Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 5 April 2018

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.   1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NIV).

Buckle up, my friend.   It’s gonna be bumpy for the next few days because Paul is saying, with the authority of Jesus, some uncomfortable things.   He’s speaking in love, but he’s saying things that are unpopular, things we don’t want to hear.   They’re convicting, and you might be convicted.   Your first impulse might be offense, or even anger, so buckle up and stay on the ride because it’s worthwhile.

One of the dangers of “chunking down” Bible verses is taking them out of context.   It’s a dangerous thing to randomly pick a verse, read it, and draw huge conclusions from it even though every verse in Scripture is God’s real word.   So, here, it’s wise to remember that, in many of Paul’s letters, he reminds his friends to flee from sexual immorality.  Run away when you’re tempted.  Sexual purity is a theme in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (just to name a few), and anyone who has remotely heard of Genesis has heard of Sodom and Gomorrah:  the ultimate lesson on sexual immorality.

Every ancient culture except Israel focused in one way or another on sex, including idolatry of sex, sexual activities, or fertility.   When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he wrote to people familiar with Eros, Aprhrodite, and the lascivious practices of Roman worship.  He reminded them that Christ gave Himself as the bridegroom for His bride, the church.  Is it surprising, then, that God asked His bride to be virginally pure for that Bridegroom?

How do you think that worked out for the Thessalonians?

They were people just like us.  They thought about and focused on sex as much as we do.   They had emotions and sexual needs.  Paul cautioned them that they were to be sanctified, set apart and consecrated as holy.   The first way to do that was by changing their behaviors on sex.   Commit to monogamy; end adultery; save your sexual activity for your marriage; retrain your brain from thinking about sex and lust and the idolatry of it.   Let Jesus do work His way in you.  Paul’s command is to revere faith in Him and the gift of life He gave, and it’s awful hard to revere Christ when you’re (literally) screwing around with someone.

I’ve spent a lot of my life cherishing sex, even worshipping it.   I’ve misused it and that caused problems for me and others.   Paul is speaking to me here, cautioning me that Jesus beckons me to a better way.   Thank God He did this because you and I need His help if we are going to master this emotional, biological and even spiritual drive in our lives in a world determined to misuse it.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 7:2-9, 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

Lord, forgive me for the ways I’ve misused Your gift of sex.   Help me to revere You through my sex life.

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Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 21 December 2017

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.   Ephesians 4:7.

Finally, let’s talk about Santa and God’s grace.   In our increasingly secular America, where leftist hostility threatens to crowd out any faith except itself, where crime and real hatred work to undo the works of love, and where division with the right is on the rise, at this time of year, Santa is all about grace.

Santa and God’s grace?   I thought the hyper-Christians and Santa-Haters owned the topic of grace!   There actually is an unspoken “war on Christmas” and some of the primary combatants relentlessly defend the position that God Almighty is the author of peace on earth and good will toward men.  The secular ‘god’ of Santa Claus is one of the vehicles the other side uses to fight against the truth of Jesus.   Anything related to Christmas that isn’t all and only Jesus must be eradicated.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Grace is unmerited mercy.   You don’t do anything to earn it or deserve it.   It is love freely given to you by God because He’s God and He loves us.   He loves us so much that He wasn’t willing for us to be apart from him.  Our sins earned us permanent separation from God but He didn’t want that for us because His love is too good to withhold.   So, in the ultimate act of grace, God came here to Earth as a man and gave His life as an atonement for our sins.   All of that was beautifully exemplified on Christmas morning when God gave us that first Christmas gift.

Every year, both religious and secular America commemorate that gift, in part, by celebrating the magnanimity of Santa Claus.  Without Christ there is no Christmas, and without Christmas there is no Santa Claus, whose heart is focused on giving, on sharing with strangers simply because he can.   He does it on and only on Christmas:   the birthday of God.  How is that not grace?

But but but…what about that naughty and nice list?   If the fruit of God’s Spirit is visible through good works, and those good works are lauded by both God and Santa Claus, then is it unreasonable to expect both God and Santa would disapprove of our naughty works?   God turns us over to the consequences of our unrepentant hearts.   Is it any wonder that part of the Santa story would include the same thing?  And yet, even knowing we naughty people deserve punishment, God still gives us our lives, our health, and everything we are.   It’s pure grace.  As for Santa, be reasonable:   other than my parents and politicians, do you honestly know of anyone who has ever put a lump of coal in your stocking?    Grace again.

