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.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 July 2015

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Mark 9, verses 33-34.

Two days ago, my wife and I drove from Texas to Minnesota.   If you’re counting miles, that’s over 1000 of them in one day; it took us just over 16 hours (with several stops along the way).   We talked about many things along the way, and we listened to a lot of music.   Sometimes she napped and it got very quiet (and sleepy) in the car.   During those times, I thought about many different things, including things I probably shouldn’t think about.   Where I’ve gone wrong in the past, my tawdry sins, fantasies about how things would be different if we had just a few dollars more in the bank, things to say in meetings this week (and things I wish I had said in past meetings):   a hundred different thoughts go through your mind when you’re driving that far while fighting white line fever.

I wish I would learn to use that time to pray more.   In truth, I did some of that, too, and that’s a good thing.   But rather than thinking about other things, it would be better if I simply talked to Jesus about those matters on my heart and brain.   If you’re like me, I don’t always do that because I don’t want to air my dirty laundry to God. It’s kind of a stupid thing because, ya know, He knows about it anyway.   It’s not as if I can hide them; I couldn’t if I tried.   He’s Jesus and He knows all my thoughts and memories inside and out.

Yet hide my thoughts I do.   I think that, out of respect for me, God doesn’t pry into my brain and use my sinful thoughts against me. He does that for all of us. Instead, He lets those thoughts nag at us through guilt and a guilty conscience, working to turn guilt into motivation.   This is one of the beautiful gifts of faith. I say that because there’s something healthy about confessing to Him the things we’ve done wrong.   One of our couples’ devotions this week talked about confessing a blanket of sins instead of every one individually.   The devotion derided that blanket confession, and I voiced my disagreement with it.   The confession depends on context and timing, I think. Sometimes maybe all you can do is confess everything.

No matter how it’s done, there’s value for us in rooting out our sins and confessing them to God.   They point out our inadequacies and when we’ve chosen failure.   They point out our desperate need for Him in our lives. Self-reflection then self-confession allows us to talk to God in a personal way, re-establishing the bonds with Him that He seeks out even though we had shut them down.   And it lets us get things off our chests, enabling us to better let go of guilt that could plague us into depression instead of motivating us to do better.   This is why Jesus questioned the disciples, giving them a chance to reflect and confess instead of simply hammering them with their shame and guilt. They knew they had done wrong, so Jesus met them in their sin and gave them an opportunity to reflect.

And they didn’t have to drive 1000 miles for it to happen.

Lord, thank You for the gift of confession and prayer with You.

Read Mark 9, verses 30-36.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 19 June 2014

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20, verses 2 and 3.

The first is the most important. This commandment is the reason for all the others. It is the reason for creation; it is the reason for reason. Before spelling out the code for living that He gave us, God reminded us that He alone is God.

In this so-called modern age, I’ll ask the question that millions of young Americans regularly pose:  so what?

So there I was last summer, sailing around the lakes of Northern Minnesota with two of my favorite people in the world (my son and my son-in-law).   It was a place I had frequented with my Dad and Grandpa many years before when I was still a boy. All my life, I’ve thought of Minnesota lakes around the Canadian border is the single most beautiful place on earth. This was the first time in forty years that I had been back there, and I confess that I was overwhelmed with happiness.   Basking in the sun, fishing for Northern’s, sailing the lakes, the crisp and clean air, time spent talking with my guys, reveling in the obvious glory of God’s creation:   it was one of the best weeks of my life.

It was because of God. Because He made it all. Because it was all so alive, because of Him. Because He was there.

And just this morning, I was sitting at my daughter’s table with my grandson in his high chair beside me. He’s a miracle, at least to me.   In reality, all life is miraculous, but I get to see him up close, watching him grow and develop. Miracle. When I was a young father, I was so busy living life, earning a living, being self-absorbed, and being consumed with the angst all young men have.   I missed cherishing moments like these with my own kids, and I’m thankful more than my puny words can say to be able to share them with my grandchildren.

They’re because of God.   Because He made them all.   Because He gave them life, because of Him.   Because He is here.

The first commandment reminds us that God is God and we are not.   God is life is love is justice is power is patience is knowledge is reason is understanding is holiness is truth is time is everything. He is the founder of life and the reason for life.   He is the life in the north woods, in my grandson, and in everything. God gives us the gift of LIFE, not of a few years and out:   life, as in forever, as in eternity.   THAT is the answer to every important thing.   That is the reason why ‘so what.’

 

Lord, YOU are God and my God.

 

Read Exodus chapter 19.   The Israelites arrive at God’s meeting place, and He has a few things to say.