Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 12 July 2018

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 2 Thessalonians 1:11 (NIV).

Confession time (again):   yesterday I ended by saying “don’t be a jerk.”  Don’t be a jerk about how you talk about Jesus.  Walk the walk and talk the talk harmoniously.  So here’s the confession:   I’ve been a jerk about it.   Online, in person, in any modality I have been a jerk.  I haven’t been worthy of His calling to talk with you (and others) about Jesus.   My witness has been words and actions and, to be honest, my witness has been discredited by other words and actions.   Got skin, got sin, and, like Paul, I’m the worst of sinners.

Confession (again, again):  every day, Jesus says “keep moving forward.”  On my own, apart from Jesus, I can’t do or say anything about Him that’s meaningful.   It’s His Spirit that places the good words in my mouth and moves me to work for Him with my hands.   Where I am weak, Jesus steps in and injects His Spirit to strengthen me.   Where I don’t know what to do or say, when I submit to Him, Jesus does those things.   My sinful nature becomes His glorious appeal.   It’s not me:   it’s Jesus making me into who He wants me to be.   It’s not a cop-out for:   it’s how things really work.

That’s what Paul is saying in this verse.   God makes us worthy of His calling.   On our own, by our own motivations, we aren’t worthy of it.   We aren’t worthy to even speak His name because we’ve chosen to sin against Him.   On our own, our desires are only desires, and we are ruled by them, which is how the evil one keeps sneaking in and turning our focus.

Enter Jesus.   Enter God into our lives and He makes all the difference.   With Jesus in residence in your heart, the evil one is powerless.   With Jesus inspiring my thoughts, my thoughts are inspired to become His words, to help and to encourage.   With Him in our hearts, we can see when we’ve said and done wrong and turn from it, then try to make amends; to change.   When He controls peoples’ actions, we don’t have to obsess about the things we’ve done wrong.   You and I can focus, instead, on the great things He can do through us now.

I mess it up.   I do that quite regularly; no excuses.  To paraphrase Paul from Romans, the stupid things I don’t want to do, these I keep on doing.   Yet I’m still who Jesus wants to work with to make me worthy of what He wants me to do, then equip me to do it.

For further reading:  John 15:5, Romans 1:10, Romans 7:19, 2 Thessalonians 1:12.

Lord, mold and make me today to do Your will.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 June 2018

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  1 Thessalonians 5:28 (NIV).

What a great way to end a letter!   Read it again:   it’s the perfect way to end a letter to several dozen of your close friends.

Or several billion.

Or to begin your day.

Or to bless your dinner.

Or to greet someone at WalMart (go ahead:   try it!).

Or…or…you get the picture.

Next time you say goodbye, invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into their lives until you meet again.

In fact, shouldn’t this benediction be on your lips at all times?   When we really love someone, when we adore them, when we care enough to send the very best (including a Hallmark), shouldn’t we be blessing them with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them?  At or near the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Paul uses nearly identical words to bless his readers with the grace of Jesus.   He uses slightly different words in Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  The message:   Jesus is the perfect way to end a letter.

Or begin your day…or bless your dinner…or, again, you get the picture.

We can’t do any better than the grace of Jesus Christ.   It’s the grace of Christ that created us, then breathed life into us.   It is the grace of Christ that sustains us in breath, blood and bone every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we live and GET TO LIVE every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we get eternal life after this one, and that we get to be part of that eternity now.   It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can love.

If you could send a Hallmark to your very best friend, wouldn’t you want to end it by giving them the best you had to give?   That’s what Paul is saying here (and in all those other letters).   This was serious stuff to Paul who, just the verse prior to this one, had implored his friends to read the letter to others.   Back then, it wasn’t broken up into numbered verses; back then, Paul probably though people wouldn’t memorize his words.   But he knew that God had spoken through them and that they were important.   They were words that God wanted us to remember.

So it only follows that Paul would end the letter with a benediction that blesses the reader with the present grace of the God-man, Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  With that thought, Paul closes out his letter and so shall we.

See you next time.

For further reading: Romans 16:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Lord Jesus, bless me with Your wonderful grace today that I might share it with others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 29 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:2.

Something else needs to be said before we move on.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, without God, everything is meaningless but nothing can contain Him.

I was reading about how Google Home doesn’t recognize the name of Jesus.   A story online said that the in-home smart speaker recognizes the names of Buddha, Allah, and even Satan and can relay to you a whole encyclopedia of knowledge about those names, but that it says “I’m sorry I don’t understand” (or something like that) when you ask it about Jesus or Jesus Christ.  Newsflash, my friends, God doesn’t need Google Home but He loves the people who make and use it anyway.   Ditto Alexa, Echo, Facebook, Bing, and any other gadget or browser we can think of.   Indeed, God’s word will spread even MORE when people deny it.

Crazy?   Yes, actually it is.   The conventional world can’t see how this makes sense, but the world that believes in Jesus can.   His word is too good to be contained; it’s too good to be bottled up or confined by the smallness of human activity.  People can try, but the good news always comes through.   It did in concentration camps.   It does in prisons, and inner cities, and communist re-education camps, and even in Hollywood.  It even happens in organized churches.

