Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 January 2019

Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  1 Timothy 5:7-8 (NIV).

Paul continues his advice to Timothy concerning widows; this actually continues through verse 16.   Yet here is his most plainspoken advice on how said advice also applies to how we interact with others (in addition to those widowed).

I grew up in a family of four.  My parents were good, middle-class parents, themselves from modest backgrounds (his in the family of a Philadelphia civil servant with four children, hers in a small, Minnesota farm-town family of five).  My sister and I were the only kids, and while we didn’t live extravagantly, we did live well.   We always had a house, even if it was hopelessly cluttered (my parents loved collectibles).   We always had food on the table, the bills paid (though sometimes barely so), reliable transportation, and church.   We took vacations to see the sights, traveling more of the country than most of my peers.  And we were supported in school; my parents cared deeply about education.  Most importantly, my sister and I can say that we were loved.   Sometimes it was chilly love and sometimes we struggled just to hold together as a family, but we always knew we were loved.

In fact, that could be put on my parents’ gravestone up in Oklahoma:  Mom and Dad did the best they could.  They did what they could with the talents and resources God gave them.   They provided for us everything they could, even when it seemed out of step.  I look around at so many broken families today and I sometimes forget to say “thank you” again to God that mine never ended up that way.   It wasn’t easy; there were times Mom and Dad could have cashed it in, but they didn’t.  They believed in each other; they believed in us; they believed in God (at least on Sundays, or when the music was particularly good.  Mom and Dad both loved good choral and church music).

My childhood wasn’t glamorous or thrilling but it was good.   I always knew what “home” felt like, and I knew how to build a home when I built a family of my own.  I feel sorry for those who don’t, those whose parents didn’t provide, or didn’t care to.  I hope they know that there’s still a chance for them.   God counsels all of us that, even when our earthly families fail us, He never does.   Today’s verse reminds us that we need to care for each other, especially in our families.   Aside from loving God, it’s our primary mission on Earth.

For further reading: 2 Peter 2:1, Jude 4, 1 Timothy 5:9.

My Lord, thank You for my parents and my childhood family.   Thank You for inspiring them to do the best they could and to know You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 3 April 2018

For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.   1 Thessalonians 4:1 (NIV).

Let’s be real:  this verse sounds like a parent calling you out.  “Don’t make me say it again!”  Or your mom calls you by your middle name; “DAVID LEE COME HERE RIGHT NOW!”  We know Paul was the man who met Jesus on the road into Syria, and we know Jesus instituted a personal ministry into Paul.  Now here’s Paul saying he didn’t just say the things he did by his own authority but, instead, BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE LORD JESUS.

Throwdown, baby.  But not really.

Here’s a mind-blower:   you have that same authority.   When you speak from your follower’s heart, you’re speaking with the authority of the Lord Jesus.  When you tell what you believe, you’re speaking in the Lord Jesus.   When you follow Jesus, you speak with His authority.   When you say, “yeah, I believe in Him,” you’re standing up for Him and He’s speaking through you.  What will you do with that?   Perhaps a better question would be “what will it do with you?”

Face it:  this faith-walk thing can be crazy.  Up and down struggles, hypocrisy with overflowing blessings and gratitude for things you don’t deserve, real peace with real conflict:  being a believer in Jesus is the most real thing you can do.  And what are the instructions Jesus gives us through men and women like Paul?  Love the Lord you God with all your heart and all your mind.  When you’ve done that, repeat, then love your neighbor (i.e. everyone else) the same way.

Simple, right?

I bet the Thessalonians struggled with doing it.   We do; we probably aren’t much different from them, at least not temperamentally.   So Paul reminded them that he taught them the ways of Jesus by Jesus’ own authority.  It came straight from the top.  He spoke with wisdom and power and grace:   just like Jesus would.   But the Thessalonians were like us, and we’re like Paul.   We’re sinners, and we constantly need Jesus’ re-affirming wisdom, power and grace.  We need reminders to love God with all our hearts and minds; we need constant reminders to love each other with that same devotion.  When you fall down, when you slip into old habits, when you’re just having a rough day, you and I need reminders that Jesus is still living in us, speaking through us.   That we still speak and act in His authority.   Those reminders help us break through the fog and get back up when we’ve been knocked down.

So maybe it’s a more than good thing to hear my parents calling me out.

For further reading:   Luke 10:27, 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

Lord Jesus, speak through me today.   Speak Your authority over my words and actions, and help me to do Your bidding where I am today.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 September 2017

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  Hebrews 12, verse 7.