Christ apportioned true grace for us by giving His very life so we wouldn’t have to give ours.   He bridged the chasm between damnation and salvation and made it possible for us to avoid the former.   Christ gives the gift of salvation that Santa doesn’t, and He did it out of the kind of love that makes Santa’s look cheap.  Face it:   Santa doesn’t love the way Jesus loves; that’s simply the way it is.  Yet love it is from Saint Nick all the same, and when we consider how many people in our world need love, well, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn it.   Maybe the idea of Santa Claus is simply an extension of our faith in God, of appreciating His grace in giving us things we want but don’t deserve.

Thank you, my friend, for reading these words, and Merry Christmas to you.   I hope they’ve helped you and made you think of things you might not otherwise have considered.   More than that, I hope they’ve planted in you the seed of curiosity to investigate God’s Word even more.   In parting this year, I’ll challenge you to take a few minutes on Christmas Eve and read Luke 2.   Read it in the King James version because, in my opinion, the first twenty verses of Luke 2 when read in that 15th century English are the most beautiful words ever written.   Take a few minutes to thank God for them, and for sending His only Son to be born on Christmas as a man.   Then thank Him, too, for the coming Easter that fulfills the promise of eternity.  Last, thank our Lord for the gift of the story of Santa Claus and how jolly old St. Nick is actually a herald of our Savior in Bethlehem.

For further reading:  Luke 2 (in the King James version).

Thank You, Lord, for Your grace, Your gift, and Your love.   Thank You for Christmas…and Easter.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  Hebrews 11, verses 13-14.

I’m a wanderer.   I learned it as a kid.   We first moved in 1969, when I was three, moving from Bloomington to Minneapolis, Minnesota.   That isn’t very far, but it’s a quantum leap for a family from the suburbs.  I went two years to an old elementary school before they tore it down in 1974.   That year, I spent a year in private school in east Minneapolis.   1975-1976 saw me attend two different third grade classes, one in Iowa and the other in Pennsylvania.  From 1976 to 1978 we lived in Pennsylvania, 1978-1980 in Oklahoma, 1980-1983 back in Iowa, and 1983-1985 in southern Indiana, which I refer to now as ‘home.’  After that, I joined the Air Force, and spent 1985 in Texas, then 1986-1989 in Texas, Maryland, and TDY (on temporary duty) around the world.   From 1989 to 1992, I lived in Italy (living in two different towns during that stay).   From 1992 until 2004, I lived in Colorado, residing in six different places in twelve years.  2004-2005 found me in Montana, then 2005 back in Colorado before moving to Texas.   Since 2005, I have lived full time in Texas, but have traveled all over the country (and the planet), and have lived in three different houses in two towns.  After fifty years of wandering, I’m finally in a home I’ve always dreamed of.   Wouldn’t you know that even my time here may be short, in jeopardy, and that there could be more wandering just up ahead.

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking for a country of my own.

I wish I could say that my story is one of deep public faith, but it isn’t.  In fact, more times than I care to admit, my faith has wandered too and has been weak with my practice of it weaker.  I’ve been rightfully accused of being a hypocrite, and Billy Joel could have once described me as “a man with so much tension and far too many sins to mention.”  I’ve tried, but in following Jesus, trying isn’t enough.   You have to “do” to be believeable to other people, and sometimes what I’ve done has been quite opposite of what I believe.

You know what?  I’m in good company.   Abraham was a wanderer and God did wonderful things through Him.   Jacob was a deceitful wanderer and God led him to live an amazing life.  Moses, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus Himself were all wanderers who did incredible, great things in the lead-up to the time of their Messiah.  After Jesus, all twelve of His disciples wandered, going from place to place to spread the Good News of the friend-Savior they knew.  Some of them were murdered for it; only one lived into old age.

