Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 20 September 2018

Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 1 Timothy 1:6 (NIV).

It’s a risky thing to take Bible verses out of context and dissect them on their own without considering the context around them…so we won’t do that.   Yet this verse is also like its own proverb.   It is advice on its own.

Years ago, I started this blog to meditate on the book of Proverbs while I was going through a time of repentance and healing.  Eight years (and ten books) of exegesis and hermeneutics later, my tiny attempts to analyze the practical meaning of these Bible verses does, sometimes, turn to meaningless talk.   In fact, it concerns me.   More and more, I strive to avoid having this happen, trying to keep the focus only on Jesus.   Sometimes I fail.

It happens.

Yet when it happens, the thing to do is to turn back to God, ask for help, and jump back in.   Why did Paul say this?  What was the context for saying it? What does it mean to us now?

For this particular verse, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Paul was ministering to Timothy and telling him to be careful.   To not get ‘wrapped around the axle’ with things that pull away from God (things like meaningless pedigrees and focusing on other than Jesus’ love).  In this verse, he’s warning Timothy that there are good people who have turned away from that love (including pure hearts, good conscience, and sincere faith) and decided to cling to other things.

You know it still happens to us now.  We get wrapped around things that distract us and pull us away.   Anything can become our idol and try to pull us away from Jesus.   Job, spouse/significant other, kids, sports, tasks, even the Bible itself:  anything can supplant Jesus’ rightful role as the primary focus of our lives.   It happens.

The way back always leads first to the Cross.   “Lord, I’ve been wrong.   Forgive me & help me.”   Starting there helps us to identify our own meaningless talk & meaningless idols, then to turn from them.   It helps us to see again that “He’s got this.”  We are able to test what we think and do against God’s Word and adjust accordingly.  Sometimes God speaks to our hearts through those distractions, and we shouldn’t be too quick to turn from change, or even things that can distract us, without checking in with Him first.  Yet when we stray away from the straight and narrow, there’s always an exit ramp we can take that reminds us Jesus is actually there beside us, beckoning & guiding us back to His better Way.   We get to be careful because we get to filter what we think & do through the filter of Jesus Christ.

That happens too.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:7

Lord, keep me between “Your lines.”   Help me to avoid meaningless things and meaningless talk and act only as You would have me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 December 2017

Grace be with you all.  Hebrews 13, verse 25.

Once again, we find ourselves at the end.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ve seen the ending of Hebrews, Mark, The Ten Commandments, Ruth, 1/2/3 John, James, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   That’s a lot of real estate to cover.   Thank you so much, my friend, for reading, sharing, learning, and hopefully hearing the voice of God inside you through these thoughts.

Yet it’s time to finish up this section.   After this, there are other things I’d like to cover.   Next week, we’ll spend the rest of the Christmas season talking about Santa Claus and giving.   After that, I believe God is leading me to walk through the “five T’s” of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; we’ll be walking with the Apostle Paul, so get ready to get real; Paul has that effect.

Until then, grace be with you all.   Grace:  that’s a concept I haven’t given nearly enough thought to even though my mom and grand-daughter are both named Grace.  I used to think of grace as a quiet thing, like sunny meadows and warm tea.  But that’s only part of what it is.  My friend, Bill Brimer, however, calls the book of Ephesians “a grace bomb.”  It’s an explosion of God’s grace in your face.   An overpowering force of enormous power that can undo physical reality.  Ephesians spends much of it’s time explaining God’s grace as a living, vital thing instead of just a pastoral quality.

Boom.

Have you ever really thought about what grace means to you?   My Random House dictionary defines grace as “a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment; favor shown in granting a delay or immunity; the freely given, unmerited favor or love of God, the influence or spirit of God operating in man; moral strength.”   All those meanings (and more) for such a small word.   And to think they could all blow up in your face with the peace of a rural pasture.  In the context of talking about Jesus, grace means all those things, and all of them at once.

We don’t deserve it, but Jesus richly blesses us to live in His grace.   We’ve done everything we can think of to tick him off, to merit His wrath, but, instead, He likes us, wants to be with us, runs to us where we are in the middle of our dysfunctions.   If I listed here even a fraction of the sins I’ve done against Jesus, I wouldn’t list much before you’d see I don’t deserve His grace.   I don’t even deserve air, food, water, and my beating heart.   News flash:  neither you you.   We’re damn dirty sinners.

But we have so much more than air, food, water and life.   We have love, friends, jobs, possessions, liberty, opportunity.   We have each other.   We have seven billion people here to live, thrive and survive with, and we GET TO tell them that this Jesus blesses us all in His grace.   That He wants them to know Him, too.   That’s grace.   When I deserve punishment, Jesus wants love for me.  When I deserve scorn, He lives in my heart.   When I merit revenge, He urges peace.   When I deserved to die, He ran to the cross for me and took my place.   Boom!

