Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 19 June 2019

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.  2 Timothy 4:11-13 (NIV).

“Emanuel” is a new movie that focuses on forgiveness.   It’s a contemporary docu-drama about how the members of a Bible study group at Emanuel Baptist Church forgave the man who tried to murder them.   Powerful stuff about a powerful action.

When considering forgiveness, consider Mark.   Mark is Mark the Evangelist:  the author of the Gospel of Mark (probably the earliest of the four Gospel accounts), also known as John Mark.   Paul had known Mark (who, as a young man, had known Jesus) for many years.   Earlier in Paul’s ministry, when it was Paul who was new to following Jesus, Paul and Mark had disagreed.   Prior to this, in Pamphylia, Mark had ‘abandoned’ Paul, leaving Paul for reasons we don’t know.   The reason could have been serious or it could have been a slight; we simply don’t know.

All we know is that, in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas (who had been ministering together) sharply argued and then split up over John Mark.   Paul and Silas went one way, and Barnabas and Mark went another.   Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas continued on through Syria.   Where God would have done great things through the four of these men together He did greater things by splitting them up, allowing the Gospel to be shared with more people than if the group had stayed together.

Some time later, Mark and Paul reconciled.   They shared mutual forgiveness for the previous incident.   They reconciled to the point that, for the rest of human history, Paul’s words about Mark being helpful in ministry were recorded to encourage us to forgive.   We are to do it because it’s what Jesus did – and does.   We are to do it because it’s healing, because it is cleansing; because it’s helpful to others and to us.

Letting go of animosities and burdens and wrongs done to us frees us to better focus on the wonderful things God is doing every day.   We get to choose to let optimism or pessimism rule our outlook.   We get to look for good things instead of navel-gazing on the problems that follow us.   Those problems may still follow us, but we can keep them in perspective and use the empowering freedom of knowing we’re forgive (and can forgive others) to live lives that help, that help others, that help others know Jesus and His Good News.

ANYTHING is forgiveable.   See “Emanuel” now.   See it to see how even the worst things done by terrible people can be forgiven.

For further reading:  Acts 15:37-40, Acts 16:8, Acts 20:4, 2 Timothy 4:14

Lord Jesus, thank You for forgiveness.   For forgiving us when we’ve wronged You.   Inspire us to forgive others as You do.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 7 March 2018

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 1 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).

This and coming verses explain that Paul loved the Thessalonians.  In context of chapter 2, it’s obvious he did.   That’s not an ordinary thing.  I find myself here in San Francisco this week not knowing how to react to the homeless.   I’ve been to SF many times but I’ve never seen as many homeless people here as there are this year.   What’s more, the city appears to be doing less and less to address the situation of so many folks needing genuine help.   Many are drug-dependent; many appear disturbed; many need help with money, food, hygiene, and health issues.   Our society tells us that we should be wary of such strangers.   Jesus (and probably Paul) wouldn’t have hesitated to help but Dave does.   What can you do to help someone who is in such desperate straits?

If nothing else, pray.  I don’t know the strangers I pass on the street, and the people who yell and scream out of the blue for no reason, or the guy kissing the magazine on the subway give compelling reasons to be apprehensive at least.   But I pray for them.   I pray for them, and I pray God opens my path and my heart to find a way to help.   Until then, I pray.   Pray for health, pray for peace, pray for safety, pray for food and shelter and assistance.  Jesus and Paul would probably do more; I pray, too, that God would enable me to do the same.

So, riddle me this Dave:   how does “best to be left by ourselves in Athens” demonstrate Paul’s love for anyone but Paul?  Did Paul only pray for them?  I think the key is in the first words of the chapter coupled with the last words of Chapter 2.   Recall that 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 said “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.”  Paul says those things then immediately intimates that he was left alone in Athens because he loved the Thessalonians, whose love in Christ was Paul’s pride an joy.   He was left alone in Athens because he sent his friends Silas and Timothy to other places to love on other people, including the Thessalonians.

I bet that Paul’s first inclination was to pray for his new friends and the other strangers in their midst.   When you can’t do anything else because of distance, ability or even fear, you and I can pray because prayer is a real, tangible way to be involved.   And in it, you’re never alone.

For further reading: Acts 17:15, Thessalonians 3:2.

Lord Jesus, show me ways I can help.  Show me people I can pray for and help.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 January 2018

You know how we lived among you for your sake.  1 Thessalonians 1:5.

Before we move on, let’s discuss the last sentence of verse 5.

Our dog, Josh, had been part of our family since September 2006, and he got very sick these last few months.   Yesterday, it was time to say goodbye, so we made an appointment with a vet to have hit put to sleep; that’s what you do as a pet owner.   Josh died bravely, and he licked me on the face just a few seconds before he received the injection.   It tore at me but I didn’t want to see my canine friend suffer.  He was my pal, and I loved him.  My wife and I cried together as he died.

I have another friend, not canine, who is battling terminal cancer.   She and I were co-workers, and we’ve stayed friends over the years, commiserating over work, sharing life stories.  My friend has battled cancer already, but this time the disease is likely to win.   How do you support someone who is facing death?  Do we ever really know what to say when they are fighting this battle we all must eventually fight?

The Apostle Paul, Silas, and Timothy had lived among the people of the church at Thessalonica.   They had witnessed to the parishioners, helped them set up things from the start, and helped them to hold fast to this new and fast-spreading faith.   At the time this was happening, Christianity was brand-new.   When the congregation was figuring out how to do things, how to worship in the face of real, physical persecution, they did so without history to guide them.   They were setting that precedent; they were figuring out how to do things for the first time.

