Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 6 January 2020

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4. (EHV).

Step one in restoring unity is to start with me then realize it’s not about me.

Once again, I’m writing this from an airport.   Today is my first travel day of the new year and I’m sitting in a Southwest terminal in St. Louis.   I’m transiting one airport to get to another to go to a client for work.  On days like this, I like to watch people, and today the people I’m watching are in the group gathered at gate E38.   A few feet away from me sit two Asian nuns, enjoying a morning snack.   Across from them are two women in hijabs; I presume they’re Muslim.  Off to my right sits an older gentleman who, like myself, is chubby and looks tired.   Off to my left there is a man who is carrying a camouflage backpack and is dressed like he could be going to a construction site.   Off to his left there is a young woman staring at an orange laptop that is festooned with stickers; she may be a student.   The agent working our gate today is a tall, bald black man who was just joking with a few of the other waiting passengers.

If you want a place to remember that ‘it’s not about me,’ come to an airport gate.  So many of our moments in life seem to be thrown-together moments where people from so many different backgrounds come together for a common purpose.   In our case today, it’s flying to Detroit.   Other groups with that single purpose are concerts, church services, office meetings, holiday dinners, or online chat rooms.   The list is endless.

Today, it’s in our shared interest for all of us to arrive safely at our destination, the first of which is an airport in Michigan.  Yet after that, this temporary, disparate group will dissolve and we will all go our separate ways.   Who knows if we are like-minded or one in God’s Spirit?  Maybe yes, maybe no, especially in a plane with nuns, Muslims, and folks like me.  Yet you can’t be on an airplane full of strangers and not realize that you’re all in this together, especially on an egalitarian Southwest flight.  When you get irritated, to get along, most people suppress their irritation.   When a child cries, most people understand that an airplane in flight is a more unnatural place for little kids than it is adults.  When the flight is delayed and tempers are raw, we’re all in this together in having to adjust our lives to fit a bigger schedule.

Isn’t it the same with spreading our faith?   It isn’t about me; it isn’t about you.   Maybe it’s time to take Paul’s advice.

For further reading:  Matthew 16:26, Philippians 2:5.

Lord Jesus, help me to be humble today.

 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 September 2017.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12, verse 14.

Here’s another tall order:   live in peace and be holy.  How does that fit in with America’s NFL controversy this week?   Or our political discourse in general since the start of this century?   How well are we living in peace with our enemies and even our allies?   Is there peace in Detroit or St. Louis?   Is there peace at your table on Thanksgiving?   And are you and your spouse at peace (if you’re married)?

Let’s get this out there:   peace is NOT the absence of conflict.   Don’t think that just because we don’t have conflict that we’re at peace.   Yes, I mean that.  Sure, not shooting each other in war is indeed “peaceful” yet there’s all too often no real peace in that.   It’s a good thing to not have someone shooting you, attacking you, berating you, and that condition is indeed conducive to overall peace.  But it isn’t real peace.   There isn’t peace along the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula:   there is only a cessation of hostilities that has lasted since 1953.  There isn’t peace in Sudan.   There isn’t peace in Ukraine.   There isn’t peace in Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, or most of America’s inner cities.

You can only have peace if the Holy Spirit is working within you.   The bumper sticker meme “no Jesus no peace.   Know Jesus know peace” is spot on true.   The only real peace you can know in this world is when you open up your heart and let Jesus crowd out all the rest of the noise.  Sure, there are some true believing folks in all the areas listed above (even in North Korea) but without God’s Holy Spirit in control, the peace we will know is uneasy, tenuous.

That isn’t easy to do.   I have a schedule to keep.   There are Facebook posts that require my brilliance.   My wife and kids aren’t doing what I want them to do.  That guy who passed me on the right was a real jerk!  DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE TIME FOR PEACE?  Actually, Dave, if the truth is told, you don’t have time to NOT have peace.   Without the peace of Jesus, you got nuthin.

You’ve got nothing without Jesus because, without Jesus, the second half of verse 14 is also impossible.   I’m not holy; you aren’t holy.   Neither Franklin Graham nor Pope Francis (nor even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are holy.   We’re all dirty sinners on our own.  Without Jesus, we still own our sins; owning our sins, we are unholy.   Without Jesus we still own the consequences of our sins.  What’s more, without Jesus you won’t see the Lord.   You won’t see heaven.   You won’t be there.

Don’t get mad at me for pointing that out:   it’s what verse 14 says.  Without knowing Jesus we can’t be holy and if we’re unholy we won’t be going to heaven.   The ONLY cure for that is to put your faith in Christ.  And the way to do that is to say “I believe” and then start walking the walk.  Read your Bible.  Pray constantly.   Be with other believers and be built up by your fellowship with Jesus and each other.   Tithe from a giving heart.   And, most of all, practice what you preach by starting to live your life in ways the Lord has told us to.  Once again, that’s a tall order.   It means giving up the porn, holding your tongue, confessing your dark secrets to the unseen God, and changing the way you act with other people.   Pick your pet sin:  you and I GET TO give up these things and follow Jesus closer so that His holiness can be imputed to us and we may stand with Him in paradise.   These are simply the practices of a follower of Jesus.  If my tone seems preachy, I apologize.

