Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 23 May 2018

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  1 Thessalonians 5:10 (NIV).

Jesus died for everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, whether we accept Him or not, so that we may spend eternity with Him.  Dear unbelievers, read verse 10 again.   Then have a nice day.  No that isn’t smug:   it’s a plea.   It’s an invitation.   It’s a statement of fact.  It’s a mission statement.  It’s a challenge.  It’s a matter of life and death, both His and ours.

In reality, it’s almost unfair to talk about this verse apart from the ones immediately preceding and succeeding it; I encourage you to read both.  Jesus died for us so that we don’t have to live in wrath, or anticipate God’s wrath.   He did it knowing that this would be the best news humanity would ever receive:  IF we chose to accept it.

Preachers are fond of (correctly) saying that Paul was the greatest missionary who ever lived.   When you read his books again and again, you find that Paul easily, seamlessly mixes both practical and supernatural arguments for Christ.   To him, the supernatural was matter of fact, an accepted thing.   We of the ‘enlightened’ post-modern world seem to have a hard time believing that the supernatural is true (even though we don’t seem to have much difficulty thinking comic book movies are reflections of how we wish we could be).

That’s just now how things were with Paul, and with the people of his day.   They had lived in the time of Jesus, seeing Him personally both before and after resurrection.   They had witnessed miracles performed by Christ and by His followers.   They lived in a world that accepted God (and gods) as facts, as part of the natural order; indeed, people of the first century more readily accepted divine creation than we did, and they lived in a time where science and logic ruled the public square even more so than now.

Yet, then as now, they still questioned, marveled, and wondered at how Paul could say the things he did and mean them.   After all, people simply didn’t die and come back the way Jesus did.   People then as now were skeptical, even hostile, to ideas that offended their sensibilities.

And yet, when all the skepticism quieted down, Paul’s words still stood, un-recanted and unchallengeable.  This Jesus, murdered by Jerusalem and Rome together, died even for them so that even they might live in peace with Him forever.  In a hostile world, Jesus’ words offered a better way, a fresh start.   They’re truth to live and die by.  It was, and is, truth to make us rise again.

For further reading:  Romans 14:9, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Lord Jesus, only You could live and die for us.   Thank You for Your selfless death and resurrection.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 15 May 2018

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 (NIV).

WHAT??? Is Paul (and Jesus) telling us to get drunk?  I’ll admit it:   every now and then I’d like that, especially when I want to escape my problems.   Getting drunk would seem to numb the worries for a while, but that isn’t what Paul is telling us.

Is Paul telling us to spend our time sleeping?   I’ll admit it (again):   I envy people who can sleep for long stretches of time, twelve hours or more every day.   That’s an ability I don’t seem to have because I rarely sleep more than 4-6 hours at most.   But that isn’t what Paul is telling us either.

These verses allude to self-control.   Huh?

Remember that verse 5 talked about being in darkness, i.e. being in sin, not being wise about faith (or with our faith).   Those who don’t believe in this Jesus are in darkness and unwise.   Yes, many (maybe even most) are good people who live good lives and are upright, reputable, and friendly.   But they’re still unwise because the truth of Jesus is self-evident and they ignore it.  Indeed, Jesus Christ is the foundation of truth, the bedrock of it.  It’s a tough thing to say “I believe in Him” because it almost certainly guarantees you a tough row to hoe.   It’s hard to walk a faith walk, especially in a world that seems to chew up and spit out so many good people so easily.

That’s the fate of those who walk in darkness, willfully walking without Jesus.   They are asleep to Him, unaware of what goes on around them while they slumber through the reality that is God.  They aren’t sober; they’re drunk on the self-focused idolatry of saying “I know better.”  When you boil it down, that’s the profession of anyone who says they don’t believe in Jesus.   It’s a selfish, dark, empty thing.

When you’re asleep to Jesus, it is all night all day.  It is darkness because Jesus is the only light of the world.   What Paul is reminding us in these verses is that those who deny Jesus, refuse to follow Him, or even are ignorant of Him are in spiritual darkness.  Lest we think believers are any better, remember that hypocrites walk in darkness, too.   The antidote?   Start with self-control.   Control our wisdom; control our words.   Soberly place thoughts under our control, and consciously re-think on the light whenever darkness creeps in.   Do these things because non-followers are watching even while asleep, because these things give glory to God.

For further reading:  Romans 13:11, Matthew 25:13, Acts 24:25, Acts 2:15, Romans 13:13, 2 Peter 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

Lord, I pray, shine Your love-light for me today.   Guide my eyes to it, and shine brighter when my sight shifts elsewhere.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 19 April 2018

And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.  1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 (NIV).

Let’s zero in on four words of these three verses because, in our 21st century context, they don’t mean what they meant when Paul said them:   “mind your own business.”

When someone says those words to you today, they’re telling you off.   They’re telling you to get lost and get out of THEIR business.   That’s not what Paul is saying here.

