Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 21 April 2020

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.  1 Peter 1:12(NIV).

Peter knew something that the angels didn’t.   He had seen things, felt things, received THE thing that angels praise Jesus for but had personally never encountered.   The angels don’t need redemption, don’t need salvation.   They’re sinless beings who live with God the Trinity in heaven.   When angels interact with us, they do so without being contaminated by our sins, so that they can stand blameless before God without needing a savior.  Angels don’t need saving like people do, because angels haven’t committed the sins we have.   Because angels aren’t human.

But angels aren’t made in the image of God Himself like humans are.   Peter understood this; Peter was just a man.   Peter had seen the ministry of Jesus up close and personal for over three years.   He had laughed, cried, been angry, been joyous, been REAL with Jesus for that whole time.   Peter had seen Jesus raise people from death, had walked on water to Jesus, had been with Jesus when Moses and Elijah appeared and he saw Jesus as He is seen in heaven.   Peter had spoken with, touched, eaten with the risen Jesus on that first Easter.   Peter was one of the twelve who had been personally touched by Holy Spirit when He arrived on the scene at Pentecost.   And Peter was the man who raised the beggar from paralysis, who was beaten and imprisoned and freed by an angel; who confronted Saul after his conversion; who repeatedly confronted the Sanhedrin and refused to recant his faith or bow down.

And Peter still needed saving.  Just like me.   Just like you.

Peter was one of the people Jesus sent into the world – into our lives through their words and examples – to minister to strangers like us.   Peter had met and seen angels, yet the angels weren’t sent to minister to the world.   It was Peter (and John, Matthew, James, Paul, and the rest) who took the message of salvation from Jerusalem to every corner of the known world…and then beyond that.  As a boy, the (likely) illiterate fisherman probably never dreamed his life would move along this trajectory, but it did.   It did by the grace of Jesus.   Like yours and mine.

Peter knew something that the angels didn’t.   He knew, deep inside, the saving love and peace of his friend and savior, Jesus.  He had experienced it in the presence of angels so he could share it in the presence of strangers.  We know it too.

For further reading: Luke 24:49, 1 Peter 1:13

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your friend, Peter.   Thank You, too, for the angels who ministered to him and to us, who do Your bidding then and now as You will.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 6 April 2020

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:  Grace and peace be yours in abundance.  1 Peter 1:1-2 (NIV).

Let’s walk with the Apostle Peter for awhile, shall we?   Throughout the 10 years of this blog, we’ve visited Moses, David, Solomon, Mark, John, James, Paul, and (possibly) Barnabas (in Hebrews); nobody really knows who wrote the book of Ruth.   So now, for the next few months, let’s read some of the things Peter wrote.

You know Peter:   Cephas; Simon Peter.   The rock on whom Jesus would build the church.  I like Peter (because I like fishermen, and Peter was a fisherman before Jesus came on the scene).  He gives me hope:   if Christ can use Peter for His work (as well as Peter’s sometime-competitor, Paul), then Christ can use me.  I like that Peter was a common man.  Beyond learning what all Jewish boys did, he probably had little or no other formal education.   He had a family, or at least a wife.   As a fisherman, he probably worked very hard, usually all night (which is when fish bite).  He was probably burly, brusque, and maybe even profane; see his rant while he was denying Christ after the arrest in Gethsemane.

In other words, Peter was probably a lot like you or me.   After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter did indeed help form the early church, and went on to be selected as the first pope.  Tradition holds that he was crucified in Rome under Nero, and is buried under the high altar at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican (archaeology has largely confirmed this or something very much like it).

And he embraced change, first in Jesus’ message, then in spreading the church far beyond where he, personally, ministered.   Peter was the one to whom Christ revealed that all things – and all people – were made ceremonially clean.   He erased Peter’s hang-up’s about traditions, and opened his mind to new possibilities.   Where Peter and Paul were sometime-competitors for church leadership, it was Peter who embraced Paul’s work and then found ways to encourage him to do it.

Peter is one of the people I most look forward to meeting in heaven.  I want to hang out with him, maybe share a beer and ask him what it was like to go fishing with Jesus.   Or to be whisked out of jail by an angel.   Or what Pentecost felt like.  Let’s spend a few weeks journeying through the letters Peter left for us.

For further reading: Matthew 24:22, James 1:1, Acts 2:9, Romans 8:29, 1 Peter 1:3

Lord Jesus, thank You for the words of your friend, Peter.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 10 February 2020

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. Philippians 3:3-4 (EHV).

Paul uses much of this first part of Chapter 3 to remind us to have no confidence in our flesh; to not put our trust in this world but, instead, in Jesus.   He does it using a comparison to circumcision.

