Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 14 March 2018

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.  1 Thessalonians 3:6 (NIV).

I daydream.   A lot.   My daydreams are usually about owning a house on the beach, or a house on a lake.   Sometimes they’re about another trip to Disney, or working in a village in Uganda, or fishing on my favorite lake in Minnesota, or working in my old garden.   Mostly, though, they are about being with other people, usually members of my family.  When I think about the good times in my life, people I love are always involved.

Knowing that, it’s easy to see that Paul was talking about his love for the Thessalonians and how gladdened he was to hear that they missed him.   He was uplifted to learn that his new friends there in Thessalonica wanted to see him as much as he wanted to see them.   More than that, Paul was heartened to learn that their faith and love, expressed as charity for others, was growing.  That the message he had told them about Jesus was growing, that there was love.

It’s a beautiful thing to realize you’re loved.   Have you realized that lately?

I know a few folks who are going through severe marital problems.  It looks very much like those problems will lead to divorce, and that’s tragic.   It’s tragic to realize that the person you loved and who loved you no longer does.   That another focus has replaced that love in their, and your, life.  You put your heart, your time, your life into someone else’s heart, time, and life, and it ends up as a wasteland.  It’s devastating.

I wonder if my friends have realized they’re still loved.   When depression grabs your heart, it turns everything dark.   It’s so hard to see that others still love you.   That, in the middle of your darkness, the very real life-light of Jesus is still shining for you.   If only you could break through the desperate fog that’s hiding that light…

…that happens when you’re open to hearing good news.  Paul heard good news from his protégé, Timothy, that the Thessalonians believed, that the message of Jesus had taken root and was growing.   That they missed Paul.   When you’re feeling lonely, as Paul was, it is good to hear how others remember you.   Sometimes it can make all the difference in the world.

That’s what I daydream about.   The older I get, the more I cherish time with my family and friends because in those times, the love of God is being shared.   It’s the best thing there is.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:7.

Lord, thank You for times with people I love.   Thank You for sharing Your wonderful love through us.


Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 September 2017

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  Hebrews 12, verse 4.

“I ain’t got time to bleed.”   That quote is 30 years old this year.   In case you don’t know where it came from, it entered the pop culture lexicon in the movie “Predator,” starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Jesse “the Body” Ventura.   Let’s not discuss Arnold; our focus is on “the Body.”   You’ll recall that Jesse Ventura had been a Navy Seal, then a professional actor.   After Predator and a few other less than memorable movies, Jesse ventured into politics.  He was eventually elected governor of my home state of Minnesota where his performance was less than stellar.   His tough-guy approach to governing didn’t quite fit in. Harkening back to Hollywood, “I ain’t got time to bleed” was Jesse’s most famous line in the movie, uttered before his character became prey to the alien predator.

When you’re out of time, you bleed.   Better to make time to bleed now.   Whether you make time for it or not, here on this planet, you’re gonna bleed.

When you’re really down for the struggle, you commit your blood to it.  In other words, if something means enough to you, you’d better be willing to die for it.   Your spouse, your children, your pride, your image, maybe even your country:   for these things, most people make the time to bleed.   For most people, these things are important enough to die for.  Ask Jesus about it.   After all, you were important enough for Him to die for.   Jesus had time to bleed because His bleeding made it possible for your peace and your life after bloody death.

Do you believe enough to die?

In the developed world, when most people die their bodies are bled dry.   Whether you were ready to die or not, when you die in the West, you’re gonna bleed.  The undertaker cuts open your body and opens an artery until all your blood is drained.   Then they’ll sew you up.   They will then inject a solution of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol, phenol, water, and dyes back into your cadaver in order to simulate a life-like skin-tone (see  Yep, it’s gruesome, but that’s what happens.

When you’re out of time, you bleed.   At that time – and there will be ‘that time’ for all of us one day – it won’t matter whether or not you bled when you still had time.   Were you a giver, giving from your heart to live out the calling Jesus gives you, living out His fruit of His Spirit?   Or were you Jesse the Body, raging day to day because ‘I ain’t go time to bleed?”

Tell me:   is what you believe important enough for you to allow someone to kill you for it?

The fact is, Jesse had it all wrong.  If you really want to overcome the temptations of our world, you make time to bleed.   If you struggle against them, it’ll cost you.   You’ll be persecuted, attacked, maybe destroyed.   It (literally) may kill you.   If you believe enough in resisting the temptation of sin, you’ll bleed.   You’ll bleed emotionally.  You’ll bleed rhetorically.   You’ll probably bleed physically.   All this will happen because sin and it’s father, Satan, are the ultimate predators.

And resisting the urge to sin, whatever your pet sin might be, is depressing.   It’ll bleed you from the inside out.  It’s tough to fight off the voices that tell you “just one more.”  It’s wearying to have to say “no” when it would feel so good, so right, to simply give in.  The predator knows that.   He’s a damned coward, you know.   He only attacks when we’re weak because we’re easier to overcome when we’re weakened.   Yet if you truly believe in this Jesus and all He’s called you to be for Him, you resist.   You hurt; you struggle; you’ll bleed.  It’s important, you know.   It’s what Christ did.

