Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 30 May 2019

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  2 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV).

Paul is a delight to read because he talks lovingly to his protégé, Timothy, while also reasoning with him.   He doesn’t preach to Timothy; he doesn’t condescend to the younger man.   Instead, he uses reason and care that talks with we strangers so many years later.   Indeed, break down these two verses and you can digest some of the tones in which Paul communicates with his “son.”

“Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of:” that could almost be a commencement address.   Good teaching speaks for itself and convinces us of truth.  Convincing us of the truth is the primary goal of all education.

“You know those from whom you have learned it.”   Paul is talking about both himself but especially about Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who raised him.   They were early followers of Jesus who taught the young man about Christ, preparing him for mission with Paul and then service to the church abroad.   They were honest and trustworthy people.

“How from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures.”   Then as now, Jewish boys are taught the Torah and the Talmud starting at around age 5.   It begins a life-long pursuit of knowing God more through His word.  It’s the reason why so many Christians so strongly advocate Christian education for the young.

“The Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise.”  True wisdom comes only from God, is imparted only by Him and through His Word.   On our own, we the people aren’t wise.   With the Lord, His wisdom becomes an inevitable gift of grace.

“Salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”   Jesus did the work of salvation.   He and only He forgave our sins and made it possible for us to live forever.   Yet that doesn’t happen if we don’t put our faith in Him.   If we choose to reject faith in Christ, He allows us the consequence of our choice.   Yes, we will live forever, but the Scriptures say it won’t be with Jesus.

All these things Timothy knew.   And he knew that persecution was all around him, and would come for him, too.   History says that Timothy eventually became a bishop in Ephesus, in modern Turkey, where he was beaten to death during a pagan feast when he tried to minister the Gospel.  He and Paul understood these things because they pursued Godly wisdom from Jesus.   We can do the same.

For further reading:  John 5:39, Deuteronomy 4:6, Psalm 119:98-99, 2 Timothy 3:15.

Wise Savior, only You are truly wise.   Wisdom comes only through You.  Thank You for teaching us Your wisdom through people like Paul and Timothy.

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, about Santa Claus, 12 November 2017

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:35.

Giving makes us better people.  Churches that ask for tithes know this.   Your manager at work knows this.  Political campaigns know this (ok, maybe not so much).   Your teenage kids know this (ok, not so much again, though we hope they’ll learn it).

In 21st century America, the most popular symbol of Christmas is Santa.   He’s at the center of what we consider Christmas to be.  But when you scratch off the red velvet and ring the jingle bells you see that the center of Santa is Christ.   It’s impossible to reach any other conclusion without rejecting the words here in Acts 20.  Whether the inspiration is Coca Cola, Hollywood, or pop culture, our notion of Santa Claus always goes back to Saint Nicholas of Myra, the bishop of Myra (in Turkey) who lived from 270 to 343 AD:   only about 240 years after the life of Jesus.  According to Wikipedia, Nicholas is the patron saint of many tradesmen, and his life spanned persecution and torture by the Romans, pardon from the Emperor Constantine (who split the Roman empire) and sitting in the council of Nicaea (in which the early church was reorganized and from which we received the Nicene Creed).

But his greatest gift was in giving.  A most likely true legend has it that Nicholas gave a bag of gold to each of a poor man’s three daughters because the father was too poor to afford a dowry.  Some versions of the legend have him throwing the coins through a window, others down a chimney and landing in stockings.   No matter how it happened, over time this morphed into the concept of Santa Claus that we know today.   In the 1800 years since Nicholas died, his tradition has been compounded with that of Father Christmas (dating the Tudor England of the 1500s), practices of Martin Luther (to focus kids on Christ instead of Saint Nicholas), Sinterklaas and Pere Noel in Europe, and Scandanavian Yule traditions.   Here in America, Clement Moore’s famous poem from the 1820s popularized the idea of Santa as did advertising pictures from Harper’s Bazaar and Coca Cola in the late 19th century.   And don’t forget the popular editorial response which said “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Giving is the glue that binds together those representations of Santa; self-less giving to children and the poor.  All along the timeline from Saint Nicholas until today the saint of Christmas gives to those who have not.   He blesses others by giving to them things they want and need.   In doing so, what he’s really doing is giving them the love of Jesus.   He inculcates a gift to a stranger with the strange gift that God gave us.   You and I don’t deserve grace any more than a child ‘deserves’ an extravagant gift under the tree.   We don’t earn gifts but God gives them anyway.   We weren’t looking for the Christ child in Bethlehem but He came there anyway and the angels then sang of His glory.

