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.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 6 November 2018

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV).

One of the verses that helps to amplify Paul’s meaning today is listed below (referenced from my Concordia).   1 Corinthians 10:32 says “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God.”   This is Paul’s goal in meting out advice to his protégé.   “Whatever you do, Timothy, keep these things in mind so that the members of our church of God don’t cause others to struggle in their faith.”

Simply brilliant.   Whatever we do as ‘the church’ should be upright, consistent, caring, and loving so that God is increased and we are decreased.   We should do these things, as followers of Jesus, to encourage, build, and strengthen the faith of others, especially the faith of those who are weak in it or new to it.

That’s been on my heart a lot lately, even more so during the last days of this political season.   I’m guilty of arguing online about my political views, and I have to confess that I don’t think I’ve changed anyone’s mind for the better.   There’s great value in standing up for what you believe, both to take that stand and to encourage friends with similar beliefs.  Yet in doing that, I confess I’m guilty of saying things that don’t glorify God and sometimes cause other people to stumble (both in their spiritual beliefs and their political ones).

On this election day, I therefore take great comfort in Paul’s advice, his urging to Timothy (and to you and I) to conduct ourselves in ways that show even strangers that we believe in Jesus.  The church of the living God acts out of love, even when it, too, takes hard and political incorrect stands.  The church of the living God conducts itself in ways that show what we believe about the love of Jesus.   We don’t give up our temporal political beliefs because we follow Jesus:  we learn ways to do them better.

I haven’t done that very well; have you?   I bet I know your answer.

And if that’s true, then Paul is advising us, too, to remember how we should conduct ourselves, especially today.   Our political choices, for now, conclude in the ballot box.   Our lives as Jesus’ church go on regardless of politics, pop culture, or what the pundits and celebrities think.  We’re the church of God walking around in a world hostile to Him.   Let’s remember to act like it.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 10:32, Matthew 16:16, Timothy 3:15

Lord, forgive me for failing You in my words and actions.   Encourage me to do better, to be a more faithful follower in Your church.   Help me to help others.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 7 September 2018

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies.  2 Thessalonians 3:11 (NIV).

Some verses are really convicting.   I’m convicted deeply by this one.   In my opinion, if you read verse 11 and don’t see it as a mirror staring back at you, well, you have a problem.

If you’re on Facebook (like I am), you’re a busybody; you’re a gossip.   Our world of social media, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest or whatever is ALL gossip.   That mean’s we’re all busybodies, busy but not busy about what matters.

I can take it; hit me.   “You’re Davy Downer.”   Yep, I guess I am.  In that vein, let me hold up that mirror again.  Maybe you’ll get a deep gaze into it.   I know I did.   I’m a busybody.

See, I love arguing politics.   I’m like others in that I’m pretty sick about America’s state of political affairs.   I’m like others in that I’m sick of seeing my side denigrated and put-down over what we believe.  When someone says something I think is wrong, I like to stand up and defend what I believe.  To be fair, folks on the other side sometimes present consideration-worthy, valid arguments; after all, we’re all Americans.   But do I let it stop there?   No, usually I don’t.   Usually I press on, yammering about whatever point I was trying to make.   Have I reinforced some opinions?   Probably.   Have I changed any minds?   Unlikely.

Sometimes I pig-pile on “liking” things that I find funny; sometimes it’s at someone else’s expense.   And, yes, I’m guilty of sharing things that are out & out wrong.   Or vengeful.   It’s no better than being in the hall in high school, chattering by the lockers or passing notes up and down the aisle.   Or standing in the back of the church, catching up on who’s doing what behind their backs.   For me, social media is nothing more than a place to waste valuable time talking about other people or myself.

(In addition to being arrogant, prideful, and, yes, sometimes a jerk) That makes me a gossip.   Time for another look in the mirror.  If Paul “friended” me, would he think I was a gossip, a busybody?   Worse, would Jesus?

Boy that mirror is bright!  Here’s an internet link, one of thousands, that mentions 32 verses decrying gossiping:  https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-gossip/.  It wasn’t just Paul saying it’s wrong.

