Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 2 April 2020

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.  Philippians 4:23 (NIV).

Once again we come to the end of a book.  Except for Colossians, 1 Timothy, and Titus, Paul ended his letters by invoking the name of “Jesus Christ” (or “Christ Jesus” or “Lord”).   So let’s think about ending this book with that theme of, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

See, my friend, Gary, died from cancer a few days ago.   A friend’s dad, Gary courageously battled the disease for many months but it finally got the upper hand and took him.   I can almost picture Satan laughing with delight, just like Don McLean sang, the day the music died.

Except that isn’t what happened at all.   It was the grace of Jesus.  It’s really God who was laughing.   It’s really Jesus, and Gary, standing on the other side of death, laughing a big ole belly laugh at Satan taking yet another punch in the eye.   That happened because my friend believed in Jesus.   He believed in Jesus enough to inspire his son to grow up to be the kind of man who would devote his life to preaching and teaching the world about Jesus.   His son, Patrick, is a friend to whom I send my warmest tears and fondest prayers for Christ’s peace today.

Jesus understands that, because He imparts His awesome grace on my friend’s family, and all of us, and our world in general.   Especially today.  In the face of death all around, it matters more than ever to know that Jesus gives us His grace to be with our own spirits.   What is best in us gets to show through right now, because of Him, so that God’s kingdom might grow:   one kind act at a time by showing His grace.

That’s how it grew in Philippi.   That’s why Paul knew he could send prayers of Christ’s grace to his Philippian friends and they would know what he was talking about.   That’s how we can still know today that these words God gives us in the Bible mean more than ever and are still how Christ communicates.

Another is in knowing good people of faith pass from this life to the next.   It’s hard to watch good friends mourn the people they love most, even when we know those loved ones are celebrating in Paradise.   It hurts them.   Yet all things end, even books, and even our lives here.   The best we can do is listen, love generously, and pray.   Pray the Lord’s grace in my friend’s family because in Jesus, now and later, there is real life, true peace, honest meaning, and endless adventure.   There’s heaven now and later.  Until then, may His grace be with our spirits.

For further reading: the last verses of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Titus, Philemon, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians

Lord Jesus, all praise to You.   Thank You for Your grace.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 4 November 2019

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:1-2. (EHV).

Welcome back, my friend.   I’m very, very glad you’re here.   To echo Paul (and Timothy), grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whew!   That’s a pretty weighty way to begin a chat, isn’t it?   Here’s another weighty thing:   I’m not being very original here.   In fact, I’m following in the footsteps of my friend, Phil McKay, who pastors a Calvary Chapel in Paris, Texas.   Listening to his sermons inspired me to dive into Philippians, which has become one of my favorite books of the Bible.   If you haven’t read it, do yourself the pleasure of reading it today.   It’s only four chapters, only a few pages in the New Testament; it won’t take very long.

But it may just change your outlook today.   That may just change your life.   It isn’t me doing it.   It isn’t the Bible.   It isn’t even the Apostle Paul.  If your life is changed, it’s because God Himself is at work in you.   Philippians is about joy.   It’s about expressing joy over other believers living out their faith in Jesus.   Philippians is about real, practical Christianity at work in skeptical people.   It is about thankfulness, and humility, and standing firm in the faith, and about putting the Gospel to work in our world.

Or Paul’s world, to be specific.   Specifically in Philippi:   the same Philippi mentioned by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar 1500 years later.   The armies of Rome had fought a civil war battle near the Roman colony of Philippi (in Macedonia) after the assassination of Julius Caesar.   The outcome of that battle saw the primacy of the emperor rise because the victor, Octavian, soon crowned himself Emperor Augustus:   the same Augustus who reigned during the birth of Christ.   Philippi sat at the intersection of two roads that brought trade out of Asia Minor and to the western parts of the Empire.

Philippians was written only a century or so after that battle.  It was a crossroads of the Empire.  It’s no coincidence, then, that God would use Paul to plant a church there.   Think about it:   there were multiple paths for people to carry the Gospel further throughout the known world.   That could change lives everywhere because it already had in the pagan area around Philippi.

