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.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 12 March 2019

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.   2 Timothy 1:3 (NIV).

Ministry is a family business.   I know more than a few ministers whose parents and even grandparents were also ministers.   Me, I’m not a pastor, minister, reverend, or called servant of Christ.   Except for the desire He puts on my heart to help others and write these words, I’m not much of any kind of minister at all.   I’ve simply never felt that kind of a calling.   Nobody in my ancestry ever did, either.  Yet I know many ministers whose family history is service to God.   Multiple generations going into ministry; spouses, children and siblings all working in various kinds of ministry.   They put their all into it, usually for many hours of low-paying but Godly, satisfying work.

So I thank God, as my ancestors did, that there are men and women who feel God’s personal call into ministry.   They are formal, recognized servants of His Word.  They do a tough job so others don’t have to.  They actually do spend long periods of time, usually daily, in communication with the Lord.   Sometimes it’s formal, private, on-your-knees kind of prayer; sometimes it looks more like self-talk   But it’s the kind of activity that even we of this skeptical age would call “constantly remembering us in their prayers.”  That’s a big deal, you know.   Prayer isn’t just a wish list or some psychological panacea designed to make you feel better.  It’s a vital tool in the arsenal of a Christian warrior.   It’s involving God Almighty in everything for which we pray.   Pastors aren’t bystanders in the daily battles of life:   they’re warriors, leading from the front (as all good leaders must).

Our society favors those who work in a family business.   Farmers, military officers, politicians, stockbrokers, academics, factory workers, even athletes:   some of the most famous names in these fields come from families where multiple generations live, earn and serve in the same field.  It should be no surprise that Godly ministry favors the same dynamic.   Nobody in my family has ever gone into called ministry, though I do have an uncle who worked in prison ministry for many years and he’s the strongest believer I know.  Some of my best friends are pastors; it might surprise you to learn I’ve even partied with them…on multiple occasions.   Pastors are people too.  I thank God for them in my prayers because, long ago and over and over again, they’ve thanked Him for me in theirs.

For further reading:   2 Timothy 4.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for calling women and men to serve you in ministry.   Uphold them, strengthen them, give them courage and health and wisdom.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 4 March 2019

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  1 Timothy 6:17 (NIV).

No doubt, Paul is talking here about material wealth.   He says as much just a few words into the verse, then throughout it.  May I submit there’s more that makes us arrogant?

Politics make us arrogant.   “Our hope” is a wide path to hell, if we let it be.  Our differences of opinion put a wide gulf in-between us, so wide the perhaps only civil war can bring it together.   Yet before we go to such a drastic end, let’s consider that our politics – left, right, and indecisive – stem from where we put our hope.   If we put our hope in ourselves, we’re arrogant.   Nothing can stop us because, well, us!

Knowledge makes us arrogant.   This one is a stretch (from the verse) yet, if you think about it, is inherent to the verse.   We can’t put our hope into something of which we know nothing.   To put our hope in money means knowing what the accumulation of wealth can do.   It’s the knowing, not the ‘thing,’ that makes us arrogant.   The farther back you stretch it, the more you see that knowledge is at the heart of idolatry, of knowing (or think we are knowing) the difference between one thing and another.   Or right and wrong.  Take it to its academic extreme and knowledge breeds human arrogance.

The in-crowd makes us arrogant.   Got the perfect house; got the perfect school for the kids; got the cool car; got the new clothes.   The suburbanites have this in common with the urban hipsters:   they’re part of the in-crowd who have “it,” whatever “it” is.  If you don’t, well, God bless you but you just aren’t part of our party.

Ever met an arrogant preacher?   You’re a sinner who hasn’t been educated at a seminary, given knowledge that members in your church haven’t received.   Years ago, I belonged to churches where that was the case, where the pastors were arrogant and condescending.   One used to say he was just the son of a pig farmer, and he then usually expounded on seminary talking points to drown out whoever was challenging him.   Not very loving.  My friend, if I ever come off to you that way, please bring me up short.

