Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 4 February 2020

So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. Philippians 2:29-30 (EHV).

Is Paul being mean here?   In the last few verses, Paul says he is sending Epaphroditus home so that he can be cared for.   In these, however, it sounds like Paul is, well, being a jerk.

Or is he?   Maybe Paul is simply being honest (because the Philippians couldn’t do more to support him and his ministry).

Years ago, my son played junior baseball.   One of the coaches on the team was, hands down, the best junior coach I ever saw.   He had a way of teaching pre-school boys and girls how to play on a team.   Part of that included sometimes telling one that he needed to move them when they weren’t working out at the position where they started.   Or when they hit the ball but it was caught out.   He was being honest while being kind, firm while still gentle.   Sort of like Paul must have been with those for whom he cared, this coach had a talent for breaking bad news clearly but kindly.

Or there was the NCO for whom I worked in the Air Force.   When I was a young airman, I wanted very badly to win an award.   I watched as others in my unit won it, and wondered what I was doing to be consistently passed by.   So I went up to the MSgt and he responded quite bluntly, “if you want the award, you need to do the work.   So far, you haven’t shown that kind of material.”   That was rough to hear but it helped me take a look at myself and admit that he was right.   I was ‘calling it in’ with a lot of my work.   That edgy and, yes, humiliating assessment was the start of turning myself around.   A few years later, I finally started to do it the better way by turning to God.  And then things started to really happen.   Now, I’m thankful for that moment.

Paul must have been like that.   Honest, almost brutally so, but forthright and caring.  Able to let someone down while doing so in a way that actually builds them up through caring truth.  Sometimes we have to be bluntly honest with people and that’s tough, both on them and on us.  Sometimes we NEED to hear hard truth; sometimes it’s ok to simply have someone speak squarely with us.  Paul wasn’t being mean with the Philippians:   he was being their friend and speaking frankly in their best interests.  We should do the same.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 16:17, 1 Timothy 5:17, Philippians 3:1.

Lord Jesus, let us always be honest, forthright, and caring as we deal with others.   Help us to continually follow Your example.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 10 July 2019

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  Titus 1:6 (NIV).

Our goal should be to want to serve the Lord with honor.   Our conduct shouldn’t detract or distract from His purpose, His work.   Our lives as leaders in the church should be upright, and bring great credit on ourselves and the united church of Jesus Christ (that last phrase is actually very close to every Air Force medal citation I’ve ever read).

Good luck with that.

Years ago, I was asked to serve as an elder but I pointed out that my conduct (at the time) would preclude that; Paul would have agreed.  Nobody has asked me since, and all glory to Jesus in all things, including humbling one’s self to serve the Kingdom in unconventional ways.

How many of us are truly blameless?   Many couples deal with infidelity, either physical or emotional.   And where are today’s families whose children are not a little wild and disobedient?   When I left home, my faith drifted and I didn’t attend a formal church for most of a decade.   I believed in Jesus, but I wasn’t sure about many things, or what faith really meant.   I can say the same thing about all three of my kids.   And, as a proud Dad, I’ll brag that all three are coming out of that fog just as I did.   All three have faith-journeys of their own with the Lord, both in and out of formal congregations.

They aren’t blameless.   They aren’t angels.  They aren’t perfect.   Neither am I.   Neither are you.

Could you or I be an elder?   Some people who read this blog are; some are pastors and evangelists; some are teachers; some serve in other ways.   It isn’t a clique or a club or some group where you get a secret handshake.   It’s a way to serve God’s church in an orderly position.   And the elders, pastors, evangelists, and teachers I know who serve the church are flawed human beings, people who make mistakes, sometimes cuss like sailors, and do things that bring discredit on the family of Jesus.

Got skin?  Got sin.   The cure for the common sin is Jesus.

Who then is ‘fit’ to serve?  Certainly not the leaders in my church, or yours.   Or me.   Or maybe you.  None of us but all of us.  “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”   Jesus said that.

I don’t know if you’re truly blameless, or if your kids are wild (or even if you have any).   What I do know is that God can use your life in His work, maybe as an elder, but definitely in some good way.

For further reading:  Matthew 19:26, 1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Timothy 3:1, Titus 1:7

Lord Jesus, use me in Your service today.   Forgive my sins, and help me repent to move forward from them to better serve You.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 8 July 2019

To Titus, my true son in our common faith:  Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  Titus 1:4 (NIV).

As far as we know, Paul didn’t have any children.   Yet he refers to both Titus and Timothy as his sons.   That’s not uncommon.  You and I, perhaps we’ve felt a familial affection for people to whom we aren’t related yet have been caring, strong examples for us.   I’ve had mentors in the Air Force, and at jobs, and in my church and family.   How about you?

