Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 October 2017.

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.  Hebrews 12, verses 16-17.

Esau.   We’ve talked about Esau before, early on in discussing Chapter 11.   Refreshing your memory, Esau was Jacob’s brother who was rash, impetuous, and emotional.   He and his brother knew their father and grandfather had been promised by God Himself that He would make them into a blessed nation.   It was their family inheritance; it set them apart from everyone else on the planet.   It’s logical to assume Esau grew up hearing these accounts (first-hand even, from both Abraham and Isaac), yet Esau treated God’s promise with casual contempt.  One time, Esau’s emotions got the best of him and it had eternal consequences for mankind.   He traded his birthright – perhaps the most important thing a man of antiquity possessed – for a bowl of stew.   Later, following his brother’s trickery, he was subjected to being a second-place citizen in his own family even though he was first-born.

Admit it:   the reason Esau did this was that he was godless.   Specifically, he craved less God in his life except when it served his own purposes.

Then there’s his brother.  Jacob’s deceit was two-fold.  First was the verbal acquisition of Esau’s birthright by taking advantage of Esau’s own foolishness.  Then came the physical blessing of their father, Isaac, through active deception and playing on Isaac’s own loving words.  No objective analysis of Genesis 25 and 27 can reach any conclusion other than that Jacob was a crafty deceiver, maybe even dishonest.  He must have been a conflicted man, harboring deep, real faith in the living God while still clinging to the worldly ways of taking what you want.  Before the world was made, God had marked Jacob to carry His lineage and fulfill His purposes.   Even without Jacob’s participation, I’m sure God would have found another way to include him.  It’s amazing how God can turn human dysfunction into Divine glory.

Yet none of this excuses Esau.   Esau treated the gift of divine birthright as a cheap thing.  He didn’t regard it as important.   He didn’t consider the implications of rejecting it.   Instead of saying to himself “I’ll get a bite someplace else”, Esau demanded his weaker brother feed him.   Jacob pressed Esau with what must have seemed a silly demand, that Esau forswear his first-born birthright to property, blessing, and special status as God’s chosen vessel of the redemption promise.   Rather than taking this seriously, Esau flippantly signed away his birthright in exchange for a full stomach.   I hope it tasted good; I’m betting Esau didn’t give it a second thought.

And when the time came for their father to die, Isaac wanted to bless his sons respecting that birthright.   Jacob tricked Isaac and got the blessing that had been intended for his older brother.   But Isaac was a man of character, an upright and faithful follower of his Lord.   He couldn’t go back on his word even when his favorite son pressed him for something you and I might consider fair.   The firstborn blessing had been given and Jacob would become heir to all Isaac was and owned.   And it had happened because Esau had shamefully regarded God’s promise.

Moral of the story:  don’t treat God’s gifts cheaply.

I mentioned yesterday that it seemed strange that the writer of Hebrews would talk about the powerful concept of sexual immorality in only a few words before spending the next two verse talking about Esau’s immorality.   Those words were almost an off-hand comment.  Yet perhaps the message of these two subjects actually fits together.   It’s not about the sex; it isn’t about hunting for wild game.   It isn’t about the lust for flesh or the lust for status.   Immorality is immorality no matter what form it takes, and the writer cautions followers of Jesus to be on our guard against it.   If we, like Esau, treat God’s gifts cavalierly, it should be no surprise to us when all we receive in return are cavalier rewards.  If we, like Esau, think God-less thoughts from our hearts, is it any surprise we might find ourselves dis-inherited and at war with the world of our own making?

For further reading:  1 Genesis 25:29-34, Genesis 27:30-40.

My Lord, I pray You had mercy on Esau.   And I pray here for Your guidance that I might not treat Your many gifts flippantly.   Help me to appreciate Your value in all times.  



Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 11 January 2017

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  Hebrews 6, verse 18.

Today’s verse is for Emma Marie, my grand-daughter, who will come into the world tomorrow.

