Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 September 2018

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 1 Timothy 1:3-4 (NIV).

We love pedigrees, credentials.   We love having people go ‘into the family business’ as if that somehow confers special blessing or knowledge on them.   How many politicians, general officers, pastors, celebrities, CEOs, and high-ranking officials in society are children of the same?   You could drive yourself to frustrated distraction simply naming all of them.

That’s the point, you know:   frustrated distraction.

Frustrated distraction and false doctrine:   WE KNOW BEST.   The Baptists say that (and mean it) but so do the Catholics, and the Lutherans, and the dozen or so other reformed denominations, and the atheists think we’re all messed up.  But we’re each guilty of it.  “I know better than you.”   Throw “because the Bible says” and you’ll either look educated or immensely stupid (maybe even like a total jerk).   Some folks thrive on doctrine, on insisting they know better than anyone else.   More than once I’ve been accused of being a know-it-all and, to be fair, the accusers sometimes have good points.   I’m sure I’m not the only one.   In fact, turn on any of the political talk commentary shows on cable TV and you’ll see a ton of people convinced they’re all correct.

More than a few are false doctrines there, at least as far as I understand them.  And all of them are frustrating distractions.

The ancient Jews believed in citing genealogies and pedigrees.   God had proclaimed that the Levites would be His priesthood, and the Jews of Bible times took that seriously.  The Gnostics of the first century took this further, believing in a New Age system that mashed Judaism, philosophy and nascent Christianity together into a self-focused belief based on who you were rather than God.   Paul saw that and cautioned his pastoral apprentice to steer clear of these things.  Further, he advised Timothy to teach others to do the same.

Yet what has changed?   Aren’t we still tangled up in the knot of “who are your people” over “who does God say you are?”   A Harvard degree carries bigger vocational clout than one from the University of Phoenix yet graduates of either may have the exact same degree.   It’s nice if your dad, grandfather and great-grandfather were all in the same ministry business but, to be frank, so what?  Oscars mean more than simply great movies.   Nothing new here.

What matters is what God says about us, not what we say about each other.   Credentials and pedigrees can be great things but they can also lead to frustrated distraction.

For further reading:  Acts 16:9, Titus 1:14, Titus 3:9, 1 Timothy 1:5

Lord, help me to focus ONLY on what You say to me and about me.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 January 2017

He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.  Hebrews 7, verses 13-14.

Background matters here on the Third Rock.   It’s not the Harvard diploma that gets you the job, but the Harvard name can get you in the door.   It’s not the brand name Velveeta that you buy:   it’s that big block of cheesy love that makes great queso.  It isn’t the car brand that matters as much as it is the smooth ride.  Yet background still can matter to us:   you get a better ride from a Mercedes than you do a used Kia.   And you get a better queso from Velveeta than you do from store brands.   And you get more resume inquiries if you have an Ivy League pedigree than you do if you only graduated from high school.   But background isn’t everything, and background will only carry you so far.   If you want quality, you have to dig deeper.   You need to get past the superficial things that live in front of the background.

The verses since verse 11 have talked about how Jesus is like Melchizedek, the faceless, background-less king of Salem and high priest of God who met Abram in the Canaan wilderness.   The author illustrates how, if human qualifications were enough, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus.   Melchizedek had a pedigree; he may have even been Jesus Himself.  But we needed more reminders, so God gave us strict rules through Moses about who should be priests.   Moses and his brother, Aaron, were descendants of Levi; they were Levites.  The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy contain all kinds of codes for Israelite priests.  What to do, how to act, what to wear, when to offer sacrifices and how; it was detailed for a reason:   God’s reason.  Priests weren’t allowed to change the rules; only God could do that.

Becoming a priest in ancient days wasn’t for just anyone…literally.   To be a Jewish priest, you had to be a Levite, descended from Jacob’s son, Levi (one of Abraham’s great grandsons).   It was to the Levites and only the Levites that God had given the priestly calling.   Exclusionary and discriminatory?   Only if you’re shallow.   Look beyond those twenty-first century words and you see the reason from antiquity was two-fold.   One, God wanted His people to understand that His calling was set apart and unique.   And, two, that His calling would matter, that it would teach people about His glory if they adhered to certain processes.   God gave us these rules for our benefit, not His, so He used groups and symbols that we could understand.

