Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 4 September 2018

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (NIV).

My son told me a story.   He hasn’t practiced much formal religion in the last few years but he has constantly believed.   Indeed, he has been trying to live out his rollercoaster faith in a rollercoaster world.   Some days are more devout; some are the opposite.  He told me that, last week, he prayed to meet new people, for he and his fiancé to meet new couples and make new friends.   Later that same day he was outside his apartment and met a man and his wife who were moving in.   He ended up helping them finish the move and they became friends.   Answered prayer, answered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then there is another family member, who is an unbeliever.   He starts school today, starting his senior year.   He’s openly hostile to God and, to be honest, is confronted by the works of the devil everywhere he turns.  This boy not only doesn’t believe:   he despises God for reasons only he could fully explain.   I’m betting, though, that some of those reasons would sound familiar.   He has asked to not be included on family bible verses, or spiritual messages, or things that are about faith, so I respect his wishes and don’t send them.   Yet I pray for him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that he would be broken in heart and turn to the Lord to be remade.

A prayer to the Lord is a prayer in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.   Paul invokes this phrase for emphasis, to stress to the Thessalonians – and us – that we are to keep away from people who are idle (not idol) in faith.   People whose faith is weak need encouragement, and we should indeed encourage, pray for, and work in their lives to build that up.   Yet we should be careful to not always hitch our faith-star to theirs for our own spiritual welfare.   A therapist friend says there are people we should help and people we should simply pray for.   That’s good advice.

Yet we are to temper this judiciousness with the boldness of the Lord Jesus Christ to be in the world but not of it.   We are to run to the fire when someone’s spiritual fire is dying out.   We are to live our lives in the fruits of Jesus’ Spirit not to earn our salvation but to reflect His.  There are some people we need to help beyond just prayer.   In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that’s our mission as well.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 5:4, Romans 16:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:7.

Lord Jesus, help me to know who to pray for and who, in Your Name, to help.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 18 July 2018

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us – whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter – asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 (NIV).

Scoffers and skeptics:   they were old news even in Paul’s time.

My Concordia says that the primary theme of 2 Thessalonians is the second coming of Jesus.   It was written to people who knew first-hand, may have even seen, the first coming of Jesus (including Him after He was resurrected).  They intimately knew about the miracle of Him.   Quite understandably, they thought He would be coming back in the near-term, in their lifetimes.   How shocked do you think they would be to learn that it has been over 2000 years since?

You couldn’t blame them if there were some people who scoffed at the notion that Jesus would return from death.   After all, nobody (but Him) ever said they would and had.  The claims Paul and the other disciples were making about Jesus’ coming return were fantastic and illogical (and that’s no small matter given the widespread Greek culture of revering logic and knowledge).  Jesus’ first century resurrection had rocked the religious, political, social and even economic world in ways nothing else had throughout all of history.  Yet the farther they, and we, get from Easter Sunday, the more our world seems to give credence to the scoffers who say it can never happen again.   Many of them say, in fact, the first time never happened.

It makes no sense.   When you’re dead, you’re dead.   It’s physically impossible.   You’re simply believing a fable.   Get a grip already.  A rotted, decomposed body can’t live again.   Fool.   Would you hear those words today (or do you)?   Admit it:  you would have heard them in the AD 30s and after as well.

News flash, scoffers:   the Bible hasn’t been disproved.   The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most thoroughly documented even in all of antiquity.   Science and faith are seemingly mutually exclusive, but while science routinely disproves itself, faith in Jesus (and the veracity of the Scriptures) are consistent.   They are supported by themselves and by faith in them.   What’s more, archaeology and proven history support more than deny the account of the life of Jesus.   His words were and are reliable.   Knowing that, is it unreliable to think they’re true about everything, including his return?   You know the answer.

Jesus came back once.   He promised to do so again.   His Word is reliable and honest.   When the scoffers come, let them say what they will.   It’s only hot air and it’s nothing new.   They were trying to discredit Paul 2000 years ago and their modus operandi hasn’t changed since.

