Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 12 March 2020

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:9 (NJKV).

The peace of God is with us.

Starting in verse 4, Paul blesses his friends with the peace of God that surpasses our understanding as they display gentleness while avoiding anxiety and what results from it.  Then, here in verse 9, he blesses them with God’s peace as they meditate on the good things of God.  He must want them (and us) to understand that God’s peace is present with us.

That’s good to know, isn’t it, especially in a world turning itself upside down over a virus?   After all, these words were written at a time when it was common for villages to shun, even kill, people with leprosy (which is cured by modern antibiotics); when cholera, typhus, or dysentery could wipe out a city in days; when there were no blessings of medicines or sanitation to prevent and cure such things.   They lasted through the Black Death that killed 60% of Europe (because people didn’t know about hygiene and fleas).   They persisted through the 1918 Spanish Flu that came and went in a year but killed more people than World War I.   They will be true when this passes by as well.   In the meantime, they’ll get us through and provide encouragement when we need it…because He will actually abide with us.

Don’t lose sight, too, of Paul reminding us to put faith into practice.   Let’s not just believe in Jesus:   let’s do something with it.   Now is the time for us to show people our faith by showing them our works because of it.  The other night, I was talking with a friend who reminded me that Martin Luther exhorted Christians (during outbreaks of disease) to continue ministering to others out of Christ’s love.   Care for people in real ways and share the medicine of Jesus.  If someone is sick, find out what you can do to help them…bring groceries, cook them a meal, help with laundry or cleaning; anything.  Yes, we should be preventive and cautious in how we conduct ourselves.   But we MUST NOT allow fear or even government edict to prevent us from carrying out our faith in Christ by helping people who need it.

And in it, through it, God will be giving us His peace as we work to help each other get by.   Today I’m praying that, when the crisis has passed, our world will be able to look back and see how God blessed us richly by the works and faith we believers can share as we served each other through it.  Sin is a disease, too, and disease is a result of sin.   God Immanuel is stronger than either.

For further reading: Romans 15:23, 1 Corinthians 4:16, James 2:18, Philippians 4:10.

Lord God, abide with us and grant us Your peace to better serve You by serving each other.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 1 November 2018

He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap1 Timothy 3:7(NIV).

Let’s talk about reputation.  Paul is talking about an overseer, an elder.   He’s saying that the people selected as elders must be people of good repute.   They must be upstanding citizens in the church of God, believers who are respected both in and out of the church…especially outside the church.   They must be this kind of people because, if they aren’t, they risk disgrace and falling under the influence of Satan.

Tell me:   do you have that kind of reputation?   I’ll easily confess it:   I don’t.   Too many times in the past, by things I have done and said, I’ve disqualified myself from being someone like an elder.   I’ll confess again:   I didn’t set out to do that.   I didn’t set out to become the kind of person you wouldn’t want to be.   It happened because of choices I made, of choosing sin over choosing God.  I fell into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

So I’ll ask again:  do you have that kind of reputation?   Are you the kind of person who praises Jesus one minute and looks in lust at that good looking woman or man the next?   Do you lie?  Are you envious?   Worse than these, are these the kinds of things that people think or say about you?   Bad news, my friend:   you might not be elder material either.  Maybe we’re both due for a reputation gut-check.

Now let’s turn that bad news upside down.   You and I weren’t made for disgrace, bad reputations, or that old devil’s trap.   We were made to be very good sons and daughters of the Most High, the Triune God who Luther celebrated with his 95 statements five centuries ago.   When we believe in Jesus, God sees through our disgrace and poor reputations and sees Jesus living in us.   He sees His Spirit remaking us in His image, replacing our evil ways with His fruits like love, kindness, peace, patience, and self-control.  When God looks at us through Jesus, He sees an elder-kind of person, someone whose bad reputation was remade for a good one.   What the church or outsiders think matters little.

Mind you, the devil is still setting his traps.   He has since Eden and will until the end.   Sin will still hunt us, trying to pull us away from Jesus, trying to tar our reputations once again.   Don’t fall for it.   Love defeats Satan.   The love of Jesus is more powerful than what others think, or what Satan attempts.   Besides, it’s what God thinks of me that matters.   True, we want elders (and all leaders) to be people of good character and better reputation.  But what God thinks of us is far more important.

For further reading: Mark 4:11, 2 Timothy 2:26, Galatians 5:22-25, 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Lord, all praise to You that You see Your beautiful Son in me.   Thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 31 October 2018

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?). He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap1 Timothy 3:2-6 (NIV).

Today is Reformation Day.   In our culture, Halloween long ago eclipsed the day Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door, but I would submit that what Dr. Luther did was far more important than trick or treating.   Luther’s action made the Renaissance real, made the Enlightenment inevitable, and made the American Revolution possible.  A stretch?   Perhaps, yet those things revolutionized Western civilization and made the life we live possible.   And it all started because God put it on the heart of a German monk to question the authority of the Catholic church: 501 years ago today.