In this verse, Paul describes how people strongly opposed his preaching.  In Philippi Paul had been strongly opposed and it stung him.  He considered it outrageous that God’s word would be opposed, that anyone would try to interfere with or target or stop the preaching of words ordained by the Lord Himself.  Yet despite the opposition, word spread.   People all over Greece and Asia Minor wanted to know more about what these missionaries of “The Way” were saying.  Tyrannical Romans couldn’t stop the message.  Hostile Jews and their synagogues couldn’t stop the message.  Skeptical Greeks and hateful pagans couldn’t stop it.  By the time Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he was used to being opposed, and he began to recognize that it was to God’s glory that all this happened.

That was true 2000 years ago.   It’s still true today.   God doesn’t need us to preach His message.   He can get it out any way He chooses.   Yet He chooses us to do it for Him, to talk about it one on one, to build relationships based on common worship and understanding of Him because without Him everything else means nothing.   God chooses to work through us as we love one person at a time.  Nothing could contain that way back then; nothing can contain it now.

For further reading: Ecclesiastes, Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, I pray:  work through me today. Love others through me.   Teach me to represent You.

 

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.

 

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 December 2016

Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.  Hebrews 5, verse 8.

Suffering teaches you obedience.  When you lose your job, you immediately look for ways to both gain new employment and reduce expenses until you do.   When you are in physical pain, you surrender your abilities to do certain things until that pain is relieved.   When you lose something, make a bad choice, are in danger, commit a secret wrong, or do any other kind of thing that produces suffering, you immediately know it.   You react to the thing that causes you to suffer.   In short, you obey whatever is made necessary to alleviate the suffering.

Suffering is one of God’s means of grace.  Huh?   God imparts His grace through suffering?   You bet He does.   Consider Romans 5:  “not only so but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.   And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  God uses our suffering as a way to both tear us down and build us up.   He teaches us lessons that, in a non-suffering state, we might not absorb in meaningful ways.  In doing this, He teaches us to endure the bad for the outcome that can be good.  In that endurance, we receive character and hope.  I’d submit, as well, that the hope of which Romans 5 speaks isn’t a wish, either.   It’s a sure promise of God’s blessing.

And when you’re suffering, it’s ok to cry out.   It’s ok to cry, scream, hurt, vent, anguish.   Jesus did.   He vented righteous anger against wrongdoing in His ministry.   And, in true agony on the cross, He cried and screamed in pain.  We have all heard how people who are depressed or suicidal will find ways to cry out for help.  The message from Scripture is “you should!”   It’s a healthy thing to let the world know you’re in pain.   Maybe the world will help.

Or maybe not.   In Jesus’ case, you know the scoop.   We’ve already seen how Jesus ‘got to’ do the things He did, how He is a priest forever like the legendary Melchizidek.   Wrapped up in that is the fact that Jesus ‘got to’ die on the cross.  He genuinely suffered a torturous death that you and I can only imagine.  He who was fully man and fully God at the same time got to endure the physical mutilation of scourging and crucifixion as well as the emotional torture of rejection.   And as if that wasn’t enough (and it wasn’t), in a mystery we don’t fully understand, He who was fully man and fully God at all times got to endure the spiritual abandonment of the Father while at the same time remaining fully part of Him.  He did it alone, and together, and because we couldn’t.

Whether we like it or not, we also ‘get to’ endure our suffering, allowing that which could defeat us to, instead, transform us by stripping away some traits while replacing them with others.  Yet God doesn’t abandon us even when we find it hard to see Him.   You know this deep inside.   Don’t let suffering rob you of that knowledge.

So what was it that Jesus was obeying?   You know the answer to that as well.   He obeyed God’s will.   In reality, doesn’t everything (at least indirectly) obey God’s will?   If God uses all the world’s sins in ways that result in good for His kingdom, doesn’t this mean that everything is subject to God’s will?  Of course everything is subject to God’s will, His patient and perfect will.   Believe it or not, God doesn’t will for us to suffer needlessly.   Read the verses below and understand that Jesus’ suffering as well as that of the believer can build others up while giving us the courage that’s needed to see the thing through.

Neither you nor I wants to suffer.   We hate hurting and we hate it when others around us, especially loved ones, hurt.   We weren’t made for hurting and suffering, but those are two consequences of sin in our world.   How good it is to know that God is with us through all of it.

For more reading:   Romans 5:3-5, Luke 22: 41-44, Matthew 27: 46-50, Luke 23:46, Psalm 22:24, Mark 14:36.

Lord God, transform my suffering into perseverance and let it bring glory to You and lessons for myself and others.   Help me to reject hurt and bitterness.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 March 2016

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Mark 15, verses 22-24.

Sometimes the Bible is overly dramatic. Sometimes the verses are so descriptive that it’s almost too much, almost melodramatic, like watching a Cecil B. DeMille movie.  The imagery ‘goes there,’ doesn’t leave much to the imagination.   Worldwide flood, ten plagues, talking donkey, humiliating the prophets of Baal, Philip disappearing from the eunuch, the Revelation:   name all you want, they’re sometimes a lot to swallow because, in some ways, it seems over the top.