I’m sorry if this hurts; I’m sorry if you came here today looking for some happy uplifting words to get you through your day.  That isn’t what’s on deck for today.   This is a harsher truth.  Today there is the sober reminder that, if you haven’t resisted the devil to the point of it shedding your blood, then you aren’t broken yet.   Much as it may hurt, there will be more pain in store for you.   It’s going to cost you blood.   Life is a one-way death trip, and the only thing that’ll get you through it is blood:  your believing in Jesus’ redeeming blood to the point of the world taking your own.  Take heart, then, in knowing that it cost Jesus His as well.   He’s right beside you as you struggle.   When you dig for that courage to resist, that urge to go on just a little more, that’s Jesus’ Spirit building you up.   Putting strength in your resolve and steel in your spine.   Jesse Ventura could only dream of that.  I hope he has time for it.

For further reading:  Hebrews 10: 32-34, Hebrews 13:13.

Lord, when I bleed, let me bleed in service to You.


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 Hebrews, 20 June 2017

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  Hebrews 10, verse 35.

I remember when I was a kid, my mom would take business trips.   This was in the early 1970s, and we lived in Minnesota.  At the time, Mom was the one who had a job that took her on trips; Dad worked in the city.   A woman working as the breadwinner was unusual in those days, but, then again, my family was always unusual.  Anyway, when Mom would travel,  beforehand she would ask my sister and I what special thing she could bring home.   We’d tell her our wishes, and then we’d spend a day or two anticipating what we’d get.   Then Mom would arrive back home and…well…she tried.  She got us things she thought we would like but somehow it just wasn’t what we had in mind.  One time I remember asking for a toy called Richochet Racers, which was a toy that shot little race cars out of a plastic gun.   At the end of that trip, I got a cover for my tennis racket.  Another time I asked for a ship model; I got a book.  Years later, when Dad traveled, he would get T-shirts and sometimes collectible things like an ebony pig he bought for me in the Philippines (I still have it).

Yet I was always hopeful and always kept the faith that I’d get what I want.   Years later, being a parent and grandparent myself, and being one of those who has tried to do what he could with limited resources, I understand my Mom’s (and Dad’s) situation.   They did their best with what they had at hand.  Somehow I knew this even when I was a kid, and even then, even when disappointed, I still had faith in my parents that they would do their best.   It was love.

What does this have to do with verse 35, which isn’t a child’s hope for a toy?  Verse 35 PROMISES us that God richly rewards those who put their faith in Him.   God guarantees that He will reward us for our faith in Him.  But faith in God can be a tough thing to hold on to despite the fact that, when you have a ‘God moment,’ it’s better than anything else on this planet.   Even better than hoping for a cool toy.  When we have confident faith that God is with us in all situations, He richly rewards us.   Richochet Racers?   Better than that?   A tennis racket cover or a book?   Definitely better than those.

What God rewards us with shames Joel Osteen and I both.   God rewards us with Himself.   He imparts to us His hope, His love, His justice, His strength.   We don’t deserve God’s best but that doesn’t stop Him from giving it to us.  A toy car won’t do you much good when your parents are buried in the cemetery, but believing that they are alive with Jesus will.   An ebony pig isn’t worth much to your soul, but faith in Jesus is priceless because it guarantees you peace now and eternal life forever.  A tennis racket cover actually is of good use now but I don’t have that tennis racket (or that cover) anymore.  But I still have my faith in God.

Being richly rewarded isn’t a matter of being rich, or even rewarded.   It’s about putting your faith in the one who never disappoints because His reward is Himself.   It isn’t some stupid claim on seventy-two virgins.   It isn’t a fancy house and cars in the Houston suburbs.   It isn’t a trip to Disney or even a kiss goodnight from a pretty girl.  Being richly rewarded with the God who has revealed Himself to us through His word is a matter of being aligned with Him.   Of looking at things His way.   Of remembering that He who tests us in so many ways only does so to lovingly build us up for better things.   Of knowing that, whenever troubles come our way (and they will), He is there to stand with us and give us what we need to persevere.  Of understanding that He loves us immeasurably and wants only the best for us.   That’s why He gives us Himself.

Even if Mom had brought me the toy I wanted way back in the early 70s, chances are it would still be in the dump by now (along with that tennis racket cover).   What mattered more was knowing that she loved me enough to give me her best as a reflection of the faith she had in our God, who always does the same.

For further reading:  Ephesians 3:12.

Lord Jesus, forgive my short-sighted selfishness.   Thank You for loving me unconditionally, and thank You for parents and loved ones who do that and their best for us.

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.


Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 March 2016

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. Mark 15, verses 16-20.