Without the spirit of Jesus, there is no giving.   Our very concept of Santa is thick with giving and, therefore, replete with Jesus.

Giving makes we better people because it puts aside ourselves.   Gifts are acts of mercy to other people, reflections of what we believe.   To give to someone with no expectation of anything in return is righteous, it is Christ-like.  To give is to share God’s grace.  Nicholas of Myra understood that when he gave gold to women who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to marry (something that would likely have resulted in their resorting to prostitution).   If you separated the concept of Santa Claus from giving, you wouldn’t have Santa anymore.  You wouldn’t even have a good advertising gimmick.  Santa gives to share, to make others better, to give things they wouldn’t otherwise have.  If the center of today’s celebrations is Santa, then the center of Santa selfless giving.   You can’t give selflessly without first having the love of Jesus in your heart.   Apart from Him we can do nothing.   Therefore, apart from Jesus, Santa could give nothing.  s The next time you get down about how commercialism is ruining Christmas, remember that the spirit of Christmas is still Santa and still, therefore, all about Jesus.

For further reading:  Luke 6:38.

Lord, thank You for how giving makes us better people.   Thank You for giving us this gift of mercy, of sharing, of Your Spirit.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 January 2017

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”  Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.  Hebrews 7, verses 1-3.

Let’s talk about Melchizedek.   He’s been mentioned several times throughout Hebrews, and we’ve chatted about him a little bit already.   In the Genesis account of Abram’s life (before God renamed him Abraham), Melchizedek suddenly appears out of nowhere while Abram is journeying from Mesopotamia (likely in today’s Syria or southern Turkey) to Canaan (today’s Israel).  We know little about him other than he’s a revered man, a holy man, a priest.  He was king of Salem – the predecessor settlement to Jerusalem – and was God’s high priest there.   Not a pagan like the other inhabitants of Canaan, Melchizedek knew the true God and strengthened Abram’s faith.

Wikipedia reinforces much of this narrative.  It also discusses corroborating evidence about Melchizedek from early Hebrew Torah commentaries, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even some Greek documents.   Even the pagan Quran, written centuries later, references Melchizedek.  At the end of all this ancient evidence, we’re still left not knowing exactly who Melchizedek was.   All that we can really know is that He was important to members of both the Jewish and early Christian faiths.  Indeed, if you read these verses closely it’s easy to see why many folks believe Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Jesus (a “Christophany”).  It’s more than possible.   It’s also more than possible that (as we’ve discussed before) Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah, who had survived the flood and was the forefather of the Semites, Abram’s historic lineage.   It seems likely that Melchizedek was the vocational ancestor of all who would be ordained as either royalty or ministers.  But to tell you the truth, I don’t know; nobody does.   And to get wrapped around the axle about exactly who he was misses the main point about him.

Melchizedek represents unquestioning devotion to God.

