Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 August 2017

 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Hebrews 11, verses 32-34.

Where are there great heroes today?   Gideon, who led when nobody else would.  Barak, the warrior who answered God’s call to rally troops and defeated the Canaanite, Sisera.   Samson, the self-centered leader in the days of the Judges, who rejected his selfishness to rally the power of God in his death and, in doing so. slew the Philistines.   Jephthah, the great Israelite leader who conquered the Ammonites yet made a foolish vow, then considered his word to God to be more important than any other word he had ever spoken.

Here in our day, is President Trump a hero?   Hardly, especially since (as one of my relatives pointed out) so many of our countrymen consider him to be a boor, a scoundrel, and “an incomparable cheat.”  How about his predecessor, President Obama?   Hardly again, especially since so many more of our countrymen consider him to be weak, of poor beliefs, and an enemy of liberty.  The leaders of our major churches live in luxury and opulence.   The gulf between the richest and poorest in our country, in our world, keeps growing ever wider.   We all want to believe we are special in God’s eyes yet we, myself included, look across the room and see people of different beliefs, different colors, different places in this world and we consider them aliens.  How must our God feel about us?

Where are the people whose weakness God turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle through the Lord and routed foreign armies?   Where are the men and women of honor and valor who walk the walk and talk the talk for Jesus today?

You saw a few of them on the news this weekend.   They were friends, relatives, first responders working beyond exhaustion to retrieve strangers from the floodwaters in Houston.   They were the pastors in Africa who walk miles between villages on Sunday afternoon just to share a few minutes of Christian worship with people hungry to know more about Jesus.   They’re people who smile at you when you meet them in the streets, mothers who raise their children (and new puppies) while husbands and fathers are deployed overseas.   They are nurses in hospitals, grandparents raising grand-babies, the people who hold open doors.  Ordinary people live extraordinary lives and, very often, just by doing so are heroic in small ways that matter.

Yesterday in church, the sermon text was on the fruit of the spirit.   From Galatians 5, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   The heroes of the Bible listed above knew these things, knew them centuries before Paul recorded them in his epistle.   The heroes mentioned in our world today know them, too.   Whether any of them, or us, know it or not, they are evidence of God for only from God’s Spirit are these things possible.  Apart from the Savior, they’re just niceties, ways to get along for a short time in a hostile world of hopelessness and futility.  Abiding in the Savior, they’re evidence of His presence.   And they’re the makings of heroes.  When we consider how people of faith live out these good things from God, we can be sure that our God feels only love for us since it is His love that binds all those other things together.

I don’t consider myself a hero.   More often than not, I mess up these words and mess up the message I’m trying to convey.   I offend people who are trying to understand where I’m coming from, and I don’t represent the God of our Fathers in the good way He deserves.   Maybe I’m describing you.  I know I’m describing me.  Yet perhaps there’s someone, somewhere who looks at you differently.   Perhaps there’s someone who see’s through our warts, who looks past our sins and failings, who doesn’t tolerate our cruel words but loves us enough to look past them.  There’s someone like that for all of us; His name is Jesus.   If we see our blessings, we get to see how others live out the fruit of His Spirit and they are heroes whether they do good deeds or not.  A few days ago, I wrote things that offended someone close to me.  For that, I apologize, especially since she’s a hero in my eyes.  I pray that she, and you, would know a hero today.

For further reading:  Galatians 5:22-23, Judges 4-8, 1 Samuel 15:1, 13-20, 2 Samuel 8:1-3, Daniel 6:22, Daniel 3:19-27, Exodus 18:4, 2 Kings 20:7.

Lord, I praise You for the fruit of Your Spirit that lives out in the heroes of today.   They’re my brothers and sisters, and I look up to them because when I see good things they say and do, I’m looking at You in their eyes.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 January 2017

For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.  Hebrews 7, verse 12.

Oh my God…literally.   Noodle this verse for awhile then consider the universe-altering implications of it.  It’s a rhetorical argument, one that posits our tendencies as people.

Four days have passed since Mr. Trump was inaugurated as president of the US.   In those four days, there have been four sunrises and three sunsets; another sunset should occur later today.   No mere president can change that.  Eight years have passed since Mr. Obama was inaugurated, sixteen since the second Mr. Bush, and twenty-four since Mr. Clinton.   In all those times, whether we agreed with the political positions or not of those men, the world has kept on turning.   Good and bad have taken place, and all four men have, in my humble opinion, done the best they could to deal with each.

