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.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 21 June 2018

Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 (NIV).

What is prophecy?   Wikipedia (currently) defines it as “a message that is claimed by a prophet to have been communicated to them by a god. Such messages typically involve inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of divine will concerning the prophet’s social world and events to come.”  In the Old Testament, there were many prophets; think Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Amos, and a slew of others.   What about our “modern” world?

What about pop culture?   The media is ALWAYS looking for prophets; anyone who can predict future outcomes.   Indeed, after every election, the media (and we, ourselves) look at which pollsters or prognosticators came closest to predicting the winning side. As a society, we place great trust in polls, maybe too much.  Yet look with scorn on things that predict matters of faith.

And how about churches?   Do people today prophesy the way people did in Bible times?   To be honest, I’ve never met a prophet.   I have met a great many wise people, and I’ve met many people who use experience and God’s wisdom to make the best decisions they can.   That usually means their actions foreshadow what happens later, though I don’t chalk this up to prophecy (but, instead, informed experience).   Yet I can’t discount the fact that there are indeed people through whom God speaks to lead us along the paths He wants us to take.

What does Paul say about all these things?   Consider all of them, test all of them, and trust the ones that are good.   As part of this benediction, Paul says we are not to put out the fire God sets in people around us.   Don’t quench the work of the Spirit.   In doing that, it logically follows that we shouldn’t be skeptical or sarcastic about those who may be prophesying around us.   They have God’s fire.  We should test them, question what they say and do, measure it against what the Bible says are the fruits of God’s Spirit.

Think of it this way:   God is telling us to be judicious, to be wise in the ways He is wise.   He’s telling us to listen to each other and to listen for content.   God just might be speaking through that content.   Yet He’s also telling us to listen with discernment, judging for meaning and comparing what is said against the Word He has given to us.

Most of all, He’s telling us to hold on to what’s good?   How will we know what’s good?   It’s simple:   it will line up with the Bible.   It won’t contradict Scripture, and it won’t lead us deeper into sin.   It will be Godly, and it will be for good.   Don’t trust your feelings to judge these things:   consult your Bible.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 14:1, 1 John 4:1, Romans 12:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:22

Lord, help me to test prophecies against the truth of Your Word.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 7 May 2018

Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (NIV).

Be ready now.  Regarding the Rapture and that whole 7-year Millenialist end times story, it might or might not be true.   We might or might not understand how Jesus will bring about the end of all things and begin something totally new.   There may be a Rapture where believers are snatched up to heaven in a flash and those ‘left behind’ get to endure seven years of worsening hell on earth to fulfill prophecy and give them one last chance (actually seven years of last chances) to repent.   There may very well be a coming time where an Antichrist rises to earthly power, plagues and woes are unleashed, and the battle of Armageddon is waged to Satan’s loss.   It could very well happen that, at the end of all this, Jesus will reign as earthly king here for exactly one thousand years, after which this earth will be burned away and something completely new unveiled.   All this may be true.

Or it may not be.   It may be all wrong.   The end may be just one ending, and the words of 1 Thessalonians 4 may be completely germane to how things will happen.   It may or may not be that Jesus will come back in the clouds – the way He left – and that this event will be the end.   The faithful in Him will be taken to be with Him and the unfaithful rejected and sent away to perdition.  The Rapture and the tribulation and the rise and fall of Antichrist may not happen.

We simply don’t know.  Tim LaHaye didn’t know.   Your pastor doesn’t know.   The Pope (or Pope Emeritus) doesn’t know.   Get the picture?

Be ready now.   Be encouraged by this today.

The Bible simply says that Jesus will return and that we should encourage each other with that knowledge.   Before He came the first time, at least 4000 years of human history passed.   Is it so inconceivable that it would, then, take a very long time for conditions to be made right for the Messiah to re-appear?   It isn’t up to us to pre-game the thing or know the specifics.  All we know is that He said He will be with us in all things until the end of the age and then in person after that.  The Bible mentions a great deal of figurative language describing events that happen to herald that.  But knowing the hour, day and specifics are only up to God the Father, not us.  Is there harm in believing in a Rapture?   No.  Is it necessary?   Perhaps not.   We don’t know.

What we do know is the ultimate end:   that Christ returns.  That’s it.  The lesson?   Be ready now.   Don’t be mired in details.  Be at peace with it.  THAT is the biggest encouragement of all.

For further reading:  Matthew 28:20, Acts 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:1.

Lord, how and when you come back I’m ready to meet You now.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 8 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.

Welcome to the 5 T’s:   1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus.  Two thousand years after they were written, we are still reading them and drawing wisdom and encouragement from them.  These five letters comprise 5 general letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church and to friends.   They are 5 of the 13 New Testament books written by Paul, which were actually letters instead of books, and they deal with ministry, encouragement, matters of faith, prophecy, and advice on matters of church practice.   Coolest of all, each of them starts with a flourishing greeting which finishes in praying for God’s grace and peace to the reader.   In reality, all of Paul’s letters start this way (though in the Timothy letters he prays for grace, mercy, and peace).

