Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 31 January 2019

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.  1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV).

Slavery was officially outlawed in the United States on Dec 6, 1865 when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.  That amendment was ratified in less than a year; 309 days, and only 240 days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  Yet 154 years later, slavery is still a sore subject in America for many reasons.

Did you know that, even under slavery, black culture was the most devout, Christian culture in the nation?  As a matter of fact, all through out the history of America, it is the African American community that has held closest to the core values of Christianity.  That’s an amazing fact, and an amazing testament to both the power of Jesus Christ and the strength of character of good people who were subjugated but followed Jesus anyway.   Today, much time in our society, especially in our popular culture, is devoted to doing what we can to make amends for the national sin of slavery, even though it ended so many generations ago.   Why is that?

Perhaps the answer to that is found in re-reading verse 1.  How could any people not feel the guilt of history on them when they see that those subjugated as slaves often kept Paul’s hard advice better than the advantaged population that subjugated them?  Indeed, it’s a tough thing to do, considering your ‘masters’, often regarded as adversaries, worthy of respect.   Yet that’s what Paul asks us to do.

Indeed, slavery was commonplace in Paul’s time.   The Romans and Greeks conquered vast reaches of territory and enslaved those they conquered (if they even let them live).  Every nation in history, up to that point, had practiced and known slavery.   To break the cycle of hatred, Jesus commanded us to respect our masters, giving them honor as God’s representatives.   A slave master God’s representative?   Yes.

That is nether an acceptance nor toleration of slavery.   It’s simply a way of honoring God by honoring the people put over us.   Not many people in America are enslaved today; that 13th Amendment outlawed it.   Yet a dishonorable truth is that slavery – human trafficking, prostitution, drug runners, even people in common workplaces – still does indeed exist in the United States.  In fact, it exists in many areas of the world.   We who aren’t enslaved should use our righteous position to work against slavery.   And when we do encounter it, it’s up to us to remind those afflicted to give God honor in all aspects of their lives so that they may draw nearer to Him in true freedom.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:5 & 8, Colossians 3:22-24, 1 Timothy 6:2.

Lord, Your example is for us to not enslave others.   Help us to honor you by honoring those above us, even our ‘masters.’

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 23 January 2019

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.  1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NIV).

God keeps it real.   There’s a real temptation to think of the Bible as a bunch of quaint and helpful ancient stories but not applicable in our time.  Check that temptation at the door, my friend.   Your God, your Savior Jesus, is real.   He’s in your face and heart  He deals with contemporary problems in our day and time the same as He did in His own day and time in 1st Century Judea (indeed, all the way back to Eden).   It’s impossible to think that Jesus’ Spirit lives and works through us and not accept that He’s dealing with the issues we’re dealing with as we deal with them.

One of those is that some of our church leaders – indeed, our leaders in any group – are sinners like me and you.   Some of them (us) have done some pretty awful things.

There’s the teacher who’s having an affair.   There’s the treasurer who occasionally dips into the till because bills are tight in their home.   There’s the pious elder who’s a model of propriety but gives the single-finger salute to that guy in the left lane.  There’s the leader who teaches Sunday School but is also known for some pretty colorful language with their ‘posse’ or online.  Could be you, could be me; could also be the people we’ve entrusted to run our churches, projects, and other endeavors.   Sometimes truly destructive behavior intersects with our lives.

How does Paul remind us to deal with that?  Matthew 18:  go to them privately and confront them with what’s on your heart.   If they won’t listen, then gradually escalate, yet do so with the heart of wanting to be Jesus’ representative.   In all this, we are to act in love, in respect.   We can despise what someone does without disrespecting them.   There’s usually a side or story we don’t fully know.

For these times, God gives us those instructions (from Jesus Himself) in Matthew 18.   Speak privately, take a witness, and if there’s no repentance (or worse), go public.   Again, do it all with caring, no other motivation.

Allah wouldn’t do that.   Buddha would have you ignore it.  Many churches would say it isn’t enough.  But God gives us practical ways to deal with delicate situations while doing so through the love of His Son in His Spirit.  Got skin?  Got sin; we sinners do some wicked things.  Jesus loves us anyway, then moves our hearts so we may change.   How real is it, too, that He doesn’t simply smite us but offers us a path home instead?

For further reading: Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Timothy 4:2, Acts 11:30, Titus 1:13, Deuteronomy 13:11, 1 Timothy 5:21.

My Lord, You are worthy of praise for giving us ways to deal with each other!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 22 January 2019

 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”  1 Timothy 5:18 (NIV).

It’s important to note that Paul says these words in the context of honoring elders, especially church workers; let’s not lose sight of that as we look at other ways to apply this.  Paul was quoting Jesus when he said “the worker deserves his wages.”  In the context of talking about elders and people who serve others, what do you think that means?

Perhaps it means that the ‘payment’ due to those who serve the others is respect.   Jesus earned that payment for us.  The concept of “dissing” someone comes from the 90s hip-hop culture in urban America.   “Don’t disrespect me, or my posse.”  Yet the mavens of pop culture don’t recognize that they are simply observing the same advice Paul gave here, namely to respect those who are older and wiser because Jesus made it so their lives of service merit respect.   Even more, Paul is really extending the concept of the Fifth Commandment to honor our parents.  Respect isn’t something you earn because of the bling, the Mercedes, or the fancy clothes.   It’s earned by exhibiting God’s wisdom.