You could say that same thing about each of us.   Neither you nor I are the president, and we probably don’t make deals or even make decisions that have global impact.   World leaders don’t await the next muttering from Dave Terry; God help them if I’m wrong about that.  What anyone could say, world leader or not, is that I’ve usually tried to do my best.   You and I, we generally try to do our best, make the best decisions we can with the information we have.   We find ourselves in situations, we assess our available options, and we make the best decision we can based on what we know at the time.   Sometimes it works out for the best, and we generally work to make sure this is so as much as we possibly can.   Sometimes it doesn’t.   Nearly all the time, if we honestly step back and look at ourselves, even though we’re sinners, we usually do the best we can.

Imagine if we didn’t.   Imagine if, every time we made a decision, everything changed because of it.  Some folks would say that’s what happens when a new president moves into the White House but it simply isn’t true.   There are too many systemic and traditional checks on him to prevent any president from ruling like a king.  When you get a new CEO, a few things change in the company, but generally she or he uses what’s at their disposal to move a company in a direction with the consent of the board.   New pastors do the same thing in their congregations.   New parents do the same thing with their young families.   Sometimes that’s healthy in that new leadership can re-focus on morals or the common good after a group has strayed from it.  Sometimes it’s just change for change’s sake, and that’s rarely good.  Leaders usually do the best they can with what’s available to them at the time.

What happens when people don’t?   If you get paid and spend all your money on marijuana and munchies, what do you do to pay your bills (or buy food other than Doritos)?   If you base all your decisions on emotions, what do you do when your emotions quickly change (as they often do)?   If you refuse to abide by the law, what happens when you’re caught?   You know the answer to these things.   We own the consequences.   We get what’s coming to us.   If we willingly decide to not give it our best, we get what we’re given accordingly.   That’s no surprise.

Put on your clergy cap for a second and then consider your pastors.   They’re sinners like anyone else.  If they didn’t have the gospel of Jesus to guide them, all they’d be doing is preaching a bunch of worthless feel-good nonsense.  On our own, every time a new pastor comes to the church – or a new father, CEO or president – the entire focus needs to change.   Pastors are sinners too.   They’re imperfect; they struggle.   Without the forgiveness of Jesus, they’re just as damned as one who willingly turns his back on the Savior.   If all your pastor does is float with the wind and minister based on what feels good, fire them.

With Jesus as their primary guide, none of that needs to happen.   The political or corporate leader grounded in God and solid ethics will much better serve his constituents, and the president swears to uphold a Constitution written by moral, Godly founders.  The parent who walks the Godly walk will serve as a better long-term example for their kids.   The pastor who preaches the risen Christ has all he or she needs to build a God-centered church.  Everything flows from Him and only Him.   Anything less is, well, less.   Are you satisfied with ‘less?’   If so, maybe you should ask yourself why.

Voters fire politicians who don’t perform.   Companies fire CEOs who don’t perform.   Parents who don’t perform as parents for their kids don’t get fired but trouble usually ensues at some point.  All of it comes back to sin and how we deal with it.   The way to deal with it is to first and always focus on Jesus and where you are in relation to Him at every moment.   He hasn’t moved; He hasn’t changed.   With Him, there is no need to throw out the old in favor of something new.   He’s the reason for the priesthood because He is the ultimate priest of all time.

For further reading:   Hebrews 7:  11-28

Lord Jesus, that You for being the center of everything.   Thank You for being unchanging, for being our true priest and pastor, for being the only Savior.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 January 2017

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.  Hebrews 6, verse 16.

Oaths.   This idea of an oath, of swearing by someone, was brought up in verse 13.   Let’s a few minutes discussing oaths.

Next week, on January 20, Donald Trump will take the same presidential oath as every other president before him did and he will officially be the President of the United States.   That oath is spelled out explicitly in the Constitution; it’s the only oath in the USA that is.  It will be the power of that Constitution that vests into Mr. Trump all responsibility and authority to be the one and only president.   It is the will of the people as expressed through their votes.   Folks in our country can disagree on that fact, but it’s still a fact even when the outcome of the election isn’t what some wanted.   The oath is a symbol of the power vested in the person.  It’s a recitation of a legal, binding contract between the individual and the group offering said oath and its associated benefit.   In this case, that group is the constituents of the United States, the government we empower, and the benefit is the elected individual’s empowerment with the office to which he was elected.   Mr. Trump can be held accountable by his constituents and by the Congress for any abuses he may undertake that violate that oath and the Constitution behind it.   Yet when he takes the oath, he and only he will be the actual and only president.  Not Mr. Obama; not Mrs. Clinton; not anyone named Bush; nobody in the Congress or the media or in the public peanut gallery.

Oaths mean something.

Consider wedding vows.   They’re oaths.   Like the oath of office, they’re a legal, binding commitment between two people, swearing to uphold the boundaries of their marriage so that they might, in fact, be married.   We value marriage as the ultimate expression of devotion and commitment to each other.  In the vows we exchange – the oaths through which we swear – we promise to love, honor, cherish and other things that reflect our belief in that binding contract of matrimony.  The vows reflect the gravity that we believe exists in marriage, and state things we believe are important, qualities and actions we respect regarding the people we hold dearest.

