Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 9 October 2018

Now to the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.   Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17 (NIV).

Most folks don’t usually end a letter in the middle, but Paul did.   I suppose he wasn’t like most folks, especially since he devoted half of his life to radically enforcing strict Judaism before (being shifted) 180 degrees and becoming history’s greatest evangelist for Christ.

Paul knew who to thank, who had earned the glory.   It wasn’t the man in the mirror.   Look in the mirror now (or as soon as you can).   You’re pretty special; God made you to be “very good” and someone in whom He could personally delight.   But you don’t deserve honor and glory forever and ever (amen).   You just don’t.   None of us do.

I started teaching Sunday School again for the first time in over a decade.   This season, I volunteered to help teach our church’s ‘tweeners’ (grades 3-5).   I believe that’s an important age for us to mentor kids because it’s the time when they start feeling their way into the world.   They become interested in music and movies and the world around them; they develop wider-ranging friendships; they start to make connections.

On Sunday I said this to the kids:   the same Jesus who loves us and holds us and died on the cross is the same God who created everything by speaking, and who kept Noah and his family alive on an ark while everything else around them was destroyed.   It’s true.  The same God who spoke in Genesis 1:1 and in every word, chapter and book of the Bible is the same God who promised “Yes, I am coming soon” as the Bible closes out.

The only thing you can say to such a God is “to You be all honor and glory forever and ever, amen.”

That’s an exploding grace bomb in your mind.   You and I (and Paul and Noah and everyone else) are sinners.   We were born to live in communion with God yet we messed it up.   Yet God sent His Son, Himself, to make right what we couldn’t.   He came to us in love to bring justice by declaring “it is finished” when He completed our salvation.  He is magnificent in every way, and every time you feel your heartbeat, or view a sunset, or contemplate the simple, complex beauty of a tree leaf, or simply wonder how you made it through today alive, you and I get to remind ourselves – and praise Him – that he is King, eternal, immortal, invisible and worthy of honor and glory forever.

That’s the perfect thought with which to conclude every action, every day, every letter, every moment.

For further reading:  Revelation 15:3, 1 Timothy 6:16, Colossians 1:15, Jude 25, Romans 11:36, 1 Timothy 1:18

Lord God, I praise You as my King, as eternal, immortal, invisible and worthy of all honor and glory forever.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 25 June 2018.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV).

This is a tall order.   Admit it:  you can’t do this on your own; I know I can’t.   I’m betting quite a few people are better than I am at behaving themselves and at resisting temptation.  There are quite a few people who wouldn’t give a second thought to the pet sins that have plagued my life.   But the dirty secret is that there are many of THEIR pet sins that wouldn’t interest me in the slightest yet these may be very real struggles for them.   Everyone has a vice, even the folks we consider to be upright or pious.   Gambling, porn, drinking, marijuana, profanity, power, gossip, pride; pick one or name another.  Got skin, got sin.

Which is why Paul ends his letter with this benediction.   He doesn’t end with “prayers and positive thoughts to you” or “thinking of you” or “best wishes, pal.”   He invokes the tangible, real presence of the all powerful creator in the daily lives of his friends.   He asks for, even implores, God’s real action in their lives.   And he prays for this over his friends, asking that God set them apart as pure, then preserve everything about them to keep them blameless.

Paul knows his friends will be tempted; he has just written about how evil will always work to tempt us and how we must reject it.   Paul understands that his fellow believers are sinners like himself.   Paul realizes that they can’t be blameless in God’s presence without God Himself making it possible.   So he prays this benediction over them, both requesting for them and reminding them that God gives peace and sanctification.   Only God can do this; only Jesus is the only way.

Hint:   that’s still true.   Paul’s words still resonate with us because they still apply.   The same God who spoke everything into existence through His Son is still abiding with us now.   The same God who watched that Son die on that cross – and felt it all through Him – is still living through us today.   The same God who forgave, sanctified, and strengthened Paul and the Thessalonians 2000 years ago is still doing those things for us today.   We don’t have to do anything to please God; in fact we can’t.   But we do need to see Him through our hearts, to submit to Him and believe Him.   Tall order or not, without God’s presence in our lives, we don’t stand much of a chance against evil.

For further reading:  Romans 15:33, Hebrews 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Lord Jesus, stay with me.   Sanctify me, forgive me, abide with me.   Without You, I am powerless.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 June 2015

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Mark 9, verse 1.