I don’t know all of Luther’s history so here’s a condensed version.   Luther was a monk, a highly educated Roman Catholic who, over the course of his life, began to question practices and doctrines of that Roman Catholic church he served.   In 1517, his angst over how the church interpreted Scripture (and how they were using it for fundraising) caused him to nail 95 theses – questions – to a church door in Germany, asking for someone in authority to debate.  For the rest of his life, Luther lived in persecution.   His questioning became the basis for the Protestant Reformation that permanently changed the Christian church forever.   Indeed, all of modern western thought changed, including the subjects of man’s relationship with God and man’s relationship with government.   While living in fear for his life, Luther translated the New Testament into German so that his countrymen could more easily read it themselves (without the assistance of a priest).

Read the verses again.   You might just see that Luther called the church on the carpet for not exhibiting the qualities of an overseer that Paul outlined in verses 2-6.

Take your kids trick or treating, or stay home and hand out some candy.   Dress up a kid as Martin Luther.  I reject the Satanist and evil intentions of some; Halloween can be good clean fun after all.   Yet take a few minutes today and say a prayer of thanks for a monk 500 years ago who stood up to authority and helped create the world in which you live.

For further reading: 1 Timothy 3:7

Lord, bless Martin Luther and all those who crusade for You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 September 2018

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith:  Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  1 Timothy 1:1-2 (NIV).

I’m no Apostle Paul; perhaps neither are you.   Yet our purpose here is the same:   we’re proclaiming the grace of God.   We’re in good company, my friend, hanging out with Paul, Peter, St Augustine, Luther, Billy Graham and every other pastor or evangelist in history.

We’re here again to proclaim Christ Jesus, our hope.   As my Concordia reference Bible says, that’s a declaration, not just a throwaway phrase.  Paul refers to his mission as commanded by God Himself and his mission was to proclaim the hope – the promise and the guarantee – of Christ Jesus.

When you say “I believe,” you’re concurring.   You’re putting your dearly held beliefs in line with Jesus, saying “I believe in You.”   “I trust You.”  “I submit to You.”   “I believe everything You said.”

That’s tough.

It was tough for Paul to do, I’m sure.   Jesus called him to turn from persecuting the church and to follow the path of an apostle.   He gave Saul the mission to proclaim Him in a world hostile to Him.   He took Saul’s livelihood, his background, his career, and He even changed his name to Paul.  Even though Paul had been personally visited and changed by Jesus Himself, it still must have been tough.  He had to learn to live out his life as Jesus wanted him to after being turned completely upside down.

Then he found a protégé, an apprentice.   Timothy was a young man who Paul met during one of his missionary journeys (to what is now Turkey).   Timothy had a unique background, training and talents that Jesus could use to reach out to other believers in Macedonia.  So Paul took the young man under his wing and instructed him on ways to better proclaim the risen Christ.   1 and 2 Timothy are Paul’s letters of instruction to his apprentice, who went on to proclaim Jesus long after Paul was martyred in Rome (before he, too, was murdered for the faith).   They’re the basis of today’s seminaries.

Because part of the promise and hope of proclaiming Jesus is accepting the call in to His service whatever it takes, whatever it involves.

Paul knew this.   Timothy knew this.   Augustine, Luther, and Billy Graham knew it, and so do we.   Jesus is all love and His burden of love is both light and deep.  Paul wrote two letters to encourage his apprentice and they’re here for us to read.   And following that encouragement can be awfully tough.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 1:1, Titus 1:3, Luke 1:47, Colossians 1:27, Acts 16:1, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Timothy 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:3

Lord, praise to You for the word You gave to Paul to share with Timothy and us.   Thank You for their words and experience.


Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 10 August 2018

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NIV).

Why should we hold onto teachings of a bunch of old, dead, white guys?

That’s a refrain you hear a lot in our popular culture these days.   Mostly it concerns the US Constitution, written over 200 years ago by (now) old, dead, white guys; as if being old or Caucasian alone would either qualify or disqualify someone as reputable.  It’s a stupid argument, really, that we should ignore something because the authors aren’t alive anymore or because they were of a certain race.   It’s foolish.

Yet that same argument is used to justify ignoring the teachings of the Bible.   After all, they’re much older than the Constitution.   And the men who wrote them were men (sexism!) and if not white they were at least Mediterranean and Semitic in nature (racists!).   The purveyors of foolishness would have people believe that being male, white, Semitic, or aged should disqualify things they say.   Perhaps that would qualify much of Hollywood and the leaders of popular culture as well…but I digress.