As Rush Limbaugh often says, “words mean things.”   They aren’t light, and we shouldn’t make light of them.   Celebrity marriages are the butt of many jokes because it seems celebrities don’t take those oaths very seriously.   Donald Trump continues to be the butt of many jokes even though he won his office in the same way every other elected president has.   Both married people and presidents (as well as every other office-holder in the country) understand the gravity of the oaths they undertake.  Candidates undergo the electoral process specifically for the opportunity to take that oath.   Engaged couples plan, anticipate, and modify their lives specifically for the opportunity to take that oath and make those vows.  It’s because words mean things.

Words mean things because that’s how God gave them to us.   He gives us the ability to use words in unique ways that add significance and special meaning.  If you swear you’ll do something, you’re making a blanket promise to do something.   It becomes a matter of record that you’re affirming you’ll do that thing…so make sure you do it.   If you ‘swear on your mother’s grave,’ you’re affirming your word against the actual or eventual death of the woman who gave birth to you.   As one who has lost his mom, I’ll say that means something.   If you “swear to God” that X is so, then you’re strongly affirming that X is actually so against the word and existence of the Great I AM.  Better not mess that up.

In fact, we’d better not mess these things up at all.   God takes our words seriously because He considers them to be expressions of what we think and feel.  He gives Himself to us through His Word, which both shares and describes Him.  To Abraham, God made and oath and, because He wanted Abraham to know it was important, He swore by Himself that the promise would be kept.   And it was.   God gives us language so that we can share Him in His world, and so that we can express ourselves with others.  When we want to or need to ensure something is regarded with special gravity, we are given the gift of being able to affirm it with an oath.   Yet we should regard all of our words as important.   We shouldn’t use them unwisely, or lightly, or be flippant with them.   Our guide should be Jesus’ advice in Matthew 5:  “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.”   Mean what you say when you say it.   Stick with honesty, and wisdom, and a held tongue.   Words mean things.   Let’s remember that, especially in being ‘married to’ this new administration.

For further reading:   Exodus 22:11, Matthew 4:37

Lord, thank You for oaths.   Thank You for Your teaching on using them, and on how we should speak and act.

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, 17 September 2015

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Mark 10, verses 35-39

Are you audacious, bold or even arrogant?   Are you confident when you pray, or does it seem awkward?   Are your prayers wishes or honest requests? Do you boldly ask for things or tackle questions and issues head-on?   That’s what the Disciples were doing.   In a way, these verses are some of the most brutally honest and realistic because James and John, the Sons of Thunder, were doing what you and I would do.   In a way, I think they were more honest than you or I would be.

You see, we SHOULD ask Jesus for anything in prayer in audacity, boldness and confidence.   Do we?   Usually not.   As I mentioned yesterday, my wife and I went to see “War Room.” Audacity, boldness and confidence in prayer are some of the big messages we took away from the movie.   God wants us to talk with Him confidently, boldly and with an audacity of hope that even Mr. Obama couldn’t imagine. He wants us to talk with Him about things that matter to us, things we believe – and don’t believe – and he wants us to be genuine.   Jesus wants our reality, our truth because He is reality and He is the only real truth.   If you haven’t seen the movie, go see “War Room” and gird up for battle.

And life is a daily battle, isn’t it?   Sometimes it is very much a battle to be true to principles throughout the day.   I know that, for me, authenticity in my faith can be a real struggle.   I really, truly believe in Jesus.   I really, truly believe all He said He is, all that He did, and all the ways He is at work in the world today.   Yet every day I really, truly struggle with coarse language, with ‘walking the walk’ as an honest believer.   I’m judgmental.   I’m shallow.   I fail at gossiping, at patience and humility, at empathy for my brothers and sisters. My bold audacity is indeed arrogant sometimes. I’m a sinner and because I’m a sinner I desperately wage war against an unseen enemy every day.

If I were to say to Jesus what James and John did, I think He might react in a similar way.   Or, perhaps, He might honestly tell me, “no.”   I believe He would tell me that I really don’t know what I’m asking.   And I also believe He would love me anyway, that (just as He does now) He would see that I’m placed where I need to be so as to best do my part in His work.   Jesus doesn’t NEED me to do anything for Him, but He wants me to. And to do what He wants me to do, He asks that I audaciously, boldly and confidently share with Him all my innermost thoughts, hopes, dreams, and prayers.

Lord, I bring to You all my inmost thoughts.   You know them anyway.   Hear me as I pray, and reinforce me to boldly, audaciously pray with You, pray for others, and do Your work.

