Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 8 August 2019

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready to do any good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, to be gentle, and to display every courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2 (EHV).

Early on in church history, Paul and Peter clashed.   The former once called out the latter, at Antioch, for hypocrisy.  This resulted in a temporary schism between believers who sided with Peter – for adhering to some Jewish customs – and believers who sided with Paul – for determining that Jewish customs no longer applied.  The matter was eventually settled by a council in Jerusalem, with the eventual outcome being the recognition that the new covenant through Christ completes the old Jewish covenant and its laws.

Even Peter and Paul had to submit to rulers and authorities, and they founded the temporal Christian church.

A few years after this, they submitted to earthly authorities by facing execution by the Romans.   Tradition has it that Peter was executed by crucifixion around the time of the great fire of Rome.   Around the same time, Paul was also executed by beheading.   Both of them willingly went to their deaths, Peter even ASKING for the more severe penalty of being crucified upside down.  THAT is the ultimate submission to authorities.

Yet while submitting, neither Peter nor Paul gave in to the authorities.   Their lives might have been spared if they had simply recanted of their faith in Jesus, yet they didn’t.   Read the news today and you’ll find that there are Christians in places like Iran, Indonesia, North Korea, and China who are persecuted or killed for preaching Christ crucified.   Recant and we may let you live.   Hold on to this Jesus and you’re dead.

The response of Peter and Paul and the others: “so be it.   Come Lord Jesus, quickly.”

In a world where this kind of thing was commonplace, Paul’s direction to Titus was “submit with honor.”  Don’t give up what you believe, and practice all the behaviors recommended of one who believes in Jesus, yet submit to the authorities over you.   It’s good practical advice to us today because, to be honest, the same thing still happens.   We don’t have much control over our lives because, to be honest again, God allows authorities over us to have control over much of what we do.

What we do have control over is our choices, our thoughts, our actions.   No authority can MAKE us think something or say something.   And where behavior and actions can be compelled, the responsibility of doing something that we are forced to do rests with the one compelling, not the one compelled.   God knows this; God respects this.  What He asks us to do is to submit to the rulers and authorities that He allows here and trust that He will work all things for the good of His Kingdom.

For further reading:  Romans 13:1, Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 4:31, 1 Peter 2:13-14, Titus 3:3

Help me to submit, Lord.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 11 June 2019

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.  2 Timothy 4:6 (NIV).

You can lose everything in a flash.   My son-in-law’s mother lost everything in the storm that roared through Dallas on Sunday.   You may have seen it on your news yesterday.   A crane crashed into an apartment building, and that was the building in which she lived.   It turns out that the crane destroyed the building.   Between that damage and the storm winds, the building shifted and the parking garage was declared a loss.   She and her husband (along with all the other people who lived there) lost everything.   Home, car, belongings, clothes, mementos:   everything, because it isn’t safe to go back into the building.

The Apostle Paul knew his end was approaching.   For two years he had been under house arrest in Rome.   Innocent but accused of defiling the Temple, as a Roman citizen, Paul appealed his case to Caesar.   He was kept under house arrest in Judea for several years, then sailed to Rome where he was incarcerated for another two years, awaiting his appeal with the Emperor.   But the Emperor of the day was Nero, and it is thought Paul was executed not long after the great fire of Rome, set by Nero.  Paul knew the insane emperor had no love for him, and he knew how his fellow Christians were being persecuted by Rome.

So he anticipated his death, using his final months to write letters, encourage his friends and fellow believers, and likely even minister to his guards.   He compared the approaching end of his life to a drink offering, a sacrificial offering of wine poured on the altar or over a burning sacrifice to the Lord.   Yet the comparison is even more vivid because Paul might also have been alluding to his life being poured out in the manner of Christ’s, whose very blood was offered in sacrifice for mankind’s sins.   Jesus knew ahead of time that His death was approaching; so did Paul.

Yet my in-law relations had no idea of what was coming for them.   They woke up Sunday morning to just another typical Sunday.   By the end of the day, everything had changed.  Insurance will pay for much of it, and things can be replaced.   Yet you can’t replace the sentiment of mementos, the memories they bring.   You can’t easily shrug off the shock of such a thing.   Please pray for their peace, and that of all who were affected by the tragedy.   Pray they’ll be able to keep peaceful in the days to come, that they’ll find their way to a new home, and that they’ll feel God’s real presence in this time of crisis.  The best, and not the worst, is yet to come.

For further reading:  Numbers 15:1-12, Philippians 2:17, 2 Timothy 4:7

Lord, grant the peace only You have to these people who have been hurt.   Pour out Your love and hope into them.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 22 May 2019

always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  2 Timothy 3:7 (NIV).

Are you a fan of college or are you a fan of high school graduates learning a trade?   I have three college degrees:   an associate’s in Intelligence Collection, a bachelors in Business Management, and a master’s in Adult Education.   If it weren’t for student loan debt, they wouldn’t be worth much.   Even years ago when I went, many professors were politically polarized.