I bet all those people were looking for a country of their own.   I wonder, then, if the country mentioned by the writer of Hebrews isn’t actually the nation of Heaven.   Shakespeare called death “the undiscovered country.”  Hamlet lamented that his life was all sorrow and he longed to journey into the undiscovered country of what lay beyond.   Don’t we all, yet here and now are all we know.   This is where we make our bones, discover what it means to live.   And the longer any of us live – and wander – the more we find that the only real meaning in the fallen world is found in Jesus Christ.  In Christ there is no more wandering.   In Christ, the discovery is amazement and it is continuous.   In Jesus Christ there is fulfillment of all of life’s desires, answers to every question, and peace to settle all restlessness.   In Christ, we no longer need to wander.

Christ is the undiscovered country I wish to explore, yet isn’t it wonderful to be able to do so now, as best we can, in this place that’s rife with both life and imperfection?  Until my prayers are answered and I meet Him face to face, I guess I’ll continue to wander, awaiting my endless time in the country of my own that I know in hope is only a short time away.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

My Lord and Savior, abide with me as I wander here.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 April 2017

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:  “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.  Hebrews 10, verses 15-18.

There is so much to unpack here.   These verses quote Jeremiah 31, and if you haven’t read the words of that lamenting prophet, next time you are in a place of need, read Jeremiah.   He, too, knew desperate soul-crushing hurt yet clung to God no matter what befell him (and he lived in terrible times).

Perhaps the best thing that Jeremiah recorded was that quote: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”   In remembering our lawless acts no more, God blots out the consequences of our sins and sees us perfectly through Jesus.   When Jeremiah was alive, men did not know of a man named Jesus; it was hundreds of years before Christ.  Instead, the time after Jesus is what Jeremiah was talking about in chapter 31, specifically the time when Jesus was no longer physically present as a man yet would always be omnipresent as Spirit.   He would live in our souls and reason with us through our intellects.

You and I are living in that time now.   When you say you believe in Jesus, you’re lining up with Jeremiah.   You’re choosing sides, and you’re acknowledging that you desire for Jesus Christ to live in your soul, reason with your mind, and work through your hands.   When you choose sides and choose Jesus, you’re acknowledging that all your wrongs have been forgiven.   Everything that you’ve ever done in sin is forgiven, washed away.   No longer do you need some stranger priest to sacrifice an animal in your stead so that you might make atonement for what you’ve done.

Most of all, you aren’t guilty any more.   You’ve been declared ‘not guilty’ and you are permanently not guilty.  Jesus took ALL of your guilt and negated the need for you to carry it around.   This is perhaps my toughest sin; it’s the one I all too frequently commit.   Years ago I laid the guilt of my sins at the cross, yet I seem to constantly walk back there every now and then and pick up the writhing, nasty sack that contains that guilt.   I throw it over my shoulder and walk away.   With each step it feels heavier, smells worse, threatens more.  All the while, it feels like Jesus is looking at me from His cross, staring down at me, imploring me to put the bag down again and walk away from it.  It’s like He’s saying to me “I’m forgiving all that.   It doesn’t define you any more.   I define you now.   You can put it down.”

Years of faith, years of study, years of therapy, years of prayer confirm this truth to me, that Jesus fully, freely declares me not guilty of even the worst things I’ve ever done.   Yet I still commit the sin of trying to carry around that guilt again and again, long after he’s forgiven it.   It lures me back, welling up feelings of remorse, inadequacy, hurt.  The harsh truth is that it is a sin to keep picking it up.   It’s a form of idolatry, and it’s like saying to Jesus “I don’t believe You really can do this.”

He forgives that sin too.   That’s the point where my head is blown.   I’m completely befuddled at how He does that, how He forgives me when I mess up the first time, then how He reminds me that He’s forgiven those later sins too.   It’s because of His sacrifice that He reminds me of how He loves me, how He’s forgiven me, how He’s written that love on my heart and in my mind.   How that divine love defines me now.