Reading this in 2020, even I’ll admit:   it’s uncomfortable, especially as a man.   Yet it’s also logical to compare our faith in Christ to being ‘cut around.’   In the Bible, circumcision goes all the way back to Abraham, who was told by God to do it to the men in his life as a mark of devotion to God.   In today’s world, women will (ok, rightfully) joke that a man’s penis is, to him, the most important part of his body.  Even knowing that joke, God is STILL right, then, to have asked men to circumcise it   He’s saying “dedicate the most important part of you to Me.   Serve me this way.”   In that, it becomes an act of love.    Yet the more you read about it, the more you see it isn’t about a physical surgery.

Medically, there are some uses for circumcision but it is still mainly elective. Even going back to Paul’s time and beyond, that was true.   It seems likely that this was something with which Abraham might have been familiar even before God commanded him to do it.   For Jews of Paul’s day, it was part of Mosaic law; something they HAD to do.   Yet, for Paul and we who came after him, it became just another Jewish custom we were no longer bound to obey because our circumcision was one of the heart:   where God was asking us to cut around all else from the start (even in Abraham’s day).

Keep that in mind when reading the rest of the verses in chapter 3.   It’s not about getting your foreskin cut off:   it’s about excising from your heart any prideful sin that hides if from God.   It’s about dedicating to Christ that which really is most important of all:   our soul.  Romans 2 spells it out:   that our faith in God is a circumcision of the heart, where it matters most.  Colossians 2 then takes that a step further, stating that it was Christ himself who cut off our sinful nature.

It is for men and women both to be circumcised of the heart, to have our sinful nature cut away and our souls reconfigured to be someone new.  Only Jesus can do this.

For further reading:   Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 6:15, Colossians 2:11, Philippians 3:5.

Lord Jesus, circumcise my heart and mark me as Your own.   Cut away that which doesn’t matter and make me into a new person to serve You in Your work.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 9 July 2019

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.  Titus 1:5 (NIV).

The church is an orderly group, so that the work of our God may be advanced.    Like it or not, we need order, we need structure through which to manage our lives.   Very few people could simply say “I’m going to build a house today” and do it successfully without order, a plan, and help.   Very few projects could be executed without planning to order the work, ensure it’s done correctly, and implement a solution that doesn’t interfere with other things already in place.   Hardly anyone would wake up in the morning and decide “I’m going to get married today and have a 500 person reception” and then have it happen without a great deal of help (and money).

Jethro advised Moses to organize judges and leaders for minor tasks so that the major work of Israel could be accomplished.  After shepherding the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was beaten down with hearing all the disagreements and legal disputes that happen in a nation of a million former slaves.  His father-in-law, Jethro, paid him a visit there in the desert of Sinai and advised Moses to appoint a structure of leaders who could handle lesser disputes.   That way, only the most sensitive or pressing disputes would land in Moses’ lap for him to take to the Lord.

Delegation is a wonderful thing.

Paul recognized this.   He trained Titus to be a leader in ‘the Way,’ and then appointed Titus as a bishop in Crete.   This happened less than a generation after the resurrection of Jesus, meaning that the church has had formal structure since very early on.   Indeed, even the twelve Apostles were a group of improbable leaders right from the start.   But the important lesson is that the church works well when there is organization.   That doesn’t mean every minute decision must be made collaboratively or by committee.   But it works well when a senior leadership team delegates tasks to lesser groups or committees or leaders who can act.  Titus was one such person.   He was competent.   Paul recognized it, so Paul commissioned Titus to lead and go forth.   And that’s what happened.

Mind you, any group (but especially the church) must be mindful to delegate only to people equipped to act or lead.   Most people hate working for control freaks.   Whether it’s a small church task or building a new line of cars, people don’t like working for other people who get high on power.  A good leader knows their limitations and will seek advice and help when they need it.

How will you lead today?   How can you lead – and serve – where you are today?

For further reading:  Exodus 18:1-26, Acts 27:7, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6

Lord Jesus, empower me to serve and lead where You have me today.   Thanks for Your help.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 18 March 2019

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.   2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV).

Laying on of hands:   that’s an old, old custom.  In the Bible, it goes back at least to Aaron, who would lay his hands on a sacrificial goat, pray the sins of the people into it, then send the scapegoat out into the wilderness.   Or how Aaron would also install his brother Levites as priests by laying his hands on them.  Or to his brother, Moses, who laid his hands on Joshua to install the son of Nun as the new leader of Israel.

In modern congregations, pastors are installed in Scripture-heavy ceremonies in which other, senior pastors lay their hands on the one being installed, praying over them and citing Bible verses to strengthen them.