It’s the common faith that puts us on common ground.   The bottom line of that is, as always, Jesus Christ.  It seems pretty impossible to think that God, the supreme being, could have created everything and then not consider Him to be the fundamental we all share in common.  It simply defies logic.

And Paul was a logical man, using human experience and reason to appeal to a culture familiar with common experience and human reason.   He lived in a world ruled by Romans but largely shaped by the faith of the Jews and the Hellenistic culture of Greece.   The people of Paul’s day were familiar with faith, both Jewish, this nascent Christianity, and a hundred other faith practices of pagans.   They were familiar with the idea of God, even the common but radical idea that God would make Himself incarnate among us out of love, grace and peace.

That was a radical concept then; it’s still radical today.  It’s still contrary to a world where the strong survive.   Paul saw that real strength, however, came not from a sword or political power but, instead, from the grace of God.   He would greet his fellow believers in the language of their shared faith, and he would then pray over them the grace and peace from God the Father and His Son, Christ Jesus.

Common ground from which Paul would mentor and teach.   Paul’s people needed the common ground of believing there was a God who loved them, who endured their pain, who identified with their plight, who provided a way out.   The people of our time need that exact same reassurance.   Over a billion people (out of 7 billion) currently hold that faith, share that common ground.   That means a huge majority of our world either doesn’t know or doesn’t accept our common ground.   It means that we have a shared mission from Christ.   Share Him through how we live our lives.   Give an answer when asked.   More than that, give an answer by the things we do with and for others.   If we want to invite others onto the common ground of faith in Jesus, let’s do so by praying for them the grace and peace of Jesus by how we live today.   Let’s be mentors in the faith.

For further reading:  Romans 1:7, 2 Corinthians 2:13, 1 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:5

Lord Jesus, help me to share You in how I live today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 30 May 2018

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 (NIV).

Tough love is still love.   Years ago, when I was in a bad place, some close friends mentored and supported me through the crisis.   One leveled with me about his own past and how only repentance and faith had gotten him through his own hard times.   Another listened to me and encouraged me but also held me to the spiritual fire, insisting that I needed to face things I had done, confess them, and own responsibility.   Both men cared for me but righteously took me to task.  Years later, we’re still close friends.

Another time, while I was still in the Air Force, I watched as friends around me won awards that I wanted to win and even worked hard to win but still came up short.  I went to our NCO in Charge and asked him what I needed to do to earn an award.   His answer:   “you aren’t doing airman of the quarter work.   Start acting like it and we’ll see where it goes.”  All through my life I had been an achiever, easily earning high grades and accolades, so this was a dose of reality, a splash of some brutally cold – but necessary – water.   I took his advice, began to become a team player, and eventually joined the ranks of those who had “earned wood” (meaning awards).  Oh, and I’m still friends with the NCOIC.

Tough love.

Sometimes it’s tough to tell someone things they don’t want to hear.   Sometimes it’s even tougher to listen and NOT tell someone things you want them to hear.   Yet when we’re honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that there are others around us who do more, who are at different (maybe higher) levels of a faith-walk.   It’s a Godly thing to recognize it, and to give credit where it is due.   And that’s hard.   Sometimes it’s tough to say hard things to people we love without being judgmental but doing so in a loving, encouraging manner.

Yet that’s what Paul reminds us to do.  He tells us to acknowledge the good works of people around us while still holding them, ourselves, and even others accountable to what God’s Spirit asks of us.   To live with the fruit of the Spirit demands that accountability, and when we love people we want the best for them.   Sometimes, that means giving both praise and rebuke, but doing both, always, the way Jesus would.   God puts people in our lives to help us with this.   We should be glad that He does.

THAT is tough love.

For further reading:  Romans 16:6, 1 Corinthians 15:10, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Corinthians 8:7-12, 1 Thessalonians 5:13.

My Lord, thank You for people in my life who keep me accountable to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 5 December 2017

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly.  Hebrews 13, verse 22.

Please allow me a few words of praise for my wife.   Living in harmony with verse 22, she has borne my words of exhortation (and other kinds) for exactly thirty years today.   The longer I know her, the more I think she’s been living for God for longer than that.