We’re living in the time when that is the norm.  It has been the norm for over two thousand years since the days when Jesus walked the earth.   These days, He still walks it, but does so through the feet of a billion believing souls.   We are living in the time Jeremiah prophesied, and before the time when Jesus will return to walk again on His own feet.  The same feet the Romans nailed to the cross…the same cross where we daily lay down our sins and work to walk away from them knowing all the work we really need has already been completed.   Somewhere in my head I hear that song from “Frozen,” trilling me to ‘let it go.’   How I wish it felt that easy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7m, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I constantly relive, re-carry the guilt of all the sins You’ve forgiven.   You did it completely, fully.   Help my unbelief.

Practical Proverbial, 18 July 2016. This week’s topic: conflict and soft words

Conflict Management.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4: 31-32. AND A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1.
So let’s do some confessing, here: I’m guilty of completely violating these verses. I stink on ice at keeping them. In this political year, with so many things being said, I find myself constantly debating people online. Sure, I justify my arguments with saying “I’m standing up for what I believe” or something like that. In my mind, I think I’m doing some kind of good by sharing my (usually) polarized opinions. The world is a better place, you know, because Dave Terry shared his opinions on Mrs. Clinton, events in the Middle East, the Federal deficit and any other range of issues. Sure; whatever.
In the end, it isn’t kind. It’s unkind. It isn’t tenderhearted: it’s mean. And while I forgive anyone who’s wronged me, all too often that isn’t the vibe I exude. More often than not, I probably look like a jerk.
Would you act this way at work? More and more employers surf employees’ social media sites. Would you want your employer to see things you’ve written online? Would I want my employer to see what I post to others? More importantly, would I want them to see HOW I interact with others? It might not paint a flattering picture, especially when I work in a career where managing people. I wonder how many jobs I’ve silently lost when I applied online and then lost out because when an interested employer was turned off by my contentious social media posts.
We don’t have to wonder what Jesus would think. He telegraphed is thoughts in His words above. Last time, we talked about how to resolve conflict by going to the person with whom you’re in conflict. In these verses above, we’re told a few of the characteristics of how we should talk when we’re doing that.
We’re to put off bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice; whew! If I do that, what else would I share on Facebook? No matter, that’s what we’re to do if we want to bridge the gap between our neighbor and ourselves. Even if we’ve been wronged, even if we are the one who has wronged another, no matter the circumstances, we are to put off the fruit emotions of evil and display the behaviors of Christ.
Why are we supposed to interact in this way? The quick answer is “because Jesus says so.” In reality, that’s all we need to know. In further reality, He tells us to be kind and forgiving and caring because ‘a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ The words He inspired into Solomon aren’t much different from those He inspired into Paul, are they? How many times have strong arguments ended when one of the arguers simply lowered the tone of their voice? That isn’t a coincidence. God doesn’t tell us to do things that lead us further into sin. When He tells us to forgive, speak kindness, and act out in goodness, it’s because they are the best and right ways to interact.
Be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving; be these things because that’s how Jesus is with us. Be these things and still be strong. Acting in soft ways doesn’t mean someone is weak or spineless. If you think about it, it takes a strong person to actively put aside raw negativity and let God re-make how we react. Indeed, it takes a backbone to stand up for Jesus when so much of the world stands against Him. The trick becomes standing up and standing firm while not letting our standing get in the way of His message. In doing that, His directions to speak softly and be kind are the best ones with which to lead the way. After all, it’s better to be able to cop to being overly kind than to have to admit you’re a jerk.
This is how we manage God’s way.
For more reading: James 1:19, Colossians 3:13, Hebrews 12: 14-15, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 16:7, Leviticus 19:18, Luke 17:4.
Lord, thank You for Your commanding advice on how to resolve conflict. Help me to live this out where I am today.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 24 February 2016

They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. Mark 14, verses 53-54.

Does Jesus do your heavy lifting? If we warm ourselves by the fire in the middle of the cold night, are we really being warmed inside or is it just a half-measure to ward off the hostile cold?

I’ll be honest: Jesus does ALL the heavy lifting.   He does it for me and for you; He does it because of His grace and not because we deserve it or earn it or anything the preacher says to do. Everything that was ever needed to make me right with the Holy Father of the Trinity was done by Jesus.   Even my choosing to believe in this isn’t my action alone; I couldn’t even believe if Jesus’ Holy Spirit hadn’t first inspired and enabled me to do it.

