Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 15 August 2018

And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 2 Thessalonians 3:2 (NIV).

Not long ago I was staying at a home of a friend who has embraced evil.   In rejecting God he has replaced Him with evil and invited it into his home.   Now, I’ve always been skeptical of ‘haunted houses.’   They’re a Halloween gimmick and I never fully accepted the idea of evil living in one place…that is until I stayed there.   I’ve never truly felt such hopelessness, such rage, terror and loneliness, such sadness in a single place as I did staying a few days in this friend’s room.

There was a sinister poster on the wall; I was told from a video game.  The owner kept books about darkness there; books about hating God, about dark arts, about Satanist Aleister Crowley, about philosophy.   It was as if my friend is stewing his mind in twisted ideologies to find meaning.   I was told he didn’t read these things but why have them if not to use them somehow?   In my way of thinking, it’s impossible to keep something this grotesque around you and not be affected by it.

“For not everyone has faith.”

I couldn’t wait to get out of there.   I warned the owner of the house that they needed to face this and do something about it.  And I was harshly confronted by another member of the household in an attack I can only attribute to their vulnerability to a misunderstood evil.  When I left, I called my wife, overcome, and we spent the next half hour talking while I was in tears.

Have you ever encountered such a thing?   I know people who have conducted real exorcisms.   I have seen first-hand the result of what unabashed evil can do to a family.  I once saw my own grandmother seemingly transform through her eyes, in a matter of minutes, from placidness to manic panic in a fashion I could only think of as possession.  She was a woman of faith, yet evil in that moment overcame her.

I write these blog posts to, in my way, share the Gospel of Jesus with you.  That’s a call I believe God put on my heart, and it’s the motivation that keeps me doing them.  I know that some who read them don’t believe in Jesus, haven’t learned about Jesus, and some have even rejected Jesus.  Yet God hasn’t rejected them and He sends people like me and you to them to witness with how we live our lives.   The popular phrase is that believers are to be in the world but not of the world.  Yet here in the world, to not be of it, we constantly need God’s help to deliver us from evil as He Himself once said.   In advance of that help, we must pray.

For further reading:  Romans 15:31, 2 Thessalonians 3:3.

Lord, strengthen me to stand against evil then deliver me from it.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 12 June 2018

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV).

I’m always amazed at how much power God packs into short verses.  Good writers will tell you to not waste words.   Go easy on the adjectives, use adverbs sparsely, watch the prepositional phrases.  Above all:  brevity (which, said William Shakespeare, is the soul of wit).   God is the wittiest writer of all.

Rejoice always; noodle those two words for their power.  Not “don’t worry be happy” but “rejoice.”  Not “when you feel happy” but “always.”   Freaking always; as in “all the time” or “every minute of our lives” or “without ceasing” or even “wholeheartedly.”   That’s not wimpy.

Pray continually.  Be in 100% communion – in spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual union – with God at all times and in all ways.   Prayer is an active conduit; a transmission line of the most real, visceral matters of the heart.   Paul isn’t lobbing more human weight on us.  He’s imploring us to hook our lives up to God’s lifeline and channel Him into every second of our lives. The way to do that is prayer, praying in all that we do.   Make it second nature.

Give Thanks.  Give thanks when we awaken.   Give thanks when we fall asleep.  Give thanks for victories and defeats and challenges and setbacks and love and hurt and family and even enemies.   Give thanks in all circumstance for all circumstances serve God’s better purposes.

For this is:  for this is God’s will.  “This is.”   Think of those as a way of saying the I AM, the ultimate etre, to be, is being in your life.   What is is because He wills it to be so.  If something is, it is because of God, not because of any other reason for God is the only reason, God is the only being and ultimate truth.  We get to rejoice, pray with Him, and be thankful for Him.   Because of that, life has meaning and purpose.

Paul uses this benediction to remind his friends of the actions a follower of Jesus would want to take.   It isn’t easy:   doing these things – rejoicing, praying, giving thanks, accepting the fact of God – requires deep personal commitment.   Faith in Jesus isn’t for the faint of heart.   Indeed, not believing is the coward’s track in life.   Atheism and agnosticism are the easy paths even as they result in dead ends.   Yet Paul’s friends – and us – got to take these simple steps in a faith walk that continues to this day.

And God says it all in just a few simple words.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:7, Luke 18:1, Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:19

Lord, thank You for the power you pack into your words.  Make them the constitution of my life.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 7 March 2018

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 1 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).