Understand, I’m not making my wife, Kimberly, out to be a saint.   That wouldn’t be fair, and I don’t want to live with or love with someone who lives on a pedestal.   She’s the queen of our home and even of my life but I won’t put her on a throne and keep her remote.  But I am saying that she’s the most selfless person I know.   Her “love language” is “Acts of Service” and her idea of a perfect Christmas is for her to be able to give hundreds of gifts to strangers and family alike without receiving any in return (except from me…I don’t get off that easy).  Kim could give and give and give and get back up the next day to go at it again.  We have a running joke in our family that, because I’m the dad and the man of the family, of course I’m going to die first.   If that’s true (and that’s a big if), I look forward to the day in heaven when I see her approach the real throne of Jesus and He gives her a crown for her giving heart.   I’ll be cheering louder than any angel.

Until then, she’s my angel here.  I get the privilege of calling her that because, on December 5, 1987 she went out on a date with me.   We had been friends since high school four years before.   She was, in fact, one of the first people I met when I moved to Mitchell, Indiana in August of 1983.  We went out on a few dates in school (she actually turned me down for my junior prom), but just didn’t click as a couple at the time.   That changed in 1987.   She found where the Air Force had stationed me, and we scheduled a date for December 5th.   We’ve been together ever since.

It hasn’t been easy; it never is.   Got skin?   Got sin.   We both have and we both do.  When you fall in love with someone you embrace and accept all of them, including their sins past and present.   Adjusting to living with a fallen person like yourself is an adventure not for the faint of heart.   I think so many couples fail because they don’t accept that accepting someone else means admitting you, too, have flaws.   Like Garth sang, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”   Spot on, Mr. Brooks.  I’ve caused her more pain in our three decades than ever she deserved, and I’ve accepted more pain from her than she would have thought possible.  Through it all, we’ve learned to dance, and I couldn’t have asked God for a better partner.   Today, she even works at a dance studio, giving her time and heart to others.   Spot on there, too.

We’ve learned to bear each other through exhortation.   That’s another thing that hasn’t been easy.  Our backgrounds in faith were as different as everything else about our background.   We started walking with Jesus together a few years after we were married when a neighborhood pastor came to our door and invited us to church.   That walk has been up and down hills; in marriage, it always is.  For years, we stayed together yet drifted apart and came together again but didn’t fully grasp what God was saying to us.   Finally, when we should have fallen apart (as most couples do in similar situations), we each turned to God.   Her gift of giving became even more selfless, then, when she realized God was the real giver in her heart.  Finding that God had already found us bound us back up.  Every morning now, we ‘do devotion’ and spend a few brief minutes together drinking coffee, reading our Bibles, talking through a joint devotion, and praying.   We’ve done that as a way to hear God exhorting us to cling to Him so that we can cling together in the face of a world that always says “it’s too, tough, guys.   Give in.”

For my Hunnie I have only praise because she never gave up on me.   I won’t give up on her either.   I’ve seen her at her best and I’ve seen her at her worst.  Life, death, sins, celebrations, plans, anguish, success, failure:   welcome to the world.   We’ve shared them all for years.   They’re the events in our lives, and the music that plays life’s soundtrack.   Leading the orchestra is God, conducting, playing, singing, and enjoying.   And so we dance.   We dance on together because we have for thirty years now.   Sometimes it’s a slow dance, sometimes the Charleston, sometimes it’s even hip hop (and we don’t do it very well).   But I’m thankful to dance with her.  I praise God for that, and thank Him for all He’s done for and with us so far.   I praise God for my friend, dance partner, and wife, Kim.  If the final words of Hebrews are a love letter, let these be mine to her.

For further reading:  Romans 1 Peter 5:12.

Thank You, Father, for thirty years of life with my wife.   Thank You for sustaining us, for keeping us together, and for her.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 September 2017

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  Hebrews 12, verses 9-10.

The other day I mentioned my parents, stating that they weren’t physical disciplinarians.   After my sister and I entered elementary school, I don’t remember Mom or Dad ever spanking us.   Especially Dad.   Spanking and physical discipline just wasn’t part of him.  Yet for years I thought my father was a weak man.   It was only after I grew up that I realized how wrong I was, that he was actually a good and fundamentally decent man who stood fast on principles.   Dad ‘shook off’ a lot because, if it didn’t interfere with his principles, then it didn’t matter so much.  But he rarely gave an inch when his principles were called into question.

One of those principles was that a person, especially a man, should always do their best.   I never really knew the side of my father who worked in an office.   Dad was an ammunition inspector for the Army, and I don’t recall ever seeing him in the office (because he worked on Army bases where we usually didn’t go).   But I have a box full of awards from his 30 years of work testifying that he had always done a great job.   I do remember Dad working around the house, doing all kinds of home improvements.   He self-taught those things; nobody taught him how fix electrical wiring, hang drywall, or make home repairs.   When I was growing up, except for a two year period where we lived in a house that needed no work, I don’t think I could have named a weekend when my dad didn’t work hard at something.

