy 4:7 (NIV).

In the world online, if you read it on the Internet it’s obviously true, right?   Political conspiracies, celebrity gossip, re-written history, “hit like and share for Jesus to bless you:”   if it happens online it’s obviously true, isn’t it?   Paul never imagined anything like electronics or worldwide virtual media yet I’m betting he would have applied this same advice to the internet as he did to day to day real interactions between people.

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.

Horoscopes.   Superstitions.  Rumors and gossip.  Country platitudes.  Even in Paul’s time they happened, and even in Paul’s time they were widespread, traditional, and everywhere.   He saw these things could be destructive, could cause people to put their faith in chance and circumstance rather than the living Christ.  So Paul cautioned believers to reject these things, to have nothing to do with them.

Don’t forget that this verse is right after one where Paul exhorts Timothy to be a good minister, to be nourished and nourish others in the truths of Scripture.  It is in a section full of general instructions on high-level concepts such as adhering to doctrine, minding gifts, and hope.   Thus, it makes sense that Paul would here proffer general instructions on how to deal with myths and old wives’ tales.

Yet in a larger sense, he’s giving a specific piece of godly advice that is much-needed even today.  There are things in Paul’s world and ours that work to pull our focus away from Jesus.   You could list them all day and never complete the list.  Paul reminds us to reject them and keep our only focus on Jesus.  That requires discipline and work; individual effort.   He says “train yourself to be godly” and he’s saying it to us as well as to his protégé.  We are to shy away from superstitions.  We are to reject gossip.   We are to run away from conspiracies and ridiculousness because all these things work against the work of God’s Kingdom.

Chicken soup cures a cold.  Pregnancy heartburn indicates a hairy baby.  Itchy palms mean you won money.  Black cats are bad luck (ditto walking under a ladder).  Pick up a penny for good luck (unless it’s tails-up).   These colloquialisms seem harmless and quaint.   So does a poisonous spider.  Paul says we should have nothing to do with them.   That’s good advice still.  Anything that tries to change my focus away from Christ and onto myself is something to beware.

For further reading: 2 Timothy 2:16, 1 Timothy 4:8

Lord, constantly remind me to reject anything that threatens to pull my focus away from You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 7 June 2018

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NIV).

Before we move on from verse 15, let’s talk about one more aspect of it:   making sure.  The Geneva Bible translates those words “we desire you.”  The King James says “see that” as does the Living Bible.   And the New English Bible says “see to it.”   You get the picture.   In living our lives, we are to be engaged in others’ lives.   What’s more, in being engaged with others, we are to desire to see to it that NOBODY pays back wrong for wrong.   We are to live to serve others and keep them from doing harm.

In our age of social media, that’s getting tough.   We are each “all right all the time.”  Too many times I get caught up in the argument and try to be right instead of trying to help; how about you?   Jesus doesn’t tell us to back down when we’re wronged, but He does tell us to do all things being mindful of His example and the needs of others.  That includes online.  It’s hard to call out our friends when they step over the line.   It’s tough to back away from an argument without stooping to insults.  It’s difficult to know when to stop and let someone else have the last word.

Actually, though, it isn’t hard, tough, or difficult to do any of those things.   It’s Godly.   It’s what Jesus did.   It’s what Paul is imploring his friends to do.

And he’s imploring them to ALWAYS do it, to make sure we use our time, talents, and treasures to ensure we always treat others in a Christ-like manner.   We can’t be treating others in a Christ-like manner if we aren’t willing to politely, faithfully engage them where they are.   And we can’t be treating others in a Christ-like manner when we get wrapped around the axle of arguments, (largely unimportant) small points, and petty things.

Perhaps the root of it is pride.   Just yesterday, I read a Joyce Meyer devotion that talks about how a proud heart isn’t marked with having to get the last word, or always trying to be right, or always being argumentative or stressing others.   I’ve been proud; too proud.   Again, how about you?

The cure for that is to humbly walk back from my pride and focus on what Paul is echoing from the Lord.   Be engaged in other people.   Love, be patient, listen, seek understanding, be empathetic.   Above all, use your life to try to do good for others, to help them avoid doing wrong or being harmed.   No, it really isn’t hard at all to do any of those things.   We should desire for each other to see to that.

For further reading:  Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9, Ephesians 4:32, 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Lord, forgive me and teach me Your better way for living with people.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 January 2016

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me”. Mark 14, verses 6-7.

You know, if these words were uttered in 2016, I suspect some of us would jump to be offended by them.   “How dare Jesus insinuate that we don’t do enough to help the poor!”   “How rude of Him to insinuate that there will always be poor people!” “How dare Jesus say He’s better than us because He says He deserves to have a priceless bottle of perfume poured on Him!” Pretty shrill, don’t you think?

Yet I truly do think that we, as a society, really do sound that shrill.   Our tone wouldn’t be about Jesus:   it would be about us…just like that of Judas and the Apostles who were dissing the woman with the perfume. After all, social media is ‘all about me.’   The best description I’ve ever heard about Facebook is that “it’s an inch deep and a mile wide.” That plays well for the shrill age of offense. If you troll online boards, you’ll find that complaints about being offended are a common and recent topic. With so many factors bombarding our lives, it seems as if folks today find all kinds of reasons to be offended.   Turn those around and you quickly see that being offended isn’t about Jesus:   it’s about me and you.

Don’t be surprised, then, to hear that it’s nothing new.   Whatever Judas’ motive, both he and the other Apostles were offended by the woman who anointed Jesus with the expensive perfume.   Is it surprising, then, that Jesus would rebuke them on it?   What’s more, He not only rebuked them:   He told them to back off, then reminded them of why she was doing it. Doesn’t that still happen to you and I?   Aren’t we offended when someone rebukes us with things that we don’t want to hear, especially if those things are true?

What’s more, Jesus gave them a dose of reality.   To paraphrase, “I’m the Son of God and my human life is almost over.   Poor people aren’t the Son of God and they’re going to be around for a very long time.   Get with the program, boys.”   Jesus not only shamed Judas (and anyone who agreed with him) for his sin of pride, but He schooled them (read ‘taught,’ not ‘humiliated’) on why it was important that this woman’s act of faith be honored.   Millenia down the road, it’s easy to see that we need the schooling as well.   We need to be reminded that the Son of God is worth setting apart, worth honoring, worth dedication and remembrance with the best things this life has to offer.   That’s a very real thing to recognize because it brings the real Jesus of AD 33 into the real world of AD 2016.

Knowing all that, I wonder how many people are still offended.   Call me skeptical, maybe even cynical, for predicting that countless folks are still looking for a reason to be offended by the Son of God and the very radical ministry He performed. Go ahead and blow up my email for this.   It’s ok.   I’m not offended.   If it means you’re focusing on Jesus in your heart, then offend all day long.

Lord, may any offense in this world bring You glory and spread Your Word.

Read Mark 14, verses 1-11.