This and coming verses explain that Paul loved the Thessalonians.  In context of chapter 2, it’s obvious he did.   That’s not an ordinary thing.  I find myself here in San Francisco this week not knowing how to react to the homeless.   I’ve been to SF many times but I’ve never seen as many homeless people here as there are this year.   What’s more, the city appears to be doing less and less to address the situation of so many folks needing genuine help.   Many are drug-dependent; many appear disturbed; many need help with money, food, hygiene, and health issues.   Our society tells us that we should be wary of such strangers.   Jesus (and probably Paul) wouldn’t have hesitated to help but Dave does.   What can you do to help someone who is in such desperate straits?

If nothing else, pray.  I don’t know the strangers I pass on the street, and the people who yell and scream out of the blue for no reason, or the guy kissing the magazine on the subway give compelling reasons to be apprehensive at least.   But I pray for them.   I pray for them, and I pray God opens my path and my heart to find a way to help.   Until then, I pray.   Pray for health, pray for peace, pray for safety, pray for food and shelter and assistance.  Jesus and Paul would probably do more; I pray, too, that God would enable me to do the same.

So, riddle me this Dave:   how does “best to be left by ourselves in Athens” demonstrate Paul’s love for anyone but Paul?  Did Paul only pray for them?  I think the key is in the first words of the chapter coupled with the last words of Chapter 2.   Recall that 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 said “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”  Paul says those things then immediately intimates that he was left alone in Athens because he loved the Thessalonians, whose love in Christ was Paul’s pride an joy.   He was left alone in Athens because he sent his friends Silas and Timothy to other places to love on other people, including the Thessalonians.

I bet that Paul’s first inclination was to pray for his new friends and the other strangers in their midst.   When you can’t do anything else because of distance, ability or even fear, you and I can pray because prayer is a real, tangible way to be involved.   And in it, you’re never alone.

For further reading: Acts 17:15, Thessalonians 3:2.

Lord Jesus, show me ways I can help.  Show me people I can pray for and help.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 10 January 2018

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.  1 Thessalonians 1:2.

This is something with which I struggle.  In fact, it was the subject of my personal devotion just this week.   How can someone continually pray?

If you read the verse, you’d think that all Paul, Silas, and Timothy did was pray; all day long, nothing but prayer.  Even in the first century, that would have been socially odd.  If you were praying all the time, you wouldn’t get anything else done.   You’d actually turn off the people you’re trying to witness.  Quite honestly, if you aren’t working, you aren’t using the talents and resources God made available to you, and that itself is ungodly (and lazy).

Joyce Meyer says that prayer is an attitude.  It’s an action that we should do like breathing, even unconsciously.   “Our spiritual life is designed to be nurtured and sustained by continual prayer,” she said.  Our spirit feeds on time with God.  We feed it through prayer, which is a conversation between you and your Maker.   It’s the way God gives us to communicate our thoughts and feelings to Him, and it’s one way He imparts His voice into our lives.   Think of it:   you get to have a one-on-one, private (if you want it to be) conversation with the Creator of all things and the God who saved you from your sins.   You don’t need a priest or pastor to do it for you:   you GET TO do it yourself.  He hears you and He always answers you, even when the answer takes years to understand.  Sometimes it’s a formal conversation and sometimes it’s just a chat.

Yet know these things.  Prayer isn’t about always hitting your knees, or bowing your head, or even doing it in private.   To pray, you don’t have to say the Lord’s Prayer first, or end every sentence with “selah” or “amen.”   You don’t have to act formal, and you don’t have to be in a church pew, be led by a pastor (or have him and only him do the praying), and you don’t have to pray in a deep voice that might resonate in the 15th Century king’s English.

Indeed, so many “don’ts” seem to paint prayer in a completely different light, one different from the kind of light painted by Paul, Silas, and Timothy.  And Joyce Meyer.   The light these folks shine on prayer is that it’s a way to talk with God, to thank Him for all He does, and to talk with Him about other people who affect you.   It’s an active way to battle evil.   It’s a real thing instead of just some church practice.   It’s something we get to do as easily and frequently as breathing.

For further reading:  Romans 1:8, Ephesians 5:20, Philippians 1:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 1:3.

Lord, thank You for prayer.   Hear my prayers, teach me to pray better, and thank You for the blessing You give of other people.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 30 November 2017

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.  Hebrews 13, verses 18-19.

Notice what the writer asks for:   prayer.   Not money.   Not weapons.   Not food.  Not manual labor or physical assistance or anything tangible we might consider.   He asks for prayer.

