Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 15 May 19

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  2 Timothy 3:1 (NIV).

This section of 2 Timothy talks about the end times.   It’s heavy stuff, not for the faint of faith.    And it’s heavy stuff that people have been hauling, dreading, and contemplating for two thousand years.

Wikipedia defines “Christian eschatology” as “a major branch of study within Christian theology dealing with the “last things.” Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning “last” (ἔσχατος) and “study” (-λογία), is the study of ‘end things’, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world or the nature of the Kingdom of God. Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order, based primarily upon biblical texts within the Old and New Testament.”

Yep.   What they said.

Even from the beginning of the Christian church, we’ve contemplated the end of it here.  Not long before His crucifixion, Jesus spoke of it extensively in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.   And He inspired John to write extensively about it in the Revelation.  If you haven’t done so, go read these accounts for yourself.   It isn’t for the faint of faith.   Yet read them again and again and you’ll find your faith strengthened.

That’s a good thing because we’re in the last days.   Face it, my friend:   this life is a one-way death trip.   Every day we celebrate life and live we are one day closer to death.   Whether these are the last days of terrestrial history or simply the last days of our lives, we are living through them now.   Do you think terrible things happen?

You know the answer.

Paul warned Timothy about it.   He warned Timothy to teach that people should love Jesus every day, should live as God’s chosen followers every minute of every day because any day may be the last.  Paul and Peter may have been talking about the end of time as the “last days” yet their advice pertains to both those last days of Earth as well as all of our days on Earth.

Scoffers gonna scoff; haters gonna hate.   Those who are determined to be unpersuaded of this man Jesus will remain so.   It’s their choice, their self-inflicted misery.  They aren’t happy with that knowledge and are determined that you be as unhappy as they are.   So they’ll insult you, ridicule your faith, persecute your actions, hate you for who you believe in.  It was this way in 1st Century Judea and Asia Minor; it is the same way now.  It’s heavy, not for the weak to bear even as they, too, must find a way to bear through it.   That way is found only in Jesus Christ.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Peter 3:3, 2 Timothy 3:1.

Lord Jesus, come quickly.   These times are as You predicted, full of evil scoffers.   Come and remake all things new.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 6 September 2018

We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:9-10 (NIV).

Yesterday I mentioned Rush Limbaugh’s account of Thanksgiving.   How those who would eat would work to provide for themselves, using the gifts God had given to them.   In other places in history, this same tenet – no work, no eat – has also been invoked; did those who did so realize they were echoing the Apostle Paul?   According to Wikipedia John Smith said it in Jamestown in 1609 when he said “You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled).”  300 years later, Lenin encapsulated the idea into the Russian Constitution of 1918 (and also later in the 1936 Soviet Constitution, written years after Lenin’s death).

Again, it’s an old idea, probably old by Paul’s day.   God gave Paul, his companions, and their hosts in Thessalonica unique talents, abilities, and interests.   He did this to provide for them.   In other times (re the Israelites in the desert) God overtly, publicly provided food for his people.   Yet that was a-typical, an exception to the norm.   Most of the rest of people in history have worked for our bread.   When we merge our talents with realizing that our work can be a form of worship, we begin to realize that this is how Jesus works actively in our lives to put food in our mouths, clothes on our backs, and health in our bodies.

When you go to work today, remember Jesus is working through it.   The next time you visit a store, remind yourself “God gave me this through the paycheck I earned using the abilities He gave to me.”   When you flip a light switch, remind yourself “God provides a paycheck to me that I earn through the abilities He gave me so that I can pay for electricity.”  Think of that when you take a shower, when you drive your car, when you do just about anything.   You earn your living because you’re willing to use the abilities given to you by Him who knows you best.

Paul understood this.  So did John Smith and Lenin, though Lenin and his successors then used the tenet to starve and destroy.   As guests, a host may provide for us, but in truth they really don’t.   In God’s truth, it is HE who provides for us in all ways, the foremost of them being the abilities He gives us.  Or, as Rush might say, “talent on loan from God.”

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:4-14, 1 Thessalonians 3:4, 2 Thessalonians 3:11.

Lord, You give us talents to provide for us.   Thank You for this and help us to use them wisely.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 21 June 2018

Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 (NIV).

What is prophecy?   Wikipedia (currently) defines it as “a message that is claimed by a prophet to have been communicated to them by a god. Such messages typically involve inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of divine will concerning the prophet’s social world and events to come.”  In the Old Testament, there were many prophets; think Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Amos, and a slew of others.   What about our “modern” world?