And it’s still happening in our world today.   You and I live near crossroads.   Because of where God has us, the Gospel can literally travel anywhere because people everywhere still need to hear it.  Philippi was an early success story in receiving that Gospel.   Paul knew it; so do we.  Welcome back my friend.   Let’s dive in.

For further reading:  Acts 16:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Philippians 1:3

Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your grace at Philippi and in this letter.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 June 2018

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  1 Thessalonians 5:28 (NIV).

What a great way to end a letter!   Read it again:   it’s the perfect way to end a letter to several dozen of your close friends.

Or several billion.

Or to begin your day.

Or to bless your dinner.

Or to greet someone at WalMart (go ahead:   try it!).

Or…or…you get the picture.

Next time you say goodbye, invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into their lives until you meet again.

In fact, shouldn’t this benediction be on your lips at all times?   When we really love someone, when we adore them, when we care enough to send the very best (including a Hallmark), shouldn’t we be blessing them with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them?  At or near the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Paul uses nearly identical words to bless his readers with the grace of Jesus.   He uses slightly different words in Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  The message:   Jesus is the perfect way to end a letter.

Or begin your day…or bless your dinner…or, again, you get the picture.

We can’t do any better than the grace of Jesus Christ.   It’s the grace of Christ that created us, then breathed life into us.   It is the grace of Christ that sustains us in breath, blood and bone every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we live and GET TO LIVE every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we get eternal life after this one, and that we get to be part of that eternity now.   It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can love.

If you could send a Hallmark to your very best friend, wouldn’t you want to end it by giving them the best you had to give?   That’s what Paul is saying here (and in all those other letters).   This was serious stuff to Paul who, just the verse prior to this one, had implored his friends to read the letter to others.   Back then, it wasn’t broken up into numbered verses; back then, Paul probably though people wouldn’t memorize his words.   But he knew that God had spoken through them and that they were important.   They were words that God wanted us to remember.

So it only follows that Paul would end the letter with a benediction that blesses the reader with the present grace of the God-man, Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  With that thought, Paul closes out his letter and so shall we.

See you next time.

For further reading: Romans 16:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Lord Jesus, bless me with Your wonderful grace today that I might share it with others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 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.

A few more words, please, about the opening to this letter.   Notice that it speaks for three people:   Paul, Silas, and Timothy (as does the opening to 2 Thessalonians).  As mentioned yesterday, all of Paul’s letters open with a flourish, and all of them open by naming (at least) the apostle.  Romans opens with Paul only (as do Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus), Paul and Sosthenes open 1 Corinthians, Paul and Timothy in 2 Corinthians (also Philippians, Colossians and Philemon), and Paul and “all the brothers with me” begin Galatians.

What does this mean?  To me, it speaks of the honesty of a growing movement.   Put yourself back in the First Century Mediterranean world dominated by Rome.  It was a barbaric culture spread across three continents.  Paul wrote many of his letters to churches in modern day Turkey (Corinth, Galatia, Colosse, and Ephesus are there) while Timothy was from that same area.   Philippi and Thessolonica are in Greece (with Thessalonica actually being in Macedonia), and it is believed Philemon was from Colosse.   All these churches grew out of Paul’s missionary efforts that began on the road to Damascas (in modern day Syria).   If you look at a map you see that Paul’s missionary journeys took him north from the Transjordan, around the Mediterranean coast, and even as far west as Rome (where he was eventually martyred).   That’s a distance of hundreds, even thousands, of miles:   all of it by foot, wagon or boat.

That doesn’t happen without reason.

All along the way, people listened.   Many listened, some rejected, but others believed.   Enough people believed to start churches, formal underground groups of followers committed to this new message of Jesus Christ, Himself only recently crucified.   The movement grew in spite of Roman physical oppression and Jewish ecclesiastical persecution.   It grew across languages, cultures, and boundaries.   Indeed, the three men who wrote just this letter were all from vastly different backgrounds with Paul being Judean, Silas a Greek, and Timothy from what we consider to be Turkey.

Again, that doesn’t happen by chance.   The fact that three men from different countries could come together to evangelize a radical new belief system that preached real non-violence, peace, and love towards enemies speaks volumes.   Even with 24/7 global communications, that rarely happens even today.   Yet that’s what happened in Paul’s day, in Paul’s life.   Before now, maybe you didn’t consider the implications of a simple though eccentric greeting in an obscure letter.   Hopefully after this, you’ll never forget it.