Melchizedek is ‘king of peace,’ ‘king of righteousness.’   Melchizedek has no historical beginning or end since we don’t know where he was born or where he died.   He simply existed to give praise and meaning to God, encouraging the chosen man of God’s will at a time when Abram needed it.   Abram had traveled many miles from home for many years, living a nomadic life in obedience to a promise God made to him.  God had been faithful to His promise to bless all peoples through Abram, but hadn’t shown Abram just how He would do that.  Enter Melchizedek, who gives selflessly and provides an example for Abram to do the same.  In doing so, Abram’s faith was strengthened and his devotion sustained.   So much so, in fact, that Abram gave Melchizedek a portion of all he owned.   Some translations of Scripture (including the NIV I use) say it was a tenth of all he owned, perhaps instituting the precedent for the ten percent tithe many believers donate to God even today.   After Abram has won a battle against local pagan kings, Melchizedek visits Abram and bestows on him God’s blessings.  Then he disappears.  Melchizedek plays an important part in God’s historic family and then, like so many other believers, is simply gone, lost to history with his part in the play having acted out.

Again, in all these things, it doesn’t matter who he was but very much matters what he did and believed.  Melchizedek represents that unquestioning faith in God.   He followed God.   He lived a life devoted to God.   He was an example of and a precursor to Jesus, who became the inheritor of Melchizedek’s temporal priesthood.   Melchizedek did in act what Jesus would later do in both act and Spirit.

That’s a lot to understand from someone who is mentioned by name in only three places in the Bible (in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and in the book of Hebrews).   If you consider it, however, that’s more than most people are documented anywhere in history.   Maybe God is trying to tell us something we need to remember.  Maybe God is trying to say “don’t worry about who he was.   Remember who he believed in.” Many thousands of years after he lived, that makes Melchizedek timely and relevant to us.

For further reading:   Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 76:2, Psalm 110:4, , Matthew 4:3, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 5:6.

Lord, thank You for teaching about Melchizedek.   Thank You for his ancient example of faith in You that can still encourage me today.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 December 2015

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. Mark 13, verses 7-8.

Watch out and be ready.   Read the signs.

Every day we are looking for signs for the second coming of Christ.   As you can read, it’s something that Jesus Himself told us we need to do.   Watch out and be ready.   Look for the signs and heed them.   Heed them to be ready.

Now, I am not going to speculate on whether or not we are in the end times.   Dozens of generations before ours thought they were because they saw wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines and violence.   Remember the fall of Jerusalem less than a generation after Mark’s Gospel was written?   Or the fall of Rome a few centuries later.   The Crusades a thousand years ago, the Muslim invasion of Europe in the 1400s.   The Hundred Years’ War; The Thirty Years’ War; World War I and especially World War II. The generations that lived through those things must surely have thought they were witnessing the end.   So it is with ours.

Maybe it’s never happened in my lifetime or maybe I’m just paying attention to it now but the signs are appearing again.

And the moral of the story is still “watch out and be ready.”   Right now; today.   That’s what Jesus told us.

I can honestly say that I hope it happens.   I honestly hope for the time when this life can end and the life without time can begin.   Perhaps it will indeed happen in my lifetime.   Just today, with ISIS on the move again and with Russia threatening nuclear war with Turkey, wars and rumors of wars are abounding.   I heard a radio ad (not a preacher, an advertisement) speculating on whether or not we are witnessing the start of the war prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel over 2500 years ago. High profile radio hosts are openly talking about how we are in the beginning of World War III but we haven’t faced up to it yet.   Some are saying “end times.”

Watch out and be ready.

Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you.   Watch out and be ready so that no one deceives you into thinking they are the returning Jesus. He is coming and soon but none of us know the date or time.   All we can understand through our view of the trees is that only Jesus can truly see the whole forest and He will return to govern it when God the Father deems it to be the time. Until then, we have only one job.

Watch out and be ready.   Watch out and be ready by helping others to do the same.   Help others to do the same by using the talents Jesus gives each of us to His glory, for His purpose, in His ways.   Share our stories, use our abilities, do what we can to be Jesus for other people so that they, too, may ready themselves for Jesus’ imminent return. Heed the signs by reading and interpreting the signs.   Be ready to stand, then to leave, when Jesus comes back for you. Watch and be ready.

Lord, I anxiously await Your return.   Until that happens, help me to understand the signs and be ready for You.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.