Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 October 2018

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV).

I’ve been in a week-long discussion with people who dearly love the traditional Lutheran liturgy and worship service.   That’s the kind of environment in which I was raised; I love it, too.   These days, I worship in a place that is pretty non-traditional but still within the Missouri Synod structure.   Our services contain all the same elements of doctrine used in more traditional settings.   Yet our church focuses on Jesus’ mission in our lives, on being ‘disciples who make disciples who make disciples.’   On being in mission and worship every day, not just for an hour on Sunday.

Come to our church and you’ll find most people in jeans.   You won’t find hymnals but you’ll find both new and traditional praise music.  You’ll say the same creeds (though not as often) and hear the same Bible.   And you’ll be introduced to the living Christ.  Yet the focus isn’t on Lutheranism but on Jesus.  The letters “LCMS” are on the door but they aren’t where the emphasis is.  The folks with whom I was debating would be aghast at this.

Paul affirmed what others in the early church already knew:   there is one God and one Savior, one mediator between God and man.   That mediator is Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ.   He Himself is God and man, Savior and one representing those who need to be saved, fully man while being fully God at all times, and the Son in the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Spirit.  THAT is the message of the faith.

How we proclaim that message is somewhat up to us.  Lutherans (and others) call anything not commanded by Scripture “adiophora:” neither God-commanded nor forbidden.  In many settings, traditional, liturgical worship works.   It faithfully proclaims Christ while encouraging believers.   Yet in other settings (such as where I live), a different approach works.   My church’s non-traditional methods still faithfully proclaim Christ while encouraging believers.  As long as the focus in on proclaiming Christ, we’re arguing about window dressings.   One isn’t better than another.   They’re simply different ways of accomplishing the same goal, that is proclaiming the one God and one mediator.

If your church uses a generations-old liturgy, traditional hymnals, pastoral robes, and clings to worshipping the same way that generations have, then God bless you!   Keep doing it; God is pleased with that.   And if your church uses other methods like hymns on the screen, contemporary music, non-traditional schedules, and blue jeans, then God bless you, too.   Keep doing those things because they please God, too.   Something borrowed, something blue: it’s contemporary tradition.

For further reading: Deuteronomy 6:4, Romans 3:29-30, Galatians 3:20, Matthew 20:28, 1 Corinthians 1:6, 1 Timothy 2:7

Lord, bless our worship of You, the one and only God and one and only mediator.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 September 2018

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 1 Timothy 1:3-4 (NIV).

We love pedigrees, credentials.   We love having people go ‘into the family business’ as if that somehow confers special blessing or knowledge on them.   How many politicians, general officers, pastors, celebrities, CEOs, and high-ranking officials in society are children of the same?   You could drive yourself to frustrated distraction simply naming all of them.

That’s the point, you know:   frustrated distraction.

Frustrated distraction and false doctrine:   WE KNOW BEST.   The Baptists say that (and mean it) but so do the Catholics, and the Lutherans, and the dozen or so other reformed denominations, and the atheists think we’re all messed up.  But we’re each guilty of it.  “I know better than you.”   Throw “because the Bible says” and you’ll either look educated or immensely stupid (maybe even like a total jerk).   Some folks thrive on doctrine, on insisting they know better than anyone else.   More than once I’ve been accused of being a know-it-all and, to be fair, the accusers sometimes have good points.   I’m sure I’m not the only one.   In fact, turn on any of the political talk commentary shows on cable TV and you’ll see a ton of people convinced they’re all correct.

More than a few are false doctrines there, at least as far as I understand them.  And all of them are frustrating distractions.

The ancient Jews believed in citing genealogies and pedigrees.   God had proclaimed that the Levites would be His priesthood, and the Jews of Bible times took that seriously.  The Gnostics of the first century took this further, believing in a New Age system that mashed Judaism, philosophy and nascent Christianity together into a self-focused belief based on who you were rather than God.   Paul saw that and cautioned his pastoral apprentice to steer clear of these things.  Further, he advised Timothy to teach others to do the same.

Yet what has changed?   Aren’t we still tangled up in the knot of “who are your people” over “who does God say you are?”   A Harvard degree carries bigger vocational clout than one from the University of Phoenix yet graduates of either may have the exact same degree.   It’s nice if your dad, grandfather and great-grandfather were all in the same ministry business but, to be frank, so what?  Oscars mean more than simply great movies.   Nothing new here.

