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.

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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.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Before moving off verse 3, let’s talk about that “purification for sins” part.

This was the whole purpose of Christ’s life.   His life wasn’t just a great morality lesson.   He didn’t come here to be just a teacher, wise man, prophet, or all around good guy (like George of the Jungle). Jesus of Nazareth came here and died to provide the purification for sins.   As a result, everything changed.

On a Tuesday after a holiday weekend, does that blow your mind?

Dictionary.com defines “purification” as “to make pure; free from anything that debases, pollutes, adulterates, or contaminates; to free from foreign, extraneous, or objectionable elements; to free from guilt or evil; to clear or purge (usually followed by of or from); to make clean for ceremonial or ritual use.”

You and I: we’re impure.   Mother Theresa: impure.   Pope Francis and Billy (or Franklin) Graham:   impure.   The Dalai Lama, Orthodox patriarchs, your saintly grandmother, a newborn baby not five minutes old, the best person you can think of:   all impure.   All of us, every human ever born of man, are impure.   We’re thick with sin, tainted irrevocably with it.   And what is sin?   Going back to dictionary.com, sin is “transgression of divine law; any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle; any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense.”

Whether it is by a single thought of selfishness or the murder of a hundred people, we have sinned against God, against Jesus.   We have transgressed against Him by willful and deliberate violation of His principles.   We’re guilty of great fault and offense against the pure love that is Him.   Every time we choose anything but God or what is of Him, we sin.   We become guilty and impure whether it’s in thought, action, or both. There’s no getting away from that fact.   It’s part of who we are as people.

God didn’t make us to be sinful; our ancestors chose it and tainted us.   We each choose it willfully whether we’re children or adults.   Don’t agree?   Have you ever had a “no” argument with a toddler?   How about any kind of argument with anyone else?   Ever wondered lustily what your neighbor looks like in the shower? Knowingly fudged your taxes or driven over the speed limit?   Ever told a white lie?   No matter the human consequences, these and so many more are sins against God.   They’re unholy impurities in us that are an affront to the pure, just love that only He offers.

God tells us to be Holy but we don’t listen; in truth, we can’t on our own.   He tells us to be holy because He is holy and He created us to be in union with Him.   We can’t be in full union with Him as long as we’re unholy.   Our sins make us unholy because each one of them is a subtle (or loud) rebellion against Him.   It’s a chasm we can’t bridge on our own.

Enter Jesus.   Enter Jesus the one and only Savior who came here to bridge the chasm and purify us from our sins.   He willingly lived and died an agonizing death bearing the spiritual consequences of every sin humanity ever undertook. Fully God and fully man, He who could not die willingly died a hero’s death on that cross so that He could restore balance to creation. He did it while still preserving our ability to be made holy and to live in free will, choosing to love Him rather than being compelled to. He takes away the eternal damnation consequence of those sins.   He makes it possible for us to be in union with God again by clothing us in His righteousness and imputing it to us as our own.   In doing that, He makes it possible for the holy Majesty who is God the just Father to not see the millions of sins I’ve done in my life. Instead, He sees only Jesus’ pure perfection.   My impurities no longer keep distance between us.

Buddha didn’t do that.   The Dalai Lama can’t do that.   Neither Billy Graham nor your pastor can do it. No imam, holy man, or shaman can do it.   Nothing any of us can think, say or do can do that.   But Jesus did.

Now does that blow your mind?

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I’m in awe of Your purifying, righteous love.   Thank You for doing for me what I didn’t deserve and could not do.   Thank You for purifying me of my guilt and restoring Your true love to my life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Where do you start with that?   How about at the beginning, especially since that dovetails on the ‘beginning’ theme from the last blog entry?

First off, we don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews.   Some old Bibles list Paul as the author, but more recent scholarship has disproven that.   According to my Concordia NIV translation, the author might have been Paul’s companion, Barnabas.   Or it might also have been Apollos (Paul’s contemporary) or Bartholomew, one of the other disciples.   In truth, we just don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.

Piecing together the ‘news’ from Hebrews and comparing it to the other New Testament books shows that the book was written to Jewish converts who were familiar with both the Pentateuch and the Talmud; this too is from Concordia.   The new believers were also familiar with the events of First Century Judea (in the rise of the Christian faith). The writer apparently penned the book to encourage & teach believers in the new churches that grew in the Mediterranean region.

Finally, Concordia also says that the book is a practical guide to practical faith. As we walk through Hebrews, you’ll probably notice that the author talks about what faith means, tying it to events and people throughout Biblical history.   This was practical knowledge that the Jewish converts in the early church could use. If you read it, you’ll probably find the same thing.

