Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 September 2018

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 1 Timothy 1:3-4 (NIV).

We love pedigrees, credentials.   We love having people go ‘into the family business’ as if that somehow confers special blessing or knowledge on them.   How many politicians, general officers, pastors, celebrities, CEOs, and high-ranking officials in society are children of the same?   You could drive yourself to frustrated distraction simply naming all of them.

That’s the point, you know:   frustrated distraction.

Frustrated distraction and false doctrine:   WE KNOW BEST.   The Baptists say that (and mean it) but so do the Catholics, and the Lutherans, and the dozen or so other reformed denominations, and the atheists think we’re all messed up.  But we’re each guilty of it.  “I know better than you.”   Throw “because the Bible says” and you’ll either look educated or immensely stupid (maybe even like a total jerk).   Some folks thrive on doctrine, on insisting they know better than anyone else.   More than once I’ve been accused of being a know-it-all and, to be fair, the accusers sometimes have good points.   I’m sure I’m not the only one.   In fact, turn on any of the political talk commentary shows on cable TV and you’ll see a ton of people convinced they’re all correct.

More than a few are false doctrines there, at least as far as I understand them.  And all of them are frustrating distractions.

The ancient Jews believed in citing genealogies and pedigrees.   God had proclaimed that the Levites would be His priesthood, and the Jews of Bible times took that seriously.  The Gnostics of the first century took this further, believing in a New Age system that mashed Judaism, philosophy and nascent Christianity together into a self-focused belief based on who you were rather than God.   Paul saw that and cautioned his pastoral apprentice to steer clear of these things.  Further, he advised Timothy to teach others to do the same.

Yet what has changed?   Aren’t we still tangled up in the knot of “who are your people” over “who does God say you are?”   A Harvard degree carries bigger vocational clout than one from the University of Phoenix yet graduates of either may have the exact same degree.   It’s nice if your dad, grandfather and great-grandfather were all in the same ministry business but, to be frank, so what?  Oscars mean more than simply great movies.   Nothing new here.

What matters is what God says about us, not what we say about each other.   Credentials and pedigrees can be great things but they can also lead to frustrated distraction.

For further reading:  Acts 16:9, Titus 1:14, Titus 3:9, 1 Timothy 1:5

Lord, help me to focus ONLY on what You say to me and about me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 November 2017

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13, verse 8.

You know it’s true:  you might as well just say “amen” now (which actually means “this is most certainly true”).   Verse 8 is one of the foundation verses of the entire Bible.   It’s the explanation, motivation, and reason for everything.   There’s a Maren Morris song that mentions old time country music as “my church.”  It’s explains life; it’s always great; it’s always the same; it’s always there to uplift a sad soul.  I agree with some of that; “can I get an amen?”

Here’s something that merits an amen whether Maren sings about it or not:  Jesus our Savior is the same person He was yesterday as He is today as He will be tomorrow.  Can I get a hallelujah?

Wrap your noodle around this truth.  When everything around you is changing (and the only constant in this crazy world is change), Jesus is.  The great I AM is.  As you feel like your feeling careen around like a pinball, Jesus is the same.   The same Jesus who talked one on one with John, Peter, and even Judas Iscariot is the same Jesus who speaks to your heart today.  In science, gravity and time are constants.   Everything else changes, and you can even vary the effects of both time and gravity even though they are standards.  Yet Jesus is the same.  He is the same no matter the temperature, the time of year, or the phase of the moon.  Yet Christ is more than science; indeed, He invented it, inspired it.   Christ is beyond our science, and beyond our puny religion.  Jesus is the same whether you’re a Baptist, a Hindu, a Shiite (or Sunni or Wahabi) Muslim, or a card carrying atheist vegan who loves Crossfit.   He’s the same Savior we think about when we sing “Jesus Loves Me” as little children or “The Old Rugged Cross” as old people.