What matters is what God says about us, not what we say about each other.   Credentials and pedigrees can be great things but they can also lead to frustrated distraction.

For further reading:  Acts 16:9, Titus 1:14, Titus 3:9, 1 Timothy 1:5

Lord, help me to focus ONLY on what You say to me and about me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 31 October 2017

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.   Hebrews 13, verse 1.

If you’re a protestant follower of Jesus, then today is a special day.   Five hundred years ago this very day, an obstreperous monk named Martin Luther put his life on the line and challenged the church to a debate.  A professor, Luther strongly disagreed with the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, which were “get out of hell” declarations the Pope would give you if you paid him enough.   At the time, the church was selling indulgences to pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Luther considered this to be sinful and a bastardization of the Scriptures.   So he nailed 95 debating points (theses) to the door of his local church in Wittenburg, Germany.  Over the next few years, everything changed.   The church split.   The Gospel was finally translated into languages common people could understand.   Mass printing, itself a new industry, soon allowed the mass communication of that Gospel in ways never before possible.   The political power structure that had existed for nearly 500 years was shaken.  And the basis for what we know as “Western Civilization” took a great step forward.

Luther’s point:   we need to love one another as brothers and sisters.   We do that by sharing the love, grace, and forgiveness that only Jesus Christ can give.   It doesn’t come from the church.   It doesn’t come from the pope.   It doesn’t come from having your time in a place they called “Purgatory” shaved off.  It doesn’t come from good deeds.   Forgiveness of sins ONLY comes from Jesus.   Somehow, over time, that message was lost in the traditions, corruptions, and practices of the church Saint Peter left behind.   Luther started the process of chipping off the barnacles and making the ship of faith seaworthy again.

That happened on this All Hallows Eve, October 31, 1517.

In Protestant churches all over the world, the last Sunday of October is traditionally known worldwide as “Reformation Sunday.”  My family used to attend a church in Colorado where, every Reformation Sunday, we held a German festival of remembrance for what Luther did.  Great food, lederhosen, German music; it was fun and good fellowship.   Martin Luther was a hero of the faith, and we who follow the Protestant tradition owe him a debt of gratitude for having the courage to stand up and say “what about this?”   My friend, Jerry, (who I met while attending that church in Colorado) once said something that stuck in my mind:  “every Sunday is Reformation Sunday.”

Noodle that thought for awhile, then take it a step further.   EVERY DAY is Reformation Sunday.

Jesus gives us His Gospel, His Word, as His personal communication to each of us.   He gives us called servants of the church to help us understand it, and He gives us other people to reinforce and build up our belief.   But when you boil it all down, Jesus is talking to each of us individually.   Folks like Dr. Luther help us to understand that talk.   We should stand up to anyone and anything every single day when people and things get in-between ourselves and our Lord.   Every day we should challenge our faith.   Every day we should echo Luther and say “here I stand” and base our stand only on the Word of God.   Everything else, well, isn’t the Word.   Every day, we should take courage from what Luther and others did and rely only on Jesus for our salvation and only on God for everything in our lives.   Every day we should remember the blessings of living in the world Luther helped to shape.

Yet we should also remind ourselves that “there are no Lutherans in heaven.”  There are no Baptists, or Wesleyans, or Episcopalians, or Catholics, or Methodists or Presbyterians or any other flavor of Christians in heaven.   There are only followers of Jesus there.   If you believe Jesus is your savior and that He is the only way to an eternity of love, then the denominational label you wear (or don’t wear) doesn’t matter.   Worship where you’re comfortable and go where you’re led.   Just don’t get too wrapped around the axle about the label.   Indeed, I wonder if Martin Luther wouldn’t be horrified to learn that a large group in the church he founded is named “Lutheran” instead of “believer.”

No matter, all of that started 500 years ago today.   When you get a few minutes today, Google Martin Luther and read up on what he did.   Then say a prayer of thanks for it.

For further reading:  Romans 12:10.

Lord, thank You for inspiring Martin Luther, for all he and so many others did to expand Your church, and for letting me live in a time when I can learn about You from all they have done.  

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.