When we think of parental discipline, we tend to think of punishment, that discipline is strict or harsh or carries negative connotations.   That’s all sometimes true, but it’s also only half the picture and I think it misses the kind of discipline God is advising us to share with others.  My parents weren’t harsh.   They weren’t physical disciplinarians (though we got occasional spankings) but they could sometimes be cold.   Mom and Dad had my sister and I when they were older, in their thirties (a rarity in the 1960s), and I don’t think they had it in them to be physically harsh or abusive.   They had struggled to build a family and didn’t want to be physical.  Yet they could sometimes be distant, disconnected, even mean.   They yelled and argued from time to time; what couple doesn’t.   But that was the extent of their ‘violence.’

I wish, now, that they had felt closer to God, seeing Him as a providing Father.   I wish they had been more active in ‘discipling’ us.   God, our Father, is, and in being our disciplinarian, He plays many roles.

Mentor – I believe God schools us as parents.   He wants us to be, first and foremost, mentors to our kids.  Life is the most precious gift He gives, and He gives it to we the people as parents.   We get to create these little beings like ourselves, then raise them and teach them how to live in this world.   God wants us to mentor them so they will know Him, then know the ways of the world.   By focusing kids’ view of the world through God, we teach them that He is supreme over all.   That He is the provider, giver, and lover of all.   That He is all through the world yet close inside their hearts.   The best teachers for that lesson are Mom and Dad.   They can most effectively teach it by modeling that relationship, by inspiring their kids through active examples.

Show and tell – God gives us a world to live in so that we can teach our kids how to do the same.   Sometimes that involves teaching tough lessons; sometimes it involves standing by while we watch those kids learn those tough lessons on their own.  Yet we equip them to persevere and succeed if we mentor them in the ways of the Lord, then show them how to apply that teaching in all they do.  It’s like a game of show and tell, where you bring something and show it off to your class.   In parenting, our class is our kids, and they’re interested, engaged, ready to learn.   How about we teach them about their Savior?

Listening – One of the first times I remember really connecting with my father was the night my girlfriend (my fiancée actually) and I had a huge fight.  I stayed up all night, so upset that I couldn’t sleep.   Dad woke up and asked me what was wrong.   He then spent the rest of the night listening to me talk through the relationship from start until it’s (soon to be) finish.   I believe God put it on his heart to listen to me that night, so that when he finally did open up and share some of his own story I would be ready to receive it and understand.

Leading – Finally, we must lead.  This isn’t an option:   it’s a requirement.  You may not be comfortable ‘leading from the front’ but if you’re going to be a parent (and especially if you’re going to live as a God-fearing and God-following one) then you must lead.   You don’t have to be General Patton; you aren’t Billy Graham.  God didn’t make you to be either of them (unless He did).  Instead, He made you to be you, with your own memories, experiences, and abilities.   When you’re a parent, it’s your duty – and your privilege – to lead your kids and grandkids to the Lord.   You get to serve as the go-between, facilitating the relationship they can have with their Creator.   You do that by leading, by being yourself and using your talents to inspire others.

Sometimes doing all this involves tough love.   Today’s verse reminds us of that.   Sometimes that’s even the approach God takes with us.   God doesn’t bring sin into our lives but He can and does allow, even move, sin’s consequences to affect us.   That feels harsh when it happens, but He does it to build us up.  After all, the Proverb reminds us that ‘iron sharpens iron.’  Yet even in those times of adversity, God’s providing love is still with us.   If you’re a parent, you can understand that.   You love your kids even when you discipline them because, after all, they’re disciples and you want them to grow strong.   Now go out and prove it.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 8:5, 2 Samuel 7:14, Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 27:17.

My Lord, I praise You for the tough love You show, for discipline in my life, and for building me up through all of it.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 February 2017

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Hebrews 7, verse 26.

You NEED a holy high priest to intercede for you whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not.   You need it just like you need air, water, food and shelter.   Here endeth the sermon.

Now for the example.  A friend of mine has recently lost both of her parents.   I completely empathize with her because both of my parents are gone as well.   Her mom got sick and quickly died late last year.   Not long after, I talked with her and she said that she didn’t think her dad, who was also in failing health, would last long.   Her parents’ marriage had been close, Godly, and long, and my friend simply didn’t see how her dad would want to live long without his wife.   Turns out she was right as her dad died just this week.   Did he will himself to die or did the maladies of old age simply overtake him?   Perhaps it was a little bit of both.   The culprit in his passing really doesn’t matter, though, because the man and woman are both home with the Lord now, off on a new adventure that will last all eternity.   They’ll get to spend it with each other, with Jesus, and with millions of others who believed and were saved.