When was the last time you mocked Jesus?

My grandfather was one of the most faithful Lutheran men I have ever known.   He was a big farmer businessman from Minnesota, and (especially towards the end of his life) he took his faith seriously. I looked up to him (literally); you could say he was one of my heroes.   He was also one of the most profane men ever.   The name of Christ sometimes rolled off his tongue seemingly without thought or effort. Was he careless or was he mocking Jesus?

And then there are the Sopranos.   My wife and I watched almost every episode of the show back when it was still in first release. For awhile, we kept an episode-by-episode running total of how many F-bombs were dropped.   The name of the Lord was also extensively misused (very often in the same sentence as those F-bombs).   Were they mocking Jesus or was it just graphic television?

During this political season, it seems to be open season on ‘evangelicals.’   Not that evangelicals are being physically targeted (except for their votes). No, it seems like every political pundit is talking about how X candidate can get the ‘evangelical vote.’   It’s as if this bloc of voters is monolithic, without individuality, and will only vote for someone who is perfectly suited to how they worship Jesus.   All too often, the pundits and commentators seem to deride evangelicals in trying to depict and predict them.   Are they deliberately mocking or are they just being journalists?

But let’s not get too wrapped around the axle.   You don’t need to be a Harold Stassen Republican farmer, James Gandolfini, or someone paid by MSNBC to mock Jesus.   And you don’t need to act like one of the guards who flogged, tortured, and humiliated Him in the hours before He died on the cross.   It’s true, they mocked Jesus intensely.   I never dragged anyone who’s just been beaten half to death.   I never spit on someone, or rammed a crown of thick thorns into their scalp. I’ve never beaten anyone with a long stick, or pretended to worship someone.   They did and I didn’t have to.

This isn’t a guilt trip for you; it’s simply a statement of the truth.   When I’ve judged my brother or sister who cut me off in traffic, was overweight, or was simply different from me, I’ve mocked Jesus.   When you brag endlessly about how great you are and all the things you’ve done here on the Third Rock, you’re mocking Jesus.   When Trump and Obama are just being themselves, they’re mocking Jesus. Look at porn, scream at the neighbors, don’t trust Him, “yeah I know but:”   they’re all small ways we mock Jesus just as realistically as if we had been there in the Praetorium.

Lord Jesus, I’m truly sorry for the times I have mocked You.   Forgive me and renew me to do better.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.                       

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 30 July 2015

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9, verses 36-37.

I’ve been blessed to spend most of the last four years working in my hometown, Minneapolis.   In that time, I’ve gotten to know much of the city, learn my way around, and visit with some of the family left here.   My immediate family moved away from here in 1975; it’s hard for me to believe that actually was forty years ago last month. Only a few people I knew here are left, and I don’t know where any of my boyhood friends live.   Occasionally, I drive by places I remember from my childhood (I once toured our old home when it was posted for sale) and it takes me back to a very long time ago.

My childhood wasn’t a bad one but it wasn’t spectacular either.   An overbearing mother, a less than assertive father, constant moving around, teenage identity crises, being bullied a lot, not fashionable or even attractive, insecurities and an inability (sometimes unwillingness) to make friends:   these were the measures of my youth. I visit the places I remember from forty years ago and sometimes the memories of way back then start to flood back.   Those memories are sometimes good, but not always.

I suppose that all this means I’m getting older.   People say you reflect more the older that you get.   In my case, that’s true.   I was born in the 1960s and, to me, that world seems so ancient, so long ago. The places I knew in childhood look different today, and I sometimes find it hard to bridge the gap between what I knew back when and what ‘back when’ is today.   I’ve always prided myself on living in the here and now, so this is uncomfortable turf.   It has taken many years of faith-walking to let go of grudges, reconcile the past to now, and to accept my ability to make today into something better than yesterday.   Don’t get me wrong:   my yesterday’s weren’t all bad; most weren’t bad at all.   Still, even the best of us hold onto a few regrets and I’m no exception.

So I sometimes find it difficult to swallow that Jesus tells us to come to him like children.   My time here at ‘home’ has taught me that this isn’t my home any more, that home is wherever Jesus leads me.   And wherever He leads me, He tells me that He’s got His arm wrapped around me and that He wants me to take my very inner self to Him in the innocent way a child would.   Trust Him, listen to Him, obey Him, accept Him, love Him, enjoy Him.   In return, He wants me to enjoy myself, to find joy in simple things, to be open to love and being loved, to serve, and to not clutter my faith with nonsense. Jesus gives us the picture of welcoming Him in the way we welcome children, that we are in fact welcoming Him when we accept others the way they are.

My time in Minneapolis is coming to an end.   In a few months, it will be on to someplace else; maybe it will be closer to my home and Hunnie in Paris.

Lord, thank You for childhood, for everything that happens in it.   Thank You for memories and second chances.

Read Mark 9, verses 38-40.