Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 6 April 2020

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:  Grace and peace be yours in abundance.  1 Peter 1:1-2 (NIV).

Let’s walk with the Apostle Peter for awhile, shall we?   Throughout the 10 years of this blog, we’ve visited Moses, David, Solomon, Mark, John, James, Paul, and (possibly) Barnabas (in Hebrews); nobody really knows who wrote the book of Ruth.   So now, for the next few months, let’s read some of the things Peter wrote.

You know Peter:   Cephas; Simon Peter.   The rock on whom Jesus would build the church.  I like Peter (because I like fishermen, and Peter was a fisherman before Jesus came on the scene).  He gives me hope:   if Christ can use Peter for His work (as well as Peter’s sometime-competitor, Paul), then Christ can use me.  I like that Peter was a common man.  Beyond learning what all Jewish boys did, he probably had little or no other formal education.   He had a family, or at least a wife.   As a fisherman, he probably worked very hard, usually all night (which is when fish bite).  He was probably burly, brusque, and maybe even profane; see his rant while he was denying Christ after the arrest in Gethsemane.

In other words, Peter was probably a lot like you or me.   After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter did indeed help form the early church, and went on to be selected as the first pope.  Tradition holds that he was crucified in Rome under Nero, and is buried under the high altar at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican (archaeology has largely confirmed this or something very much like it).

And he embraced change, first in Jesus’ message, then in spreading the church far beyond where he, personally, ministered.   Peter was the one to whom Christ revealed that all things – and all people – were made ceremonially clean.   He erased Peter’s hang-up’s about traditions, and opened his mind to new possibilities.   Where Peter and Paul were sometime-competitors for church leadership, it was Peter who embraced Paul’s work and then found ways to encourage him to do it.

Peter is one of the people I most look forward to meeting in heaven.  I want to hang out with him, maybe share a beer and ask him what it was like to go fishing with Jesus.   Or to be whisked out of jail by an angel.   Or what Pentecost felt like.  Let’s spend a few weeks journeying through the letters Peter left for us.

For further reading: Matthew 24:22, James 1:1, Acts 2:9, Romans 8:29, 1 Peter 1:3

Lord Jesus, thank You for the words of your friend, Peter.

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 30 September 2019

I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.  Philemon 12 (EHV).

My barber is retiring.  I’m (selfishly) sad because it took a long time to find a barber whose haircutting skills I like.   Yet I’m also happy for him because he’s almost 64 and has worked hard for over 40 years in our small north Texas town to amass the necessary retirement savings.  He’s earned a happy sunset.

More than that, I’m even happier because he’s taking Jesus with him.   When I was at his shop last week, another customer asked him what he was going to do when he retires to his new hacienda in Guadalajara.   “Hand out those Bibles for Jesus,” he said in response, pointing to a large box of Spanish-language Bibles sitting in his shop.   This is a man who did a tour in the Army, then has worked as a barber for most of 40 years.   He worked a few in Denton (west of here) but worked most of the time in a small barber shop he built here in Celina.   Through it, he says he has journeyed in the Lord, that Christ brought him out of his own struggles, that Jesus has bathed him in mercy.

Now this Jesus is sending him, who is His very heart, to a new place.  In 2019, retirement is supposed to be a time of relaxation, non-stop recreation, and reward from a lifetime of work.   I barely know my barber-friend, whose name is also David, but I suspect he has a retirement full of work ahead of him.   Indeed, when the Son of Man comes into your life, He rarely lets you stay idle.   There is always something He has for you to do, and it’s always spiritually enriching and personally challenging.

Paul sent Onesimus the slave, who Paul cared for like a son, back to his master, Philemon.  In doing so, he said “go” to Onesimus, with that going being an adventure in Jesus.  At that time, nobody knew whether Onesimus would face punishment, even death, on his return home.  Come what may, Paul sent ‘his son’ off in faith to the master he had wronged (by fleeing).   So Paul wrote this letter to hopefully smooth over the conflict and ask that the master to welcome his (now) former slave as a fellow believer in Christ.   In a way, it wasn’t Paul but Jesus asking Onesimus to go, and go home the man did.   In doing so, he trusted his fate to Christ.