What does all this have to do with verse 3?   When you consider that all of Scripture is God’s word – God’s very thoughts and words transcribed by men who were divinely inspired by Him – you get to remember that these words are things God Himself is saying.   They are thoughts that come from Jesus’ heart. When you read them, you’re getting a communication directly from God through Jesus’ Spirit.

Hold onto that thought, then merge it with the knowledge that those words truly represent who God is. In absorbing them, you take part in His goodness.   You see how He is above, over, around, and through all things.   This universe He created (just by speaking) is something He created as an expression of His love, of His nature. What’s more, He created it all, then hand-made humans like you and I to take part in it.   To oversee and tend to it; to help it grow and flourish. God is still over all creation, keeping it alive and in place through His powerful love, but He made human beings to be his partners in tending to it.   He’s the source of life…we are His keepers of it.

This isn’t some esoteric theory; it’s not a speculation with millions of years of holes between transition points.   This is God’s fact, the very essence of nature. In the days of the Bible, people would have been more open to this concept even as other pagan beliefs about the origin of the world would have been present (just as evolution is in our day). God plainly stated in Genesis “this is what happened.   This is how it all went down.” He spoke plainly so people could understand plainly how God still held things together in Himself even in their day.   He hadn’t deserted His people.   If anything, He took their Creator-creation relationship to a new level.

The writer of Hebrews uses that fact to transition us through the idea that this same God, this same Jesus who is God and was present in creation, is the same Jesus who had just recently walked the earth.   Who showed His divine nature and died for all sins.   Who rose to heaven on His human death and is there now, fully present and fully alive, at the same time His Spirit is fully here, fully then and now, fully present and fully alive.   Fully inspiring all we think, do and say in the same way He did for the Hebrews of first century Judea. Indeed, for all people of all times.   That’s practical knowledge we can use to live.

Where do you start with that?   Perhaps the better question would be “how would it end?”   Soon we get to see that there is no ending to it, and that’s the biggest miracle blessing of all

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, You are the magnificent Creator of all that I know.   I believe in You, that You are present now and forever, that You’re over and through nature, and that You made this place to be an expression of Your beautiful being.   Thank You for all these blessings!

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 January 2016

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. Mark 13, verses 21-23.

Just a little over a month ago, we talked about the concept in these verses, about false Christs.   See verses 5 and 6 as well as Luke 9, Matthew 24, Acts 1, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, Titus 2 and all over Revelation. Let’s not tread on covered ground.

Instead, consider these words:   “I have told you everything ahead of time.”

Jesus has informed us. In saying “I have told you everything ahead of time,” Jesus has been the news anchor.   He has been imparting to us information that we need to know in order to make informed decisions.   What an amazing concept that is!   Two thousand years ago, God personally came here to tell us, His creation, things that He knew we needed to know.   “Everything” means just that:   ‘I have told you all there is.’   It’s not just “you have sufficient information,” though that’s part of it.   It’s more.   It’s everything.   It’s everything that is needed, everything that’s important, all of Him. That’s some newscast.

Jesus has prepared us. Because Jesus wants all people to live with Him in eternity, He gave us the information and the tools to do our part.   He gave us all that we needed – back to that ‘everything’ thing, you know – to prepare us for both the tough end times to come as well as living past them into eternity.   The end goal isn’t something as small as surviving tough times or even death.   No, the end goal is eternity.   Jesus is a Hall of Fame batter, always keeping His eye on the ball.   To that end, He gave us all that we need to know to prepare us to assume our place on His team for eternity, forever.

Jesus has forewarned us. Yes, these are verses that warn us of how Satan will try to deceive us into believing that he is the Messiah.   Jesus told us here in Mark and in those other books all we need to know to be forewarned against false messiahs and all the trouble they’ll wreak. He gave us all we need to stand fast.   Face it: we’re gullible.   Let’s not kid ourselves:   iPhones, the internet, robotics, and all this sexy technology can sometimes be lipstick on a pig.   We aren’t any wiser or smarter than our ancestors in most matters of the heart.   And the heart is where Jesus deals.   The heart is the battleground for which Satan contends. Accordingly, Jesus warned us to be on our guard.

Most of all, consider that Jesus has confided in us.   Really, truly noodle that thought, that the Son of God, that God Immanuel, that the great I AM Himself talked with us personally, as a friend, as a brother as well as a Savior.   He trusts us. He told us things dear to His heart that He wanted us to know because He loves us.   Satan doesn’t do that; there is no love in him.   But there is only pure love in Jesus, and He wanted us to know that.   Instead of commanding us, Jesus confided in us.

That’s a lot to consider. But doing so will change everything.

Lord Jesus, I praise You!   Thank You for confiding in me and loving us!

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.