Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 12 March 2019

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.   2 Timothy 1:3 (NIV).

Ministry is a family business.   I know more than a few ministers whose parents and even grandparents were also ministers.   Me, I’m not a pastor, minister, reverend, or called servant of Christ.   Except for the desire He puts on my heart to help others and write these words, I’m not much of any kind of minister at all.   I’ve simply never felt that kind of a calling.   Nobody in my ancestry ever did, either.  Yet I know many ministers whose family history is service to God.   Multiple generations going into ministry; spouses, children and siblings all working in various kinds of ministry.   They put their all into it, usually for many hours of low-paying but Godly, satisfying work.

So I thank God, as my ancestors did, that there are men and women who feel God’s personal call into ministry.   They are formal, recognized servants of His Word.  They do a tough job so others don’t have to.  They actually do spend long periods of time, usually daily, in communication with the Lord.   Sometimes it’s formal, private, on-your-knees kind of prayer; sometimes it looks more like self-talk   But it’s the kind of activity that even we of this skeptical age would call “constantly remembering us in their prayers.”  That’s a big deal, you know.   Prayer isn’t just a wish list or some psychological panacea designed to make you feel better.  It’s a vital tool in the arsenal of a Christian warrior.   It’s involving God Almighty in everything for which we pray.   Pastors aren’t bystanders in the daily battles of life:   they’re warriors, leading from the front (as all good leaders must).

Our society favors those who work in a family business.   Farmers, military officers, politicians, stockbrokers, academics, factory workers, even athletes:   some of the most famous names in these fields come from families where multiple generations live, earn and serve in the same field.  It should be no surprise that Godly ministry favors the same dynamic.   Nobody in my family has ever gone into called ministry, though I do have an uncle who worked in prison ministry for many years and he’s the strongest believer I know.  Some of my best friends are pastors; it might surprise you to learn I’ve even partied with them…on multiple occasions.   Pastors are people too.  I thank God for them in my prayers because, long ago and over and over again, they’ve thanked Him for me in theirs.

For further reading:   2 Timothy 4.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for calling women and men to serve you in ministry.   Uphold them, strengthen them, give them courage and health and wisdom.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 4 March 2019

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  1 Timothy 6:17 (NIV).

No doubt, Paul is talking here about material wealth.   He says as much just a few words into the verse, then throughout it.  May I submit there’s more that makes us arrogant?

Politics make us arrogant.   “Our hope” is a wide path to hell, if we let it be.  Our differences of opinion put a wide gulf in-between us, so wide the perhaps only civil war can bring it together.   Yet before we go to such a drastic end, let’s consider that our politics – left, right, and indecisive – stem from where we put our hope.   If we put our hope in ourselves, we’re arrogant.   Nothing can stop us because, well, us!

Knowledge makes us arrogant.   This one is a stretch (from the verse) yet, if you think about it, is inherent to the verse.   We can’t put our hope into something of which we know nothing.   To put our hope in money means knowing what the accumulation of wealth can do.   It’s the knowing, not the ‘thing,’ that makes us arrogant.   The farther back you stretch it, the more you see that knowledge is at the heart of idolatry, of knowing (or think we are knowing) the difference between one thing and another.   Or right and wrong.  Take it to its academic extreme and knowledge breeds human arrogance.

The in-crowd makes us arrogant.   Got the perfect house; got the perfect school for the kids; got the cool car; got the new clothes.   The suburbanites have this in common with the urban hipsters:   they’re part of the in-crowd who have “it,” whatever “it” is.  If you don’t, well, God bless you but you just aren’t part of our party.

Ever met an arrogant preacher?   You’re a sinner who hasn’t been educated at a seminary, given knowledge that members in your church haven’t received.   Years ago, I belonged to churches where that was the case, where the pastors were arrogant and condescending.   One used to say he was just the son of a pig farmer, and he then usually expounded on seminary talking points to drown out whoever was challenging him.   Not very loving.  My friend, if I ever come off to you that way, please bring me up short.

What’s the common denominator in all this?   You know.   It’s you.   Or me.   The man (or woman) in the mirror who forgets that wealth, politics, knowledge, status and religion are fleeting.  They aren’t God, and there’s nothing any one of them – or us – can do to provide the JOY of the soul (in “enjoyment”) that God does.   Everything else isn’t God; everything else is arrogant.