The oath and the promise:   they’re the two unchangeable things mentioned in verse 18.  We need those things every day of our lives to remind us that God is more powerful than the world in which we live.  God isn’t the author of evil for evil is the absence of God.   Wherever we reject God and choose sin, we push God out and evil moves in.  The constant struggle of every creature since the Fall has been to embrace God again in a world where we have rejected Him.   He’s been here all along, working and struggling with us.   He provides for us daily in His grace, even when we reject Him.  We who have fled Him constantly need to be reminded that He’s still here, that He’s still God, and that He still loves us and desires for us to be with Him.

I’m hoping baby Emma knows this from the minute she’s born tomorrow.

Just this morning my wife and I were discussing a medical bill we’re appealing.   Our daughter, Emma’s mom, went to a doctor 7 months ago.   Samantha had medical issues long before Emma was conceived and it was long thought she would never be able to have children.   Early on in the pregnancy, (understandably) she had much pain and difficulty.   The doctor she saw at the time insisted the child wouldn’t be viable and that Sammie must have an abortion.  Not accepting this, Sam sought out another doctor who pronounced the first to be a quack and set her on course to have a typical pregnancy.   To date, Emma has survived to full term and, by every indication, should be born normal and healthy tomorrow.

It wouldn’t have been possible if God had not promised to be with her every minute of every day.   The world wanted the baby to be murdered; God said there was another path.   A stretch of logic?   Perhaps, but the proof is in the life, how light and life turns back darkness and death every time.   It always has and always will because God promised it to be so.

God didn’t have to promise Abraham that He would make a great nation of his family.   God didn’t have to promise Abraham that, through his family, all mankind would be redeemed.   God didn’t have to save the men He’d created because He’d already wiped out mankind once in a great flood.   But He did.   It was love that made God promise these things because God is all love.   He is all love, peace, justice, knowledge, and truth.  God wanted to share these with people He created to be in harmony with Himself, so He divined the way to make things right again.   That way, that path, traveled through Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus of Nazareth all the way to Calvary.   God didn’t have to promise these things, but He did, and He made an oath to see them through.   And then He did that as well.

Ever since that first Easter Sunday, God has reminded us of His promise with each new sunrise.   Sure, in a world where evil happens, it is sometimes tough to remember that God is still in control here.   He’s still at work, still active, still in love with we crazy people with a crazy love we can only imitate at best.   Yet He’s still here and the promise is both fulfilled and still in effect.  Every day when we awaken we are already knee-deep in God’s grace, having lived through a night and risen to the light of a fresh opportunity.   Every day we are given another chance to use our God-given talents in whatever ways we will.   Every day we get to love, and to share love, and to realize that love is what holds the universe together.   Every day we get to see, once again, how all these things are from God, and of God, and about God, and that we, His people, are beneficiaries – and benefactors – of them.   God loves us because He’s God.  He’s always God, always here, always involved in our lives, and always waiting for our last day, when we get to go home to be with Him.

I pray Emma Marie Tolliver learns these things.   My wife and I, and our family, will do our part to teach her.   We’re thankful that we get to do this, and thankful to be part of our new little girl’s life that begins in just a few short hours.

For further reading:   Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 3:6.

Lord, thank You for Your promise and Your oath.   Bless this new child and all new children.   Love her, let her birth be healthy, and help us to love, teach, and guide her all the days of her life.   May it all be to Your glory.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 10 January 2017

When God gave Abraham his promise, he swore by himself since he couldn’t swear by anyone greater. He said, I will certainly bless you and multiply your descendants. So Abraham obtained the promise by showing patience. People pledge by something greater than themselves. A solemn pledge guarantees what they say and shuts down any argument. When God wanted to further demonstrate to the heirs of the promise that his purpose doesn’t change, he guaranteed it with a solemn pledge.  Hebrews 6, verses 13-17.

Never doubt God.   When He promises something to you, He will deliver.   God always keeps every promise.