How to change?  Stand at the cross:  “I’m sorry, please forgive me” and mean it.   Then back away from the laptop, the iPhone.  When the urge comes to argue, back away and pray a little.   It takes time; it takes effort; that mirror is heavy, and I’m a gossip addict.   But if I don’t try, do I really want to face Jesus one day and have Him look at me disappointed about this?  Or worse, have Him rightfully call me a hypocrite?

For further reading:  1 Timothy 5:13, 2 Thessalonians 3:12.

Lord, help me to change!

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 14 September 2017

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  Hebrews 12, verse 4.

“I ain’t got time to bleed.”   That quote is 30 years old this year.   In case you don’t know where it came from, it entered the pop culture lexicon in the movie “Predator,” starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Jesse “the Body” Ventura.   Let’s not discuss Arnold; our focus is on “the Body.”   You’ll recall that Jesse Ventura had been a Navy Seal, then a professional actor.   After Predator and a few other less than memorable movies, Jesse ventured into politics.  He was eventually elected governor of my home state of Minnesota where his performance was less than stellar.   His tough-guy approach to governing didn’t quite fit in. Harkening back to Hollywood, “I ain’t got time to bleed” was Jesse’s most famous line in the movie, uttered before his character became prey to the alien predator.

When you’re out of time, you bleed.   Better to make time to bleed now.   Whether you make time for it or not, here on this planet, you’re gonna bleed.

When you’re really down for the struggle, you commit your blood to it.  In other words, if something means enough to you, you’d better be willing to die for it.   Your spouse, your children, your pride, your image, maybe even your country:   for these things, most people make the time to bleed.   For most people, these things are important enough to die for.  Ask Jesus about it.   After all, you were important enough for Him to die for.   Jesus had time to bleed because His bleeding made it possible for your peace and your life after bloody death.

Do you believe enough to die?

In the developed world, when most people die their bodies are bled dry.   Whether you were ready to die or not, when you die in the West, you’re gonna bleed.  The undertaker cuts open your body and opens an artery until all your blood is drained.   Then they’ll sew you up.   They will then inject a solution of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol, phenol, water, and dyes back into your cadaver in order to simulate a life-like skin-tone (see https://www.everplans.com/articles/the-embalming-process-explicit).  Yep, it’s gruesome, but that’s what happens.

When you’re out of time, you bleed.   At that time – and there will be ‘that time’ for all of us one day – it won’t matter whether or not you bled when you still had time.   Were you a giver, giving from your heart to live out the calling Jesus gives you, living out His fruit of His Spirit?   Or were you Jesse the Body, raging day to day because ‘I ain’t go time to bleed?”

Tell me:   is what you believe important enough for you to allow someone to kill you for it?

The fact is, Jesse had it all wrong.  If you really want to overcome the temptations of our world, you make time to bleed.   If you struggle against them, it’ll cost you.   You’ll be persecuted, attacked, maybe destroyed.   It (literally) may kill you.   If you believe enough in resisting the temptation of sin, you’ll bleed.   You’ll bleed emotionally.  You’ll bleed rhetorically.   You’ll probably bleed physically.   All this will happen because sin and it’s father, Satan, are the ultimate predators.

And resisting the urge to sin, whatever your pet sin might be, is depressing.   It’ll bleed you from the inside out.  It’s tough to fight off the voices that tell you “just one more.”  It’s wearying to have to say “no” when it would feel so good, so right, to simply give in.  The predator knows that.   He’s a damned coward, you know.   He only attacks when we’re weak because we’re easier to overcome when we’re weakened.   Yet if you truly believe in this Jesus and all He’s called you to be for Him, you resist.   You hurt; you struggle; you’ll bleed.  It’s important, you know.   It’s what Christ did.