What’s the common denominator in all this?   You know.   It’s you.   Or me.   The man (or woman) in the mirror who forgets that wealth, politics, knowledge, status and religion are fleeting.  They aren’t God, and there’s nothing any one of them – or us – can do to provide the JOY of the soul (in “enjoyment”) that God does.   Everything else isn’t God; everything else is arrogant.

For further reading:   Psalm 62:10, Jeremiah 49:4, Luke 12:20-21, Acts 14:17, 1 Timothy 6:13-21.

Beautiful God, only You are God.   Bless You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 17 September 2018

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith:  Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  1 Timothy 1:1-2 (NIV).

I’m no Apostle Paul; perhaps neither are you.   Yet our purpose here is the same:   we’re proclaiming the grace of God.   We’re in good company, my friend, hanging out with Paul, Peter, St Augustine, Luther, Billy Graham and every other pastor or evangelist in history.

We’re here again to proclaim Christ Jesus, our hope.   As my Concordia reference Bible says, that’s a declaration, not just a throwaway phrase.  Paul refers to his mission as commanded by God Himself and his mission was to proclaim the hope – the promise and the guarantee – of Christ Jesus.

When you say “I believe,” you’re concurring.   You’re putting your dearly held beliefs in line with Jesus, saying “I believe in You.”   “I trust You.”  “I submit to You.”   “I believe everything You said.”

That’s tough.

It was tough for Paul to do, I’m sure.   Jesus called him to turn from persecuting the church and to follow the path of an apostle.   He gave Saul the mission to proclaim Him in a world hostile to Him.   He took Saul’s livelihood, his background, his career, and He even changed his name to Paul.  Even though Paul had been personally visited and changed by Jesus Himself, it still must have been tough.  He had to learn to live out his life as Jesus wanted him to after being turned completely upside down.

Then he found a protégé, an apprentice.   Timothy was a young man who Paul met during one of his missionary journeys (to what is now Turkey).   Timothy had a unique background, training and talents that Jesus could use to reach out to other believers in Macedonia.  So Paul took the young man under his wing and instructed him on ways to better proclaim the risen Christ.   1 and 2 Timothy are Paul’s letters of instruction to his apprentice, who went on to proclaim Jesus long after Paul was martyred in Rome (before he, too, was murdered for the faith).   They’re the basis of today’s seminaries.

Because part of the promise and hope of proclaiming Jesus is accepting the call in to His service whatever it takes, whatever it involves.

Paul knew this.   Timothy knew this.   Augustine, Luther, and Billy Graham knew it, and so do we.   Jesus is all love and His burden of love is both light and deep.  Paul wrote two letters to encourage his apprentice and they’re here for us to read.   And following that encouragement can be awfully tough.

For further reading:  2 Corinthians 1:1, Titus 1:3, Luke 1:47, Colossians 1:27, Acts 16:1, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Timothy 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:3

Lord, praise to You for the word You gave to Paul to share with Timothy and us.   Thank You for their words and experience.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 16 April 2018

Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.   1 Thessalonians 4:8 (NIV).

Do atheists go to hell?   And what about suicides:   do people who commit suicide go to hell?

Let’s get the bad news out of the way:   if atheists say they don’t believe, actively reject believing in Jesus, then, yes, they are rejecting God Himself and absorb those consequences now.  Pascal’s wager plays out:  if you believe in God and He exists, or you believe in God and He doesn’t exist, or you don’t believe in God and He doesn’t exist, you are rationally better off than if you don’t believe in God and He does exist.  God offers the proof of His existence in many ways and it’s not only irrational and illogical to actively disbelieve in the miracles of nature, but it’s spiritually dangerous.   Jesus came to build relationships with every person, especially folks who don’t know Him or deny Him.   If any of us rejects the offering of salvation from Him, they do so at their own peril.

Ditto you and I with our pride because, let’s be real:   neither you nor I know other peoples’ hearts.   It isn’t our place to judge the heart.   Only God can know whether someone truly shuns Him or only claim to reject Him but secretly don’t.   Perhaps the best we can say in the matter is to simply say “we don’t know but the Bible says” and leave it at that.  Woe to the man who rejects the Son of Man.   Woe, too, to the man who judges the man who rejected Jesus.