Consider, too, that this statement comes at the end of the exhortations where the writer has given us concluding thoughts.   He wants us to remember that, no matter what advice we give, the founder of all advice is Christ.   The source of all wisdom is Christ.   The reason for all we know is Jesus.   And when the world gets sideways as it always does, Jesus is still there just as He always was/is/will be.  Maybe the Doobie Brothers summed it up:   “I don’t care what they may say.   I don’t care what they may do.   Jesus is just alright (oh yeah).”

He’s just alright.  He’s just in time.   You can count on Him.  We should sing about that.   Can I get an amen?

I have a friend who is going through a particularly rough time right now.   He just left one job, and his family situation is all in turmoil.   My friend has always been plagued by darkness and has become one of the more hopeless people I know.   No faith, no grounding, he’s lost his way and is miserable.   Some of it is circumstances beyond his control; some environment; some the past; and some of it is his chickens coming home to roost.  Just last night we were talking about his having no identity, and I asked him to call me when he’s ready to seek it.  To call me because there’s really only one place to find your lasting identity.   It’s at the cross.   It’s there and only there that we can lay down our weapons, our guilt, our fears, and our pride and be renewed in both spirit and mind.

It’s because the Jesus we find on the cross is the same Jesus who walked on water is the same Jesus in the Word is the same Jesus listening to our prayers today is the same Jesus who loves children is the same Jesus who will judge the world.  He’s the same God no matter what.   When my friend sees his world collapsing around him and he feels bereft of all that’s good, by going to the cross and meeting the same Jesus there, he can begin again and move in a different direction.

I’m not a pastor.  I sometimes wish I had some of the knowledge my pastor friends have gained.   If not the knowledge, then maybe a little of the wisdom.  When people come to me and ask about why I believe what I do, all I can do is paraphrase C.S. Lewis who said that he prayed because he couldn’t help himself.   I believe in Christ because I can’t help myself.  Everything else I’ve sought in this world has left me wanting and hollow.  Yet I go to Jesus and see that He’s the same as He always is.   That helps me to realize that He’s the God I crave, the God I want to follow, the leader I want to emulate, the unchanging Savior I desperately need, and the friend I want to always cherish.  Jesus is just alright because He is ALL RIGHT and is always Himself.   Can I get an amen to that?

For further reading:  Psalm 102:27, Hebrews 1:12.

My Lord, this is most certainly true:   You are God.   You are the only constant in the universe.   You are good, worthy of praise, and all life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 November 2017

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Hebrews 13, verse 7.

As I’ve matured, I’ve developed a great admiration for people who are bold in the Word.  Over thirty years ago, I went to a Billy Graham crusade in Washington DC.   Now, I’m not a Southern Baptist and I find some of their methods to be grating.  My upbringing was far from the kind of approach Baptists and Billy Graham commonly use.  When I was a kid, every few months a Billy Graham crusade would take over one of our three channels of TV and I found it to be hard, boring to watch.   It was ironic, then, that I found myself there that day, listening to Rev Graham exhort the crowd to come to Jesus.   It was even more ironic that I found myself compelled by the things he said.  I met Dr. Graham and I was moved, but not moved enough to seriously consider the things he was saying.  It took me decades before I would come around to Graham’s way of thinking.

The older I grow the more I see the truth in Christ’s command to go and make disciples of all nations.  Our first, best task in this life is to reach out to other people and share Jesus.   EVERYTHING we experience in the next life depends on knowing Him here.  We do our part by living our lives, being ourselves, and being ready to communicate when the opportunities arise.   Even including the fire and brimstone sermons, I’m betting Billy Graham would agree.

I was baptized by a pastor named Reuben Youngdahl, who built the largest Lutheran church in America.   I remember well his son, Paul, who is still the benchmark against whom I measure all clergy.   Reverend Ann Haw confirmed me in Oklahoma and she’s one of the most courageous workers for the Spirit I can think of.  Dr. Guy Newland back in Mitchell, Indiana was the most genuine minister I’ve ever known and the one who, at least in my life, convinced me that faith should be an everyday, practical thing instead of that thing you do on Sundays.   Pastors named Vogt and Uhlhorn in Colorado Springs taught me the depth of faith, and Pastor Vogt’s reading of Romans 8 on the night my father died was actually the first time in my life that I fully understood how all the Scriptures were completely true.   I’ve learned much from the wisdom of my friend, Reverend Gauthier, and men named Schaefer, Miller, McKay, Brimer, Kemp, Celia, Radkey, Kaija and Hartjen all inspire me today as peers, friends, and spiritual guides in the confusing, self-focused world of consumerist North Texas.