Sure, if you think prayer is just a wishing well or self-talk, this might seem like a harmless (albeit useless) request.  No harm in asking someone to do something that costs you nothing and doesn’t hurt anyone else, right?   If there is no God, then self-talking to a god who doesn’t exist is strange but mostly harmless.

Except that’s not how the writer of Hebrews viewed it.   Indeed, he realized his readers might not be able to help him, so he asked that they do what they could and pray.   Go back to that last paragraph and read it again:  no harm in asking someone to do something that costs you nothing and doesn’t hurt anyone.   That’s true about prayer.   Prayer costs you nothing, not even your time because you’re engaged in DOING something.   It has no physical cost; indeed, psychologists admit the mental health benefits of confessing one’s in-most thoughts in prayer.   It hurts nobody; indeed (again) disposing one’s attitude towards the needs of others builds compassion, empathy, and understanding.   I’m betting you can see that even non-believers would be hard-pressed to find the negatives in simple prayer.

But prayer is actually more.   Prayer is you taking an interest in someone else straight to God.   There’s no intermediary, no pontiff, no priest, no elder between you and your Lord.   You talk with Him directly and take your petition to Him.  That’s a pleasing thing to Jesus when we do it from the heart.  When you’re praying for someone else’s benefit, you’re participating in their lives even if they don’t know it.   You may not have any resources available to you to physically interact with them, but you can pray.   When you do, you’re asking for God’s personal touch in someone else’s life.   You’re asking the creator of the universe, the one who created you and whoever you’re praying for, to intervene for someone else’s benefit.   You’re asking Him to use you and the rest of His creation to help another fellow human being.   Smiles in heaven result.

And it’s even more than that.   Prayer is war.   Prayer is a weapon, a tactic, and a soldier.  When you pray, you are directly combating the evil prince of this world.   It isn’t cool these days to acknowledge that evil is real and that Satan is the father of evil.   It may not be cool but it’s still real.  The first, best way a follower of Jesus can combat Satan is to pray to God.   Even Satan knows God is real and more powerful than himself.   When you ally yourself with God through prayer, especially on someone else’s behalf, you’re directly confronting Satan.   He knows he has no power to stop or thwart that.   Sure, he may hit back; he probably will.   But he can do nothing to stop your prayer or lessen God’s response to them.   Hit your knees or pray as you will, but you’re in a long line of soldiers directly confronting the evil one and knocking him flat on his back.   Pray and advance forward.

The author of Hebrews knew all this.   That’s why he asked his fellow believers to pray.   He was sure in his faith and sure that their prayers would bear good fruit.  You and I can be sure of it as well.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:25, Acts 23:1, Philemon 22.

My Lord, thank You for the gift of prayer, for hearing my prayers, for teaching me to pray.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2017.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12, verse 14.

Here’s another tall order:   live in peace and be holy.  How does that fit in with America’s NFL controversy this week?   Or our political discourse in general since the start of this century?   How well are we living in peace with our enemies and even our allies?   Is there peace in Detroit or St. Louis?   Is there peace at your table on Thanksgiving?   And are you and your spouse at peace (if you’re married)?

Let’s get this out there:   peace is NOT the absence of conflict.   Don’t think that just because we don’t have conflict that we’re at peace.   Yes, I mean that.  Sure, not shooting each other in war is indeed “peaceful” yet there’s all too often no real peace in that.   It’s a good thing to not have someone shooting you, attacking you, berating you, and that condition is indeed conducive to overall peace.  But it isn’t real peace.   There isn’t peace along the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula:   there is only a cessation of hostilities that has lasted since 1953.  There isn’t peace in Sudan.   There isn’t peace in Ukraine.   There isn’t peace in Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, or most of America’s inner cities.

You can only have peace if the Holy Spirit is working within you.   The bumper sticker meme “no Jesus no peace.   Know Jesus know peace” is spot on true.   The only real peace you can know in this world is when you open up your heart and let Jesus crowd out all the rest of the noise.  Sure, there are some true believing folks in all the areas listed above (even in North Korea) but without God’s Holy Spirit in control, the peace we will know is uneasy, tenuous.

That isn’t easy to do.   I have a schedule to keep.   There are Facebook posts that require my brilliance.   My wife and kids aren’t doing what I want them to do.  That guy who passed me on the right was a real jerk!  DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE TIME FOR PEACE?  Actually, Dave, if the truth is told, you don’t have time to NOT have peace.   Without the peace of Jesus, you got nuthin.