For further reading:  Read the first verses of the first chapters of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

Lord, thank You for the spectacular nature of Your church and the diverse leaders who started it.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 September 2016

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.   Hebrews 1, verse 4.

There are folks who say they don’t believe in Jesus or God because they don’t believe in things that are supernatural. I’ve met them; you probably have as well.   One friend told me he didn’t believe in God because he rejected the idea that some supernatural being would hold us accountable for original sin.   When I asked him about feeling the consequences of things done before him, he went off on a line of argument I no longer remember because I quickly tuned him out.

But what about you?   Do you believe in the supernatural?   Do you believe in angels?   Years ago, my toddler son and I were in our two story house, at home cleaning (actually, I was cleaning and he was playing).   He was upstairs in his room and I ran downstairs to get something.   A few seconds later I heard the stereo start blaring and I immediately thought “what has he done now?”   I assumed he had climbed the shelves to jack up the volume.   So I angrily ran upstairs to find him still sitting at the other end of the room, where he had accidentally taken a bottle of bleach and sprayed it in his eyes.   There was no physical way he could have toddled to the stereo cabinet, climbed the shelves, gotten down and toddled back to where he was and sprayed the bleach.   Something else happened.   A coincidental power surge? Maybe…or maybe not.   I prefer to think the supernatural reached into our natural world.

People of Jesus’ day believed in the supernatural.   They lived in the century during the waning years following the fall of the Greek empire:   the same Greece who spread her devotion to democracy, philosophy and reason throughout the world she conquered as well as the assumption that the supernatural was just as real as that new humanist thinking.   People back then believed that angels were real, and that they regularly participated in human existence as agents of the supernatural Almighty. Angels were beings with mighty powers, able to do superhuman tasks that regular people couldn’t do.

Have we become so ‘advanced’ as to think the supernatural possibilities no longer exist in a natural world we don’t fully understand?

No matter, the author of Hebrews states that Jesus the God-man is superior to the angels.   He, the Almighty deity who chose to immaculately conceive of Himself in humble origins, is superior to the angels created to be supermen. Jesus, the obscure carpenter and wayward prophet who was executed as a heinous criminal is superior to Michael, Gabriel and all the other supernatural beings – even Lucifer – created to serve God’s purposes.

Jesus is the bigger man…because He’s God. Consider all this is being said in a letter to encourage new Jewish converts familiar skeptical of these ideas.   Remember that this verse comes immediately after verses establishing how Jesus exactly is and represents God the Father in every way God ordains.   When we see Jesus, we’re seeing God.   You and I, we’re sinful, impure human beings; I’m the father who immediately assumed his son was misbehaving instead of assuming he could be in danger.   Without Jesus making things right, we have no way to stand in front of the just and holy God and not be vanquished for eternity.

What’s more, consider the name.   First century Jews understood that a name represented much about a person.   Their character, their mission in life, attributes about them:   all these things were summed up in one’s name. In the Hebrew language, Jesus means “God saves.”   In Hebrew and ancient tradition, as well, angels could not have or be sons.   But Jesus was given the name “God saves” and He was a son: a human adopted son to Joseph and the begotten Son of God. The name Jesus would have held great importance to the early believers of the church.   Kind of makes you give pause when selecting baby names today.

Yes, Jesus did make things right; He restored harmony to God’s plan by bringing the means for salvation.   He did it because He is all-powerful, because He’s greater and above the things we think of as powerful.   He did it because He and He alone could supernaturally reach into our world and set things back in order.   An angel couldn’t do that.   Lucifer doesn’t want that done.   But Jesus did it.   He still does it today.

In the coming verses we’ll see how the author uses Old Testament Scripture (with which the Hebrew converts would have been familiar) to prove Jesus’ divinity.   And in the years since that day when I was cleaning the house, I’m thankful some angel paid us a visit to convince a distracted young father that his infant son was in danger.

For more reading:   Ephesians 1:21, Philippians 2: 9-10.

Lord, I’m thankful that You and only You are above all beings and above all names.