In these verses, Paul is exhorting his friends to live humble lives.   Paul is telling the Thessalonians to pay attention to their own lives and be good stewards of them.  He’s telling them to model Jesus, who was the supreme example of humility.   He’s telling them to follow his own lead because, when Paul came to a new town, he did two things:   he ministered and he worked.   Paul was a tentmaker by trade, a man who cut and sewed cloth.   More than just that, a tentmaker provided durable, long lasting homes for nomadic peoples of his day.  When Paul entered a new town, in addition to teaching in the synagogues and town squares, he sought work with the locals.   He found ways to use his physical skills to earn a living and pay his own way.   In this way, God provided for Paul and served him as a good example for new believers to follow.  Through this, work became worship for all to see.

Paul isn’t telling his friends to butt out (although that could be a derivative of his message).   Instead, he’s reminding them to focus on their livelihoods.   Devote yourselves to the work you’re given, and do it well.   Through that, God would bless them with provision.  Doing these things would show others “there’s something about those Christians.   They are a good example.”   In this way, reliance on God would look like self-reliance to un-believers and serve as a good lesson no matter who was watching.

The same holds true for us today.   Think of the Amish, the hard working and completely self-sufficient community of believers who conduct their lives without modern conveniences.   You won’t find a more diligent group of believers anywhere.   I think the Amish follow Paul’s mold very well.   And think of what we aim to teach young people:  to learn trades, to prepare themselves for living.  I would submit that we, like the Amish and Paul, should emphasize more the importance of learning for earning as a way of worshipping God.   There can be no more important lesson.

For further reading:   1 Thessalonians 4:13.

Lord, I thank You for blessing me with work!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 18 April 2018

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.   1 Thessalonians 4:9 (NIV).

We who participate in social media would do well to remember this verse.   Are you, like me, guilty of not loving your fellow man on Facebook, Twitter, or some other program, especially when they disagree with you?   Are you, like me, guilty of forgetting that it was God Himself who taught us how to love each other?

We would do well to emulate the Thessalonians.   The Thessalonians took Paul’s instruction to heart, listening when he told them how God wanted them to honor Him with their sexuality and their other habits.   More than even that, they listened when Paul told them that God wanted them to love each other selflessly, completely, shamelessly.  Share with all; care for everyone; listen before speaking; seek understanding; show compassion.   Paul taught the Thessalonians to love each other completely the way God loved them.

Yet even better than that, we’d do well to emulate Jesus, who John quoted (in 13:34) as saying “a new command I give you:   Love one another.   As I have loved you, so you MUST love one another.”   It wasn’t a request; it wasn’t a suggestion:   it was a COMMAND.   A directive, an order.   Jesus didn’t do his best R. Lee Ermey (rest in peace, Gunney) and bark out the order.   Instead, he gave this command near the end of the Last Supper, the most personal moment of His life.   Jesus told His friends that He wanted them to do for others what He had done for them.   Love fully, love forgivingly, love from the heart, share the love that God gave them so that others will know it, too.   To truly be His followers, this was something they had to do, would feel compelled to do.

Why do this?   Jesus knew His Spirit would reside in and live through the lives of His friends.  Jesus’ Spirit can only live in a welcoming heart, and a welcoming heart can’t be welcoming without love.   If we love each other, we are living out the fruits of that Spirit, and God will shine through us.   Our lives will thrive because of that.

Paul didn’t need to write to his friends to remind them of these things.  Even in an age of barbarism they knew how to love the way Jesus did.   But, if you think about it, WE need to hear this lesson over and over.   We need to be reminded of it, clinging to it, and constantly taught how to do it because all too often we forget.

For further reading:   Romans 12:10, John 6:45, John 13:34, 1 Thessalonians 4:10.

My Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your gracious love, Your saving love.  Teach me again, today, how  to love the way you do for my friends and fellow man.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 11 April 2018

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.   1 Thessalonians 4:7 (NIV).

God is setting us up for failure.   God is setting a standard we can’t achieve.   God is telling us to do something that’s impossible for us.  On one hand, God is telling us to live holy lives and, on the other hand, He knows we’re sinful and can’t do that, so it’s unfair.

Yes on all counts.  With God all things are possible.

God asks us, commands us, to be holy because He is holy.   That’s straight out of Leviticus, reiterated here, and confirmed yet again in 1 Peter.  In fact, it’s mentioned over and over throughout both Testaments that we are to be holy as God is holy.   You and I, though, we’re sinners.   Holy is out of reach.  It seems unfair, then, for God to stipulate that we are to be holy if we are to be with Him.

Or is it?

The fact is that God made ‘holy’ attainable.  Fact is, Jesus made you holy by His death.   His last gasp was the last gasp of your unholiness.   The second He died it became possible for you to be holy again, like Adam was before he chowed down on the fruit.  Christ wiped away every hint of unholiness from your soul and made you right again in His sight.

He said it was possible because He was God and with God all things are possible.

So, yes, God allows us to fail because we’re sinners in a sinful world, but we’re holy because of Him.   God sets the highest standard possible for us that we can’t achieve on our own but he makes it achievable because of Himself.   God knows it’s impossible for us to do anything without Him, so He makes His Calvary sacrifice available to us free of charge.  God commands us to be holy because He made it so we can be.   All it takes, then, is for us to believe.