What about suicides?   What about people who reject God’s ultimate gift of life by ending it themselves?   Same answer:   the best we can say is “I don’t know.”   Nowhere in the Bible does is say people who commit suicide are damned.   We could what-if the situation endlessly and still be left at the conclusion of saying it’s really up to God because only God knows the heart.   If someone rejects life, perhaps they are rejecting God; that isn’t up to me to decide.   Who knows a person’s last thoughts except God?  Perhaps it’s a whiff at the question but, in fact, it’s above my pay grade.

A called servant of Christ – a pastor, reverend, minister, priest – is someone who received a personal call from God to teach and proclaim Him.   Paul reminds us today that those who reject the words of called servants are rejecting God Himself.   Yet even called servants are fallible, sinful, human.   Only God has the answers we all seek.

For further reading:   Ezekiel 36:27, Romans 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Galatians 4:6, 1 John 3:24, 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

Lord, I believe in You.   Help my un-belief.   Help those who don’t know you, or are hurting to the agony of death.

 

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 Hebrews, 23 January 2017

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? Hebrews 7, verse 11.

Ah, a question for the ages.   If God gave us what He said we needed, why did He have to give us something else?   If God said the original priests could atone for sins, why Jesus?   You know the answer.   I’m betting you simply don’t want to admit it.

It’s not you:  it’s me.   It’s not me:  it’s you.   It’s us.   It’s in us.   It’s something that controls us.  It’s our sins.   Chucka, chucka, chucka.   Big deal; we already know that, right?  Actually, it is sort of a big deal, and that really stinks yet it’s the first of all first principles.

Your pastor is a sinful man.  All pastors are sinful men.   MLK Day was one week ago and most Americans regard Martin Luther King as having been a great man, an upright and moral man who said and did great things that needed to be said and done.   Obscured in history is the fact that he was also a sinner.   Time has revealed that he had at least one extramarital affair during his ministry; he may have had many.   Being familiar with that particular sin myself, perhaps the best I should say is “good men sometimes do bad things, too.”  Remember Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker?   Good men who brought many people to real faith but who also lived double lives of hypocrisy like MLK and me and you.

Next time you see your pastor, remember that he’s a sinner too.   He or she doesn’t have a special dispensation for sin, pope or no pope (and neither does the pope).  Pastors don’t have some special divine exemption from their sins.   They struggle with them just like everyone else.   Some struggle with them while they’re in active ministry for the Lord.  Indeed, in today’s ministry, you’ll meet men and women of the cloth who are right now dealing personally with their adultery, homosexuality, alcoholism, theft, dishonesty and even murder.  Just like you and me.   Just like Jimmy and MLK.   Just like the author of Hebrews.

And just like all those priests of Levi.   God Himself chose Levi’s, then Aaron’s, descendants to be His personal representatives.   Before Levi even knew his children and grandchildren, God knew them and had already chosen them to carry His Good News to people who needed it.   God knew they would be sinful, that some would resent their calling, that all of them would do some things (maybe many things) in their lives that were abhorrent to Him…and He chose them anyway.   He chose them anyway because He needed human messengers to share news about Him until He could finish making all things right.

He could only finish that work with someone who was without sin.   When the time was just right, God gave us Jesus to finish the job once and for all.  Only one person has ever lived who was without sin.   That’s just and only Jesus.   Only Jesus lived a perfect life, one not tainted with the stink of sin.   Only Jesus has ever lived that life, then heroically, willingly given it up to God’s holy purposes, in order that other people might live forever.  MLK didn’t do that; no pope has ever done that.   No televangelist could do that, and neither could you or I.   But Jesus did.

Why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?  Because of sin.  Because sin is blood-red serious.  I’m stained scarlet with it.   So are you.  So is your pastor, and your friends, and your newborn children and grandchildren.  Billy and Franklin Graham are sinners.  So was MLK, and Jimmy Swaggart, and so were Aaron and Levi and even Melchizedek if he was a descendant of Adam and Eve.   And all of us can be cleaned white as pure snow because of the scarlet sinless blood of Jesus of Nazareth.

For further reading:   Hebrews 8:7, Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 5:6

Lord, thank You for the holy sacrifice of Your Son, the one true priest forever.