Instead, here’s a chance to ignore all of what those around us would say and stand up for Jesus.  There’s an old hymn that says just that:   stand up, stand up for Jesus.   Stand up today.  Stand up for what you believe instead of being talked down by the vapid arguments of people with other agendas.   More importantly than standing up, though, stand firm.  Be firm and resolute in saying “I believe.”  Every day is a new opportunity to be your own Martin Luther and say “here I stand” by basing your stand in your belief in Christ.

That isn’t easy, especially when the small minds of popular culture have a loud voice.   When academia, media, and even corporate culture are standing against you.   When it’s easier to give in.   When so many evangelicals make standing up for Jesus a difficult, unpopular, and corny thing.  Our world is hostile to this faith; 2 Thessalonians spends much of its verbiage talking about how faith will be challenged at the end of all things.   Of how the world will do what it’s doing to believers, many of whom overseas are being physically martyred for standing up for Jesus.

Stand anyway.

Stand firm in knowing that who you’re standing for, what you believe, and the Savior who makes it possible is standing beside you.   He is with you in Spirit and inside you.   The strength to stand is the strength of God’s Spirit coursing through your veins.  You may be basing your faith on the words of old, dead, white guys, yet those words are given from God Almighty Himself:  He who has no age, eternal life, no race, and is never foolish.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:16.

Lord, I stand for You, for Your love, Your peace, Your strength, Your kingdom.

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 12 November 2017

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  Acts 20:35.

Giving makes us better people.  Churches that ask for tithes know this.   Your manager at work knows this.  Political campaigns know this (ok, maybe not so much).   Your teenage kids know this (ok, not so much again, though we hope they’ll learn it).

In 21st century America, the most popular symbol of Christmas is Santa.   He’s at the center of what we consider Christmas to be.  But when you scratch off the red velvet and ring the jingle bells you see that the center of Santa is Christ.   It’s impossible to reach any other conclusion without rejecting the words here in Acts 20.  Whether the inspiration is Coca Cola, Hollywood, or pop culture, our notion of Santa Claus always goes back to Saint Nicholas of Myra, the bishop of Myra (in Turkey) who lived from 270 to 343 AD:   only about 240 years after the life of Jesus.  According to Wikipedia, Nicholas is the patron saint of many tradesmen, and his life spanned persecution and torture by the Romans, pardon from the Emperor Constantine (who split the Roman empire) and sitting in the council of Nicaea (in which the early church was reorganized and from which we received the Nicene Creed).

But his greatest gift was in giving.  A most likely true legend has it that Nicholas gave a bag of gold to each of a poor man’s three daughters because the father was too poor to afford a dowry.  Some versions of the legend have him throwing the coins through a window, others down a chimney and landing in stockings.   No matter how it happened, over time this morphed into the concept of Santa Claus that we know today.   In the 1800 years since Nicholas died, his tradition has been compounded with that of Father Christmas (dating the Tudor England of the 1500s), practices of Martin Luther (to focus kids on Christ instead of Saint Nicholas), Sinterklaas and Pere Noel in Europe, and Scandanavian Yule traditions.   Here in America, Clement Moore’s famous poem from the 1820s popularized the idea of Santa as did advertising pictures from Harper’s Bazaar and Coca Cola in the late 19th century.   And don’t forget the popular editorial response which said “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Giving is the glue that binds together those representations of Santa; self-less giving to children and the poor.  All along the timeline from Saint Nicholas until today the saint of Christmas gives to those who have not.   He blesses others by giving to them things they want and need.   In doing so, what he’s really doing is giving them the love of Jesus.   He inculcates a gift to a stranger with the strange gift that God gave us.   You and I don’t deserve grace any more than a child ‘deserves’ an extravagant gift under the tree.   We don’t earn gifts but God gives them anyway.   We weren’t looking for the Christ child in Bethlehem but He came there anyway and the angels then sang of His glory.

Without the spirit of Jesus, there is no giving.   Our very concept of Santa is thick with giving and, therefore, replete with Jesus.

Giving makes we better people because it puts aside ourselves.   Gifts are acts of mercy to other people, reflections of what we believe.   To give to someone with no expectation of anything in return is righteous, it is Christ-like.  To give is to share God’s grace.  Nicholas of Myra understood that when he gave gold to women who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to marry (something that would likely have resulted in their resorting to prostitution).   If you separated the concept of Santa Claus from giving, you wouldn’t have Santa anymore.  You wouldn’t even have a good advertising gimmick.  Santa gives to share, to make others better, to give things they wouldn’t otherwise have.  If the center of today’s celebrations is Santa, then the center of Santa selfless giving.   You can’t give selflessly without first having the love of Jesus in your heart.   Apart from Him we can do nothing.   Therefore, apart from Jesus, Santa could give nothing.  s The next time you get down about how commercialism is ruining Christmas, remember that the spirit of Christmas is still Santa and still, therefore, all about Jesus.

For further reading:  Luke 6:38.

Lord, thank You for how giving makes us better people.   Thank You for giving us this gift of mercy, of sharing, of Your Spirit.

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.