You’ve got nothing without Jesus because, without Jesus, the second half of verse 14 is also impossible.   I’m not holy; you aren’t holy.   Neither Franklin Graham nor Pope Francis (nor even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are holy.   We’re all dirty sinners on our own.  Without Jesus, we still own our sins; owning our sins, we are unholy.   Without Jesus we still own the consequences of our sins.  What’s more, without Jesus you won’t see the Lord.   You won’t see heaven.   You won’t be there.

Don’t get mad at me for pointing that out:   it’s what verse 14 says.  Without knowing Jesus we can’t be holy and if we’re unholy we won’t be going to heaven.   The ONLY cure for that is to put your faith in Christ.  And the way to do that is to say “I believe” and then start walking the walk.  Read your Bible.  Pray constantly.   Be with other believers and be built up by your fellowship with Jesus and each other.   Tithe from a giving heart.   And, most of all, practice what you preach by starting to live your life in ways the Lord has told us to.  Once again, that’s a tall order.   It means giving up the porn, holding your tongue, confessing your dark secrets to the unseen God, and changing the way you act with other people.   Pick your pet sin:  you and I GET TO give up these things and follow Jesus closer so that His holiness can be imputed to us and we may stand with Him in paradise.   These are simply the practices of a follower of Jesus.  If my tone seems preachy, I apologize.

I have no illusion that everyone turning to Jesus would immediately solve the world’s problems.  Perhaps we would still have conflicts, arguments, and hurt.   Or, perhaps we wouldn’t.   Si Robertson once said “it ain’t gun control we need.   It’s sin control.”   Right on brother.  If we all embraced Jesus more and did what He asked, perhaps we’d have more control over those temptations that lure us in.   If we all did better and walking the walk and talking the talk, perhaps the world’s problems would indeed be solved.   Sin control looks a lot like Jesus.

For further reading:  Romans 14:19, Romans 6:22, Matthew 5:8.

Lord, thank You for giving us Your righteousness, for making us holy.   Help us to believe in You more, to practice our faith.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 November 2015

 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11, verses 24-26.

Two things strike me about these verses.   They’re another example of Jesus meaning what He says; does He ever not mean what He says; I mean, really?   And the other part is how He reminds us to seek forgiveness for any wrong we’ve done.

I suspect that you’re like me in thinking that last part is especially hard.   That guy I was arguing with on Facebook?   Jesus tells me to be reconciled to him before even praying silently.   The wife I’ve hurt a thousand times with my callous words?   Jesus tells me to ask for her forgiveness before I come to Him for anything.   The kid I hit back in sixth grade, the guy I insulted on an airplane this summer, the guy I cut off in traffic, that woman who stole my parking space and then received from me some demonstrably un-Christian words:   Jesus tells me to go to them and forgive them before I do anything else.

Tough, man:   that’s a really, really tough thing to do.

Jesus is cutting us to the core.   He’s saying “don’t talk to me about your innermost love if you’re holding that love back from someone else.”   In one verse, the Savior is assuring us that He means what He says, that if we earnestly ask Him for something it will be ours.   Joel Osteen followers take note:   that may not mean a Lexus. No, Jesus is assuring us that the things that really matter – the matters of the heart – will be ours if we take our honest requests to Him.   And in the very next verse, Jesus then reminds us to let go of our junk before we bring our heart-felt matters to Him.

Astounding.   And it’s tough.   It may be the toughest thing you could ever do.   Just one verse before Jesus assures us that faith will make anything possible because His faith is true and full.   Here He tells us that the vehicle He gives us to exercise our faith – prayer – makes that ‘anything possible’ into a tangible tool for living.   Yet in the same breath Jesus reminds us how we would misuse that tool if we do so while harboring any kind of un-forgiveness against our sisters and brothers.

Yep:   tough.   Really, really tough thing to do in life yet it’s what Jesus asks us to do, even commands us to do.

Think about it: it’s the tendency of the world to tell us to do opposite. It’s easy (and fun) to gossip.   It’s natural to react in anger, to vent.   It’s understandable to want revenge.   It makes sense that we would react when people hurt us.   You know where this is heading:   the old guilt trip.   Yet Jesus doesn’t call us to feel guilty:   He calls us to change.   He calls us to repent from our wrongs, and the biggest part of repenting is turning away, changing our behavior.   Then comes forgiveness.

We can do neither without making use of the lifeline God gives us in prayer.   So every time we feel pulled by the past, grab on to the lifeline, then first forgive anyone who has wronged you or you have wronged.

Lord, teach me to forgive as You forgive.   I believe in You.

Read Mark 11, verses 27-33.