When someone lays their hands on you in this way, they are symbolically infusing you with God’s power, His Spirit.  They’re doing something to set you apart for special work, for installing someone into a unique position.   As one website said, it’s a special way to connect the Message to the messenger (see https://www.gotquestions.org/laying-on-of-hands.html).  There isn’t anything magical about it; there isn’t anything required about it; there’s nothing in any service that says we must do this.   Yet it was originally a God-ordained command to Aaron (as the lead priest) for him to set aside people and things deemed sacred.

Like I said, it’s an old custom but it’s a good one, a custom worth revering.   As you can read, Paul believed it was important because he used laying on of hands to charge Timothy as a minister of Jesus’ Word.  It wasn’t necessary that Paul install his protégé in this way, but it was helpful.   It was special.  It tied back to Aaron, that first official minister of God’s Word.

You and I do this as well.   Have you ever prayed with someone and held their hand, or put your hand on their shoulder?   Have you ever been right beside someone when they’re going through a tough time (like childbirth, injury, or pain)?   We’re laying our hands on them to signify that we want God’s healing presence in and through them.   We lay our hands on our loved ones so that our prayers may be symbolically channeled through our hands and into said loved ones.   We want to connect them to ourselves and to something more powerful than ourselves.  It’s a unique way to pray over someone and to share faith with them.

Next time you want to feel a unique connection, when you pray with someone, try it.

For further reading:   Leviticus 16:21, Numbers 8:7-14, Numbers 27:18-20, Acts 6:6, 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 6.

Lord Jesus, You laid Your hands on my soul and healed me, forgave me, invested Your love into me.   Ordain it so today that I will meet someone to share this gift with them as well.

Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 19 December 2017

Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.   Deuteronomy 26:11.

It’s the week before Christmas and, if we’re having an honest conversation about Santa Claus, we need to face some facts about the world we live in.

We each know people who are having a tough time this year.  One friend of mine is struggling to give her kids and grandkids the kind of happy Christmas she never had when she was growing up, and she feels she’s failing.   Another friend of mine is struggling with the recent diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor.   Yet another confesses her broken-heartedness on her first Christmas as a single mom following her divorce.   One of my sons-in-law is deployed overseas, spending his first Christmas away from his wife and daughter; his wife and daughter are very much missing Dad.  Another friend of mine is struggling with schizophrenia.  One of my classmates is being buried today after her untimely death last week.  I’m losing my house.

And we’re supposed to rejoice over all this?  Actually, yes, and it really isn’t that difficult to do.

Think of “A Christmas Carol”, of Scrooge’s overnight transformed heart.   Or the Santa Clause movie where Tim Allen brightens up the teacher’s holiday party by using a little Santa magic.  Consider the lines of excited kids lining up to see Santa.   Or the bell-ringer wearing a Santa hat who wishes you a merry Christmas when you drop a few coins into the red kettle.  Rejoice.   Rejoice, already.   God gives us the basics but so much more.   If you don’t believe that, go do some Santa watching at the mall.   Reject the crass commercialism and just watch the little kids.   Watch how they anticipate, and how a kind old man spends some time with them to listen and love a little.   Then rejoice already.   Rejoice on days good and bad alike because the same Christ Child, born on Christmas Day, reflected by a character we call “Santa,” is Lord of all.

In it all, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.   You know it, the Christmas hymn.   According to Wikipedia, the words to the hymn come from the 1700s while the medieval dirge to which they’re sung comes from France of the 1500s.  Yet I love the song.  It is actually one of the more hopeful ones you’ll hear this Christmas because the refrain constantly reminds us to rejoice over how Jesus Emmanuel has ransomed us from ourselves.   How “Emmanuel” actually means “God with us.”   How He is with us now.

Rejoice, too, because one of Emmanuel’s representatives here in our world is that jolly fat man in the red suit.   That attitude of giving selflessly is cause enough to begin the rejoicing.   The heart that gives is the heart of hope, and in the face of real adversity we need more of that hope.   Only Jesus can truly give that hope, but you, me, and acting like Santa can share it.   That’s what keeps the world going around.  The people of 1500s France knew it.  The magi knew it.   Moses knew it when he penned Deuteronomy.   And the men who play Santa at the mall know it.

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna concerning the hard condition in which we find ourselves.   Living can hurt.   Yet the very real antidote to being crushed by this world is letting ourselves be lifted up by God instead.   Loss, death, and pain still happen, but they cannot defeat a heart focused on giving through rejoicing.   Indeed, the only way to persevere through those things is with that rejoicing heart of Jesus.   In hard times, that may be the only gift we can get or give.  Like the song, so much of our lives is sung in a minor key.   How much better it is, then, to consider the smile of Santa’s face, the touch of Jesus’ hand, and the fresh day today to rejoice one moment at a time.