What about pop culture?   The media is ALWAYS looking for prophets; anyone who can predict future outcomes.   Indeed, after every election, the media (and we, ourselves) look at which pollsters or prognosticators came closest to predicting the winning side. As a society, we place great trust in polls, maybe too much.  Yet look with scorn on things that predict matters of faith.

And how about churches?   Do people today prophesy the way people did in Bible times?   To be honest, I’ve never met a prophet.   I have met a great many wise people, and I’ve met many people who use experience and God’s wisdom to make the best decisions they can.   That usually means their actions foreshadow what happens later, though I don’t chalk this up to prophecy (but, instead, informed experience).   Yet I can’t discount the fact that there are indeed people through whom God speaks to lead us along the paths He wants us to take.

What does Paul say about all these things?   Consider all of them, test all of them, and trust the ones that are good.   As part of this benediction, Paul says we are not to put out the fire God sets in people around us.   Don’t quench the work of the Spirit.   In doing that, it logically follows that we shouldn’t be skeptical or sarcastic about those who may be prophesying around us.   They have God’s fire.  We should test them, question what they say and do, measure it against what the Bible says are the fruits of God’s Spirit.

Think of it this way:   God is telling us to be judicious, to be wise in the ways He is wise.   He’s telling us to listen to each other and to listen for content.   God just might be speaking through that content.   Yet He’s also telling us to listen with discernment, judging for meaning and comparing what is said against the Word He has given to us.

Most of all, He’s telling us to hold on to what’s good?   How will we know what’s good?   It’s simple:   it will line up with the Bible.   It won’t contradict Scripture, and it won’t lead us deeper into sin.   It will be Godly, and it will be for good.   Don’t trust your feelings to judge these things:   consult your Bible.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 14:1, 1 John 4:1, Romans 12:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:22

Lord, help me to test prophecies against the truth of Your Word.

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 Mark, 5 March 2015

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. Mark 6, verses 1-6.

Yesterday at work we were having a discussion about Jesus; yes you heard me right:  at work. I was talking with a co-worker who had read “Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”   I haven’t read the book; only synopses of it. It’s written by a Muslim author who (according to Wikipedia) “argues that Jesus was a political, rebellious and eschatological Jew whose proclamation of the coming kingdom of God was a call for regime change, for ending Roman hegemony over Israel and ending a corrupt and oppressive aristocratic priesthood.” It actually sounds like a set of good points, though the author misses the primary purpose of Jesus and His ministry. But the point made by the various synopses (and by my friend) was that, while Jesus was many things, one thing that He could definitely be called was “radical.”

“Radical” is also the title of a book by David Platt. In it, Platt argues for radically re-thinking the church’s approach to ministry because the founder of the church was a radical. Jesus lived radically, called on His followers to do things that, in first century Judea, were radical.   Love your neighbor; take up your cross and follow Me; to gain your life you must lose it; hate evil and love God:   these were radical ideas shared by God Immanuel who had instituted a confrontational, conventional-wisdom-on-its-head ministry to bring many sons to glory.

Glory:   glory to God His Father was why Jesus left the land of the Gerasenes and went home.   He went back to His hometown where (just like at Cheers) everybody knows your name.   The people of Jesus had known Him when He was nobody, when He was only Mary and Joseph’s son, when He was a growing boy and an awkward teenager, when He attended the synagogue every week. This time, however, Jesus sat and listened to the town elders talk…and then He began to teach.   He began to teach with radical words that they had never heard.   He taught them in words and ways that left them amazed, hungering for more.   They had heard about His exploits, the crowds, and the miracles, and now He was back home, teaching in their midst, teaching them about the glory of God the Father by opening their hearts to His wisdom and love.

Flash forward two millennia:   what’s your experience with Jesus?   Are you amazed by Him?   Are you skeptical, questioning, maybe ignorant about Him?   Are you threatened by the radical or comforted by the lover of your heart?   Would you be one of the folks who sees Jesus as a radical and a political instigator? Or would you be someone who sees Him as the source of love, the fount of all life because God is the source of life and God is love and God gave us life to live and love Him in?

You know there’s no wrong answer. All of them are correct.   Jesus was a zealot, and a radical, and a herald of glory, and all love. Those reasons and more were why He went home:  to share with the people He knew best the message that eternity truly does matter most.   Try talking about that at work today.

Lord, I am thankful You’re all You are, that You are in my life to share Your radical glorious love.

Read Mark 6, verses 1-6