Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 January 2019

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.  As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.  So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.  1 Timothy 5:9-15 (NIV).

This was obviously quite a problem for the early church:  how to care for widows.  Life expectancy in first century Judea was little better than it had ever been.   A man or woman in decent health could reasonably expect to live into their late TWENTIES.   Yes, you read that right.   If you lived beyond that age, you had access to sanitation, decent food, shelter, and you were the clear exception.   In Rome, people reasonably lived into their thirties or forties (mainly because many Romans had those basic needs satisfied).  Imagine how people would have viewed you if you were old, like in your seventies or eighties.  In a patriarchal society like Judea (like all societies of that time actually) it would make sense that caring for widows of all ages would, then, have been of paramount concern.  Due to that short life expectancy, there would have been many.

Cue in on that last verse, though, because it matters for all of us today.   “Give the enemy no opportunity for slander.”   Satan is a coward who doesn’t attack us in our strong places.  That’s how he operated in Jesus’ time; it’s how he works now.  Satan slanders us, weakens us, angers us, uses our emotions against us.  Folks who lose loved ones are especially vulnerable to falling away from the faith.   The enemy attacks us in our weak spots at such opportune times, so it’s especially important that we support those who have suffered loss.

It’s our mission in life to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves.   One way to do that is to care for each other when we’re in need, when we’re vulnerable.  People die around us every day.   Let’s each work today to do what we can to help our neighbors and loved ones when that happens.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 5:16.

Lord, show me someone today who I can help in Your good name.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 1 November 2018

He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap1 Timothy 3:7(NIV).

Let’s talk about reputation.  Paul is talking about an overseer, an elder.   He’s saying that the people selected as elders must be people of good repute.   They must be upstanding citizens in the church of God, believers who are respected both in and out of the church…especially outside the church.   They must be this kind of people because, if they aren’t, they risk disgrace and falling under the influence of Satan.

Tell me:   do you have that kind of reputation?   I’ll easily confess it:   I don’t.   Too many times in the past, by things I have done and said, I’ve disqualified myself from being someone like an elder.   I’ll confess again:   I didn’t set out to do that.   I didn’t set out to become the kind of person you wouldn’t want to be.   It happened because of choices I made, of choosing sin over choosing God.  I fell into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

So I’ll ask again:  do you have that kind of reputation?   Are you the kind of person who praises Jesus one minute and looks in lust at that good looking woman or man the next?   Do you lie?  Are you envious?   Worse than these, are these the kinds of things that people think or say about you?   Bad news, my friend:   you might not be elder material either.  Maybe we’re both due for a reputation gut-check.

Now let’s turn that bad news upside down.   You and I weren’t made for disgrace, bad reputations, or that old devil’s trap.   We were made to be very good sons and daughters of the Most High, the Triune God who Luther celebrated with his 95 statements five centuries ago.   When we believe in Jesus, God sees through our disgrace and poor reputations and sees Jesus living in us.   He sees His Spirit remaking us in His image, replacing our evil ways with His fruits like love, kindness, peace, patience, and self-control.  When God looks at us through Jesus, He sees an elder-kind of person, someone whose bad reputation was remade for a good one.   What the church or outsiders think matters little.

Mind you, the devil is still setting his traps.   He has since Eden and will until the end.   Sin will still hunt us, trying to pull us away from Jesus, trying to tar our reputations once again.   Don’t fall for it.   Love defeats Satan.   The love of Jesus is more powerful than what others think, or what Satan attempts.   Besides, it’s what God thinks of me that matters.   True, we want elders (and all leaders) to be people of good character and better reputation.  But what God thinks of us is far more important.

For further reading: Mark 4:11, 2 Timothy 2:26, Galatians 5:22-25, 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Lord, all praise to You that You see Your beautiful Son in me.   Thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 11 October 2018

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 1:18-20 (NIV).

How do we fight a spiritual war, and what happens when we give up?

An acquaintance of mine is suffering from Satan.   He and his brother are mired in the consequences of dabbling in Satan’s arts and humanism in general.  I’ve written about them before, but it’s still happening.   Just a few days ago, he sent a social media message asking ‘how to hold back the darkness.’   We don’t talk much, and that makes me sad.   But my wife and I pray for him daily, and we reach out as best we can, and we offer up that there are indeed ways to beat back the darkness.   They all start with going to God…and that’s precisely what these young men refuse to do.   Thus, the spiritual darkness is still happening all around them because they aren’t fighting the right way.   They’re shipwrecked.

It’s still happening because the spiritual war is ongoing.   It has been going on since Adam and Eve.  It has caused every war in human history, and it’s dividing America even today.  Got skin, got sin.   Our problem is a sin problem (Si Robertson said that), not a Democrat vs Republican problem.  Sin is why Jesus came, and died, and rose, and saved mankind.   If only my friends would embrace that simple, liberating truth.