He always did his best.

Since I got out of the Air Force 21 years ago I have worked for eight different companies (nine if you count my own in that I’m currently an independent consultant).   I can honestly say that, for most of those jobs, I did my best.   A few times I didn’t, and one time I didn’t cost me a job last year.   I felt betrayed by those people; maybe some day I’ll share the rest of the story.   But the long and short of it was that they abandoned me so I abandoned them and it showed in my work.   These days, I love what I’m doing.   I enjoy the work, I really enjoy the team I’m working with and the ones I’m leading, and I am energized at the challenge of the task.   It’s a pleasure to do my best.   When you think about it, I wouldn’t be where I am in this job if “those people” last year hadn’t launched me along the trajectory I’m traveling today.   That’s something to be thankful for.  See what happens when you do your best?

Have you considered that God is doing His best as well?   Moreover, He’s doing it for you, on your behalf, for your good.    God made you legitimate.  He bought you back from the consequences of your sins and set you on a better path.  He gave His Son for you.  He gives you food, air, water, shelter, other people, and love and you don’t have to do anything to deserve them.   You and I are on God’s mind 24/7 even when He isn’t on ours.   Have we really considered that God does His best for us every day, even when we refuse to notice?

It seems so easy to question God when things aren’t going well for us.   It seems so easy to curse His name when we’re up against the wall, or when we don’t get what we want.   Yet have you considered that these are times when God allows (or brings) adversity into our lives to refine us for better things?   I know this is true in my own life, and it hurts when it happens.   But things always turn out for the best eventually.  God gives us only what we can handle and asks us to handle the negative things only so that it will lead us back to Him somehow.   Through them all, He still provides those things mentioned above whether we are in want or in plenty.

God’s a father like me, like my dad.   He gives us His best in all things.   It’s a trustworthy, true thing to believe, to make the bedrock of your life.  Today would be a good day to make sure we do the same for others because of Him.

For further reading:  Numbers 16:22, Revelation 22:6, Isaiah 38:16, 2 Peter 1:4.

Lord, thank You for doing Your best for me.   Your best is simply You because nothing is better than You.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 5 June 2015

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8, verse 35.

In my opinion, if you haven’t memorized many verses from the Bible, this one would be a good one to memorize. It’s the essence of Christianity.   It’s the mission of the cross.   It’s the hope of all humanity, even unbelievers.   And it’s the best motivational speech ever given.

Tell me:   have you ever completely lost yourself in something?   Before I joined the Air Force, my dad said to me “it’s a good thing to lose yourself in something bigger than yourself.” I didn’t fully understand what he meant, but now I do and it’s a very Godly thing. The military has a mission, and every mission is made up of other sub-missions.   As a service member, you immerse yourself in the mission; the mission is priority number one, more important than your family, friends, or even your life.   The mission is what you do, who you are, your purpose and reason for being. When you are in the military, the flag represents the country you serve, and you serve the country by doing your mission. And when you immerse yourself in the mission, realizing you are serving the country and are covered by that grand old flag, you find your purpose.   Great satisfaction and pride flow down like water.

Jesus is the ultimate mission.   Serving Him means serving the kingdom, and we serve the kingdom by doing what we do – anything we do – without expectation of reward or recognition.   Jesus recognizes us through immense grace every day, and for our lifelong devotion to Him, He promises the reward of an eternity in communion with Him as fully God and fully man all at once. That’s all in addition to the joy of serving Him here and now. Can you imagine anything more satisfying than losing yourself in service to God, the creator and true love of the universe, by living for whatever He would have you do?   It’s the reason why martyrs die for Him and die satisfied.

Our mission, then, becomes using our talents and our lives in the service of the mission that is the cross. If we give all to Jesus, we will lose it.   Now or later, eventually we will all die yet that death becomes merely a passageway to that eternity instead of an ending to all things.   If you manage a project team, do so to the best of your abilities and do so in Godly ways and you’re doing your part in the mission.   If you raise children, raise them in Godly ways and give them your best in love and you’re doing your part in the mission.   If you preach to crowds, fix car engines, code software, teach students, clean plumbing, read the newspaper, act on TV or ride a tractor, whatever we do, when we do it in service to Jesus we become willing to lose our lives for Him.   And in losing our lives for Him, we save our eternal lives forever.

Like I said, commit that to memory.   Commit it to your heart, then commit, don’t sacrifice, to the mission of the Man from Galilee.

Lord Jesus I commit myself and all I am to You and Your mission of grace.

Read Mark 8, verses 34-38.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 June 2015

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Mark 8, verses 31-33.