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 December 2014

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”  He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?  In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2, verses 23-28.

There is so much to unpack in this small story that it’s going to take a few days.   Thanks ahead of time for bearing with me.

You see, this story is so antiquated that, in the West of 2014, I wonder how we can even relate to it. Picking pieces of grain is against the law on a Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday, take your pick; the actual day is moot according to verse 27). What’s the story of Abiathar the priest and King David? And what about the last two things Jesus says (in verses 27 and 28)? Sabbath for man and not man for Sabbath?   And then Jesus does another throw-down again?

Radical stuff if you think about it.  Radical then and radical now.

ALL of Scripture is radical stuff. When I read the entire story in these 6 verses, I’m struck by how little things have changed.   Those who would try to snipe at us or undo us usually do so in almost trivial ways. Our society sometimes seems fixated on small things when larger issues go unresolved. Look no further than the information that’s leaked out because of the North Korean hack into Sony Pictures’ databases.   In reading news stories about it, it’s almost shocking to see the shallowness and triviality of all those involved.   Shocking, that is, until I remember that it’s movie stars we’re talking about. But movie stars need Jesus too and He loves movie stars the same way he loves farmers, politicians, people who make panty hose for a living, and healthcare project managers.

What seems most radical about this story, however, is how gently ‘in your face’ Jesus is when He’s confronted about His disciples’ Sabbath ‘work.’ He doesn’t speak in parables; He doesn’t talk around the edges; He doesn’t dance around the truth.   No, He confronts the Pharisees, the most learned ecclesiastical experts of their day, by saying “have you never read.” It’s radical.   NOBODY, not even a famous and inspired rabbi with a growing following, would dare to upstage the entrenched powers that be, yet this is what Jesus does here.   He rebukes them by being “in your face with grace.” Notice, too, how He concludes His remark by teaching them the simple truth about the Sabbath, itself a way of saying, “Boys, you’re looking at this thing all wrong.”

Would you go up to President Obama and tell him he’s got things all wrong?   Or Kim Jong Un?   How about your boss on a bad day?   Or the kid who’s been bullying you? Radical stuff from a truly radical man; hardly the touchy-feely Jesus we portray in the American suburbs.

Lord, I need Your grace in my face too!

Read the whole story again in Mark 2, verses 23-28.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 14 October 2013

 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.”  If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreakerJames 2, verse 11.

More exposition on the theme that, if we break one of God’s laws, we break them all. 

Think about it, though.   Think about that term ‘lawbreaker.’  In 2013 America, ‘lawbreaker’ is losing its power.   Our politicians gleefully exceed their Constitutional authority and half of us give them a pass because ‘he’s our guy.’  Grand Theft Auto V is the biggest video game of the year.   I watched my son play it this weekend and was amazed by 2 things.   One was the glorification of murder because it was an unending bonanza of violence in a game whose sole purpose is to see how much crime you can get away with.   The other was thinking that there were four previous versions of this murder-orgy game and that people pay more and more for the experience of killing other virtual people.  It’s our games and our entertainment.  “Breaking Bad,” “Sons of Anarchy,” and “Boardwalk Empire” are brilliantly written TV shows that are predicated wholly on breaking the law.   It’s discouraging.

I guess that makes me a prude.  I’m an adulterer; I’ve done that and you’ve read about it.   No future in politics for me, and I don’t want to be in Grand Theft Auto VI.  The thing is, I’m no better than you.  I’m no better for admitting it because admitting to having done that terrible thing DOESN’T mean I’ve admitted to all the other terrible things I’ve done in life.   I’ve been angry enough to kill, but I’ve never done it even as more than a few men have threatened or tried to kill me.  Yay for my team; chalk one up for the scumbag who hasn’t murdered anyone.

Somewhere, I believe Jesus is shaking His head in sadness.

According to Jesus’ brother James, it doesn’t matter.   Jesus is speaking through His brother saying “it doesn’t matter.   You’ve broken the law.”   It doesn’t matter if your intentions were good, or if you got trapped into it, or if you’re an addict, or if you thought it was the lesser of two evils:   you broke the law.   I broke the law.   It doesn’t matter.

He keeps saying that because, then, letting Him take away the guilt, the shame, and the eternal consequences of holding onto those since, means they don’t matter.  It doesn’t matter what I did, what you did:   Jesus died so that we don’t have to be separated from Him forever.   It doesn’t matter that my sins were heinous because He paid for them.  It doesn’t matter how bad they were, or how disgusting I was, or how I kept going on and on in them because He changed things.  Only Jesus changes “lawbreaker” to “permanently saved.”

Jesus, teach met to follow only Your laws and to give You honor. What are your sins?

 

What are your sins?

How & when were you a lawbreaker?

Do you want to live forever?