And sometimes, as in verse 24, it’s powerfully under-played.   Consider these for words:  “and they crucified him.”   Consider those words closely because everything you know, everything on this planet, hinges on the powerful understatement they convey.

There is no salvation without the crucifixion.   You’re eternally dead in your sins, and the holy triune God of eternity doesn’t know you, can’t acknowledge you, hates your sin, and damns you forever.   There is no forgiveness, there is no happiness, there is no satisfaction, there is no love without Jesus dying on that horrible cross.   What’s more, everything you know about the world is changed.  There is no western culture without the crucifixion.   There is no church, no Protestant Reformation, no brilliant Renaissance, no Enlightenment ideals, no Declaration of Independence, no industrial revolution and western prosperity, no Western laws and traditions that support the rights of man.   Everything we know politically, economically, militarily, socially, culturally, artistically, ecclesiastically, and even physically changes, morphs into something unrecognizable, without Jesus’ death on the cross.

“And they crucified him.”   Four pretty powerful words, don’t you think?

“Oh come on, Dave.   Now you’re the one being overly dramatic!”   Really?   The crucifixion is the central event in human history; we measure culture, law and most of our activities today from it.   The events that descended from it permanently dispersed ancient Judaism, brought about the demise of the Roman Empire that crucified Him, and inspired the rise of the Western society that recognizes Him.  The systems of justice, economy and society on all seven continents are measured against the life and legacy of Jesus, culminating in His selfless sacrifice of Himself.  Everything we judge to be decent and pure, we do so because of what we know of Jesus Christ.

And in just four words, Mark describes what humanity did to its creator.   “And they crucified him,” as if is the subdued ending to a vast saga, which it was.   Those simple words are the four-word coda on the music of our soul, as if a great fugue had concluded with a still whimper, then dying notes fading into silence.

Consider the agony of being crucified, of being tortured for hours, dragged through the street in humiliation, subjected to persecution no innocent man should conceive, then having thick spikes driven repeatedly through your body. On the cross, you don’t die of blood loss, you die agonizing in asphyxiation:  you heave your body up on the spikes holding your feet to the cross, gasping just to draw a breath.  And that’s what’s up ahead.

And it changed everything.   The Romans, Jewish priests, and bystanders there at Calvary didn’t know that “and they crucified him” would soon come to mean “and it changed everything.”

It’s not a four-word coda:   it’s a symphony..

Lord Jesus, thank You for being crucified so that my soul wouldn’t be.   Thank You for doing what I can’t.   Thank You for the cross.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 February 2016

The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him. Mark 14, verses 63-65.

Would we do any different?   Put yourself in the place of the priests. They were conflicted in many ways.   Their conventional wisdom was threatened.   The balance of power in both their religious and political worlds was in danger.   Their popularity was in question.   Their senses of right and wrong were askew.   And their history demanded that they do exactly what they were doing.

Huh?

Yep.   Everything they had ever learned or believed as devout high priests of the temple of the Most High God demanded their indignant response now that this Galilean rabbi was calling Himself I AM. They had been trained since boyhood that the Messiah would come and that he would fit in a certain mold.   He wouldn’t be from Nazareth (even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem).   He wouldn’t challenge their place.   He would restore the political standing and economic prosperity that the nation had known under King Solomon.

This Jesus of Nazareth didn’t quite measure up. Then He sealed His fate by insisting He was God, that He was indeed the Messiah who had been promised since the days of Adam and Eve.  Should it surprise us that they were genuinely angry enough to demand Jesus’ execution.   Is that an over-reaction?

Again, consider their day and time.   They lived as an occupied nation under the rule of a brutal conqueror.   Rome didn’t just march in and set up voting stations.   They conquered Judea, executed all who opposed them, and enslaved the conquered Judeans.   Any freedoms that the Israelites had known before were eliminated.   Instead of living as God’s chosen people under the rule of Israelite political leaders, the citizens of Judea lived as people under the rule of a Roman dictator. The dictator emperor’s representative was a military governor who was empowered to do anything he pleased to keep order and, more importantly, to extract treasure (think “taxes”) from the Jewish occupants of this new province. Your home could be seized, you could be arrested without notice, you could be executed for things we would take for granted.   This is what it meant to live under Roman occupation.   To make the point, thousands of soldiers were sent to be at the governor’s disposal as he carried out the emperor’s will.

Over time, the high priests had worked out delicate arrangements on how to keep the peace with their Roman overseers.   Call them politicians or patriots:   the leaders of the Temple still did what they could to preserve the old Jewish order with as little bloodshed as possible. Now came this wandering preacher from Nazareth who was upending the delicate apple cart that the Jewish leaders had constructed.   He did it while preaching simultaneous Godly peace and civil insurrection of the soul. Should it surprise us that the priests wanted Jesus dead if they could find a plausible way to kill Him?

I’m not saying we should feel sorry for Caiaphas or the others, though maybe that wouldn’t be out of hand.   But perhaps we should genuinely consider their predicament to understand more why they did what they did.

Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.