“I’m through with standing in line to clubs I’ll never get in.   It’s like the bottom of the ninth and I’m never gonna win.   This life hasn’t turned out quite the way I want it to be.”   That’s Nickelback; “Rockstar:”   probably one of the more ear-wormish songs of the current century.  It’s in a playlist of songs I listen to when I’m exercising.   I wonder, though:   how did the writer think his life would turn out?   How does the typical rock star celebrity think life should be?   Should it be the journey of hedonism he spells out in the lyrics or should it be something different?   What does God promise us that life will be?

When you figure that out, write a book.   You’ll be a millionaire.   You might even become a rock star.  You might also miss the point…and the promise.

God only promises Himself.   “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” is what Jesus said as He was ascending back to heaven.  God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit promises to be with us in everything we do our entire lives.   If you noodle that enough you find that is enough.  God is all we need in this life.

Ok, that’s a really nice catechism answer but it doesn’t help me much when I’m jobless, or when I lose a parent, or when I’m scared of the consequences of my sins.   When kids bully, bosses yell, spouses abuse, and children are sick, we seem to need ‘real’ help, not some ethereal promise of God’s invisible presence.   We need assistance, not words.

Or do we?

The Bible is God’s Word, His revelation of Himself to His people.   It’s the primary way He’s shared Himself with us since He went home to heaven.  In the Bible we have all we need to know in order that we might know how God promises to be with us every minute in every thing we live.  If the solution to every problem is found by first addressing first principles, then the first of those first principles is that God is with us.  We know this because He said so.   If we get over ourselves, we get to see that His promised presence makes the difference between common failure and uncommon success.   Even then, we get to see how that uncommon success is all too common when we put Jesus first in our focus.   If all God promises us is that He will be our full portion in life then we have all we need in this life.   The rest of life simply becomes other parts of the story whose central theme is Him.

How do we know this?   Because God solemnly pledged it.   He solemnly pledged it to Adam, and to Noah, and to Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, a hundred prophets, and a thousand characters in His revealed word.   He promises it to you every time you feel Him touch your heart.   He promises it every time we read His words again and learn something new.   God’s solemn pledges are backed by His guarantee of Himself.

How do we know when God touches us?   I wish there were an easy answer but there isn’t.   For some it’s a call to the heart.   For others it’s a perceived message or a known feeling.  God’s promises are always just and upright; they don’t involve a call to sin.   It’s a recognition of beauty; it’s the feeling of capture when you hear a certain tune.   It’s the peace of a sleeping newborn, the feeling of completeness after a meal.   God promised by Himself, the divine and omniscient creator.   That’s enough of a guarantee for us; there can be no greater guarantee of any promise.

God never promised He’d make me a rockstar.   Or that he’d ensure thousands of people would read this blog (though they do).   He never promised a job or a house, a relationship, success, or wealth, or fame, or even good health.   What He promised me (and you) in His word is that He would always be with us.   He is; I can sense Him.   I can sometimes feel His presence, and I know He wants the best for me even when what I want diverges from what He’s working on through me.   When I realize that, I realize that I have much more in Him than all those things I listed.  No human oath needs to guarantee it because God’s oath already has.  If you think about it, that sorta makes me like a rock star.

For further reading:   Exodus 22:11, Matthew 5:37, Genesis 22:16, Luke 1:74, Genesis 21:5, Psalm 110:4, Romans 4:16, Hebrews 11:9, Matthew 28:20.

Lord, I am humbled that You promised to stay with me always.   I thank You for that.   I praise You for it.   I ask You to help me to share that promise with others.


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 Hebrews, 6 January 2017

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”  And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.  Hebrews 6, verses 13-15.

God takes His own time to keep His promises.   Yet all through history He has kept EVERY promise He’s made.   He’s proven Himself to be reliable.   Do you find it as tough to wait on Him as I do?  It took DECADES for Abraham to see how God was keeping His promise.  It took DECADES for Moses to answer God’s call fully and see how God had delivered the Israelites.  It took CENTURIES, even MILLENIA, for people to see how God had kept His promise to send a Savior to deliver mankind from sin.  Why do I get so pissed off when I feel God hasn’t answered me immediately?   Is the problem with God or me?   You know the answer.