For further reading:  Mark 13:27, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Timothy 2:18, 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3

Come Lord Jesus quickly.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 12 July 2018

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 2 Thessalonians 1:11 (NIV).

Confession time (again):   yesterday I ended by saying “don’t be a jerk.”  Don’t be a jerk about how you talk about Jesus.  Walk the walk and talk the talk harmoniously.  So here’s the confession:   I’ve been a jerk about it.   Online, in person, in any modality I have been a jerk.  I haven’t been worthy of His calling to talk with you (and others) about Jesus.   My witness has been words and actions and, to be honest, my witness has been discredited by other words and actions.   Got skin, got sin, and, like Paul, I’m the worst of sinners.

Confession (again, again):  every day, Jesus says “keep moving forward.”  On my own, apart from Jesus, I can’t do or say anything about Him that’s meaningful.   It’s His Spirit that places the good words in my mouth and moves me to work for Him with my hands.   Where I am weak, Jesus steps in and injects His Spirit to strengthen me.   Where I don’t know what to do or say, when I submit to Him, Jesus does those things.   My sinful nature becomes His glorious appeal.   It’s not me:   it’s Jesus making me into who He wants me to be.   It’s not a cop-out for:   it’s how things really work.

That’s what Paul is saying in this verse.   God makes us worthy of His calling.   On our own, by our own motivations, we aren’t worthy of it.   We aren’t worthy to even speak His name because we’ve chosen to sin against Him.   On our own, our desires are only desires, and we are ruled by them, which is how the evil one keeps sneaking in and turning our focus.

Enter Jesus.   Enter God into our lives and He makes all the difference.   With Jesus in residence in your heart, the evil one is powerless.   With Jesus inspiring my thoughts, my thoughts are inspired to become His words, to help and to encourage.   With Him in our hearts, we can see when we’ve said and done wrong and turn from it, then try to make amends; to change.   When He controls peoples’ actions, we don’t have to obsess about the things we’ve done wrong.   You and I can focus, instead, on the great things He can do through us now.

I mess it up.   I do that quite regularly; no excuses.  To paraphrase Paul from Romans, the stupid things I don’t want to do, these I keep on doing.   Yet I’m still who Jesus wants to work with to make me worthy of what He wants me to do, then equip me to do it.

For further reading:  John 15:5, Romans 1:10, Romans 7:19, 2 Thessalonians 1:12.

Lord, mold and make me today to do Your will.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 June 2018

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  1 Thessalonians 5:28 (NIV).

What a great way to end a letter!   Read it again:   it’s the perfect way to end a letter to several dozen of your close friends.

Or several billion.

Or to begin your day.

Or to bless your dinner.

Or to greet someone at WalMart (go ahead:   try it!).

Or…or…you get the picture.

Next time you say goodbye, invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into their lives until you meet again.

In fact, shouldn’t this benediction be on your lips at all times?   When we really love someone, when we adore them, when we care enough to send the very best (including a Hallmark), shouldn’t we be blessing them with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them?  At or near the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Paul uses nearly identical words to bless his readers with the grace of Jesus.   He uses slightly different words in Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  The message:   Jesus is the perfect way to end a letter.

Or begin your day…or bless your dinner…or, again, you get the picture.

We can’t do any better than the grace of Jesus Christ.   It’s the grace of Christ that created us, then breathed life into us.   It is the grace of Christ that sustains us in breath, blood and bone every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we live and GET TO LIVE every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we get eternal life after this one, and that we get to be part of that eternity now.   It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can love.

If you could send a Hallmark to your very best friend, wouldn’t you want to end it by giving them the best you had to give?   That’s what Paul is saying here (and in all those other letters).   This was serious stuff to Paul who, just the verse prior to this one, had implored his friends to read the letter to others.   Back then, it wasn’t broken up into numbered verses; back then, Paul probably though people wouldn’t memorize his words.   But he knew that God had spoken through them and that they were important.   They were words that God wanted us to remember.

So it only follows that Paul would end the letter with a benediction that blesses the reader with the present grace of the God-man, Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  With that thought, Paul closes out his letter and so shall we.

See you next time.

