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, 15 January 2019

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.  1 Timothy 5:3 (NIV).

This section of 1 Timothy talks about how to live with elders, slaves and widows.  Let’s extrapolate a little.   How about we pay attention to all people in need?  Yep:  going there.  As always, if this makes you feel guilty, stop reading.  Go talk with Jesus and get it off your heart.   Drill down as to specifically why you feel guilty.   After that, come back and start where you left off because Jesus is telling us here, through Paul, that we are supposed to look out for each other.

Especially widows.   When you consider that women in ancient Israel (and all over the Mediterranean actually) were treated as chattel, the exhortation to recognize and help widows in need is understandable.  A married woman would share much of the status of her husband, who would provide for her and care for her.   Yet when he died, especially if she had no other family, a widow could quickly become destitute.  She could find herself on the streets, selling herself or worse just to get by.   Starvation was (and is) real and a real possibility; it was a savage time.

Kind of like today, especially overseas.   But let’s not kid ourselves.   The need is real and acute here in the good old US of A.

My mom was a widow for 17 years.  When Dad died, he left her with enough income to live a good life.   Her home was paid off; her bills were small; her transportation was reliable.   Yet I still found myself feeling that I needed to provide for her because she was my mom and, well, because she was a widow.  I hadn’t even really absorbed verses like this one:  I simply knew it was something that I should do.

Flash forward to now.   Is your mom or sister or friend a widow?   Jesus tells us to help them, to recognize their predicament and, to preserve their dignity, help them.  If it means opening our homes, do it; if it means opening our wallets, do it.   If it’s praying, bringing food, listening, helping with work, anything:  do it.   Then let’s apply the lesson to the bigger picture.  Homeless on the street?  Help them.   Someone in prison who is despondent?   Visit and listen.  Neighbor loading a moving truck?  Pitch in.   Paul’s advice to help widows in Asia has much larger applications in our lives than just helping women whose husbands have died.   Remember Jesus’ command:   love the Lord God with all your heart, then love your neighbor as yourself.  What better way to live this out than to give help when & where it’s needed.

For further reading: Mark 12:30-31, 1 Timothy 5:4.

Father God, show me widows and others in my path today who I can help.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 4 October 2018

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:13-14 (NIV).

Reiterating verse 13 helps to better understand the impact of verse 14.  Even though we were once despicable, God, through His Son Jesus, gave us everything out of the love in His heart so that we might live.   Even though we spend so much of our lives thinking, saying, doing things that are against God, God still unceasingly pours love into us through our faith in His Son, Jesus.

Everything you want to know about Christianity is there.   If you’re satisfied, here endeth the lesson.   Go have a great day.   Naturally I’ll keep talking…

“Amazing Grace;” you know the song.   The man who wrote it, John Newton, was a slaver.   He carried slaves from Africa to Europe and the Americas.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, Newton was terrible man, the most profane man one of his ship captains had ever met.   Newton blasphemed God, mocked other men for displaying faith in God, and even denounced his own faith in Jesus at one point…

…until a terrible storm off the Irish coast brought him to his knees and Newton cried out to God for help.   That was the start of a conversion that took most of a decade.   Newton turned from slavery and the sea and became an evangelical minister.   And a songwriter.  Paul and John Newton might have found commonality in their past; they weren’t so very different in character.

Sort of like you and me.

When we were still very much obsessed with our sins and mired in the dysfunction that results, God reached to us through His Spirit and touched our hearts.   We can come to know Jesus as the opposite of sin, as the antidote for what ails us.   Sin isn’t love and love overcomes sin.   When we learn the love of Jesus that He gives us through His Spirit, we can be remade, reborn, renewed, and refreshed to undertake something better.

That happened to Paul.   It happened to John Newton.   It’s happened to me, and I hope it has happened to you, too.   If it hasn’t, open up and let Him in.

Everything you need to know about Christianity, about following Jesus, is summed up in the concept of grace.   God loves us through grace and we get to love others this same way.  Paraphrasing Newton, it’s an amazing, sweet sound to hear God speak to your heart and impart that He loves you.   That He loves you just the way you are through His grace.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 4:15, 2 Timothy 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Timothy 1:16

Lord above, come to me here below and touch me with Your grace.   Grow my faith and help me to better share You.

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.