So I just live my life, sinning from day to do.   Some days it’s petty things like a white lie or living in advantage of His blessings.   Some days it’s an outright big one, like rage or adultery in my thoughts or grudges or any one of a hundred things that separate me from my Lord.   In those times, He reminds me again and again that He forgave all of my sins, that I have no penalty from the Father for them even though they deserve eternal damnation.   He reminds me that I don’t need to do these stupid things, that I don’t need to hold onto guilt, that I’m His. If you don’t think that’s heavy lifting, try reminding an addict that he has the power to give up his addiction if only he’ll take the gigantic small step of starting to trust.   Jesus does that a thousand times a day for the addict sinner known as me.

And through it all, what do I do?   I warm myself by the fire.   I join in with Peter and the other curiosity seekers who won’t actually go stand beside Jesus and fight for Him (or even show solidarity with Him).   No, I’m there trying to keep my hands and face warm in the chilly morning air.   It’s cold out here and I am more concerned with thinking I can ward off the cold than with being true to my heart. I’m one of the folks joining in with the very guards who arrested Jesus and brought all this into being. You and I can judge Peter for being a coward, for these moments when he actively, enthusiastically denied knowing his best friend and Savior, the man he told (in more friendly and comfortable circumstances) “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” “I’d never do that, Dave,” you say.   “I just wouldn’t.”

Yes you would.   So do I.   I do it with every rebellious thought that rushes through my sin-encrusted mind.

Know what Jesus does?   He does the heavy lifting.   He does the hard work of making those rebellious thoughts and actions into vapors of the past.   He does it with offering me the blood on the cross.   It’s a free offer, no guilt-motivation involved.   It’s the only thing that can really, truly keep me out of the cold emptiness of oblivion.

Lord, thank You for doing all the heavy lifting of forgiving sins.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 25 August 2015

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” Mark 10, verse 17-21.

Do you grasp the enormity of what Jesus is saying to the man?

This stranger runs up to Jesus while Jesus is walking to Jerusalem.   Jesus is walking to Jerusalem knowing He will meet adulation and crowds who will, five days hence, watch Him be murdered. This man doesn’t know any of that.   He has heard about Jesus and wants to meet Him.   Perhaps the man is full of himself and wants a little of Jesus’ fame to rub off on him.   Perhaps the man is a spy from the Sanhedrin, sent out to size up Jesus before He gets to the city walls.   Perhaps the man is genuinely curious, confused in life and looking for a meaningful existence.

In truth, we don’t know.   All we know about the man (at this point) is that he ran up to Jesus and assumed a position of worship. The man then tells Jesus He is “good.”   Jesus’ reply:   He doesn’t say He isn’t good.   He simply reminds the man of the depth of his words, that if He’s saying Jesus is a ‘good teacher’ then he is insinuating that Jesus the Good Teacher is God because “no one is good, except God alone.”

Enormous.   That definitely falls into the “get more than you bargained for” category.

How do you think the man felt when Jesus said this to him?   Do you think he was bewildered, shocked to be called out and called back?  Based on later verses, we learn that the man is wealthy and conceited; it’s likely that he is trying to test Jesus for some unknown purpose not the least of which is pride. Jesus knows all this and yet He doesn’t smite the proud man.   Instead, He offers the man every chance to come clean and have a genuine relationship. “You say I’m God. Tell me:   what do you REALLY believe?”   Can you imagine Jesus’ penetrative stare?

I don’t know about you, but that’s daunting for me.   All too often, I try to hide my sins from God, thinking that if I do x, y or z, Jesus won’t know about it; ludicrous. When I read verses like these where Jesus makes Himself known obliquely yet boldly, I’m reminded that He does the same thing to me every day.   He is always beckoning me in His word, my conscience, my schedule and a thousand ways every day to come to Him with everything. Instead of smacking me down, which I deserve, Jesus blows my mind by letting me come to the conclusion that He is who He says He is and He’s made it ok for me to come to Him.

That’s one of the things Jesus did for the man in these verses.   He tipped His hand just a little in order to let the man know that He was in the game to win, specifically to win the man’s soul.   He does the same thing for you and me.

Lord, I believe You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.   You are Him and You are good.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.