But that’s tough to do.   It requires putting our trust in Jesus.   It requires letting down our guard..   More than that, it requires saying “you know better, Lord”, then letting Him take control of our lives.   We don’t “do” anything to cause, earn, or deserve our salvation; even Paul reminds us that salvation is a gift of love through God’s grace.   The only things we bring into the ‘salvation equation’ are our sins, the ways we’ve realized we need Jesus.  If you don’t sin, you don’t need Jesus.  But, as said earlier, got skin, got sin.   You may not like it, but you’re a sinner.   You aren’t making it out of here alive because death is the penalty for sin, and you will die.  The way to set things right is through Jesus.

I wish my friends could see that.  Instead, they’ve shipwrecked their hearts on the foolishness of insisting they know better.   That simple assertion has caused more pain than anything else in history.  It gives Satan a toe-hold in our lives.   It’s time to end the shipwreck disaster.   It’s time to fight the war.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 2:1

Lord, suit me up then fight for me in this war against the evil one.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 June 2018

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NIV).

Paul isn’t talking about himself here:   he’s clearly talking about God.   Some folks have used verse 24 to say “see, it’s Paul saying it, not God.   He isn’t speaking for God.”  Let’s just go there:   that’s dumb.  Of course Paul is talking about God and of course he’s talking for God (specifically, it’s God talking through Paul).   The proof?   “The one who calls you is faithful.”

Face it:   other than God, anyone who “calls” you isn’t faithful.   We’re human; we’re people; we’re fallible.   We make mistakes, even when we’re motivated by love and good intentions.   At some point, any person who calls you to do something, change, be, or whatever will fail you.   Why?   Because they’re human, people, fallible:   just like you.   And me.   At some time, we fail each other.

God never fails us.   Even when we don’t see or understand His actions – and especially when we don’t like them – He is always faithful in keeping His word to us.   He doesn’t change; God doesn’t evolve.   His love is always where He says it is and is always powerful, faithful, and true.   If we feel disconnected from it, chances are we have listened to the call of something or someone other than just the Lord.  Whether we feel Him or not, however, He’s still reaching out to us and always does.

He will always do it because He is always love and justice for us.   He is always faithful.  When we feel those times of disconnect, we can ALWAYS go back to God and repent.   “I was wrong.   I did X and I’m sorry.   Forgive me.   Help me to change, to turn away and follow You better.”   Say something like that from the heart and you’re on the road back.   When you ‘get there’ you find God never left.   In fact, He was there in and beside you even when you thought He wasn’t.   He is ready to help you transform.   He is there to give you His peace, to sanctify you, to keep you blameless, to DO in your life.   How He does that differs for each of us, but He does it all the same.   Why did He let us suffer?   Maybe the better question is “why did WE let us suffer?”   God always rescues because God is always faithful.

Satan can’t do that.   You can’t do that.   The invented ‘gods’ of Asatru can’t do that.  Your friends, your sainted Aunt Sadie, and your most devout churchgoer can’t do that because they aren’t God.  Only God can be truly faithful to us.

For further reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:25-28.

Lord, forgive me for when I’ve been unfaithful to Your heart.   Help me to always know You are with me.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 20 June 2018

Do not quench the Spirit1 Thessalonians 5:19 (NIV).

Not long ago, I stayed with some folks who are going through a really tough time.  Sickness, anger, division, hatred, divorce, financial difficulties, job problems, Satan:  I maintain their family is being attacked by the devil.   One person seems to be firmly in the grip of evil.   Another is having a breakdown and is battling many personal issues.   And then there is the third person.   He is nearly a man, full grown and finishing school.   He’s impressionable and has struggled hard to get to where he is, fighting health, educational, and personal challenges that would have broken lesser boys.

His spirit is threatened.   There are influences around him who are working diligently to quench God’s Spirit from working on him.   As a result, he’s struggling even more.   At one point, the young man was exploring Christianity, finding comfort and purpose in it.   That’s all done, at least for now.   Someone close to him – someone he admires – crushed this nascent belief.  The young man has now embraced atheism and dark matters (because that same close person also embraces them).   Indeed, I’ve rarely felt the presence of evil – and then the more powerful presence of God – than I have in the home where this young man lives.

Paul reminds us that we are not to quench God’s Spirit.   Make no mistake:   God’s Spirit is so much more powerful than even the strongest evil, yet it’s fully within our power to quench it in our lives.   If God wills to overcome our unbelief through whatever means He will, then He will.   Yet it’s unmistakable from Paul’s time into ours that God doesn’t want people who are forced to believe in Him.   He wants people to believe in Him willingly, by choice.   Love doesn’t compel:   love chooses.  God could crush evil with a single thought, yet He doesn’t because love doesn’t force.   Love gives, including giving free choice and even hard choices.