Here’s the kicker:   my friend doesn’t believe any of this.   She’s not an atheist:   she’s an unbeliever, one who doesn’t know but is apprehensive of taking the step that says “I believe.”  She and I have talked many times about this very thing, and several times I’ve held out hope – as I do especially now – that she would be brought to faith.   I see God’s Holy Spirit at work in her life, calling out to her to give up her pride and just embrace Him, yet she doesn’t.   If good can come out of grieving (and it usually does), then I hope and pray this good comes out of hers.   Heaven would be a much better place with my friend in it.

My friend doesn’t realize that she needs Jesus.   She needs Him as a holy high priest, one who is blameless, pure, set apart from we sinners, and exalted from the heaven where her parents now thrive.  A “need” is a necessity arising from circumstances.   My friend (and me, and you, and everyone here on the Third Rock) needs Jesus to be her personal high priest because the circumstances of her life include rebelling against His holy command to be perfect.   She hasn’t loved fully.   She’s done things that are wrong.   She’s willfully and sometimes gleefully dived deep into dark sins to which none of us should aspire.   Those things weigh her down, making temporal existence seem overpoweringly dreadful when it need not be so.  When we don’t realize our physical and spiritual need for Jesus, our lives are empty.   Life without Jesus is merely existence.

News flash, friend reader:   I could have just described you.   I DID just describe me, as well as my mourning friend.   Every single one of us sets ourselves apart from Jesus every time we sin against Him.   And every thought or deed that is not of Him is sin.   How can we abide by His command to be perfect?   It’s not that tough.   It starts by submitting to Him, believing in Him, giving ourselves over to Him, damn the world and the cost.   Yes, in giving ourselves over to Jesus, we damn, we condemn, our actions to be taken away from us.   We’re taken out of this world and begin to set foot, here and now, in a new world, a new existence where those things we condemn are separated away from us.   They’re taken away from us because Jesus Himself took them away.   I’ve described you, friend sinner, and I’ve described me, a sinner like you.

Like my friend.   Please keep her and her family in your prayers.   Pray that she would come to faith in the Savior who aches now to ease her pain, take away her burdens, and prepare her, too, to one day join her parents with Him in that new world of which they’re now forever citizens.

Lord Jesus, be with my friend and her family as they grieve.   Reach out, use me to reach out, to help her by being a friend and Your ambassador.  Touch her life and I pray she and all like her would come to You in faith.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 2 June 2014

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus chapter 20, verse 12.

In our Kardashian, father-is-an-idiot-in-every-sitcom world, this seems, well, so 1929, so bygone. Honoring your parents went out the window with the 1960; never trust anyone over 30 (even though most of the 60s malcontents are now in their 60s). I’m a parent; a parent, in fact, whose last child formally graduates from high school this week.   The prism through which I view the world changed when I became a parent, so I understand the flip side of this verse. It’s a cheap, easy shot to guilt each other over honoring our parents and elders, so, instead, how about a few other overlooked things about it?

“Your God.”   It’s a blanket statement that God is our God whether we believe in Him or not.   I like such statements because they’re a bare truth with which we can all relate. It’s also intensely personal.   God is simply because He is, and He is in our lives whether we accept that or not. God came to me, not the other way around.   He came to me and, because of that, He’s a part of my life.   The most important part.   By honoring my elders, I’m re-affirming that relationship because it’s actually Him I’m honoring.

“Live long.”   Who doesn’t want a long life?   Who doesn’t want to make the most out of the years we have on Planet Earth? This commandment affirms that, like His coming to us, God gives us life and wants us to live it well and long.   It’s His intention that we prosper here, that we live long to connect others to Him and to be blessed by Him.   It’s a love thing.

“Honor.”   We’ve talked about honor before. To honor is to give respect, to show reverence and deference.   What do you honor?   Do you honor anyone or anything, and how do you do it?   God tells us we should honor our parents, those whom He used to give us life.   There are times when that’s a struggle because our parents are people too and they’re usually the people closest to us who know us best. Sometimes it’s tough for me to honor someone who knows so much about me, especially when they do things that challenge or stress me.   Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why God implores us to honor them, knowing that our constant reverence and forgiveness helps to keep fertile the spiritual ground in which our lives may thrive here.

Yes, the concept of honoring our parents does indeed seem 1929 but, you know, my mom was born in that year.   I can live with that.

 

Lord, strengthen me to better honor my parents.

 

Read Exodus chapter 12, the Passover and the Exodus.   At long last, the day of deliverance comes…and it comes after a night of unprecedented terror.