I have no illusion that everyone turning to Jesus would immediately solve the world’s problems.  Perhaps we would still have conflicts, arguments, and hurt.   Or, perhaps we wouldn’t.   Si Robertson once said “it ain’t gun control we need.   It’s sin control.”   Right on brother.  If we all embraced Jesus more and did what He asked, perhaps we’d have more control over those temptations that lure us in.   If we all did better and walking the walk and talking the talk, perhaps the world’s problems would indeed be solved.   Sin control looks a lot like Jesus.

For further reading:  Romans 14:19, Romans 6:22, Matthew 5:8.

Lord, thank You for giving us Your righteousness, for making us holy.   Help us to believe in You more, to practice our faith.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 October 2015

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.  Mark 11, verses 1-3.

Strange and prophetic verses; in reality, Jesus is directing His disciples to do something that will fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9) as well as to identify Himself as the one true King.   There are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that talk about the Messiah; this was simply one of the more public ones.   It was something Jesus understood even as the Apostles apparently didn’t.

Now consider what they were actually doing. The cynical part of me says “yeah, try doing it in downtown Baltimore today.”   Or maybe inner city Detroit (or inner city anywhere).   In fact, try doing it in the suburbs of any American city, or out in the redneck woods of East Texas where I live.   Try going up to some stranger’s house, taking one of his prized possessions, and then just saying “it’s for Jesus.”   You can imagine the reaction awaiting you; hope you’re wearing Kevlar.

That same emotional reaction would have awaited the Disciples as they walked up to a stranger’s house and took away his property (in this case, a donkey). Do you think the owner would have been irate?   Do you think his go-to reaction would be to confront the disciples with a weapon, or an argument?   Perhaps some more focused questions would be ‘are we so different from the people of Jesus’ time?   Are we any less protective of our belongings, or skeptical of God Himself? Do we honestly think that our modernity makes us superior or truly different from these people who first knew Jesus face to face?’

Noodle that for awhile.

If a stranger came up to me and said “I need your car but I’ll bring it back in an hour,” I wouldn’t let him have it.   In today’s America, it wouldn’t even be safe.   Yet Jesus told the Apostles that they could get this donkey and no harm would befall them and that’s what happened.

Tell me:   do you think Jesus asks us to do things that will make us inherently unsafe?   The only honest answer has to be “yes, sometimes He does.”   But consider that word ‘unsafe.’   Jesus is asking us to trust Him, to cast away our notions of safety and security (and property) and trust Him with all that’s most important to us.   He may very well ask us to inject ourselves into things, postures or positions that will challenge the safety of all we know, yet what Jesus is really doing is saying “trust me.”   He said it to the Disciples, to the owner of the colt, and maybe even to the colt itself; we’ll never know about that last one.   What Jesus puts on our hearts is more real than our distrust of the world around us.

And all of it was foreseen centuries before it ever happened.

Lord, when You ask, help me to hold nothing back, to give everything to You, to trust You completely.

Read Mark 11, 4-11.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 October 2014

 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him – Mark 1, verses 16-20.

I don’t mind confessing: I sometimes earnestly wish I could pick myself and leave.   The other day I shared a story about moving to Tennessee; that’s a manifestation of this wish.   My desire to keep my traveling job (that keeps me on the road about 30 weeks a year) is another. How I crave time alone; same thing. Sometimes I just wish I could drop everything I know and simply go:   go to follow the Lord in wherever He’s leading.

To me, the logical response to all this wishing is, “Dave, what’s holding you back?”

Maybe God IS advocating that some people leave their responsibilities behind and simply follow Him; that could be.   A lot of hippies did this in the 60s, but it didn’t work out so well for them or their families. A lot of Detroit has done this in just the last few years. I read just yesterday that there are over 90,000 abandoned houses in Detroit because people simply walked away; how many of those people walked to follow Jesus? We may never know.

Yet for each of us, here and now, God is still calling.   Perhaps the most usable lesson to draw in this is that we should be ready to abandon everything and follow the voice of Jesus instead of the voices around us. For some that may indeed mean picking up and moving out.   For some it may indeed mean leaving everything on a moment’s notice. In fact, if you think about it, THAT is the meaning for ALL of us.

Don’t believe me?   Then riddle me this, Batman Reader:   how many of your sins is God willing to tolerate?   How much of Jesus’ message, starting with the ones we’ve read here this week, have said “repent of only some of your sins and believe?”   No, the hard truth – and the saving grace – is that Jesus called His best friends to their highest calling:   to proclaim to the world the good news of Jesus’ salvation.

Yet that salvation demands a price, and that price is to give up everything.   Freely give up ALL your sins, all your worries, all your junk, all your wrongs, all the ways you’ve failed.   Give ALL those up to Jesus NOW, then follow Him.   Follow Him, sometimes minute by minute, in letting Him wipe clean the guilt in your heart and the doubt in your mind.   Follow Him on the next logical steps when He gives you the strength to leave things that hurt you and others behind and change how you live. Follow Him in where He then leads you to use your life story to help others.

THAT is what Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to do. That’s what He’s calling us to do as well. Now.

Lord, I turn from my past to follow only You.

Read Matthew 4, verses 18-22, and Luke 5, verses 1-11.