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 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 Mark, 21 September 2015

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Mark 10, verses 39-40.

It’s been five years since my 25th high school reunion. Do the math and I’ve been out of school for thirty; duh.   There are times when I wish I could crawl up into a ball and go back to my hometown and just be a kid again.   I graduated from high school in a small town in southern Indiana where I had only lived for two years.   While there, I met my wife, made some life-long friends, grew up, learned about Jesus, and set myself on the path that I’m still walking today.   I thank God for every day I lived in Mitchell and the people there. Five years ago, I organized our class reunion.   Out of just over 120 graduates we had over 90 show up for the party.   That’s a pretty good number, and it was due to the hard work of everyone involved.

In those five years I’ve sometimes felt that I was going through hell.   In those five years I’ve also sometimes felt as if I was on top of a mountain and couldn’t be happier. I’d give anything to take back the bad things I’ve done, to un-hurt those I’ve hurt along the way.   But in that same time there has been so much more good.   I’m thankful for seeing my marriage rebuilt, my daughter married, my grandson being born, two of my kids graduating, and a hundred other things I could list without my smile fading a bit. And regrets?   Like Sinatra and Elvis, I have a few but, then again, too few to mention.

You see, I don’t let myself be obsessed by regret even though I’ve done things in life of which I’m ashamed and do regret. If you let yourself be defined by your sins then you miss the point of God’s grace.   What’s more, Jesus PROMISES us that life will be difficult, that there will be times of unspeakable pain on our path to eternal rest with Him. That path is part of what counts, mainly in how we use our talents, days and journey to reach other people with the message “Jesus is looking for you.”   You can’t live out that message if you wallow in ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ or regret. Verse 39 of guaranteed the Apostles that the world would extract a price in pain from each of them.   The same holds true for us.

Yet knowing that, I take great comfort in realizing that there are some things out of my control. Verse 40 says as much, stating to James and John that God is ultimately in control of everything and that He has places in mind for all of us. I need to be a good steward of my talents, time and treasure, but I don’t need to live wrapped around the axle about things over which I have no control.   God has appointed me for the life I live and He’s equipped me to live it fully, even when I mess up and always in His grace.

Happy anniversary, Class of 85.   Can’t believe it’s been 30 years but the best is still yet to come.

Lord, thank You for times to reminisce, for Your grace, for life experiences, and for today.

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 April 2015

Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. Mark 6, verses 51-52

Tough love time: do you harden your heart when you are amazed?

As I mentioned yesterday, my wife and I drove across the US this month; it’s why I didn’t write in this blog for about 10 days. I don’t know where you live, but I’m guessing there are things about it that you really like and some that also leave you lukewarm.   Me, I love East Texas though every time I travel somewhere else I see places that make me think “I’d like to live here.” I loved DC; lived near there for three years and love the Maryland Bay area.   The Smoky Mountains are beautiful; in fact, most of Tennessee is gorgeous and I’d love to spend a lot more time there.   I adore south-central Pennsylvania, and southern Indiana, the Wisconsin Dells, the Twin Cities, and pretty much all of Missouri from Kansas City south. And these are just the places we saw on this trip.   From other trips I could name many more.

Can you say I’m easily amazed? It’s just geography on a fallen rock. After you’ve seen so many different places, it all becomes overwhelming. By the end of each long day’s drive, both my wife and I were spent, just ready to find a warm bed in which to collapse. We had stopped paying attention to the beauty – and to miracle of Jesus keeping us safe throughout an improbable, quick trek across some very long distances – and the amazing became boring. Call me Peter, or maybe James, John, or Matthew. Throw me in that boat with the Disciples and I wouldn’t have understood about the loaves either. In fact, I sometimes wonder if I truly understand much of anything.

Ditto the disciples. They had been with Jesus and had watched – had participated – in how He fed 5000 men with five loaves and two fish.   They had ministered in His name to hundreds of people all over Galilee. You would think that, after all this, these twelve men would have understood that Jesus wasn’t just some priest or prophet. But the verse said “their hearts were hardened.”   Do you think they did that, or that it just happened to them? I think that, because their hearts were hardened, they were more easily amazed, and because they were amazed they were more easily hardened in the heart.   That would explain the seeming mood swings the Apostles seem to have, swinging from abject terror to spiritual fulfillment in the space of a few words.  In a way, it’s a gift from God that He gives us the ability to ‘shut down’ when we’re overwhelmed, but it can be a difficult thing to reconcile. In the Disciples’ case, they let their dull ignorance overcome them and give way to fear.   By the time Jesus climbed into the boat, they were terrified.

So maybe a little gut-check is in order for me now that I’m back home safe. Do I get dull and hardened when I’m overwhelmed or scared?   You bet I do.   That’s the time to stop in place, cry out to Jesus for a hand, and let Him right my ship.   No matter where I find myself, the best place is at His side.

Jesus, I need You to forgive my hard heart, my dull ignorance, and my arrogant self-reliance.   In Your name I ask this.

Read Mark 6, verses 45-56.