And if you think about it, politics is pretty small.   It doesn’t mean much in the eternal, long run.   Can you tell me what most of the popular issues were in ancient Sumeria?   Or Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome?   We don’t even know most of the local politicians back then, or even most of the high-ranking advisors in those empires.   More and more, even though I spend much time talking about politics and political matters, this talk is wasted time.   It’s like I’m always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the real truth.

What about those professors and that collegiate education?  The most common critique I hear about college education is that, other than trade-related colleges (such as medical school and law school), most college degrees today don’t prepare people for critical thinking.   They no longer provide people with deep education on matters of common history, logic skills, or non-specialized topics.   We pay thousands of dollars for higher degrees that are fairly useless in a workforce driven by detailed skills, both white and blue collar.   Yet that topic is a third rail, an off-limits critique of academia intellectual decline.   Its like the people who run colleges are always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

That’s because faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of all truth.  His truth that we are to love God and love our neighbor, that apart from Him we can do nothing, IS truth.   He, the I AM, IS, is truth, is reason.   Nearly all the great philosophers before the 20th century were religions (even those of antiquity).   And those between 1600 and the late 1800s were nearly universally Christian.  Only in the knowledge of God can we begin to truly learn things that are most necessary to succeed, especially in the hereafter.

As we age, we yearn for truth; as we age, we also don’t stop learning.  Brooks & Dunn sang about truth in believing, singing “I’m finding more and more truth in the words written in red.”   They were talking about the words of Christ.  There is much to learn in our world; thank God for that.   Thank God, most of all, that we can best learn the meaning of it by first learning the meaning of Jesus and His teachings.

For further reading: Mark 12:28-31, John 15:5, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:8.

Lord, You are the only real truth.   Forgive me when I’ve forgotten that.   Help me to remember it more today.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 4 April 2019

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.  May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.   2 Timothy 1:16-18 (NIV).

Notice that Paul prays for the blessing not just for his friend, Onesiphorus, but also for that man’s house.   It wasn’t enough for Paul to ask for God’s blessing / Jesus’ presence in the life of the man who had helped him.   No, Paul prayed blessing and kindness on the people who mattered most to Onesiphorus.

That’s going over and above.  The more you walk in faith-moved circles, the more you see people praying for the benefit of others, the health and prosperity of strangers, the peace of people they don’t even know.  It isn’t enough to get the fruit of Jesus’ Spirit in our lives; see Galatians 5.   No, when that happens, you have to share it.   You want other people to know what that peace means, what it feels like.   You want them to know Jesus, too, so that they can receive those blessings, those fruits in their lives..

You want it so much that you want them to experience it forever.   Paul prayed Jesus’ mercy over Onesiphorus’ household:  his family, his extended family, and anyone who may have moved in their circle.   He prayed eternal life over their home so that they would continue to abide in the Lord when Paul was (soon to be) gone.   Only God could give the kind of peace that would last forever.   Onesiphorus had shown kindness and loyalty to Paul.   Now, in his darkest hour, Paul repaid that kindness in the only way he could:   through prayers in Jesus.  That matters most.

If you don’t believe these things are true, or if you only have one toe in the pool of this faith-life, then these things might not make much sense to you.   This isn’t some Christian game of “I’ve got a secret” or playing goody two shoes.   It’s a life and death battle we’re in and we’re in the armies of the living God.  We want you on our side because we want you, with us, to live forever with Him.   We want you for Him because He wants you for Himself more than we do.   Because He loves you.   Because He is true and real love and the only real peace there is.  Allah and meditation can’t do that.  Jesus does.

For further reading:   Galatians 5:22-23, Hebrews 6:10, Acts 21:33, 2 Timothy 2:1.

Lord Jesus, only in You is found mercy and peace.   I’ve messed up before; help me to not do it again.   Bless those who are around me today, especially those with whom I barely come in contact.   Abide with them; live through them; bless them.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 13 August 2018

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV).

Have you noticed that Paul likes flowery benedictions?   He does this in most of his letters; why?  Simple:   praise and encouragement.

In these verses, (as you can see) that theme of encouragement is especially prevalent.  Think about it:  in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he spent considerable time teaching about patterns of living in a pagan world (which was what Asia Minor largely was).   In this second letter, Paul used his time to talk about the end of times and the persecution that would happen.   Persecution was a subject his friends in Thessalonica would understand because they lived in a Roman world hostile to the nascent Christian faith.  Their city was a cosmopolitan trade hub, the largest city between Rome and Byzantium and they saw first-hand the worst the Empire could offer.  They were familiar with the brutality lashed out against anyone who ‘made waves.’   And they were familiar with people who had known Jesus of Nazareth personally, had seen and heard Him, in person and had followed Him and His teachings in the few short decades since He departed.

If you or I lived in first century Asia Minor, we might need some encouragement, too.

That’s why Paul moves to end his letter this way.   He gives praise to God, stating the reason we should do so (“who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope”), then prays encouragement over the reader (the rest of the verse).