When the writer of Hebrews had only a few words left to say, he said that he desired for God’s magnificent grace bomb to explode in the lives of his readers.   “Grace be with you all” is more than just a benediction:   it’s a challenge.   It’s a powerful this-I-know-to-be-true amen.   It’s a quiet prayer but also an artillery-packed lock and load on the front line.  Grace is the quiet strength of Christ from the cross giving you peace.   And grace is the raw edge of God’s knife in your hand, cutting away the scar tissue of sin to cure the flesh below.   When there was nothing else to say to his friends, the writer affirmed God’s presence in their lives and called on them to realize all God does for undeserving people while sharing His saving love with those who don’t know about Him.

I’m not worthy to argue with wisdom like that.   I’ll simply accept it as a gift of love from our God.  Grace in your face, indeed.   Back in the race for us now.  Lace up your boots, pick up your gun, and let’s march.

Until next time, grace be with you all.

For further reading:  Hebrews 13:25

Lord thank You for Your grace, for how You love and provide for me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 January 2017

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  Hebrews 6, verse 10.

Dovetailing off yesterday’s talk comes today’s verse that confirms how God has a long memory.  As you’ll remember, the gist of yesterday’s talk was ‘do something about your faith right now’ so this is good advice for people who may be on the fence about how to live out their faith.

The other night I talked with one of the nastiest people with whom I’ve ever spoken.  At the call center, a number appears on a computer screen and we are required to dial it.  We don’t see the history of calls dialed to the person’s number, and we aren’t given any information about them, how many people have spoken with them, or anything of a personal nature.   When the man answered the phone, he began to berate and yell at me, demanding that I stop calling him.   I followed procedure and asked him to verify his telephone number so I could place him on a do-not-call list.   That only caused him to get angrier, and he continued berating, insulting, and even threatening me for about 10 minutes.  Eventually, he hung up before I could complete the call procedure, but I put him on the do-not-call list anyway.  We aren’t supposed to do that; it can cause auditors to give an ‘auto-fail’ to an agent.   But I did it anyway because I figured that both the customer and the company would be better off by not antagonizing him any further.   If I’m assigned an auto-fail for it, so be it.

The best way to recover from something like this is to pray for the person.   I’ll admit:  I did this, but it was difficult.   In fact, I let his negativity ruin the rest of my night.   But the next morning, my wife and I prayed for him during our morning devotion.   I sincerely hope he’s well (and I hope he both calms down and hasn’t received any more telemarketing calls).

I also sincerely hope God remembers it because I know He will.   My hope for the irate customer is more like a wish; I wish for him some peace and maybe that he’d lighten up a little.   My hope where God’s memory is concerned is remembering a sure promise.  God WILL remember the good things we do, not as good works to earn His favor but, instead, as examples of how we live out the faith we have in Him.  It matters when we do things for each other in a caring manner.   It matters when we act in ways that demonstrate faith in God.   It matters when we do things to truly foster peace by helping others instead of choosing another way.

These things matter because they are evidence of how our thinking, then our actions, change when Jesus takes over in our lives.  We get to do good works and act kindly towards others because that’s what Jesus wants us to do.   He acted lovingly towards us, even when He was harsh.   He wants us to do the same in how we act towards each other.

Both Proverbs 25 and Romans 12 (which quotes Proverbs 25) say “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  That may seem mean, but it really isn’t.   If your motivation is to help, then these actions are discipline.   They are tough love, dishing out justice for justice’s sake because justice should be righteous.  They’re only mean if you intend them to be mean.   And God remembers our intentions.   God deals in the why, not just the what.

God remembers what we do here and now, and right now is when we’re living.  If our motivation is to live in ways that please God, then we’ll want to be kind, helpful, just, and honest whenever we’re dealing with others in any way.   Be nice to each other, especially to strangers, even telemarketers.  If you’re in a troubled marriage, be kind.   If you’re working with difficult people, be generous.   If someone talks too much, actively listen.   If someone is angry, be respectful.   If someone hurts you or is irate with you, respond as Jesus would and, in doing so, you’ll heap burning coals on their head.   Then, stand back and hope that they realize how unpleasant it can be to have your head on fire.   With God’s hope in mind, they, too, will choose to act differently.

For further reading:   Matthew 10: 40-42, Proverbs 25: 21-22, Romans 12:20.

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I fail to act as You do.   Help me to show love and caring for my brothers and sisters in everything I do.