For further reading:   Psalm 62:10, Jeremiah 49:4, Luke 12:20-21, Acts 14:17, 1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Beautiful God, only You are God.   Bless You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 April 2018

Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.   1 Thessalonians 4:8 (NIV).

Do atheists go to hell?   And what about suicides:   do people who commit suicide go to hell?

Let’s get the bad news out of the way:   if atheists say they don’t believe, actively reject believing in Jesus, then, yes, they are rejecting God Himself and absorb those consequences now.  Pascal’s wager plays out:  if you believe in God and He exists, or you believe in God and He doesn’t exist, or you don’t believe in God and He doesn’t exist, you are rationally better off than if you don’t believe in God and He does exist.  God offers the proof of His existence in many ways and it’s not only irrational and illogical to actively disbelieve in the miracles of nature, but it’s spiritually dangerous.   Jesus came to build relationships with every person, especially folks who don’t know Him or deny Him.   If any of us rejects the offering of salvation from Him, they do so at their own peril.

Ditto you and I with our pride because, let’s be real:   neither you nor I know other peoples’ hearts.   It isn’t our place to judge the heart.   Only God can know whether someone truly shuns Him or only claim to reject Him but secretly don’t.   Perhaps the best we can say in the matter is to simply say “we don’t know but the Bible says” and leave it at that.  Woe to the man who rejects the Son of Man.   Woe, too, to the man who judges the man who rejected Jesus.

What about suicides?   What about people who reject God’s ultimate gift of life by ending it themselves?   Same answer:   the best we can say is “I don’t know.”   Nowhere in the Bible does is say people who commit suicide are damned.   We could what-if the situation endlessly and still be left at the conclusion of saying it’s really up to God because only God knows the heart.   If someone rejects life, perhaps they are rejecting God; that isn’t up to me to decide.   Who knows a person’s last thoughts except God?  Perhaps it’s a whiff at the question but, in fact, it’s above my pay grade.

A called servant of Christ – a pastor, reverend, minister, priest – is someone who received a personal call from God to teach and proclaim Him.   Paul reminds us today that those who reject the words of called servants are rejecting God Himself.   Yet even called servants are fallible, sinful, human.   Only God has the answers we all seek.

For further reading:   Ezekiel 36:27, Romans 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Galatians 4:6, 1 John 3:24, 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

Lord, I believe in You.   Help my un-belief.   Help those who don’t know you, or are hurting to the agony of death.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 February 2017

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.  Hebrews 8, verse 3.

Think about that first statement:   every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.   I’ve never been part of a committee to hire a pastor, but I know a little bit about the process.  The pastoral calling is a calling, to be sure.   But it’s also a job.  Like other jobs, you’re vetted by potential congregational employers.   You network with other pastors and peers.   You can move around from place to place, moving  up, down, and around the pastoral chain of command.   And you can be fired or promoted.   You’re called by God into the ministry, but you’re hired by people to do the job.   You’re appointed.   You’re appointed specifically to perform pastoral duties that other leaders in other careers don’t perform.

Except Jesus.   Jesus wasn’t a Levite; we’ve talked about this before.   Jesus wasn’t part of the political structure in the synagogues or at the Temple.   Jesus was taught and trained by rabbis as a younger man (so much that He was frequently called “rabbi” (or ‘teacher’) by His followers), but he wasn’t an ordained priest.   He didn’t serve in the rotation to offer sacrifices at the Temple.  No, Jesus was the high priest simply by virtue of Him being Himself.   It wasn’t that the rules didn’t apply to Him:  it was that He kept them so perfectly that they no longer mattered.

So if Jesus isn’t an appointed priest, why does He need to have something to offer?   You know the answer:   He doesn’t, at least not by virtue of His being divine.   No, Jesus offers His personal sacrifice not for His sins, which were none, but for yours and mine, which are legion.  The priests of Jewish antiquity would slay animal sacrifices, then sprinkle the blood on altars and on the people as a way to remind them that their sins were paid in full.   Once a year, he would even sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant to fulfill God’s command and serve as yet another reminder of that salvation.   Jesus sprinkled His own blood on the sins of all mankind so that all men might benefit once.  Those animal sacrifices would no longer be necessary.