Yet Jesus wasn’t a Levite.   He was descended, both on His father’s and mother’s sides, from Judah (another of Abraham’s great grandsons).   The referenced verses from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and Revelation talk about Jesus’ lineage from the tribe of Judah.   And when He wanted to institute a priesthood that would supersede anything earthly, God reminded us that He is the ultimate rule maker, that He is over those rules and not subject to them.   He sent His Son to live by every earthly rule, even those of the priesthood to which He wasn’t subject, yet was not bound by the restriction of being a Levite.   Indeed, Jesus’ human restriction was that He was descended from Levi’s father, Jacob, and grandfather, Abraham, and ultimate Father Himself, God Almighty.  In fact, word, and deed, Jesus ministered as a man in ways to both fulfill God’s priestly requirements and to demonstrate that, as God, He would supersede them for all people.

And Jesus’ background was meager.   He didn’t have a rabbinical background.   He wasn’t a trained Levite or priest.   He didn’t go to all the right schools, and He didn’t have any upbringing to set Him apart from anyone in particular.   Jesus was a simple carpenter’s son, from royal but undisclosed heritage, who hailed from a poor, simple town in Judea.  No Harvard degree; no Velveeta branding; no sweet ride for the streets of Nazareth.   When all will be said and done, Jesus matters more than the background.

For further reading:   Hebrews 7:11, Isaiah 11:1, Matthew 1:2-6, Luke 3:33, Revelation 5:5.

Lord Jesus, thank You for signs and things that matter here in this world.   Let them all be to Your glory and be ways that help me to point to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 September 2016

But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” Hebrews 1, verses 8-9.

These verses are more verses that affirm Jesus’ royal right to the throne of his ancestor, King David.   Why should this matter?

Face it: we like pedigrees.   We Americans pride ourselves on being independent and republican (little r), because we favor representative democracy as our form of government. Yet we are still a celebrity, pedigree-driven culture.   Generations ago, the Kennedys self-anointed themselves as American royalty.   Before them, there were the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Rockefellers; today we have Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk (oh and that Trump guy).   Anyone remember the Travie McCoy “Billionaire” song from a few years ago? The PG version of the lyrics sang, “I wanna be a billionaire so frickin bad…smiling next to Oprah and the Queen.”   Kardashians, Hiltons, Britney, Lindsey, whoever (and still those Kennedys):   we set up celebrities, athletes, politicians, and wealthy people as a sort of royalty. We adore them.

And have you run up against the job market lately?   It can be tough to get a job if you don’t have a college degree.   And even if you have a degree, you can get into the hiring process and find it difficult to get a job if your degree isn’t from a certain school.   Don’t believe me?   Since 1988, every president has had a degree from an Ivy League school (the current election will continue the trend).   Drop down a few rungs on the vocational ladder and you’ll find most job postings require X, Y and Z qualifications. To get those qualifications, you need to acquire experience, certifications, skills, or specific training.   If you don’t meet those qualifications, you don’t make the cut.

We may pride ourselves on being an egalitarian people but in practice, we like pedigrees and royalty and status.   They help us to affirm our belief that the one in whom we put our trust is reliable and true.

So consider this:   Jesus has the pedigree for our benefit, not His.

Jesus doesn’t need a pedigree.   He doesn’t need a certificate, or a degree, or lineage.   He’s God; He simply is, the Great I AM. The Bible points this out over and over in both Old and New Testaments.   God Himself is all the proof we need of Him and STILL He gives us proof of Himself through revelations in His Word.

But we’re sinful, and that isn’t enough for us.   We want our Savior to be a ‘somebody.’ We want our king to be someone who’s ‘been there,’ who’s down for the streets, who can relate to us but still be better than us; someone who has the proof that they have arrived. God knows this, so practically from the very start of time, He gave us prophecies of how He would deliver us through a Savior.   As time marched on, He then gave us the pedigree for that Savior, stating how He would fulfill promises made to the Patriarchs, how He would sit on the throne of King David, and how that throne would then last forever.   There are hundreds of such prophecies in the Old Testament and it is nearly statistically impossible for any other person in all of recorded history to have satisfied them the way Jesus of Nazareth did.   One website I saw listed a 1 in 10^157 probability that one man could fulfill just 48 of those prophecies ( Jesus fulfilled all 456 of them.

That’s quite an affirmation, quite a pedigree.

God gives us a pedigree for our King, and then He sets Him aside as that one true King.   We look to our ruler to rule us with justice and to be upright. Jesus lived the life and died the death to prove just that, to establish His Kingdom with those two qualities as its bedrock. His entire ministry here as both man and Son of God was a ministry of just teaching, establishing His word as reliable and true; it has lasted over 2000 years. He did this because He knows we need it, because nobody else ever could.

For more reading:   Luke 1:33, Philippians 2:9, Isaiah 61: 1-3, Psalm 45: 6-7, Genesis 3:14-15.

Lord Jesus, You and only You are Lord, Savior and the one true King. Thank You for all the proofs you give to satisfy my human craving to know You more.