Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 28 January 2020

But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. Philippians 2:22. (EHV).

Is talent natural (God-given) or can it be learned?   Answer:   yes.

Let’s be honest:   some folks have natural, God-given abilities that are superior over others who attempt to do the same thing.   Athletes, businessmen, pastors, solid managers, moms & dads:   some people simply live as if they were born to do what they do, and they do it better than anyone else.  God bless them as they earn success doing what they do best because it’s a pleasure to watch excellence, especially if it’s done in Godly ways.

And there are others who don’t know how to do a certain thing but teach themselves and then do it well.   My father was one such person.   He wasn’t raised to renovate houses; his parents never did that kind of thing.   Indeed, his mom/my grandmother was a housewife (and sometime boardinghouse manager), and his dad/my grandfather was a civil servant who, to my knowledge, never even did his own yardwork.   But my dad wanted to know how to build things.   It started with the house my parents built in Bloomington, Minnesota.   A couple of years after building the house, they wanted to use the garage as a second living room/play room (for my sister and I).   So dad had a new garage built and singlehandedly renovated the existing garage into a play room.  He learned how to demolish, build walls, string electricity, install plumbing, and all the finishing work.   When the work was done, he had the playroom he and mom talked about.   Not long ago, I drove by the house and his work is still intact, almost 60 years later.

I can’t say Dad’s renovation work was a work of the Gospel, but the good news of it is that he couldn’t have done it if God hadn’t provided him the back-talents to make it happen.   God gave Dad curiosity and drive and the ability to see something and learn from it.   He gave him a degree of fearlessness and the ability to learn new things.   God lined it up so that his income and schedule and resources would enable him to do the work that he wanted to do.   And God drove him to want precision, excellence, and sturdiness in all he did.  I don’t know how many folks have lived in the house since we moved out in 1969, but it’s safe to say that many more people were blessed by what my Dad did while working outside his comfort zone.  He proved himself competent and full of excellence because of the Lord.

Sort of like Timothy.

Now how about you?

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Timothy 1:2, Philippians 2:23

Lord Jesus, thank You for inspiring us to excel, for the talents You give us.


Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 17 September 2019

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers.  Philemon 4 (EHV).

Let’s be real:   this is a tall order.   ALWAYS is an absolute word.   “Remember” is something we don’t consciously do enough.   And “thank my God” is both intensely personal and intensely devoted at the same time.

Always thank God and remember others; do it even when it’s tough.   Thank God when things are good; thank God when things are bad.  Just thank Him anyway, no matter where you find yourself, what kind of day you’re having.   Thank Him when your boss calls you to let you go.   Thank God when your boss calls you to give you a promotion.

Thank God for people like my friend, Raymond, who pastors multiple congregations in Africa while also farming his homestead and teaching dozens of other young men and women to do the same.   My friend is one of a kind but, come to think about it, so are you.   So am I.   There are more people like Raymond than there are the folks who skid to just get by.  They live their lives for others to give glory to Jesus; thank God for them.

And thank God for people like my uncle, Buzz.   My wife and I went to Buzz’s funeral last week.   What could have been a depressing day was made wonderful by seeing the hundreds of friends and family who gathered to memorialize him.   They did that because Buzz was a Godly man who did his best and followed Jesus.   I think more people ‘saw Jesus’ because of the kindly way Buzz lived than all the times he worked in formal ministries or led activities for the church.   He left the world a better place than he found it because he lived his life in praise of Jesus.  Thank God for men like him.

It can indeed be a tall order to thank God when life seems to just beat us down.   But that’s what Paul did for Philemon, who was faced a tall order himself.  Philemon didn’t have to forgive Onesimus; Philemon didn’t have to free his slave.   But Paul intervened for just that to happen.   It happened because of the example Christ set for these men.

And that example is a tall order even in our world today.   Our world, like Paul’s, is set against the Lord.   The world says we should let anger burn, get even, focus on Number One.   This business of following this Jesus is foolishness, a waste of time, even wrong-headed.

Do it anyway.   Thank God anyway.  In the face of all the negativity, live thankfully.   Thank God for the adversities, for the hurt, for the trials.   Thank Him, have faith in Him, then get back up and get into your day.

For further reading:  Romans 1:8, Colossians 1:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Philemon 5

Lord God, I thank You for the trials that will come my way today.   In all things good and otherwise, may Your Name be praised.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 23 May 2019

But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.  2 Timothy 3:9 (NIV).

Take this verse in the context of the section in which it falls, one that talks about godlessness in these last days, then about the kind of people who use their God-given resources to distract people from following Jesus.

In general, people spot a fake.  True, some charlatans are especially good at fooling large populations of people for a long time, but even they are eventually found out.   And it’s true, some people simply don’t want to admit they are being fooled.   When I was a kid, my aunt, Joyce, helped to put a man in Federal prison.   She worked at a credit union in a small Minnesota town and noticed when large sums of money were being deposited into the union by a mysterious newcomer.   This newcomer had done marvelous things for the town; large civic projects, donations to needy groups, befriending people who were easily fooled.   He even convinced the town to rename Main Street – which it had been since the 1850s – to “La Grande Avenue.”

It turned out that he was laundering drug money through the credit union, and when my aunt spoke up (and later testified), there were those in the town who were less than pleased.   She spotted a fake; so did others around her.  Yet some others didn’t, or didn’t want to, admit the flashy out-of-towner was shady.  Even when his criminal connections were exposed, they still didn’t want to admit they had been duped.  Over thirty years after the events occurred, the only thing residents of the small down can agree on (if they talk about it) is that there was a lot of folly involved all around.