I spent 12 years in the Air Force; eleven on active duty and one in the Reserves. Much of who I am, the way I act, and the way I think was formed during those years including the fact that I learned how we should always speak plainly.   Say what we mean; don’t embellish and don’t waste words; regularly read this column and you see how I struggle with that last one.   My last job in the Air Force was at a place where we wrote custom software.   One of our guiding principles – and I think it’s one big reason why we were successful – is that our leadership always stressed how we should speak plainly and take responsibility. If you operate in a politically charged atmosphere, you quickly learn that most politics revolve around avoiding blame, and that’s an unhealthy attitude if you’re writing beta software for operational users.   When things break or fail – and they always do – the best way to solve the problem is to get to the root of it, pony up if you or your actions broke it, and then offer what you can to implement a solution.

That’s good advice which has served me well in everything I’ve ever done since.   More than this, it’s Godly advice because it’s one of the things Jesus was stressing to Peter when He rebuked him in verse 33.   Shirking responsibility, self-aggrandizing, or even being lazy are attributes of the enemy, not of God. We may think Peter meant well here but he really didn’t. Strip away our feelings about ‘good intentions’ and we can see that Peter was speaking selfishly.   He was probably speaking for the rest of the group, too, but it was obliquely selfish.   Jesus quickly brought his friend to task for this.

Another thing I learned was to accept criticism, even when it hurt.   One time, I was eligible for a quarterly award.   Every quarter, military units recognize star performers.   When I was a young airman, I very much wanted to win one.   Most of my friends had, several of them several times in fact.   It seemed unfair to me that a stellar guy like me wasn’t being recognized, so I went to our NCO in charge.   I admired this man, and it stung when he quickly, caringly reminded me that I hadn’t done anything stellar or really noteworthy.   Sure, in my own mind I should have been Airman of the Quarter many times over but, in fact, the only person who thought my performance was exemplary was me. It was a good perspective to learn, both that I should hold myself to a high standard yet also to not ‘get the big head.’   Re-read the verses today and I think you see that this is also something Jesus is inferring to Peter.   ‘Get behind me Satan.   You aren’t as big a deal as you think you are.’ Good advice in anything.

Jesus, thank You for Your rebukes and Your loving correction.   Forgive and re-build me.

Read Mark 8, verses 34-38.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 21 January 2015

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3, verses 31-35.

It’s my privilege to be part of several groups of people who are just about the best people you could know. Now, I’m sure we can all say that about the friends closest to us, and that’s a good thing, a real blessing.   I am fortunate to say that there are two groups with whom I keep in contact that I think of quite literally as family. One is my shipmates from the three years I spent at sea while I was in the Air Force; yes, you read that right. We keep in touch mostly on Facebook and email, but I have several phone numbers and we’ll occasionally catch up that way as well.   The other group is the small group of men with whom I worked at an obscure assignment in Colorado Springs.   We did systems work together, and we were part of a self-appointed elite group who felt we were doing the best work anywhere in addition to actually being the best anywhere.   Personally, I’d stack the folks in either of these groups against ISIS and we’d leave those Islamo-Nazi lunatics in a pile of confused and hurting refuse when we finished with them at a time of our own choosing.

My friends, they’re my brother and sister and mother.

Now, it’s a very safe bet to assume that Jesus wasn’t talking about militarily vanquishing a group of Muslim fanatics.   But I think you can understand my analogy.   I’ve been privileged to call good people ‘friend’ and ‘brother,’ and I’ve been privileged to do so both in and out of church settings.  During several overseas mission trips I grew close to the men and women with whom I traveled.   Perhaps they’re closer to the idea Jesus was conveying, yet there’s something about having served in the military, having been ordinary people doing extraordinary things that draws you together.

Yet if you think about it, in following Jesus, you’re an ordinary person doing something extraordinary.   You’ve staked your claim on something that the world sees as illogical and childish.  You’re like the disciples, who were ordinary ‘nobodies’ who lived extraordinary lives in service of the Savior.  You’re the kind of person Jesus is looking for.   Jesus is looking for His own martial group; a group who, to quote the Founding Fathers, will pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in His service.   Jesus wants people who will fight their temptations and fight off the world to stand up for Him, to carry His message to others, and to do His work in a world that really needs Him.

Chances are, when you find yourself in a group of like-minded Jesus followers, you’re going to quickly realize that they are your brother, mother, and sister.  They’re family to you because we are all family in Him.   That’s the biggest part of His message in these verses.

Jesus, you’re my brother, God, Savior, creator and friend. Let me be as close to others as You are to me so that I can represent you honorably to them.

Read Mark 3, verses 31-35.