Just like my friend, David, is doing.   David the barber hasn’t been a slave, but he has worked hard.   He’s earned that retirement in a beautiful Mexican hacienda.   Yet I think he knows that it is adventure, and not relaxation, that’s ahead of him now.   And that’s the better future.

For further reading:  Philemon 13

Lord, grant my friend a safe, adventurous retirement future.   Guide me in my own adventures for You today.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 28 August 2019

When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:12-14 (EHV).

Let’s look at these verses in the light of David and Goliath.   This isn’t a Dave-original thought; I’m passing along a lesson from Chad Bird, who posted it today at 1517.org.  We are taught to look at the account of David vs Goliath as man facing a giant.   As a tale of overcoming.   As a story of Israel whipping its greatest enemy.   And that’s all true.  

And that’s all a really gross sleight of hand that we make to rob God of the glory He deserves in it.  It wasn’t David who killed Goliath:  it was Jesus.   It was Jesus putting Himself there, strengthening the little boy with the out-sized confidence.   David’s faith in God was absolute, so God put Himself in David’s place and facilitated the work, allowed the conquest, powered the stone to kill the nine-foot ogre who defied God’s chosen people.  

As kids, we’re taught to think of the story with David as the focus, but that isn’t the focus at all.   If we want to look at the lesson honestly, we can only look at it through the lens of Jesus as another lesson of deliverance, of God actively interceding in the sin-torn lives of His people to deliver them from themselves.   You know:  the way Jesus did.

Ok, and that has what to do with Paul bidding Titus to send people for help, and then to exhort the believers to do good works?   Zero in on that word “do.”   That little word is the one that wraps us around the axle.  Paul does need help, so he does send messengers to Titus, then asked Titus to do something.   He then asked Titus to “do your best,” to see that Zenas and Apollos “lack nothing.”  With more ‘doing,’ Paul exhorts Titus to do more, to urge the followers to do good works, to do help, to do things that are fruitful for the Kingdom.  All great advice.   All great ideas.   All great things. 

All wrong.

Jesus said that He is the vine and we are His branches, that apart from Him we could do nothing.   Nothing.   He meant it.   He’s at the center of every thought and deed we can have.  Breathing?  Not without Jesus.   Today’s scrum goals?   Only through Jesus.   Drop the kids at school, microwave the meal, change the oil, watch “Stranger Things,” sleep peacefully, vanquish Goliath?   All only through Jesus living in and through us.

Check out 1517.org for more unconventional wisdom on the Scriptures.

For further reading:  John 15:5, Titus 3:15

Lord Jesus, turn my understanding upside-down today.   YOU are my center.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 28 August 2019

When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:12-14 (EHV).

Let’s look at these verses in the light of David and Goliath.   This isn’t a Dave-original thought; I’m passing along a lesson from Chad Bird, who posted it today at 1517.org.  We are taught to look at the account of David vs Goliath as man facing a giant.   As a tale of overcoming.   As a story of Israel whipping its greatest enemy.   And that’s all true.  

And that’s all a really gross sleight of hand that we make to rob God of the glory He deserves in it.  It wasn’t David who killed Goliath:  it was Jesus.   It was Jesus putting Himself there, strengthening the little boy with the out-sized confidence.   David’s faith in God was absolute, so God put Himself in David’s place and facilitated the work, allowed the conquest, powered the stone to kill the nine-foot ogre who defied God’s chosen people.  

As kids, we’re taught to think of the story with David as the focus, but that isn’t the focus at all.   If we want to look at the lesson honestly, we can only look at it through the lens of Jesus as another lesson of deliverance, of God actively interceding in the sin-torn lives of His people to deliver them from themselves.   You know:  the way Jesus did.

Ok, and that has what to do with Paul bidding Titus to send people for help, and then to exhort the believers to do good works?   Zero in on that word “do.”   That little word is the one that wraps us around the axle.  Paul does need help, so he does send messengers to Titus, then asked Titus to do something.   He then asked Titus to “do your best,” to see that Zenas and Apollos “lack nothing.”  With more ‘doing,’ Paul exhorts Titus to do more, to urge the followers to do good works, to do help, to do things that are fruitful for the Kingdom.  All great advice.   All great ideas.   All great things. 