That seems about right.   People who are fake usually can’t snow a crowd for long.   Their folly, usually pride, will eventually undo them.  Worst of all, they aren’t fooling God, who always sees what they’re up to.   News flash, my friend:   that goes for you and me, too.   God can see what we’re doing; we can’t hide.   He lets our world play out as it does yet sees it all and works as He will to advance His Kingdom in spite of us.   Those who would oppose him, even in little things, embrace evil, even petty evil.   They won’t get far.

Because they never do.   Superficially, it seems like evil gets away with it.   And all those end-times prophecies tell us that things won’t get better until after the end.   In fact, they’ll get worse.   But people can spot evil, can spot a fake, even when they don’t want to.   You and I:   let’s be ones who do.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 4:6, 2 Timothy 3:10.

Lord, forgive me for the times I haven’t rejected evil.  Help me more and more to spot it, to resist it, and to move forward past it.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 January 2019

Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  1 Timothy 5:7-8 (NIV).

Paul continues his advice to Timothy concerning widows; this actually continues through verse 16.   Yet here is his most plainspoken advice on how said advice also applies to how we interact with others (in addition to those widowed).

I grew up in a family of four.  My parents were good, middle-class parents, themselves from modest backgrounds (his in the family of a Philadelphia civil servant with four children, hers in a small, Minnesota farm-town family of five).  My sister and I were the only kids, and while we didn’t live extravagantly, we did live well.   We always had a house, even if it was hopelessly cluttered (my parents loved collectibles).   We always had food on the table, the bills paid (though sometimes barely so), reliable transportation, and church.   We took vacations to see the sights, traveling more of the country than most of my peers.  And we were supported in school; my parents cared deeply about education.  Most importantly, my sister and I can say that we were loved.   Sometimes it was chilly love and sometimes we struggled just to hold together as a family, but we always knew we were loved.

In fact, that could be put on my parents’ gravestone up in Oklahoma:  Mom and Dad did the best they could.  They did what they could with the talents and resources God gave them.   They provided for us everything they could, even when it seemed out of step.  I look around at so many broken families today and I sometimes forget to say “thank you” again to God that mine never ended up that way.   It wasn’t easy; there were times Mom and Dad could have cashed it in, but they didn’t.  They believed in each other; they believed in us; they believed in God (at least on Sundays, or when the music was particularly good.  Mom and Dad both loved good choral and church music).

My childhood wasn’t glamorous or thrilling but it was good.   I always knew what “home” felt like, and I knew how to build a home when I built a family of my own.  I feel sorry for those who don’t, those whose parents didn’t provide, or didn’t care to.  I hope they know that there’s still a chance for them.   God counsels all of us that, even when our earthly families fail us, He never does.   Today’s verse reminds us that we need to care for each other, especially in our families.   Aside from loving God, it’s our primary mission on Earth.

For further reading: 2 Peter 2:1, Jude 4, 1 Timothy 5:9.

My Lord, thank You for my parents and my childhood family.   Thank You for inspiring them to do the best they could and to know You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 24 October 2018

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 1 Timothy 2:8-10 (NIV).

My mom died four years ago today.  She was born in 1929 and lived to age 85.   My Mom was feminist long before Gloria Steinem learned how to burn her bra, and Mom was a feminist in ways that Gloria still doesn’t understand.  My Mom insisted on being taken at face value, appreciated for her knowledge and talents, and treated as an equal because God had given her the knowledge and drive to do just that.   She didn’t need little Gloria to tell her what she already knew better.

The most important things I learned from my Mom intersected things taught from the Bible.   Worship.  Have faith.  Do your best, strive to excel, and don’t do things that are dishonorable.   Love; just love.  That’s how she lived her life because that’s what her parents, family and friends in Depression-era Princeton, Minnesota taught her.   Mom tried to teach my sister and I that same lesson with varying degrees of success; my sis is far more decent & proper than I am.  The good lesson both my sister and I learned from Mom (actually both of our parents) was putting that best foot forward.   It was a way to honor God.

Read ahead a few verses and you’ll find a section of scripture where the Apostle Paul talks about the decorum of women in worship.   These verses say what they say and aren’t politically correct.   We’ll talk more about them tomorrow, yet between now and then, when you read them, consider that Paul is talking about BOTH men and women being decorous and submissive through worship.  Yes, the verses talk specifically about women, but just as Paul alluded to mankind praying in verse 8, here he’s teaching both sexes to revere God before revering our sexes.   Don’t get wrapped around the gender.   Look for the universal lesson and be better.

Grace Terry understood that.   She bristled at Paul’s verses that talked about the roles of men and women in the church but she understood the larger implications.   Mom was a professional at a time when women who were strong-minded professionals were challenged by establishment men.   God gave her a sharp mind and sharper wits to earn her way in that world and she succeeded, winning respect and honor.  She was a Proverbs 31 woman of noble character.  It’s been four years since she went to heaven and I miss her.   But I’m thankful to be her son.

For further reading: Psalm 24:4, Luke 24:50, 1 Peter 3:3, Proverbs 31:10-13, 1 Timothy 2:11

Lord Jesus, thanks for my Mom.   Say hi to her for me.



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.