Have you ever started a letter like that?   Instead of a Christmas letter, this year my wife and I sent out a New Year’s letter (mainly because we were away from home over Christmas).   I’d like to think someone will be reading my holiday letters 2000 years from now the way we’re reading Paul’s but it’s 99.9% unlikely.  If they did, I’m sure that (like yours) they didn’t begin with such flourish.

Are you in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?   Sure you are, you might say; you believe.  But have you ever really had someone ask you about it?   At the start of a new year (and a new series of books), where are you in God and your Lord?   Let’s keep it real:   it isn’t up to us to determine where God has us.  It IS up to us to make the choice about whether or not we care about it, though, and what actions we should do if we find ourselves feeling separated from Him.

Make no mistake:   God is never away from us.   If we feel distant, it isn’t because of anything He’s done; sometimes it isn’t even things we do.   Instead, things cloud our hearts that keep us feeling away from Him.   Or the enemy tricks us into thinking God is far when, in fact, He’s as close as can be.  When that happens, it’s important to remember Paul’s flourishing greetings that end with grace and peace.   They’re reminders that God’s undeserved and unfathomable love is always with us, and that the peace only He gives is always within us.

His grace and peace are all throughout these five letters we begin reading today.   Look for them and you’ll see that.   What’s more, you’ll be in Him more as you do so.  He’s in you already.

For further reading:  2 Thessalonians 1:1, Acts 15:22, Acts 16:1, Romans 1:7, Titus 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 2-3.

Lord, infuse me with Your grace and peace.   Thank You for inspiring these letters into Paul so long ago.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 11 November 2015

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.   Mark 12, verses 1-9

Prophecy and warning.   Remember the context of these verses.   Jesus is in Jerusalem during the last week of His life; this story is told, perhaps, on Monday or Tuesday of that week. He knows the rulers of the Temple are conspiring against Him, looking for some way to corner and kill Him.   Despite that, He tells this parable to both lay out what would soon happen to Him and to warn those who would do it that God’s wrath wouldn’t be denied.   Years later, the message for us is the same message Jesus gave to them:   “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

I thought God loved us.   Would He who loves us also want to kill us?   Perhaps the answer is in the question “do you believe?”

Will God kill us for our disbelief in Him?   That’s what Jesus is saying in this parable.   The free gift of eternal life is available to ALL mankind.   All races, both sexes (even Bruce Jenner), all nationalities, all religions:   if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He and only He has the power to forgive your sins, and that His death on the cross paid for those since once and for all, then you are saved.   There’s nothing more to it than that; there’s nothing more for you to do.   God’s grace is a free gift and done for you by Him.

Reject it at your own eternal peril.   That’s what Jesus says in verse 9.   The second death – the death of the spirit – is eternal separation from God, who cannot allow unholiness into His presence.   Rejecting Jesus means rejecting His covering holiness, His once for all sacrifice to the Holy Father.   That leads to death, both eventual physical death and, much worse, the death of the spirit.   It’s what He was warning His accusers about.

As an aspiring vintner (as well as aspiring writer) I like that Jesus uses the analogy of a vineyard to paint His prophetic picture.   But it isn’t for love of wine that He says what He says.   He says it for love of you, me, and even those long ago priests who were looking for an opportunity to kill Him.

Lord, I believe in You, that only You can save me.

Read Mark 12, verses 1-12

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 12 October 2015

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.  Mark 11, verses 4-6.

Obviously, these verses are the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made in verses 1-3.   Like I said, this is an ancient prophecy; ancient even at the time when Jesus fulfilled it.   If you aren’t familiar with all the prophecies fulfilled by the Son of Man, I’d encourage you to read up on it. You might consider starting here, then seek out the deeper instruction from a Bible-believing church: http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html.

Knowing all that, tell me:   when was the last time someone really kept a promise to you?   Think about it and really, truly answer. Prophecy is a kind of a promise, specifically a promise made by God to do something in the future.   He spoke through dozens of both famous and innocuous people all throughout the days of the Old Testament.   Now and then, God laid down a marker that would teach people of old about the kind of man who would come to redeem them from all the ways they had failed Him. When He did that, the Almighty was making a promise.

Has God ever promised something to you?   People will fail each other; we do it all the time, and it seems we especially fail those who love us the most.   In fact, people failing each other – sin – seems to be the only thing that is common to all humanity in every generation. Yet that’s really just a superficial thing to say.   It’s short-sighted and filtered by the opaque coating of sin. Strip away that coating and you see that God is both the one who strips it away and the one who binds us together through time.

He binds us with the promise of His divine, forgiving, crazy illogical love.   He promised it from the beginning by creating Adam in love, intellect, and free curiosity.   He promised it practically from the very moment that Adam and Eve were shown their sin. He promised it through dozens of judges, kings, princes and prophets.   And He promised it in the hundreds of ways that described what the Messiah would do, look like, be, and act out.

People fail you all the time.   Co-workers, spouses, friends, family:   we let each other down in more ways than any of us could list.   Through it all, God has promised to always be with us, always abide with and in us, to never abandon us, and to never let us go no matter what happens.   It was foretold. It was fulfilled.   It is still continually fulfilled today.

Lord, I praise You for all the ways You prophesied through men of old, and for making those words come true in the past and in my life today.

Read Mark 11, 4-11.