All wrong.

Jesus said that He is the vine and we are His branches, that apart from Him we could do nothing.   Nothing.   He meant it.   He’s at the center of every thought and deed we can have.  Breathing?  Not without Jesus.   Today’s scrum goals?   Only through Jesus.   Drop the kids at school, microwave the meal, change the oil, watch “Stranger Things,” sleep peacefully, vanquish Goliath?   All only through Jesus living in and through us.

Check out 1517.org for more unconventional wisdom on the Scriptures.

For further reading:  John 15:5, Titus 3:15

Lord Jesus, turn my understanding upside-down today.   YOU are my center.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 November 2017

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Hebrews 13, verse 12.

Yesterday I mentioned that Jesus was killed, buried, and rose outside the city walls of Jerusalem.  That happened to fulfill Scriptural prophecy.   Being criminally punished outside the city was a common practice in ancient days for a number of reasons.   It dishonored the accused and it accorded them unique, public status to be despised.  It sent a message to the public:   don’t mess with the authorities.   Burying bodies outside the city limits also was a health issue; it still is.   Indeed, removing decomposing corpses from the places where we live is still our practice today; it’s why cemeteries are usually found at or outside the original boundaries of most towns.   But most of all, it happened because God used the lowest among us to perform the highest function.

It gave God “street cred.”  We give great honor, glory, and social status to the pretty things.   That’s the foundation of street credibility.  It’s all about being perceived as “legit,” about being respected, about being able to walk the walk and talk the talk.  On the streets, honor and status are (supposedly) earned, and glory is taken.   In the way Jesus died, He earned real street cred.

So did His house.  The Jewish Temple was one of the great marvels of antiquity.   The Second Temple, renovated by Herod, rivaled any building in Rome, Thebes, Athens, or Babylon for its beauty, architectural wonder, and impact.  The original Temple of Solomon had been the actual “house of God:”   the place where His presence physically resided.   Its location was on the very spot where Abraham had bound Isaac, where Jacob had his famous dream, and where David purchased the threshing floor.  Tradition held that it was even the spot where God first touched earth after creation.   Solomon’s First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians but was rebuilt as the Second Temple by Zerubabbel.   This Second Temple, however, lacked God’s presence as well as many of the original artifacts (like the Ark of the Covenant) that traced their origin back to Moses.  Those have been lost to the ages.  Still, the Second Temple stood for nearly 600 years, and had been greatly renovated and expanded by Herod the Great just before the time of Jesus.  You would have been able to see it for miles around as it was the tallest building in the city and stood at the top of Mount Moriah (later called Mount Zion).  It’s massive size, glistening gold, and snow white stone would have made it shine brilliantly in both sun and night.

By the time Jesus arrived, the Temple had become the focal point of the Middle East.  It was the focus of Jewish life, the singular place to which Jews made annual pilgrimage.  Jesus Himself would spend much time in the Temple as the building represented God’s promise to His people and His continuing magnificence.    As mentioned, it was the most prominent building in the city, more visible and ostentatious than any of the city’s palaces or government buildings.  Great glory and honor was accorded to being in the Temple and especially to those who worked there and maintained the religion there.

For Jesus to have worshipped and taught in the Temple gave credence to His status as Messiah.   In our time, it would have meant He earned that ‘street cred.’  All through His life, Christ honored the practices and traditions of God’s people, including honoring the Temple.  Repeatedly during His ministry Christ taught at the Temple and challenged the political and ecclesiastical authority of the men who ran it.  Immediately after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple and cleared out the merchants who had set up shop.  He did this to cleanse out God’s home.