By the time Paul ministered to the new church in Thessalonica, that city was already almost 400 years old; today it is nearly 2400 years old and is the second largest city in Greece.  His friends there understood that they would need to praise God and be encouraged in the time to come because persecution would indeed come.   Within 20 years, all the apostles except one would be murdered (including Paul), and the church scattered.   Those who held onto believing in this Jesus would need to focus on praising Him in adversity while being encouraged by constantly learning and re-learning the truth of His encouragement.

Two millenia later, have things really changed?  Thessalonica is still a major city.   Some people still follow Jesus while most of the world does not.  People overseas are still dying for Christian faith and people here are blacklisted for it.  And the gospel is still on the move, teaching about God’s grace and His eternal encouragement of how His eternity matters most here and in the here to come.  I’d say Paul’s flowery benediction has served well.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:20, John 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:1.

Lord Jesus, thank You for these words you inspired Paul to share.   Let them encourage people to faith in You today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 23 May 2018

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  1 Thessalonians 5:10 (NIV).

Jesus died for everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, whether we accept Him or not, so that we may spend eternity with Him.  Dear unbelievers, read verse 10 again.   Then have a nice day.  No that isn’t smug:   it’s a plea.   It’s an invitation.   It’s a statement of fact.  It’s a mission statement.  It’s a challenge.  It’s a matter of life and death, both His and ours.

In reality, it’s almost unfair to talk about this verse apart from the ones immediately preceding and succeeding it; I encourage you to read both.  Jesus died for us so that we don’t have to live in wrath, or anticipate God’s wrath.   He did it knowing that this would be the best news humanity would ever receive:  IF we chose to accept it.

Preachers are fond of (correctly) saying that Paul was the greatest missionary who ever lived.   When you read his books again and again, you find that Paul easily, seamlessly mixes both practical and supernatural arguments for Christ.   To him, the supernatural was matter of fact, an accepted thing.   We of the ‘enlightened’ post-modern world seem to have a hard time believing that the supernatural is true (even though we don’t seem to have much difficulty thinking comic book movies are reflections of how we wish we could be).

That’s just now how things were with Paul, and with the people of his day.   They had lived in the time of Jesus, seeing Him personally both before and after resurrection.   They had witnessed miracles performed by Christ and by His followers.   They lived in a world that accepted God (and gods) as facts, as part of the natural order; indeed, people of the first century more readily accepted divine creation than we did, and they lived in a time where science and logic ruled the public square even more so than now.

Yet, then as now, they still questioned, marveled, and wondered at how Paul could say the things he did and mean them.   After all, people simply didn’t die and come back the way Jesus did.   People then as now were skeptical, even hostile, to ideas that offended their sensibilities.

And yet, when all the skepticism quieted down, Paul’s words still stood, un-recanted and unchallengeable.  This Jesus, murdered by Jerusalem and Rome together, died even for them so that even they might live in peace with Him forever.  In a hostile world, Jesus’ words offered a better way, a fresh start.   They’re truth to live and die by.  It was, and is, truth to make us rise again.

For further reading:  Romans 14:9, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Lord Jesus, only You could live and die for us.   Thank You for Your selfless death and resurrection.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 22 May 2018

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Thessalonians 5:9 (NIV).

Last night I watched “Platoon.”   Best Picture of 1986.   I first saw it at Fort Meade, Maryland that year in a theater full of Vietnam veterans, nearly all of whom were silent at the end and more than a few were crying.  Besides being about combat, Platoon was about fall and redemption, about receiving salvation by surviving the hell of the Vietnam War.

After that, I watched the first few minutes of “Gladiator,” Best Picture of 2000, also about war.   Near the beginning, Maximus, Russell Crowe’s character, said something profound:  “what we do in this life carries over into eternity.”   Had he been real, Crowe’s character would have lived just after the time of Christ.   I wonder if he would have picked up this thought from those early Christians.

Salvation has indeed come to man and it didn’t come by surviving war, though I’m sure most any war veteran can tell you that returning home safely was awful close.  And salvation came to us specifically because what we do in this life can indeed carry over into eternity.   Without Jesus’ salvation, the idolatrous things we choose here will indeed be fully rewarded to us in eternity.   By accepting salvation, something completely different is in store.

God didn’t appoint Oliver Stone, Charlie Sheen, Russell Crowe, or any of us to suffer His wrath.   He created us to love us, not to hurt us.  Before we were even born, God loved us and breathed life into us so that we may breathe life back to Him; so that we might share His love with other people that they would know His love too.    Being all love, Jesus knew that love-compelled isn’t love at all, so He also gave us free will:   the ability to choose one thing over another.   Even if it means we choose things other than Him, Jesus loves us enough to respect our choices so that we might come to love Him just as freely.  He didn’t create us to feel the Father’s holy wrath of hellish separation, but if that’s what we choose, then He loves us enough to respect us and our choices.

At the end of Gladiator, Maximus dies, having freed Rome from the grip of a tyrant.  At the end of Platoon, Charlie Sheen goes home to attempt to find something good of the world.   We’re not so different, you know.   This verse comes at the end of a section talking about the end of time.   It’s a good reminder of why God made us.  We’re here to learn to love God, even as a world bathed in wrath works against us.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:10.

Lord, love me today and encourage me so that I might avoid wrath and share love.