For further reading: Romans 16:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Lord Jesus, bless me with Your wonderful grace today that I might share it with others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 25 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 Christ1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV).

This is a tall order.   Admit it:  you can’t do this on your own; I know I can’t.   I’m betting quite a few people are better than I am at behaving themselves and at resisting temptation.  There are quite a few people who wouldn’t give a second thought to the pet sins that have plagued my life.   But the dirty secret is that there are many of THEIR pet sins that wouldn’t interest me in the slightest yet these may be very real struggles for them.   Everyone has a vice, even the folks we consider to be upright or pious.   Gambling, porn, drinking, marijuana, profanity, power, gossip, pride; pick one or name another.  Got skin, got sin.

Which is why Paul ends his letter with this benediction.   He doesn’t end with “prayers and positive thoughts to you” or “thinking of you” or “best wishes, pal.”   He invokes the tangible, real presence of the all powerful creator in the daily lives of his friends.   He asks for, even implores, God’s real action in their lives.   And he prays for this over his friends, asking that God set them apart as pure, then preserve everything about them to keep them blameless.

Paul knows his friends will be tempted; he has just written about how evil will always work to tempt us and how we must reject it.   Paul understands that his fellow believers are sinners like himself.   Paul realizes that they can’t be blameless in God’s presence without God Himself making it possible.   So he prays this benediction over them, both requesting for them and reminding them that God gives peace and sanctification.   Only God can do this; only Jesus is the only way.

Hint:   that’s still true.   Paul’s words still resonate with us because they still apply.   The same God who spoke everything into existence through His Son is still abiding with us now.   The same God who watched that Son die on that cross – and felt it all through Him – is still living through us today.   The same God who forgave, sanctified, and strengthened Paul and the Thessalonians 2000 years ago is still doing those things for us today.   We don’t have to do anything to please God; in fact we can’t.   But we do need to see Him through our hearts, to submit to Him and believe Him.   Tall order or not, without God’s presence in our lives, we don’t stand much of a chance against evil.

For further reading:  Romans 15:33, Hebrews 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Lord Jesus, stay with me.   Sanctify me, forgive me, abide with me.   Without You, I am powerless.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 27 February 2018

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.  1 Thessalonians 2:111-12 (NIV).

Dad’s love unconditionally and hold you accountable.   Dads love their kids, or at least they should, and they impart of themselves into their kids by encouraging, comforting, and urging them to live lives worthy of God.   That means teaching them how to make their ways in the world, how to do what they love to do, how to be strong, how to get along with others.   Dads are supposed to also teach their kids about Jesus, imparting to them lessons that the Maker wants him to tell them so they can come to know the Maker as well.

At least that’s what we’re supposed to do.  News flash:  we dads don’t always do a great job at it.

Take me.  but I do wish I had done better for my own kids.   I wish I had not obsessed so much about grades, making their beds, the music they listened to or the movies they watched; you know, things that don’t really matter that much.   Sure, it’s important to work hard to get good grades, and it’s important to garner the self-discipline you get from making your bed.   Those things are important, but compared to Jesus they don’t matter very much.  More than anything else, I wish I had done more to live out my life for Jesus and be a better example of Him to the three people who watched me most.   As a young dad, I did a poor job at this.

None of us are blameless; I’m not blameless.   I let my job, my selfish desires, and my own obsessions get in the way of being a better dad.   But if the best thing we can say is “I did my best” then that applies to me too.   My dad did his best with me, and I can say I did my best with my own kids.

News flash again:   it’s not about me.   That’s the first lesson we dads should teach our kids.

I’m betting that’s how Paul and his companions dealt with the Thessalonians.  It’s a good bet to assume they worked to be selfless, to be caring and patient and loving with these new friends.   Unless they were those things, it would be difficult at best to encourage, comfort, and urge the Thessalonians to live Godly lives.   Only someone who’s living selflessly and teaching selflessly can really impart those Christ-like qualities to the people they love.

In other words, Paul and his friends acted like dads.   Like the men Jesus wanted them to be.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being my Maker, my friend, my Savior, but my brother.  Thank You for letting me be a dad.   Always help me to do my best for You and others.

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.