Years ago, one of my old bosses used to say that we should ‘listen to the graybeards.’   In fact, all throughout the military, the enlisted ranks culture of learning from the senior NCOs goes back generations.   It’s one of the things that sets the military apart from civilian ventures:  an institutionalized system of formal respect for those who have advanced before and over your ranks.   Most times, those senior NCOs earned their positions through merit and hard work.   In my experience, a young guy could learn a lot from watching what a master sergeant did.  Those old guys were wise to the ways of the world.

So it is with our church elders.  They (usually) volunteer to serve because years of experience have taught them the value of serving Jesus in serving others.   Shouldn’t we respect that?

Last, what did Paul mean by saying “do not muzzle and ox while it is treading out the grain?”   That’s taken directly from Moses’ reiterated commands of the law in Deuteronomy.   In Paul’s context, he’s talking about ministers who ‘farm’ a field of believers.   Some bear bountiful crops; others not so much.   Yet we should do what we can to make sure they aren’t held back.   Most church staff members aren’t paid (or aren’t paid much).  So, when they’re enthusiastic (as most are), we should feed that enthusiasm by encouragement, prayer, and support.

Next time you see someone serving in your church – or even in any group – thank them for what they do.

For further reading:  Deuteronomy 25:4, Luke 10:7, 1 Corinthians 9:7-9, Exodus 20:12, 1 Timothy 5:19.

My Lord, thank You for elders who you put in my path today.   Help me to learn from them, and to respect them.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 January 2019

The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.  1 Timothy 5:4-5 (NIV).

In our world, even one slip-up can be devastating.   It only takes a single one-night-stand to get a disease.   It only takes one rejection to have your hopes and dreams dashed during a vulnerable time.  The world is a tough place and jumping out into it is even tougher.  Keep our eyes on God and not the world around us.  Is this blog-post going to be full of platitudes and bland aphorisms?  No; I don’t like those either beyond them being reminders of truths we need to hear.   Yet there are things in those platitudes that matter because people are in real need all around us.

Losing someone you love is the most devastating thing on earth.  We can deal with almost anything but when the person on whom we rely most is gone, our entire foundation is destroyed.  “I can’t imagine losing your spouse and not having faith.”   My mom said those words to me about a year after my Dad died.  Mom had faith and was still the most independent-minded person I’ve ever known.   And while I don’t think she spent night and day praying and asking God for help, in her own way and time she did those things.   She told me that she prayed and talked with God when she was alone until, one day, she had the thought “Grace, you can do this.”   That was after about six months in the fog of grief.   And, for her, that was the start of getting better, of knowing that God had given her all she needed to keep moving forward in life.   She did for another 16 years.

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us to honor our parents.   That can be extended to assume he’s telling us to honor both our parents and our other forbears and elders.  Then, in Romans, he reminds us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may know the will of God.  I’ve never been completely alone, even during the times when it felt that way.  And I have dived deep into living for pleasure and gotten out of it worse.  In all these cases, it’s because I didn’t extend honor, either to God or to anyone involved.   I strayed from working to let God renew my heart and mind, and I’m not even a widow.

Imagine how much worse off things could have been if I had just lost my spouse.   In that light, Paul’s exhortations are common-sense Godly advice.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:1-2, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 3:5, 1 Timothy 5:6.

Lord, help me to give honor to my elders, to live for You in all I do today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 8 January 2019

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 1 Timothy 4:14 (NIV).

What are your gifts?  What are the gifts you have that are unique to you, that set you apart?  And what are you doing with them?  Have you considered that God gave them to you, just for you, just for what He intends for your life?   Have you considered that He gave you these gifts so that your words and actions would serve His Kingdom in ways that only you can?

There are over 7 billion people here on the Third Rock, and that means God made over 7 billion unique people, each having unique talents, abilities, interests, and thoughts.   I can’t do what you do; you can’t do what I do.   That’s the case with all of us.   It’s how God made us, and it serves His purposes.   My son is a great welder, but I don’t know how to do that.   One of my daughters is great at interior design; the other is a great bartender.   I don’t know how to do those things.  I can write well but perhaps you don’t.  Baking cookies, organizing your garage, chopping wood, leading strangers, speaking in public, video gaming:  are you interested in these things?   You have at least one gift, probably more.   God gave them to you so that you might serve the Kingdom by using them.   What are you doing about that?

Even more, we like to validate those who have gifts.  Ever received an award, or even applause?   That’s validation.  In the church, we lay hands on people to affirm them, to demonstrate that we want to help channel God’s love into them to bless them.   We officiate at ceremonies that designate people as specially blessed; we call these “weddings” and “baptisms” and “funerals.”

