Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 5 February 2019

Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.  1 Timothy 6:2 (NIV).

Perhaps none of us in America can imagine this kind of predicament:   being a slave who follows Jesus while serving a master who also follows Jesus.   It’s true.  We can’t truly imagine it because we aren’t slaves.   There is no American citizen alive today who was an American slave, is the child or grandchild of a slave, or has any personal experience with legal slavery in the United States.  It was outlawed as a legal institution 154 years ago.   Yet, back then, it was very real.   There were real slaves and masters believing in the same Jesus while one lived in cruel servitude to the other.   Yes, slavery still does exist as a criminal exercise on this planet, even within the United States.   But that isn’t what we’re talking about (yet hold the thought).

Perhaps the closest parallel we of the 21st Century could draw is supporting a boss who you know believes in God.   We aren’t talking about supporting someone who says they believe yet says or does things to rebel against Him.   I’m more talking about supporting a boss who is harsh, tough, demanding.   Perhaps a leader or manager who insists that you always give your best, always hold to the highest standards, always demand more from you.

You know, like Jesus would.   Jesus could be hard and demanding of people who were egregious offenders, people like the Pharisees.   Yet He was also demanding of His closest friends, even as He usually interacted with a softer approach.   You and I, we like to say that we’d give Jesus worship, faith and (at least) respect, right?

Perhaps He has given us hard taskmasters in our lives to serve purposes that we don’t fully see.   Perhaps He allows others in our lives to push us to do things that reveal the best in us; iron sharpening iron.  Perhaps God works on us, collectively and individually, through authorities (as my pastor friend, Phil, recently reminded in a sermon).    Perhaps we should respect the boss, the CEO, the leader, the US President, because God is working even through them.  Perhaps God even still allows slavery in our world so that others might be reached by Him, through it.

Perhaps?   Yes.   Yes indeed, Jesus does all these things to us and for us and for our overall good in His Kingdom.   Knowing that, shouldn’t we do our best to render respect and honor to those above us even if they sometimes seem like slave masters?   Perhaps.   You know the answer.

For further reading: Philemon 16, Proverbs 27:17, 1 Timothy 6:3.

Wonderful Savior, we often fail You through things like slavery.  Thanks for Your patience, and teach us today to respect authorities, bosses, and leaders over us.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 31 January 2019

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.  1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV).

Slavery was officially outlawed in the United States on Dec 6, 1865 when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.  That amendment was ratified in less than a year; 309 days, and only 240 days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  Yet 154 years later, slavery is still a sore subject in America for many reasons.

Did you know that, even under slavery, black culture was the most devout, Christian culture in the nation?  As a matter of fact, all through out the history of America, it is the African American community that has held closest to the core values of Christianity.  That’s an amazing fact, and an amazing testament to both the power of Jesus Christ and the strength of character of good people who were subjugated but followed Jesus anyway.   Today, much time in our society, especially in our popular culture, is devoted to doing what we can to make amends for the national sin of slavery, even though it ended so many generations ago.   Why is that?

Perhaps the answer to that is found in re-reading verse 1.  How could any people not feel the guilt of history on them when they see that those subjugated as slaves often kept Paul’s hard advice better than the advantaged population that subjugated them?  Indeed, it’s a tough thing to do, considering your ‘masters’, often regarded as adversaries, worthy of respect.   Yet that’s what Paul asks us to do.

Indeed, slavery was commonplace in Paul’s time.   The Romans and Greeks conquered vast reaches of territory and enslaved those they conquered (if they even let them live).  Every nation in history, up to that point, had practiced and known slavery.   To break the cycle of hatred, Jesus commanded us to respect our masters, giving them honor as God’s representatives.   A slave master God’s representative?   Yes.

That is nether an acceptance nor toleration of slavery.   It’s simply a way of honoring God by honoring the people put over us.   Not many people in America are enslaved today; that 13th Amendment outlawed it.   Yet a dishonorable truth is that slavery – human trafficking, prostitution, drug runners, even people in common workplaces – still does indeed exist in the United States.  In fact, it exists in many areas of the world.   We who aren’t enslaved should use our righteous position to work against slavery.   And when we do encounter it, it’s up to us to remind those afflicted to give God honor in all aspects of their lives so that they may draw nearer to Him in true freedom.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:5 & 8, Colossians 3:22-24, 1 Timothy 6:2.

Lord, Your example is for us to not enslave others.   Help us to honor you by honoring those above us, even our ‘masters.’

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 February

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. Mark 14, verses 12-16.

If you don’t know the story of the Last Supper, then my prayer for this is that you learn something about it.   I’m not yet going to dive into the deep spiritual meaning that Jesus’ Spirit imbues in each of us through His real presence in the elements of bread and wine; relax, peeps, we’ll get there.   Instead, let’s just focus a bit on the history of it.

You know what I think about coincidences (in case you’ve forgotten, it’s ‘there aren’t any’). It’s no coincidence that Jesus would use the ceremony of the Passover seder to give His gift of the Holy Supper. The rich symbolism of Passover was ancient even in Jesus’ day; to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “this is deep, old magic.” BEFORE freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, while they were watching the Egyptians suffer through the ten plagues (that were designed to inspire Pharaoh free God’s chosen people), God came to Moses and commanded him to paint lamb’s blood on the lintels and doorposts of every Hebrew home.   The Hebrews were to stay inside their homes and eat a meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs while God’s angel of death passed over each home where it saw the entryway blood.

Read that again and let it sink in, then consider the story with these words.