What a comfort it must have been to have these storied men live among them, be themselves among them, and help them through this difficult time.

Perhaps that’s a lesson we can remember now, in difficult times when we lose loved ones and face the troubles life gives us.  God gives us people in our lives to live among us for our sake.   He gives us each other to support each other, encourage each other, love on each other.   God chooses to live among us by living through us and letting us share Him through how we live.  Famous people don’t make the world go around:   you and I, living out our faith, do.

What do we say when our friends and family face death, when times are tough and we don’t know what else to say or do?  We love them as Jesus would, listening, talking, feeling for them when they hurt, even saying goodbye.   We do what Paul and his friends did, for their sake, for their comfort.   For Jesus’ glory.

For further reading:  Colossians 3:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Romans 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:6.

My Lord, teach me to live Your love for other and to others in my circle.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 10 January 2018

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.  1 Thessalonians 1:2.

This is something with which I struggle.  In fact, it was the subject of my personal devotion just this week.   How can someone continually pray?

If you read the verse, you’d think that all Paul, Silas, and Timothy did was pray; all day long, nothing but prayer.  Even in the first century, that would have been socially odd.  If you were praying all the time, you wouldn’t get anything else done.   You’d actually turn off the people you’re trying to witness.  Quite honestly, if you aren’t working, you aren’t using the talents and resources God made available to you, and that itself is ungodly (and lazy).

Joyce Meyer says that prayer is an attitude.  It’s an action that we should do like breathing, even unconsciously.   “Our spiritual life is designed to be nurtured and sustained by continual prayer,” she said.  Our spirit feeds on time with God.  We feed it through prayer, which is a conversation between you and your Maker.   It’s the way God gives us to communicate our thoughts and feelings to Him, and it’s one way He imparts His voice into our lives.   Think of it:   you get to have a one-on-one, private (if you want it to be) conversation with the Creator of all things and the God who saved you from your sins.   You don’t need a priest or pastor to do it for you:   you GET TO do it yourself.  He hears you and He always answers you, even when the answer takes years to understand.  Sometimes it’s a formal conversation and sometimes it’s just a chat.

Yet know these things.  Prayer isn’t about always hitting your knees, or bowing your head, or even doing it in private.   To pray, you don’t have to say the Lord’s Prayer first, or end every sentence with “selah” or “amen.”   You don’t have to act formal, and you don’t have to be in a church pew, be led by a pastor (or have him and only him do the praying), and you don’t have to pray in a deep voice that might resonate in the 15th Century king’s English.

Indeed, so many “don’ts” seem to paint prayer in a completely different light, one different from the kind of light painted by Paul, Silas, and Timothy.  And Joyce Meyer.   The light these folks shine on prayer is that it’s a way to talk with God, to thank Him for all He does, and to talk with Him about other people who affect you.   It’s an active way to battle evil.   It’s a real thing instead of just some church practice.   It’s something we get to do as easily and frequently as breathing.

For further reading:  Romans 1:8, Ephesians 5:20, Philippians 1:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 1:3.

Lord, thank You for prayer.   Hear my prayers, teach me to pray better, and thank You for the blessing You give of other people.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 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.

A few more words, please, about the opening to this letter.   Notice that it speaks for three people:   Paul, Silas, and Timothy (as does the opening to 2 Thessalonians).  As mentioned yesterday, all of Paul’s letters open with a flourish, and all of them open by naming (at least) the apostle.  Romans opens with Paul only (as do Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus), Paul and Sosthenes open 1 Corinthians, Paul and Timothy in 2 Corinthians (also Philippians, Colossians and Philemon), and Paul and “all the brothers with me” begin Galatians.

What does this mean?  To me, it speaks of the honesty of a growing movement.   Put yourself back in the First Century Mediterranean world dominated by Rome.  It was a barbaric culture spread across three continents.  Paul wrote many of his letters to churches in modern day Turkey (Corinth, Galatia, Colosse, and Ephesus are there) while Timothy was from that same area.   Philippi and Thessolonica are in Greece (with Thessalonica actually being in Macedonia), and it is believed Philemon was from Colosse.   All these churches grew out of Paul’s missionary efforts that began on the road to Damascas (in modern day Syria).   If you look at a map you see that Paul’s missionary journeys took him north from the Transjordan, around the Mediterranean coast, and even as far west as Rome (where he was eventually martyred).   That’s a distance of hundreds, even thousands, of miles:   all of it by foot, wagon or boat.

That doesn’t happen without reason.

All along the way, people listened.   Many listened, some rejected, but others believed.   Enough people believed to start churches, formal underground groups of followers committed to this new message of Jesus Christ, Himself only recently crucified.   The movement grew in spite of Roman physical oppression and Jewish ecclesiastical persecution.   It grew across languages, cultures, and boundaries.   Indeed, the three men who wrote just this letter were all from vastly different backgrounds with Paul being Judean, Silas a Greek, and Timothy from what we consider to be Turkey.

Again, that doesn’t happen by chance.   The fact that three men from different countries could come together to evangelize a radical new belief system that preached real non-violence, peace, and love towards enemies speaks volumes.   Even with 24/7 global communications, that rarely happens even today.   Yet that’s what happened in Paul’s day, in Paul’s life.   Before now, maybe you didn’t consider the implications of a simple though eccentric greeting in an obscure letter.   Hopefully after this, you’ll never forget it.

For further reading:  Read the first verses of the first chapters of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

Lord, thank You for the spectacular nature of Your church and the diverse leaders who started it.