And when the conspirators of the Jewish Sanhedrin determined to murder Him, they wanted to do so in a way that would both reinforce their status and power AND consign him to the lowest place in society.   That meant Jesus would die outside the city.   He would be tried inside Jerusalem, but when it came to His actually killing, that was to take place away from the honored Temple Mount.  Christ was crucified on Golgotha, which ancient tradition (even then) held was the burial spot of Adam, the original man; how ironic is that?  How ironic it was, too, that, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil on the Holy of Holies was miraculously torn asunder.

What’s the point in all this history?   It’s a sign for us.  It’s interesting that God used human history to give His story honor and credibility but getting wrapped around the archaeology of it misses the central point.   It’s not where God performed His salvation of us but WHAT He did that matters.  The focal point of all human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   It’s the real street cred.  That happened in the places we’ve discussed and was made credible to humanity by the fact that it happened where it did.  Yet it is the resurrection itself – God’s saving atonement of our sins – that matters and not the place where God did it. We study the history of the location to help us better understand the context of the time and place for the life of Jesus.   Yet it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that is the ultimate street cred on which we all can and should depend.

For further reading:  John 19:17, Ephesians 5:26, Romans 3:25.

Lord, thank You for using these places and events in history to point to Your Son.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 August 2017

 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.  Hebrews 11, verse 21.

Jacob:   he is revered yet he is reviled.   I’ve heard Biblical critics savage the Scriptures because of Jacob.   He was a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel.  He was the radically imperfect vessel through whom God chose to display His grace.   Later there was Moses, and Ruth, and David, and the prophets, and Paul.   Much later came you and me.   Like it or not, got skin, got sin.   You, Jacob, and I are cut from the same cloth.

Yet you and I aren’t going to be remembered in the Bible whereas those other people are.   Jacob was an old man by the time the story of Joseph fully played out.   He had known the consequences of the sins of his youth as well as those perpetrated against him.   He married two sisters who quarreled.   Said two sisters hated their father, and this animosity carried over into the next two generations.   His wife had played favorites with their children, just as Jacob’s had; just as Jacob did himself.  Those children, twelve sons from multiple women, quarreled again and sold their youngest brother into slavery.   When Jacob was praying like this, he was in danger of losing both his life and his family.  Indeed, at the time Jacob praying while leaning on his staff, he and everyone around him was still in real danger of starving to death.

Through all of it, two things remained.   One, Jacob remained a cheeky fellow, and two, Jacob came to rely more and more on God.  God had sustained him when he journeyed in the desert to his uncle’s land.  The pillow, the ladder, the visions, the miracle food:  all God’s provision.  In return, Jacob worshipped and prayed, built altars, dug wells, and dedicated his life to God.  Through God’s woven plan, Jacob regained the son whom he thought had died.  When his life was nearly over, he blessed his sons and their future in the name of the God he had come to know well, the God who had sustained him physically and spiritually against long odds.

Do you know any Jacobs in the world today?  Better yet, do you know of any in your own life?   Are you one of them?

I’ll admit:   I have a soft spot for Jacob.   When I was a boy, I was quiet like he was; I would have rather stayed around the house than go out hunting in the open country.   I’m still that way.  I’ve done my share of deceiving to get what I wanted, and I’ve come to own the consequences of sins I wish I had never done.   Yet I also know God.   I rely on Him more and more, even as so many times I still rail against Him.   I’m not wealthy like Jacob, and I haven’t yet known real famine.   Yet I have been in real danger of destitution and death many times, many of them times of my own making.   In all of them, I grew closer to my Maker because He sustains me in the bad times and provides for me in everything.   Anything good I have known is from God and nobody else.

Sometimes I see Jacob in the mirror.   God hasn’t made me into an Israel yet, but there’s still time.  What He has done is bring me from long ago days that seem fearfully ancient into today, where I am unafraid to talk of God and talk about Him in this life.   Where there have been mixed blessings, the ‘mixed’ part has always been because of something I or someone else did.  The blessings overwhelmingly come from God.  There are people who revere and revile me equally; it’s all fair.   Put it on my tombstone that I wish for them to revere God instead and revile the bad choices they, too, have made.   I’m Jacob.   How about you?

For further reading:  Genesis 48-49.

My Lord, You and only You sustain me, just as You did Your servant, Jacob.   Thank You for this.

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.