If you’re an unbeliever, this is the part where you’re saying “so what, big deal.”   Fair enough; yes, actually, fair enough.   Your lack of belief in the need for all this would be understandable.  Yet Jesus still offered it for you as well.   And what else He offers is something that wouldn’t have been available any other way except by the shedding of His own blood:  access.   Jesus offers access.   You reject that access if you choose to dis-believe, but He offers it too you anyway.

Jesus offers access to real peace, tranquility while living out the rest of our lives here on the Third Rock.   Jesus offers access to understanding of how belief in Him is the foundation of intellect and the purpose of reason.   Jesus offers access to the communion of saints, participation in a millennia-old following of the greatest people in history.   Jesus offers access to freedom, freedom from guilt and shame and all the negative things that can bog a man down.  And Jesus offers access to Himself, an opportunity for you to have a personal relationship with Him, one on one, so that you might share in His love and glory while giving those things to Him as His due:  all by loving other people as an expression of loving Him.   He created everything in love.   You get personal access to Him, our creator, because He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for things He didn’t do.

Make no mistake about it:   Jesus Christ is the central figure in all of human history.  It isn’t Marx; it isn’t Confucius; it isn’t Mohammed; it isn’t the Buddha.   It is Jesus and Jesus alone who stands at the center of all human history, human endeavor, human thought, and human potential.   He appointed Himself to supersede and make complete the need for and history of ritual sacrifices.   And in doing so, while at the center of all that is, He offers true access to what only He can offer.   Tell me, good friend:   why would you resist that?

For further reading:  Hebrews 2:17, 5:1, 9:9, 9:14.

My Lord and my God, I praise You for offering Yourself as the only atoning sacrifice for my wrongs.   I praise You and thank You for giving me access to You and, through You, to an eternity of love.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 October 2014

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. Mark 1, verses 35-39

Wake.   Pray.   Minister.   Sleep.   Repeat.

If you aren’t a Christian, you might not know what “the Great Commission” is.   It’s in the last chapter of Matthew, where Jesus commissions his disciples to go out all across the planet and make disciples of everyone else.   Here in Mark, several years before He said that, is a foreshadowing of that charge.

Why did Jesus come here?   To go somewhere else – to the next place – to minister there.   He was preaching His own words, and many of those who heard those words realized they were the bread of life; read in the book of John for an explanation of that.   Jesus’ ministry here was to go where He needed to go to preach to people who needed to meet Him.

He did that by waking up, praying, ministering, sleeping, and then repeating the cycle again the next day.   We don’t know much about what Jesus of Nazareth did during the first 30 years of His life, but we know very well what Jesus the Son of God did for His three years in public ministry.   He did those five steps all over the area we call Israel today. I’m thinking Jesus probably spent more than 5 minutes with God every day, but the bottom line is that he well-spent good time.   Ditto, then, for the other activities during each day on the road.   Wake, pray, preach, sleep, repeat: that was His routine.

What’s yours?

I mean, in your job, don’t you wake up, do your day, then return home for rest?   I do; so do most people I know.   Most folks who work usually follow a fairly fixed routine. Your job probably isn’t to journey all over your state proclaiming the Gospel; that would be a cool job, though.   But your “Galilee” is probably a lot like mine.   It’s where I live, in the area where I work.   And in the area where I work and live I’ve been tasked to use my talents to God’s glory to introduce others to Him.   I do it in my own way:   through words, (badly) through social media, through one-on-one time with friends and strangers, and in a bunch of other ways that I don’t even recognize.   Every day, my job is to do whatever I can to make the most out of the talents with which God has entrusted me to hook up other people to Jesus.   In the course of managing projects, or buying groceries, or changing a tire, or drinking a beer with friends, or whatever you might find me doing when I’m awake there is no more important task. And then to do it somewhere else the next day.

Other than the obvious God-vs-man difference, what’s so different between my life and Jesus’? Our mission is the same no matter where the mission field is. Wake.   Pray.   Minister.   Sleep.   Repeat: and all with a thankful smile.   That is our commission.

Lord, strengthen me for my mission for You today.

Read Mark 5, verses 1-20, and read Luke 4, verses 14-22.   Jesus got around.