I’m sorry if this hurts; I’m sorry if you came here today looking for some happy uplifting words to get you through your day.  That isn’t what’s on deck for today.   This is a harsher truth.  Today there is the sober reminder that, if you haven’t resisted the devil to the point of it shedding your blood, then you aren’t broken yet.   Much as it may hurt, there will be more pain in store for you.   It’s going to cost you blood.   Life is a one-way death trip, and the only thing that’ll get you through it is blood:  your believing in Jesus’ redeeming blood to the point of the world taking your own.  Take heart, then, in knowing that it cost Jesus His as well.   He’s right beside you as you struggle.   When you dig for that courage to resist, that urge to go on just a little more, that’s Jesus’ Spirit building you up.   Putting strength in your resolve and steel in your spine.   Jesse Ventura could only dream of that.  I hope he has time for it.

For further reading:  Hebrews 10: 32-34, Hebrews 13:13.

Lord, when I bleed, let me bleed in service to You.


 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 20 January 2016

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” Mark 14, verses 1-2.

These verses further entrench my disgust for all things political. That’s anachronistic because I follow politics.   The silly season of American politics in which we find ourselves now has always fascinated me.   I enjoy history; I love to read about it and see places where big events happened.   Like it or not, most of those events are memorable because there were political activities or overtones involved in them.   These days especially, it’s important that we, as citizens and voters, keep up on the views of those who seek to govern us.   Not just anyone can or should be president, or in any elected office actually.

Yet fascination and civic duty not withstanding, more often than not I find myself disgusted by the politics that are played out in our lives.   So many decisions, so many actions, are dictated by the whims of the politics of those who have been put in charge.   Politics were the biggest reason why I “divorced the Air Force” and got out at 11 years active.   I was disgusted that nearly every decision I made, as a junior NCO, was politicized by (who I perceived to be) a great many unqualified people around me.   In the space of just a few years, my part of the service went from being agile and able to having to seek approval for nearly every action we took from numerous uninvolved parties in the non-combat chain of command.   Politics.

At work we play politics, gauging what we should and shouldn’t say so as to not offend the most people on our team.   In church we structure the leadership around politically elected officers who, to be honest, can sometimes be as partisan or ineffective as any member of Congress. Ever been to a family reunion?   Ever held your tongue at the dinner table or listened to a cousin, uncle or parent rant on about something in pop culture?

Politics:   they’re through and through in our lives and they disgust a great many folks.   Today’s verses that talk about what the Jewish chief priests and elders said and did only reinforce that disgust.  If you think about it, the priests and elders did what they did for politics.   It was to hold on to their power, to preserve their political and ecclesiastical power in Jerusalem. They didn’t want to rock the boat; they didn’t want things to change unless it meant change in their favor and this itinerant rabbi from Galilee threatened a very different kind of change.   He had to be stopped.

But the priests were afraid of what the general population would do if said population found out about the politics that the ruling class was playing. There could be rioting or violence.   More likely, there would be a loss of tithing and income at the Temple. No matter what could happen, it would mean a threat to the status quo and the power base of those in charge.

All because of politics. The Son of Man was murdered because of disgusting petty power politics.

Lord I pray that you forgive me when I fail You, when I put the politics of this world above Your mission.

Read Mark 14, verses 1-11.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 9 November 2015

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him.  By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” Mark 11, verses 27-28.

Here’s yet another example of how little things change.   In a way, stories of the petty ways in which the Jewish Temple leaders treated Jesus give even more credence to the truth of them.   The chief priests and elders schemed, conspired, nit-picked, and finally plotted to bring down this interloper from Galilee. They used every dodge and ploy at their disposal in trying to box Jesus into rhetorical corners, yet He refused to play along.   If Jesus was ‘the big dog,’ they were the pack of little Chihuahuas nipping at Big Dog’s heels.   Yet if you get enough little dogs, even the Big Dog’s life can be in danger.

How little things have changed. Our politics today are rife with stories of how the media and the powers-that-be try to take down anyone who seems to threaten the establishment status quo. In corporate America, the quickest way to losing your job is to rock the boat (even as every new CEO promises to ‘turn things around by changing how we do business;’ freaking rah already). Do you know people, maybe even family members, who gossip and tear down other people for no reason other than petty envy? And what about you?   Where do you or I fit on the spectrum of mis-behavior?

