Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 November 2017

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Hebrews 13, verse 7.

As I’ve matured, I’ve developed a great admiration for people who are bold in the Word.  Over thirty years ago, I went to a Billy Graham crusade in Washington DC.   Now, I’m not a Southern Baptist and I find some of their methods to be grating.  My upbringing was far from the kind of approach Baptists and Billy Graham commonly use.  When I was a kid, every few months a Billy Graham crusade would take over one of our three channels of TV and I found it to be hard, boring to watch.   It was ironic, then, that I found myself there that day, listening to Rev Graham exhort the crowd to come to Jesus.   It was even more ironic that I found myself compelled by the things he said.  I met Dr. Graham and I was moved, but not moved enough to seriously consider the things he was saying.  It took me decades before I would come around to Graham’s way of thinking.

The older I grow the more I see the truth in Christ’s command to go and make disciples of all nations.  Our first, best task in this life is to reach out to other people and share Jesus.   EVERYTHING we experience in the next life depends on knowing Him here.  We do our part by living our lives, being ourselves, and being ready to communicate when the opportunities arise.   Even including the fire and brimstone sermons, I’m betting Billy Graham would agree.

I was baptized by a pastor named Reuben Youngdahl, who built the largest Lutheran church in America.   I remember well his son, Paul, who is still the benchmark against whom I measure all clergy.   Reverend Ann Haw confirmed me in Oklahoma and she’s one of the most courageous workers for the Spirit I can think of.  Dr. Guy Newland back in Mitchell, Indiana was the most genuine minister I’ve ever known and the one who, at least in my life, convinced me that faith should be an everyday, practical thing instead of that thing you do on Sundays.   Pastors named Vogt and Uhlhorn in Colorado Springs taught me the depth of faith, and Pastor Vogt’s reading of Romans 8 on the night my father died was actually the first time in my life that I fully understood how all the Scriptures were completely true.   I’ve learned much from the wisdom of my friend, Reverend Gauthier, and men named Schaefer, Miller, McKay, Brimer, Kemp, Celia, Radkey, Kaija and Hartjen all inspire me today as peers, friends, and spiritual guides in the confusing, self-focused world of consumerist North Texas.

We put a lot of faith in our pastors, but do we put as much into the God they serve?

The verse today reminds us to learn from and revere called servants of the Lord.   God picked them out especially for the purpose of being Barnabas – the encourager – to people in need of an encouraging Savior.  They have a special calling and unique education to prepare them for the task of ministering.  We do well when we remember that it’s a Godly calling to life a life of faith, of submitting even our aspirations and career wishes to God.  That’s what they do.   It’s also tough work.  Successful churches aren’t the ones with the cool sound systems, the huge congregations, and the rock band in front playing the latest Chris Tomlin mash-up.   No, successful churches are the ones where the parishioners know they’re close to Jesus because Jesus is close to them.   In such places, that usually starts with the pastor.   If you look close, you find that the pastor is simply walking closely with Jesus and all blessings flow from Him.

Yet we can’t think of our pastors as being supermen because they aren’t.   They are sinners.   They’re strugglers.   They like football and beer and music and barbecue (or queso).   Some of them are jerks.  I know some pastors who are recovering alcoholics.   I know some who have done jail time.   I know of some who struggle with identity, sexuality, and crushing depression.   And I’ve known some pastors who I liked in the pulpit but I couldn’t stand out of it.

In other words, pastors are a lot like me.   Or you.

Just yesterday, Pastor Celia (which still sounds weird) was talking about Gideon.   Gideon was an ordinary, even cowardly, man who was called by God to do extraordinary things.   Gideon had the gifts God needed and God empowered him to use them in big ways.   Yet Gideon was also just a man.   He succeeded when he walked closely with God and he floundered when he strayed back into paganism.  I suspect that, like other pastors, if you met Gideon today you’d find he wore his pants the same way as you or I do.   Or Billy Graham, who is 99 now and no longer preaching in crusades.   In his life, he personally witnessed to millions of people, maybe even as many as a billion.   Yet he still says he could do more.   He’s still hungry for the Spirit.   That’s a good quality to have if you’re going to become a pastor.  In fact, it’s a great quality for any of us.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:16, Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 6:12.

My Lord, I am hungry for Your Spirit.  Thank You for the men and women you call as servants here.   Bless their work and their examples to all of us.


Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 21 September 2015

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Mark 10, verses 39-40.

It’s been five years since my 25th high school reunion. Do the math and I’ve been out of school for thirty; duh.   There are times when I wish I could crawl up into a ball and go back to my hometown and just be a kid again.   I graduated from high school in a small town in southern Indiana where I had only lived for two years.   While there, I met my wife, made some life-long friends, grew up, learned about Jesus, and set myself on the path that I’m still walking today.   I thank God for every day I lived in Mitchell and the people there. Five years ago, I organized our class reunion.   Out of just over 120 graduates we had over 90 show up for the party.   That’s a pretty good number, and it was due to the hard work of everyone involved.

In those five years I’ve sometimes felt that I was going through hell.   In those five years I’ve also sometimes felt as if I was on top of a mountain and couldn’t be happier. I’d give anything to take back the bad things I’ve done, to un-hurt those I’ve hurt along the way.   But in that same time there has been so much more good.   I’m thankful for seeing my marriage rebuilt, my daughter married, my grandson being born, two of my kids graduating, and a hundred other things I could list without my smile fading a bit. And regrets?   Like Sinatra and Elvis, I have a few but, then again, too few to mention.

You see, I don’t let myself be obsessed by regret even though I’ve done things in life of which I’m ashamed and do regret. If you let yourself be defined by your sins then you miss the point of God’s grace.   What’s more, Jesus PROMISES us that life will be difficult, that there will be times of unspeakable pain on our path to eternal rest with Him. That path is part of what counts, mainly in how we use our talents, days and journey to reach other people with the message “Jesus is looking for you.”   You can’t live out that message if you wallow in ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ or regret. Verse 39 of guaranteed the Apostles that the world would extract a price in pain from each of them.   The same holds true for us.

Yet knowing that, I take great comfort in realizing that there are some things out of my control. Verse 40 says as much, stating to James and John that God is ultimately in control of everything and that He has places in mind for all of us. I need to be a good steward of my talents, time and treasure, but I don’t need to live wrapped around the axle about things over which I have no control.   God has appointed me for the life I live and He’s equipped me to live it fully, even when I mess up and always in His grace.

Happy anniversary, Class of 85.   Can’t believe it’s been 30 years but the best is still yet to come.

Lord, thank You for times to reminisce, for Your grace, for life experiences, and for today.

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.