We put a lot of faith in our pastors, but do we put as much into the God they serve?

The verse today reminds us to learn from and revere called servants of the Lord.   God picked them out especially for the purpose of being Barnabas – the encourager – to people in need of an encouraging Savior.  They have a special calling and unique education to prepare them for the task of ministering.  We do well when we remember that it’s a Godly calling to life a life of faith, of submitting even our aspirations and career wishes to God.  That’s what they do.   It’s also tough work.  Successful churches aren’t the ones with the cool sound systems, the huge congregations, and the rock band in front playing the latest Chris Tomlin mash-up.   No, successful churches are the ones where the parishioners know they’re close to Jesus because Jesus is close to them.   In such places, that usually starts with the pastor.   If you look close, you find that the pastor is simply walking closely with Jesus and all blessings flow from Him.

Yet we can’t think of our pastors as being supermen because they aren’t.   They are sinners.   They’re strugglers.   They like football and beer and music and barbecue (or queso).   Some of them are jerks.  I know some pastors who are recovering alcoholics.   I know some who have done jail time.   I know of some who struggle with identity, sexuality, and crushing depression.   And I’ve known some pastors who I liked in the pulpit but I couldn’t stand out of it.

In other words, pastors are a lot like me.   Or you.

Just yesterday, Pastor Celia (which still sounds weird) was talking about Gideon.   Gideon was an ordinary, even cowardly, man who was called by God to do extraordinary things.   Gideon had the gifts God needed and God empowered him to use them in big ways.   Yet Gideon was also just a man.   He succeeded when he walked closely with God and he floundered when he strayed back into paganism.  I suspect that, like other pastors, if you met Gideon today you’d find he wore his pants the same way as you or I do.   Or Billy Graham, who is 99 now and no longer preaching in crusades.   In his life, he personally witnessed to millions of people, maybe even as many as a billion.   Yet he still says he could do more.   He’s still hungry for the Spirit.   That’s a good quality to have if you’re going to become a pastor.  In fact, it’s a great quality for any of us.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:16, Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 6:12.

My Lord, I am hungry for Your Spirit.  Thank You for the men and women you call as servants here.   Bless their work and their examples to all of us.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 January 2015

Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?   Then how will you understand any of the parables? – Mark 4, verse 13.

Did you notice the subtle tone in which Jesus confronted, corrected, questioned, loved and taught using only a few words?   Do you do that in your regular communication?   I know I don’t.   I’m a project manager, and I prefer that my communications with people be blunt and direct.   One doesn’t have to be a jerk when communicating with others because the goal is to communicate, to convey and gain mutual understanding. That doesn’t happen too often if I’m directive, accusatory, condescending, or, well, ‘jerky.’

If you read it again, you find that Jesus isn’t condemning the people who were questioning Him.  He isn’t beating them down with their ignorance, or talking down to them as if they were stupid.   Instead, Jesus poses rhetorical questions to them, forcing them to spiritually engage with Him and intellectually examine what it is He has to say.   That seems like a lot for a first century rabbi to do, doesn’t it?   We consider the people before us to have been more primitive, yet this is incredibly complex. That makes perfect sense, you see if you consider Jesus to be exactly who He says He is.

It’s actually one of the things I like most about Jesus: that He says so much in what He says, conveying deep and intricate meanings without talking too much. In the Parable of the Sower, He’s teaching God 101.   God offers His salvation to everyone, but not everyone lets it take root.   He does this by using figurative language to paint pictures that are descriptive and appealing as well as provocative and convicting.   I don’t know of too many modern speakers in our time who can do that very well, but the Rabbi from Nazareth does.

