Practical Proverbial, 1 Timothy, 14 November 2018

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.  1 Timothy 4:3-5 (NIV).

Before moving on from these verses, let’s talk about consecration.   Key in on that last verse: “because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.”   Do you get that God just exploded a bomb in your life?  Jesus Christ, who loves you enough to die for you, just threw a grenade and you and watched it explode in your face, blowing you to bits…and He was smiling.

Huh?

Every now and then, the Bible drops these precious nuggets about salvation right into our laps using common language, words we often overlook.  I say that because did you know that you consecrate your actions through the word of God and prayer?   BOOM!   There goes another explosion.

Huh (again)?

Get this:  to consecrate something is make something sacred, to set it apart.  You and I get invite consecration into our lives by praying.  Through Jesus’ power, our ordinary lives are dedicated to His higher service.  Sure, some people have a purposeful calling to be pastors and teachers of Christ; maybe that’s how you’ve been consecrated.   Yet even the more pedestrian of us can be (and are) consecrated as hallowed, holy, righteous by God when we invite (as Carrie might sing) Jesus to take the wheel.

All that happens through prayer.   Prayer:   that conversation between God and you.   Usually it feels one-sided but, if you look closely, it may just be that He’s doing most of the work.   Have you ever felt more at peace after praying?   Perhaps God immediately answered your prayer by giving you that peace.   We will never know how God may act on our prayers if we don’t pray them.

And when we do pray, we are inviting the full power of King Jesus God Almighty into our situation.  Hebrews 4:12 says that the word of God is a living thing, a sharp sword that cuts to the core of what we believe.   It slices away things we don’t need and leaves what we do, namely Jesus Christ. Prayer consecrates us, sets us aside for something hallowed, invokes His power.   When it does that, it cuts away what isn’t important or, like alcohol on a wound, begins to scour and heal.  It isn’t our words that do that:   it’s the Word of God.

Next time you pray, remember that you’re holding a consecrating weapon in your words.   Boom! It might be the most powerful thing you do all day.

For further reading: Hebrews 4:12, 1 Timothy 4:6

Lord Jesus, I pray thanks and praise that You consecrate us.   Help me to use this powerful blessing for Your good purposes.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 23 October 2018

Therefore I want men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 1 Timothy 2:8 (NIV).

I think God is telling me to pray.   Yesterday, my daily book devotion was about praying.   Then I went to an online devotion I read and it was about praying.   My wife and I talked about praying.   And then, in preparation for today’s Proverbial, I saw the subject is about praying.  Sometimes God nudges you; sometimes He whacks you with a hammer.   The whack today felt like a velvet head bump.

Paul has spent the first part of this letter teaching Timothy some basics about ministry:   about calling, order, training.   Now he talks about prayer.   After establishing his bona fides, Paul tells Timothy that believers should pray.   The verse says “men” yet the original wording infers “mankind” meaning everyone of either sex.  We should pray to God in reverence and without negativity.

In fact, praying may just be the most practical weapon a Christian warrior has in their arsenal.   The armor of God is necessary, but it is prayer – imploring for Christ’s assistance through praise or invocation – that is the sword of the Word of God.   It is through prayer that we talk with God, that we praise Him, that we weep to Him, that we most frequently can commune with Him.   Thus, it is through prayer that God arms us to repel the evil one’s attacks with the words of Jesus.

Paul says we should raise up holy hands to God.   To be honest, I’m not always comfortable doing that in public.  I might occasionally do it in private, where I prefer to do my earnest praying.    That’s just a personal choice.   Others feel more comfortable doing such things; God bless them for it.  Because God prepares us for what He wants us to do, and because of where He has us each in our lives, Paul exhorts all people to pray.  We get to do it to stand with Jesus in the daily war between God and the evil one.   Pray to Him for everything:   for strength, for wisdom, for help making it through long meetings, for safety, for healing, for peace….especially for His peace in everything we think, say, and do.

My challenge to you today is pray for someone.   In your own way, praise God for them, and speak with God over someone else’s predicament.   Pray on your knees, or in your car, or in the shower, or alone in a room, or standing on the subway platform, or at McDonald’s, or with your hands in the air.   Pray everywhere for them.  However or wherever you do it, pray to God and watch how He begins to move in your life.  This reminder may be God’s way of whacking you in the head to do just that.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:17, 1 Timothy 2:8

Lord, I praise You and thank You for this opportunity to talk with You.   Watch over and guide my friends today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 16 October 2018

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV).

After talking about excommunicating wayward members, Paul then shifts to urging Timothy (and us) to pray for authorities.   The church leaders of then (and now) are authorities in our lives.   So are police, governments, the UN, bosses, corporate CEOs of companies whose products we use, pastors and leaders, and senior family members (in fact, all senior citizens).

Tell me, progressives:   when was the last time you prayed for President Trump?   Or my conservative friends, how often did you (or do you) pray for President Obama, or Ms. Pelosi, or George Soros?   If you’re like me, in this regard, you’ve failed.   You and I don’t usually pray for those with whom we disagree (or just don’t like).   If you don’t like President Trump or his policies, you may not be praying in thanksgiving for him.  If you didn’t like President Obama or his policies, chances are you didn’t pray in thanksgiving for him, either.

That’s a shame.   We’re losing great opportunities here because Paul recognized that prayer and thanksgiving (especially) are active, vital ways to participate in peoples’ lives, even those of far-off, remote leaders.   They are pure “get to” activities.   We get to pray for the president, our employees in Congress, and others we elect to do things for us that we can’t do ourselves. We get to pray for our bosses, managers, and executives that they would make good use of the time we entrust to them.   We get to pray for our parents, and for seniors who have lived long, useful lives that can teach us many things.

We should take every opportunity to pray in thanks for those who are above us in any way.  Sure, it’s altruistic but even Ayn Rand (who rejected religion) would have supported the idea of supporting leaders who are working for the betterment of all.   I don’t know Donald Trump, but I get to be actively involved in his life when I pray for him.   I don’t know Barack Obama, but I’m actively involved in his life when I pray for him.  Bill Gates, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Dalai Lama, the owner of your company, your pastor, that stranger who flipped you off on the road, and starving kids in India:  you may not know any of them, but Jesus gives you the opportunity to be part of them by actively praying for them.

We spend so much of our time excommunicating other people from our lives.  How about we re-communicate with them by first praying to our Lord for their benefit?

For further reading:  2 Timothy 2:17, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 2:1

Lord, today, help me to pray for leaders, and show me today just one person for whom I can pray.

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.

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.