Paul’s advice to Timothy is to not neglect his gifts.   To use them well in service to the church and to remember that this church – this underground group of persecuted religious rebels, at that time under threat of death by both the religious and political powers – believed those gifts were valuable.  Indeed, people foretold that “this young man will” whatever.   I don’t know about you but nobody that I know of has ever prophesied about me.   If they had, it would have made me think about what was foretold!

This isn’t to guilt you into doing more.   I’m betting your doing a lot now, and that you are doing the best you can.   Yet if there is something on your heart to do, something about which you’re passionate and isn’t in conflict with the Scriptures but you haven’t acted on it, what are you waiting for?   Maybe God is trying to tell you something.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 1:18. Acts 11:30, Acts 6:6, 1 Timothy 4:15

Lord God, thank You for the gifts You give to us.   Help us to use them well in service to You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 12 November 2018

Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron1 Timothy 4:2 (NIV).

Does your conscience bother you?  Sweet Home Alabama; love me some Skynyrd.

Paul called out hypocrites in the church who didn’t fully put their faith in Jesus.  He called out people who said they believed but acted differently.   Or people who said they believed but also practiced other things (like pagan beliefs, or holding onto the traditions of the Jews).  He was calling out people who tried to infuse “the Way” with practices and ideas that weren’t given by Jesus.   And, worst of all, Paul was calling out people who were following false teachings, teachings of “work righteousness (earning your salvation)” and the apostasy of saying there was no resurrection.

Paul was calling out people in Timothy’s flock who were following dangerous ways.   Do you think he could have been talking with us?

I mean, new age religions teach that we are our own gods, that we aren’t sinful (and if we aren’t sinful then we don’t need a savior).  We get wrapped up in things of this world so that we act as if we don’t need Jesus, don’t have time for Him, don’t want His old-fashioned ways.   How awful it is when things go south and we find out we need a Savior after all.

Are you bothered by things now?   Are you into things that you shouldn’t be, things that are sketchy or even outright dangerous?   Could Lynyrd Skynyrd be singing:  does your conscience bother you?  Jesus gave each of us a conscience so that we would know Him better.   He gave us a barometer of right and wrong so that we might learn to rely on Him more and live out our lives through Him.   Usually we’re steady, but we sometimes get into situations that are a risk to our spiritual, maybe even physical, health.   To whom do you listen when the going gets rough?

The good news in all of this is the Good News.   There’s nothing you’ve done that could ever separate you from the love of Jesus.   You can always listen to your heart and come back home.  If your conscience bothers you about something, that may just be His Spirit prodding you; “let’s have a talk.   What’s on your mind?”   We have a learned but innate sense of right and wrong; only the most inured or depraved of us fully give ourselves over to all sensuality and lose ourselves in the process.  Such folks have dull consciences.   Yet even they aren’t beyond the power or reach of Jesus.   He’s much bigger and stronger than anything that may plague us.  He came to save ALL people, even those of us who have done terrible things.   Sweet home Alabama ain’t got nothing on Jesus.

For further reading: Romans 8:37-39, Ephesians 4:19, 1 Timothy 4:3

Lord, I’ve said and done terrible things.   Forgive me when I let them bother me.  

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 7 November 2018

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:  He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.  1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV).

In Jesus’ day, people no different than us believed in Him.  People who were ridiculed, threatened, persecuted, confused believed in Jesus.   Sometimes we read these stories from the Bible and we seem to think that they were unusual people, ‘super-human’ people.   Jesus was.   All the rest of them?   Not so much.  The people who lived and heard and believed Jesus in His time were people just like us.  They looked, they listened, they let go, and they believed.   Why is it so tough for us?

You and I have the same information available to us that was available to popes all through history, to Billy Graham and Mother Theresa, to all the billions who have believed in Jesus since He returned to heaven.  Something about Him opened a window into our hearts and we believed.   Not because we’re special or even have special insight but because He is who He said He was.

And it’s beyond all reasonable doubt.   The words of the Bible are plain and they’re available for anyone who wants to read them.   As Paul says, Jesus is proven to be the Son of God beyond all question, not because Paul said so but because Jesus did so.   The mystery of the trinity and of Immanuel incarnate isn’t much of a mystery at all.  It was plainly proven over thousands of years.  Hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled only in Jesus Christ; if you don’t believe me, consult this site, then read the verses for yourself:  http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html.  Nobody else is possible; mathematically, it is 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 and there isn’t even a named number for that (see http://www.goodnewsdispatch.org/math.html).

When you put your faith in Jesus, you’re putting your faith in the only truly known or possible Savior in all of human history.   He’s fully God and fully man at the same time.  With only a thought He could compel you or I to follow Him.   But He doesn’t do that.

Instead, the Christ, proven beyond all reason and doubt, calls to us in love and asks us to follow Him.   He doesn’t demand it, command it, or force it.   Instead, Jesus introduces Himself and says “Be loved and forgiven, then share it.”   We don’t have to do that:  we get to do that.   Because of Him.  The people of His day weren’t any different than us.   They simply saw and believed.

For further reading:  Romans 16:25, John 1:14, Psalm 9:11, Colossians 1:23, Mark 16:19, Timothy 4:1

Lord, thank You for proving Yourself.   I believe in You.