He then asks people about what He’s told them.   They offer questions back to Him, and He demonstrates both His loving humility and His endless patience in hearing them out. Rather than smack them down, He continues to teach. It’s as if He’s saying, “ok, are you with me so far?   Listen up now because this is important.” Rabbis teach rhetorically, but Jesus uses that same rhetoric while making it personal to the person.   Allah doesn’t do that, instead decreeing all that we must do to approach the love he only offers conditionally.   Buddha doesn’t do that, instead, sending us off navel-gazing to look for inner peace where there exists only inner turmoil. Scientology, Mormonism, and any other ‘ology’ or ‘ism’ you can think of don’t do that, confusing commitment with real faith and love. But Jesus does it, and He does it without judging or being unloving to Muslims, Buddhists, Scientologists, Mormons or even Baptists:   all of whom He loves and cherishes and wants for eternity just as He does you or me.

I think what strikes me most about this verse is, once again, how Jesus meets us where we are, here in our sins and wallowing in our ignorance.   He doesn’t use those against us but, instead, looks to walk us past them into being who He sees us to be.   He does it through teaching and questioning, urging us to live the life He has in store for us instead of us just settling for what the world has to offer.

Lord, help my unbelief.   Teach me out of my ignorance.   Forgive my thick skin.   Lead me in Your better way.

Read Mark 4, verses 1-20.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 September 2014

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” – Mark 1, verses 1-3.

Do you know who John the Baptist was?   In the story of Jesus, John played an incredibly important role, one prophesied for centuries before his birth.

He was Jesus’ cousin. Mary, the mother of Jesus, went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, when she found out Elizabeth was (like Mary) pregnant. You’ve heard the story:   how Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb when he heard Mary’s voice.   That baby was John the Baptist.

John was Jesus’ contemporary. A few months older than his Divine cousin, John and Jesus might have grown up knowing each other well. It would make sense that they would see each other at family gatherings, or during festival pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem.   Can you imagine what they would have talked about? They not only grew up in the same time, but they grew up with the same background and the same human aspirations. Both knew they were destined for uncommon lives because they would likely have been told of how angels visited to announce their conception. NOT your typical family reunion.

John was the man who baptized Jesus. I sometimes wonder how John must have felt.   He was in awe of his cousin because he understood Jesus was the Son of God. Yet Jesus didn’t take John into His confidence; John wasn’t one of the Twelve.   I wonder how that made John feel, especially since the Baptist had a strong following of disciples of his own. I wouldn’t rule out that John felt some trepidation at seeing Jesus’ rise in ministry and influence over the people of Judea.   Yet, when the time came for Jesus to undergo the ritual of baptism, He went to see His cousin in the desert:   the one who immediately recognized and proclaimed Him for who He was. That matters.

More importantly, though, John the Baptist was Jesus’ herald. John was the voice in the desert, prophesied long ago by the prophet Isaiah. Centuries before it happened, with stunning accuracy Isaiah was a prophet who said there would be a man who would cry out in the desert that all people should, “prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” In the decade before Jesus made His presence known (and began public ministry), John the Baptist moved out into the desert, lived off of God’s provisions there, and preached a message of repentance and God’s mercy. His message was hard:   turn from evil and repent to God because God is on our doorstep.   In screaming it out, John’s message was like herald trumpets that announce the arrival of a king…in this case, the King of Kings.

It’s true, Jesus could have done all He did without His cousin’s help.   Yet, for the unbelieving Jews of ancient Judea, and for us unbelievers here today, the corroborating heraldry of John the Baptist served as a radical, vociferous testimony of He whose time had just then come.

The question for us, then, is,’ how are you and I heralding Jesus?’

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your cousin, John the Baptist.   For the lessons we can learn from him even today.

Read Mark Chapter 1 verses 1 through 3.   Consider reading the verses in Isaiah as well, in Isaiah chapter 40.