You and me:   we should be dead by now.   You know it as well as I do that, to paraphrase the apostle, we face death all day long.   Every day that we make it to work safely is a miracle.   Ditto waking up, digesting food, staying healthy from disease, nurturing a beating heart, and sleeping through the night.   Some might say those are simply the outcomes of impossible to predict random acts of chance and interaction.   I say they’re mini miracles that testify to the existence of God in the very details of our lives.

So how astounding is it that God Himself would say that some of those to whom He was speaking would soon see an astounding miracle promised for centuries.   That isn’t some miniature detail anyone would overlook.   It was a big deal, yet Jesus threw it down and, in context of what came next, it was prophetic.

Here’s another throw-down:   it’ll happen to you today as well.

Huh?   First some of that context. Keep in mind where Jesus was. He has just fed four thousand men, healed a blind man, (yet again) confronted the Pharisees, upbraided His friends, predicted His own death, and told people to get on His level regarding what they should expect from their faith in Him. Now He’s saying that not only will people who believe in Him die but that, before they do, they will see God coming in power. As we will see, shortly after this comes the Transfiguration and that display of power Jesus promised.

In my opinion, He also promised a different kind of power to us every day.

Are you thinking about Thor and his hammer?   Or Zeus smiting puny men with thunderbolts from Olympus?   Sauron marching to crush Middle Earth with a million ugly orcs?   Or perhaps a vengeful Allah vanquishing all enemies of Islam with his priestly army of fanatics?   These are the images of god-like beings wielding power that come to mind when we humans are left to our own devices. We think of power as the omnipotent use of force, of the physical being overtaken by the meta-physical, of forces beyond our control or understanding manipulating our lives from a position of strength.

Except that’s not how Jesus worked.   Or works now.   See, He promised the Disciples that He would display His power, and a few days hence He did.   Yet He also promises us the same thing every day.   I believe He delivers on that promise, and I see it in the majesty of sunsets, in the feel of my grandson hugging me around my neck.   I feel it in my beating heart, in the love of my family as we sit at the kitchen table, as I work in my garden where God gives me vocation and food. I see it at work in how He comforts distraught friends, how He turns around destruction to expand His kingdom of goodness, and how He works quietly through we sinful humans by our spreading word about Him.   Do you know Jesus?   Then you know Him in power and miracles.

I think it’s a miracle that we’re still alive to talk about this, given all the ways the world could kill us every day. Turn to Jesus and you see it really is.

Lord, thank You for Your miracles and power in my life.

Read Mark 9, verses 1-13.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 February 2015

The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no root; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. – Mark 4, verses 14-19.

Thanks for your patience in walking through this parable; I hope I’m not exasperating you.   It’s just that there are some themes in here worth sharing and now’s a good time to do that.

And I appreciate you patiently reading.   After all, this past Sunday was the Super Bowl.   Even if your team didn’t win, it’s an occasion when nearly a billion people on the planet are all focused on doing the same thing. Imagine what we, as a people, as humanity – the people of God – could do if we were all focused on doing the things God wants for us. Instead, we get wrapped all around lesser things like wealth, power, war, envy, and politics (but I repeat myself).

Because of that, the word is out there, available to all, and heard by all.   Not long ago I had a discussion with my pastor in which he said he thought that the Gospel had already been preached to the entire world.   I brought up the platitude about pygmies in the Amazon, and folks in the slavery of Iran and other places where radical Islamism doesn’t allow other information to be shared.   Yet his point stuck with me:   the Gospel has already been shared in every language on Earth.

Therefore Satan is still very much at work.   I like how Jesus treats Satan as a fact.   Satan is a real being; there really is a devil. Jesus treats him as a real being and as a real force in the world. Do we? Or do we treat Satan like a mental illness, like just another condition we can cure with pills?   That isn’t how Satan views us.   He thinks of us as tools, as things to use in his quest for power, war and dominion.   How ironic is it that he’s already defeated.

Tell that to the millions, though, who don’t realize that falling away is a choice.   We don’t have to cleave away from Jesus and His peace.   We choose to. We choose to fall away every time we choose anything that is sketchy or not of God. Surf the porn site and you aren’t choosing God. Let your anger get spun up and you aren’t choosing God.   We don’t need to be Adolf Hitler to not choose God.   We each do it a thousand times each day.

And yet we are here for a better purpose. We are here to bear fruit.   We are here to share Jesus with the world, using the talents He gives us, being ourselves.   We aren’t here to pay attention to Satan, or to fall away, or even to watch the Super Bowl.   We’re here to live Jesus for those who don’t know Him.   Nothing else matters.

Lord, govern my life and let Your purpose be my only purpose.

Read Mark 4, verse 20.