While they were still in their sins, God personally came to sinner slaves and, through the blood of an innocent lamb on the entrance to their hearts, purposefully forgot to kill those inside.   To commemorate this, the sinners followed God’s command to eat a meal that would remember this action of God’s holy grace. Lamb signifying the death of an innocent; unleavened bread to remember freeing them in haste from their sins; bitter herbs to remember the unsatisfying taste of their slavery to sin. Blood that God would see and remember their sins no more. The meal became a milestone in every believer’s life.

Sound familiar?

The first Passover happened over a thousand years before the life of Christ.   And every year since they had been delivered, even when in captivity in Babylon then dispersed in the diaspora, the Jewish descendants of those Hebrew slaves had eaten this meal in remembrance.   Jesus the man was a descendant of Israelites; so were His disciples.   So, on that Maundy Thursday, the night before He was murdered on Good Friday, Jesus used the ecclesiastical, spiritual, historical and personally emotional significance of the Passover meal to institute what we Christians know as Holy Communion. It’s not a coincidence.

Noodle that today, then give thanks and glory to God.

Lord Jesus, thank You for using the beauty of Passover for Your Last Supper and Your Holy Communion.

Read Mark 14, verses 12-26.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 20 June 2014. Today’s topic: ending at the start

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20, verses 2 and 3.

So we end here at the beginning. We end with first principles:   God is God.   We are not to worship anyone or anything else. In reality, this first commandment goes with every other one.   There is no sin that doesn’t start without first making something else more important than God.

Let’s not gloss over that slavery thing, though.   You and I: we are still slaves.   Paul said we believers are slaves to righteousness; that’s true. Yet it’s also true we are rhetorical slaves to many other things.   I’m a slave to my job; you’re a slave to your children; we slave out in the yard every weekend; my wife slaves in the kitchen.   Blah, blah blah. As we talk down a pretty powerful word, let’s not lose sight of what it really means.

Slavery is having no freedom.   It is being under the complete control of another.   It means someone can beat you, abuse you, work you, and kill you without your being able to do anything to stop it. For over 200 years, in colonial America then into Constitutional America, slavery was legal and normal.   It took a civil war and drastic societal change to rid the nation of slavery; even then, hatred found ways to perpetuate its effects for another hundred years.

Don’t kid yourself: slavery still exists in this world.   There are still whole parts of Africa in which men enslave each other.   The sex trade is run on slavery in every nation in on the planet. Every government, even benevolent ones, has the tendency to move from liberty to tyranny to enslaving its people; it is only we the people who prevent that.   Slavery is alive and well in 2014.

The Israelites had been slaves for over 400 years, since the death of Joseph and the kind pharaoh he served.   They were subjugated, beaten, tortured and worked until God delivered them into His freedom. Quickly they learned that slavery, however, needs no taskmaster.   Slavery can exist when you’re enslaved to your sins, to your temptations.   God understood this, so He gave them this first commandment to remind them that He is God. That He redeemed them. That He is more powerful. In Him there is only love, justice and true liberty.   In God, there is no cruelty of slavery.   In God, there is only the true freedom of divine redemption. We were created for that loving freedom.

That’s where we end this series. God started it by reminding us of His true, free redemption, then gave us reminders of how to cling to that honest liberty. How much freer could we be if we simply took His commandments at His Word, then lived our lives accordingly.

Lord, You are my only God.   You are the only source of liberty, truth, and love.

 

Read Exodus chapter 20: the full Ten Commandments.

Daily Proverbial, from 1 John, 25 March 2013.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.  1 John 3, verse 14.

The wages of sin are death; the Apostle Paul said it.   He said it having known the faith that the Apostle John knew (and maybe even having personally met John in the flesh).  If you do some word substitution with Paul’s verse, it takes on a whole new meaning.   The wages of sin are death…the wages of following Jesus are life.  If we live for sin, we reject Jesus.   If we reject Jesus, we reject Him and His love, which is the essence of life.   If we live for sin, we reject life.

So if we live for following Jesus, we are paid in life; abundant life of contentment, peace, knowledge, joy, happiness, and fun.  Even as the terrible times still happen when we follow Him, we are freed of emotional, even physical, slavery to those terrors and we become able to deal with them realistically, through the lens of Him to teaches that tough times never last but tough believers do.

How do we follow Jesus?   It starts with just love.   Just love people, learning to love the way Jesus loved.  Love is selfless.   Love says “you first.”  Love is empathy and caring, patience and wisdom.   Love acts like Jesus does.  When we love, we follow Him and we’re open for Him to teach us even more. 

When we love, the world will hate us for it because love is crazy and illogical.  Love goes against the grain of a world that is accustomed to living through logical sin.   In the world, unreasonable ignorance is equated with knowing love.  In the world, the life that is a fruit of love is replaced with the death that comes because of hatred. 

And it happens because I put me first, because I abandon selfless love to get my selfish desires.  It happens even though we know there’s a better way.

I was an adulterer, and sometimes that weighs on me.   They were good women who cared, even loved, despite denying our mutual selfishness and impossible expectations.  I’ve cursed, I’ve stolen, I’ve hated; I’ve done worse than these.   The logical outcome for all of my sins is permanent separation from God:  death.  2000 years ago, God proved He saw things differently.  He put Himself up to die as the price He was willing to pay to save me from myself.   When He did that, though I wasn’t even born yet, God brought me over from death to life.  He did it for you as well.  And for Joe Stalin, Joe Biden, Joltin Joe DiMaggio, and Joe the Plumber as well.   God did it for all of us average Joe’s so that we might follow Jesus and live.

Lord, thank you for bringing me from death to life, from hatred to love, and from hopeless ignorance to knowing hope.