Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 5 June 2019

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV).

This is now.   This is 1939.   This is 1914.   This is 1860.   This is 1774.   This is…this is the way of humanity.  Paul wrote these words two thousand years ago.   He wrote them to and about people familiar with the idea that some in society will ignore God and, instead, seek out what they want to hear.  If it wasn’t true then, Paul wouldn’t have written it.  It meant something to people then.  Tell me, do we really think there are new things under the sun?  They who turned their ears away from the truth and turned aside to myths, like those who would do so today, are but the shadows of people who have done so since we were kicked out of Eden.

Danger, Will Robinson, that you and I don’t fall into that trap.   The siren song of false politics, “if it makes you happy” soma, arguing endlessly, and a hundred other falsehoods are tempting to believer and unbeliever alike.   Or haven’t you heard of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, the Schuller family and the rest of the popular televangelists who succumbed to sin?   Or the Catholic ‘churchocrats’ who’ve made careers out of secretly hiding the gross offenses of predators?   It has happened for years; it happened just before great wars and monumental events.   People tire of sound doctrine and give in to something else.   And disaster inevitably follows.   In the last days, it will get worse.

But in the face of it, the antidote is kindness.   Let’s not become weary in doing good because doing good turns back the untruths and the myths and the pop culture lies.  If the cure for the common sin is Christ, then the first tool He gives us to build up His following is to simply do good.   Be kind.   Live nicely and gently and patiently and carefully.   Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.   The opposite of unsound doctrine is sound doctrine, and the evidence of the sound teaching of Jesus Christ is kindness to others.

So that’s our challenge for today:   be kind to someone.   When someone wants to argue with you over some (largely meaningless) point, respond in patience and kindness.   Let the guy from the other lane merge in.   Do some random act of kindness today…just because.  Tomorrow may indeed bring disaster so let’s prepare for it with a smile today.

For further reading:  Ecclesiastes 1:9, Galatians 6:9, 2 Timothy 4:5.

Lord Jesus, You always showed kindness to people, even to those who made themselves enemies to You.  Help me to do that today, to be kind, to smile, to help.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 23 January 2017

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? Hebrews 7, verse 11.

Ah, a question for the ages.   If God gave us what He said we needed, why did He have to give us something else?   If God said the original priests could atone for sins, why Jesus?   You know the answer.   I’m betting you simply don’t want to admit it.

It’s not you:  it’s me.   It’s not me:  it’s you.   It’s us.   It’s in us.   It’s something that controls us.  It’s our sins.   Chucka, chucka, chucka.   Big deal; we already know that, right?  Actually, it is sort of a big deal, and that really stinks yet it’s the first of all first principles.

Your pastor is a sinful man.  All pastors are sinful men.   MLK Day was one week ago and most Americans regard Martin Luther King as having been a great man, an upright and moral man who said and did great things that needed to be said and done.   Obscured in history is the fact that he was also a sinner.   Time has revealed that he had at least one extramarital affair during his ministry; he may have had many.   Being familiar with that particular sin myself, perhaps the best I should say is “good men sometimes do bad things, too.”  Remember Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker?   Good men who brought many people to real faith but who also lived double lives of hypocrisy like MLK and me and you.

Next time you see your pastor, remember that he’s a sinner too.   He or she doesn’t have a special dispensation for sin, pope or no pope (and neither does the pope).  Pastors don’t have some special divine exemption from their sins.   They struggle with them just like everyone else.   Some struggle with them while they’re in active ministry for the Lord.  Indeed, in today’s ministry, you’ll meet men and women of the cloth who are right now dealing personally with their adultery, homosexuality, alcoholism, theft, dishonesty and even murder.  Just like you and me.   Just like Jimmy and MLK.   Just like the author of Hebrews.

And just like all those priests of Levi.   God Himself chose Levi’s, then Aaron’s, descendants to be His personal representatives.   Before Levi even knew his children and grandchildren, God knew them and had already chosen them to carry His Good News to people who needed it.   God knew they would be sinful, that some would resent their calling, that all of them would do some things (maybe many things) in their lives that were abhorrent to Him…and He chose them anyway.   He chose them anyway because He needed human messengers to share news about Him until He could finish making all things right.

He could only finish that work with someone who was without sin.   When the time was just right, God gave us Jesus to finish the job once and for all.  Only one person has ever lived who was without sin.   That’s just and only Jesus.   Only Jesus lived a perfect life, one not tainted with the stink of sin.   Only Jesus has ever lived that life, then heroically, willingly given it up to God’s holy purposes, in order that other people might live forever.  MLK didn’t do that; no pope has ever done that.   No televangelist could do that, and neither could you or I.   But Jesus did.