For further reading: Matthew 25:29.

My Lord, I rejoice at Your wonder, at how You provide for us and love us.  Help me to persevere through adversity today.   And ease the pain of those who are struggling right now.  Love and nurture them, Lord.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 November 2017

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Hebrews 13, verse 12.

Yesterday I mentioned that Jesus was killed, buried, and rose outside the city walls of Jerusalem.  That happened to fulfill Scriptural prophecy.   Being criminally punished outside the city was a common practice in ancient days for a number of reasons.   It dishonored the accused and it accorded them unique, public status to be despised.  It sent a message to the public:   don’t mess with the authorities.   Burying bodies outside the city limits also was a health issue; it still is.   Indeed, removing decomposing corpses from the places where we live is still our practice today; it’s why cemeteries are usually found at or outside the original boundaries of most towns.   But most of all, it happened because God used the lowest among us to perform the highest function.

It gave God “street cred.”  We give great honor, glory, and social status to the pretty things.   That’s the foundation of street credibility.  It’s all about being perceived as “legit,” about being respected, about being able to walk the walk and talk the talk.  On the streets, honor and status are (supposedly) earned, and glory is taken.   In the way Jesus died, He earned real street cred.

So did His house.  The Jewish Temple was one of the great marvels of antiquity.   The Second Temple, renovated by Herod, rivaled any building in Rome, Thebes, Athens, or Babylon for its beauty, architectural wonder, and impact.  The original Temple of Solomon had been the actual “house of God:”   the place where His presence physically resided.   Its location was on the very spot where Abraham had bound Isaac, where Jacob had his famous dream, and where David purchased the threshing floor.  Tradition held that it was even the spot where God first touched earth after creation.   Solomon’s First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians but was rebuilt as the Second Temple by Zerubabbel.   This Second Temple, however, lacked God’s presence as well as many of the original artifacts (like the Ark of the Covenant) that traced their origin back to Moses.  Those have been lost to the ages.  Still, the Second Temple stood for nearly 600 years, and had been greatly renovated and expanded by Herod the Great just before the time of Jesus.  You would have been able to see it for miles around as it was the tallest building in the city and stood at the top of Mount Moriah (later called Mount Zion).  It’s massive size, glistening gold, and snow white stone would have made it shine brilliantly in both sun and night.

By the time Jesus arrived, the Temple had become the focal point of the Middle East.  It was the focus of Jewish life, the singular place to which Jews made annual pilgrimage.  Jesus Himself would spend much time in the Temple as the building represented God’s promise to His people and His continuing magnificence.    As mentioned, it was the most prominent building in the city, more visible and ostentatious than any of the city’s palaces or government buildings.  Great glory and honor was accorded to being in the Temple and especially to those who worked there and maintained the religion there.

For Jesus to have worshipped and taught in the Temple gave credence to His status as Messiah.   In our time, it would have meant He earned that ‘street cred.’  All through His life, Christ honored the practices and traditions of God’s people, including honoring the Temple.  Repeatedly during His ministry Christ taught at the Temple and challenged the political and ecclesiastical authority of the men who ran it.  Immediately after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple and cleared out the merchants who had set up shop.  He did this to cleanse out God’s home.

And when the conspirators of the Jewish Sanhedrin determined to murder Him, they wanted to do so in a way that would both reinforce their status and power AND consign him to the lowest place in society.   That meant Jesus would die outside the city.   He would be tried inside Jerusalem, but when it came to His actually killing, that was to take place away from the honored Temple Mount.  Christ was crucified on Golgotha, which ancient tradition (even then) held was the burial spot of Adam, the original man; how ironic is that?  How ironic it was, too, that, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil on the Holy of Holies was miraculously torn asunder.

What’s the point in all this history?   It’s a sign for us.  It’s interesting that God used human history to give His story honor and credibility but getting wrapped around the archaeology of it misses the central point.   It’s not where God performed His salvation of us but WHAT He did that matters.  The focal point of all human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   It’s the real street cred.  That happened in the places we’ve discussed and was made credible to humanity by the fact that it happened where it did.  Yet it is the resurrection itself – God’s saving atonement of our sins – that matters and not the place where God did it. We study the history of the location to help us better understand the context of the time and place for the life of Jesus.   Yet it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that is the ultimate street cred on which we all can and should depend.

For further reading:  John 19:17, Ephesians 5:26, Romans 3:25.

Lord, thank You for using these places and events in history to point to Your Son.