What happens when we don’t choose love?   God is all love, and when we choose something other than love, we run the risk of choosing something other than God.   When we do that, we are pouring cold, cold water on the fire of God’s Spirit burning in our lives.   Whatever good is being produced is put at risk.   Whatever good we might be doing for others by sharing God’s love is also put at risk.  God doesn’t NEED our good works, but He asks for them in His Name so that His love might increase.  When we choose something other than God, we injure His love; we deny it.  Paul reminds us to not put out the fire of God’s Spirit.   For the sake of my young man friend, I hope those around him stop doing that.   It does him no good.

For further reading:  Ephesians 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 5:20

Lord, inspire in me today a Spirit to love You among others.   Let me share You so that Your great love might increase.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 6 March 2018

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. 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 (NIV).

In the last two verses, Paul talked about how Satan kept him from visiting the Thessalonians.   Here he talks about why he wanted to visit them.   It’s simple, actually.

Have you ever been really, really proud of someone?   Maybe a child who has graduated, or your baby the first time they walked?   Have you ever led a team through completing a difficult task?   Have you ever been part of something that you really loved, and seen it through to the end?  Maybe you got a taste of what Paul felt.   But, no, it wasn’t just pride.

Have you ever been caught up in the moment and felt so glad to simply be alive?   Or have you ever felt so moved, so overwhelmed with feeling that you could barely contain it when you realized how you felt?  Have you ever…have you ever.  We could go on and on here.   Like I said, it’s really quite simple.

What is our hope, our sure-fire promise?   What is our joy, that incomparable quality of godliness?   What is the crown, the reward and symbol of majesty, honor and power?   How, who and what is Jesus Christ if not all these things and more?  You know:   it is Him.  Quite simply, it is the love of Jesus Christ that surpasses all understanding and breathes life into lifelessness.

I can honestly say some of my proudest accomplishments in life come from knowing I have been privileged to lead a few souls to Christ.   Not many, but a few.   They’re a few people who will spend eternity with Jesus, alive and celebrating in heaven in the presence of Him who loved them first.   They won’t be ones who spend that same eternity in hell with Satan, who knew Jesus but rejected Him out of their pride, which can be hate; that same Satan who still divides people today, putting up wedges and walls between people and their God.

No, the folks who have come to faith with my words and actions make me proud.   And humbled.   I’m the worst of sinners, yet somehow they came to believe in Jesus, the ultimate love in the universe, through sinful me.   That’s an overpowering feeling, an overwhelming honor for such and under-whelming man.  Why would I feel so overwhelmed?   It’s simple:   it’s Jesus, His love.   It’s the love of Jesus, shared between people who love Him back.  It’s what Paul felt for the Thessalonians.  Have you ever?

For further reading: 2 Corinthians 1:14, 1 John 2:28, Thessalonians 3:1.

Lord, the greatest honor in my life is to follow You.   Thank You for using me, your servant, to carry your message.   I pray, use others around me to do the same.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 5 March 2018

But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 (NIV).

Satan played a large role in my weekend.   Maybe not the way you’re thinking, although I’m the worst of sinners I know.

On Saturday my wife and I attended “The Thorn” along with friends.  If you’ve never seen it, The Thorn is a Christian stage production telling the story of the Passion in music, narrative and dance.  We really enjoyed the show, and my wife and I agreed:   the most interesting character in the show was Satan.   The actor/dancer who portrayed him did so in a slinky, sly, debauched way.  He looked evil, he acted evil, and every time he was on stage he was bathed in angry red light.   In a word:   memorable.

Then, yesterday, the main subject of the sermon at church was telling Satan to go away.  Pastor Mark even called up my wife, who spent all her years in school playing softball, to play umpire and yell “YOU’RE OUTTA HERE!”   Message me, I have video.   Anyway, the gist of the message was that we have full power to tell Satan to take a hike whenever he threatens, cajoles, intimidates, manipulates, or generally gets on our nerves and tries to separate us from God.   “Devil” even means “divide,” something I didn’t know until yesterday.  Yet throughout history, Satan has made dividing us his number one job.   It’s how he garners power, how he tries and tries and tries – and fails – to take God’s place as, well, God.

Satan is that slinky divider and he always has been.   There’s nothing cool or hip or edgy about Satan or darkness or evil.   He always brings destruction when he shows up in front of you.   He always tries to block your way, blocking your view of God because if he can wedge a divide between you and God, he can win the moment…

…even as he’s already lost the war.  The end of all things has already been foretold.   God wins; love prevails; truth and justice and peace rule eternity because God is and always will be God in His heaven.  You’d think Satan would have learned that message already but it’s not so.   He’s still dividing us, still trying to block our way from being united with Jesus.   On your own you can’t defeat him and he will block your way.  Through the name of Jesus, though, you can’t lose.

For further reading: 1 Corinthians 5:3, Colossians 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Isaiah 62:3, Philippians 4:1, 2 Corinthians 1:14, Matthew 16:27, Luke 17:301 Thessalonians 2:19.

Lord, stand between me and Satan.  I pray, defend me, never leave me, forgive me when I sin against You, and fight the divider for Your glory.