If Jesus walked up to you or me and said, “Friend, let me help you change your life,” would we respond with “who do you think you are?”   Or “who made you the boss of me?” or some other churlish retort.

Noodle it long enough and I believe you’ll see how we really aren’t different from the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders in these verses.   In their defense, some of them were only doing what they thought was best to protect God’s Temple against the violent tendencies of Rome and the plotting intrigues of their Gentile neighbors.   The Jews of Jesus’ day were used to being treated like second class citizens yet they still fiercely clung to their ancient status as God’s chosen people.   Anyone who came along and was perceived to be a threat would naturally be suspected, likely targeted for elimination.   Should it be surprising to us, then, that they questioned Him, “who do you think you are, pal?”   “Not so fast, young man.   Who gave you permission to rock the boat?”   At what point did prudence turn into venom?

Eons later, we respond every day in the same way.   I respond by immediately being suspicious of the corporate VP who sends me snarky emails about my project; they immediately make me question her agenda.   You respond by questioning when your kids tell you that their teachers know best on American history, Islam studies, and other subjects du jour.   We each act the same with new neighbors, strangers in the mall, and politicians with whom we disagree.

I wonder:   how many times have we missed opportunities to act like Jesus with strangers who honestly didn’t know Him. How many times have our words and actions hindered His Kingdom when we could have helped it?   Are we the Big Dog or the little yappy toy?   We haven’t changed.

Lord, forgive me. Help me yet again to not question You and to do my part for Your work.

Read Mark 11, verses 27-33.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 July 2015

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. Mark 9, verses 14-15.

The crowd in these verses could be a crowd in America today.   Media fireflies swarm around Candidate A because they’ve anointed Candidate A as the Next Big Thing…until something bigger comes along.   In high school, the in-crowd picks on the new kid until a newer kid comes along…and then he isn’t what they expect.   At work, you’re swarmed by people who just want someone to help them get their work don, someone with a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of leadership initiative.   Crowds are crowds no matter where you find them in time.

To me, the reaction of the law-teachers is natural.   The teachers of the law were the Judean power structure (and they knew it).   If anyone came along, they were a potential threat to that structure.   Of course the teachers of the law would question, pivot on, and marginalize anyone whose words or actions could cause ripples in the carefully constructed pond. You can almost picture how the news traveled. “Have you heard?   Some of those Galileans who follow that Jesus are here in town.”   “Really?   Go find out what they want.   Take X and Y with you.”   And then it would start.

But that crowd?   They’re like any crowd.   They want to be fed, want to be led, want someone, something who is truly genuine.   When they saw Jesus’ followers, they swarmed them because they saw that ‘genuiness.’ When they saw the teachers of the law cornering Jesus’ disciples, they got even more interested.   And when they saw Jesus Himself, they dropped everything they were doing and ran.

Don’t gloss over that phrase “they were overwhelmed with wonder.” Politicians, former senators, and political straphangers don’t impress me.   Ditto the beautiful people from the red carpet.   I’ve met enough famous people to discover they use the bathroom the same as the rest of us; the same as Jesus did, in fact.   Yet this crowd in Judea saw something unusual in Jesus.   They had heard the rumors about Him; they had seen the miracles He performed.   Many of them had likely heard His teaching, which was spoken in kindly authority, words of love with a velvety steel core.   Forgive, love, be patient, be ready, be strong, love your enemy, love your neighbor, love God:   these weren’t the rote-lessons that the law-teachers taught.   No, the people were overwhelmed with wonder because Jesus was wonderful.

So, I say it again:   this could be a crowd in America today.   This could be us at the State Fair, or at your local mall. Despite how things are tough all over, despite how the mores of society seem to be devolving quickly, despite the worry, the unemployment, the endless cycle of crises both real and manufactured, we still long for something real, something genuine, something kind but with loving authority. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we still very much long for Jesus.

Lord Jesus, I long for You. I want to be where You are, like You are, live my life like You ask me to.

Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.