Whenever I have a bad day, or when I feel pressured to get things done, or when I feel out of my element, I get to see that God has done everything necessary for me to be holy again.   I was unholy for such a long time; I’m unholy in my choices every day.   Yet all it takes is a thought of the cross and we get to realize how puny our sins really are against all Jesus did.   You and I get to realize that Jesus Himself made it possible for us to succeed, to win, to do the possible, to be holy.

That, too, is a yes on all counts.

For further reading:   Matthew 19:26, Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:8.

Lord, thank You for making me holy because of Your Son.   Thank You for opening a holy eternity and a holy life now through Him.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 10 April 2018

…and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.   1 Thessalonians 4:6 (NIV).

In this verse, Paul is specifically talking about sex but you can easily extrapolate the verse to apply to all sin.   You’ll recall that the first verses of 1 Thessalonians 4 called the Thessalonians to live sexually pure lives, to use the gift of sex in Godly ways that will glorify Him.   Then comes this verse that identifies one of the chief effects of our sins, whether they’re adultery or murder.   It begs an obvious question.

How do you imagine our choices affect each other?

If I speed past you in my car, I’ve affected you, probably made you mad.   If you open the door for a stranger at Target, you’ve affected them, probably pleasing them.   If your child colors nice pictures all over your yearbook, they have affected you, and I won’t speculate how you feel about it.   You get the picture.   Things we say and do affect each other.

Imagine how you’d feel if someone slept with your spouse.   Imagine how you’d feel if someone you loved had knowingly conspired to deceive you about some terrible thing that cut to the heart of your relationship.   Imagine the betrayal and hurt.

Imagine how all these things must grieve Jesus, who showed us his better, most excellent way.  Do you think He sometimes feels betrayed by our sins?  I imagine He must, so thank God for His holy Spirit of forgiveness.

Leviticus 25 said it best:  “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.”   Here, fear of God is both respect and dread.   God spoke those words through Moses over a thousand years before Paul.  He said them to tell His people that He wanted them to revere Him by revering each other.   Treat each other with respect, kindness, and deference.   Part of that involves recognizing where we shouldn’t wrong each other.   Don’t speed by each other on the road.   Don’t hold grudges.   Don’t bed your neighbor’s spouse.  And remember that God is watching.

These commands weren’t given because God is a killjoy who doesn’t understand sex.  They were given to us as a reflection of His love, as a way to teach us how to put loving boundaries around our behavior so that others might love God fully too.  Faith in Jesus is an adventure in loving Him by living life.   The only “don’ts” in Christianity involve things that can hurt us in some way.   In this verse, God cautions that, while we hurt each other, He is aware…and “woke.”   There is a better way.

Perhaps Paul might agree.   Imagine that.

For further reading:   Leviticus 25:17, 1 Corinthians 6:8, Deuteronomy 32:35, Psalm 94:1, 1 Corinthians 12:32, 1 Thessalonians 4:7.

Lord, teach me to better follow You, reflect You, honor You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 April 2018

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.   1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (NIV).

Let’s hone in on ideas that are key to understanding sexuality.   It is God’s will that we be made holy.   It is God’s will that we avoid sexual sins.   It is God’s will that we each learn to control our biological sexuality.  It is God’s will that we continue to know Him in this way.   God wills that we use sex in Godly ways.

Re-read the verses, then please re-read my take on them because these verses put the world at our feet.   I’ll go further:  they make our mastery of any addiction possible.   What God wills in this world cannot be denied.

I’ve said it before:   I worshipped sex.   It’s part of the reason why I spent so much time in affairs.   It was immaturity and sin.   I put sex on a pedestal, mistakenly judging it as the ultimate expression of love in a relationship.   Over time, I came to see it as just something you do when you’re with someone.   I bought into the cheap grace of our society and turned a blind eye to the damage my selfish views did to other people.   My wife paid for it.   My kids paid for it.   My friends, my church, my co-workers, even ‘the other women’ paid for my selfishness.

And that’s part of the sin delusion, you see.   It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus.   I didn’t, we didn’t pay for my selfishness:   Jesus did.   He paid for ALL of it, including the guilt, the nagging regrets, and the emotional regurgitation every time my pet sins nag at my psyche.

The key to getting back on the straight and narrow was Jesus.   Without understanding that He and only He had done EVERYTHING I ever needed to change, I would still be mired in my immaturity and adultery.   And let’s be clear:   being in line with Jesus opens you to more of Satan’s attacks.   He still tempts, he still tries.  You need to resist in Christ.

Paul was teaching his friends that God willed for them to be sexually faithful, sexually pure, and humanly capable of mastering the same biological and emotional drives that face us now.  It was God’s will, God’s plan, God’s determination that His people not be plagued by these attacks, that they revere Him in sex.  If you’re suffering, then there’s hope for you.   The first step in your recovery is going to Jesus and submitting to Him taking control.   What Jesus wills for you won’t be denied.  Without taking that step, you’re stuck.

For further reading:   1 Thessalonians 4:6.

Lord Jesus, empower Yourself through me to control my sexuality.   Help me to worship You through this gift.