Why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?  Because of sin.  Because sin is blood-red serious.  I’m stained scarlet with it.   So are you.  So is your pastor, and your friends, and your newborn children and grandchildren.  Billy and Franklin Graham are sinners.  So was MLK, and Jimmy Swaggart, and so were Aaron and Levi and even Melchizedek if he was a descendant of Adam and Eve.   And all of us can be cleaned white as pure snow because of the scarlet sinless blood of Jesus of Nazareth.

For further reading:   Hebrews 8:7, Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 5:6

Lord, thank You for the holy sacrifice of Your Son, the one true priest forever. 

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 19 October 2016

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Hebrews 2, verses 16-17.

Diving deeper into these two verses, let’s talk briefly about Jesus becoming “a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.”   We’ll only spend a brief time here because, when we get to chapters four through eight we’ll dive into greater detail.  The easy answer to “who is that merciful high priest” is, as you’d expect, Jesus; duh!   But what about his representatives?  In this day and age, is your pastor a merciful and faithful high priest?

Way back in the book of Exodus God established a particular tribe to be His priests.   Moses’ brother, Aaron, was selected to be God’s high priest, and the tribe (or clan) from which Aaron was descended was that of Jacob’s son, Levi.   The men of the tribe of Levi were to be set aside as special for God, serving as His priests.  That seems like kind of an extreme thing by our standards, taking a whole clan of people and saying “they’re mine” but that’s what God did.   What’s more, all Levite men were to serve God and some were to serve Him as ordained priests, offering sacrifices to God in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple).   Not all Levites were priests but all priests were Levites.   Indeed, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan describes how a priest and a Levite (different men) walked by the man who had been robbed.   Only a strange foreigner – a pagan and outsider of Jewish law – stopped to show the man God’s love.   It shows that even God’s special people make mistakes.

Just like our pastors today.   I’m friends with more than a few pastors.   More than just a handful read this blog.   More than a handful of them sometimes message me and give me their thoughts on the thoughts I share here.  I take it as a great compliment that men and women of the cloth would take time to try to make sure I’m doing good credit to their calling.  Some of them – most of them actually – send me great feedback that helps me understand perspectives I hadn’t considered, things I haven’t learned.   Some of them send me things with which I disagree; in fact, they piss me off.   And some of them have made mistakes, said things that turned out to be self-serving and selfish.   Some pastors are jerks.

Just like the Levites of yesteryear.   Just like you and me.

When I was growing up, my view of clergymen in general was jaded by the tele-evangelist scandals of the 1970s and 1980s.   Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Robert Schuller:   they were all disgraced in one way or another by their sins.   Sins of adultery, sins of deceit, sins of greed:   they were the undoing of great, self-made men who led huge flocks of believers.   The public and their parishoners held them to a high standard, and these men didn’t make it.   They sinned and, in some cases, rightfully paid dearly.   I mean, they were ministers.   They were supposed to know and be better!

At the same time, I learned from listening to great pastors I personally knew in church.   Guy Newland, Ann Haw, Reuben and Paul Youngdahl:   these were people I knew and learned from, people I listened to and admired.   They were devout, honest, and real.   You’ve probably never heard of them, though if you’re Lutheran you might know about the Youngdahl’s, especially if you’re from Minnesota.  They were sinners, too, but their sins were their own, I’m sure, and not exposed for trial in the court of public opinion.

Just like most of the Levites and just like most of our pastors today.

And yet none of them are Jesus.   None of these good, flawed, even admirable yet sinful priests could serve as a minister of God the way Jesus could.   None of the priests in the Temple of Jesus’ day could stand blameless in the Holy of Holies to atone for peoples’ sins the way Jesus could.   None of them could offer their blood as the real atonement.   No pastor or preacher today could ask for or grant forgiveness the way Jesus does.   No teacher of God’s Word could teach the way the perfect rabbi from Nazareth did.   They know it:   it’s a hard blessing with which to live in your calling.

Yet we need them.   We need men and women to minister to us.   We need people who are called, impassioned, and entrusted with the knowledge of God’s Word to translate it for us.   They aren’t Jesus and neither are we.   Yet we need their talents to help teach us things we might not otherwise learn because theirs is the calling to be God’s merciful and high priests.   More than ever, pastors and priests have more resources than at any time in history to fulfill their good calling.  And, again, more than ever before, perhaps more since any time since AD70 (when Rome destroyed the Jewish priesthood), our world is hostile to their work.   ISIS, atheism, the antagonism of leftism, socialism and communism once again on the rise, an unfriendly media and popular culture, official antipathy:   next time you talk to your pastor or priest, thank them for what they do.   Maybe give them a fist bump instead of a rhetorical fist to the jaw.    Not just anyone can be a merciful, faithful high priest of Jesus.   I can’t; Could you?

For more reading:   Hebrews chapters 4-8, Genesis 14: 18-20, Luke 10:31-32.

Lord Jesus, You and only You are the perfect high priest but thank You for your representatives of the cloth here in our world today.