Now, this isn’t to cop out and let God off the hook.   Have you ever considered that God didn’t respond or answer in the way you wanted because He knew you couldn’t handle the response?   That becomes an act of mercy, not of withholding.

Case in point:   job hunting.   It’s thrillingly maddening.   It’s frightening, exhilarating, motivating, depressing, and completely necessary when your full-time position ceases to exist.   Concerning my predicament, my comment must be “all glory to God.   So far so good.”   Things are moving along well, and years of preparation and accumulating skills are paying off.   Yet behind all that, making it go forward (even making it go sideways every now and then) is the prepared, skilled hand of God.   I’ve felt His pull in everything that has happened, and because I know He’s involved, I know things will turn out just fine.

Yet they don’t turn out on my timeline.  I want the new job now.   I want to feel secure again, to not have to get up every day and beat the reeds for some new lead.   I want to know that I’ll be able to provide for my family, and pay our bills, and do the great things we have planned for this year.  To be honest, I’m scared to death every day of being a middle-aged statistic and becoming one of the millions who can’t find work; one of the millions who can’t find ‘something to eat’ in the middle of a field of plenty.

Gut-check time:   It’s not about me.   Get off the “I” train, Dave, and check your six.   God’s there.   He’s the one covering me and what I do in this life is about Him.   It’s about serving Him in whatever capacity He’s placed me.   It’s about serving His kingdom using that preparation and those skills, and that means sometimes doing it in unconventional ways.   And it means trusting God no matter what, even when I don’t understand why He’s moving me the way He is.  Now is the time to be thankful some doors are closed.   Behind them could be things that aren’t meant for me, or that could somehow make things worse.

Abraham waited a generation before seeing how God kept his promise.   He was a very old man, in his 80s, when he answered God’s call to up and leave everything he’d ever known.   Then he waited another 20 years or so before fathering Issac:  the promised child through whom God would eventually redeem mankind.   Issac waited decades before marrying the woman he loved, then waited longer before setting in motion the plan God intended all along.   Jacob did the same.   So did his son Joseph, then Moses, then David and Solomon.   Humanity waited centuries before their descendant, Jesus, arrived to make all things new.   And it has been two thousand years since Jesus promised to come back and then left.   All along, God has been active, planning to do great things through His very good creation, man.   All along, God has been working to reach all people, not just the prepared ones, so that all people might come to know Him and be saved.

Do you seriously think He doesn’t know what He’s doing?   Do you truly think He’ll let us fall without being there to build us back up again?

So I keep looking for the new job.   And I’m interviewing.   And I’m doing what I can, when I should, to do my part in gaining new full-time employment.   Like I said, so far so good.  It’s all a gift from God.  In God’s good time, a wonderful opportunity will present itself.   Until then, it’s not about me, so I get to keep the faith and move forward.

For further reading:   Genesis 22:16-17, Luke 1:73, Genesis 21:5.

Lord, I believe in You.   Thank You for sustaining me, for preparing me, and shepherding me through scary, cold days.   All glory to You.



Practical Proverbial, 13 January 2016

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Mark 13, verses 30-31.

It’s easy to overlook the commitment that God is making with us in these two verses, yet perhaps we do so all the time.

These verses come at the end of the section that talks a great deal about the end times, reminding us to seek Jesus now.   To seal the deal of our salvation (no pun intended), Jesus gives us assurances that what He’s said is dependable.   “I’m promising you now that what I say will happen in your lifetimes.”   The world ended in the lifetime of the Disciples?   Perhaps not the planet, but the world of their upbringing did.   A few years hence, when most of them were still alive, the Disciples saw or heard about the destruction of Jerusalem, including the sacred Temple.   The Romans marched in and wiped it out, then scattered the Jews for nearly 2000 years. Many reputable Biblical scholars point to the destruction of Jerusalem as having fulfilled the end times prophecies described in Daniel, Revelation and other places throughout the Bible.   I’m not one of them; I’d advise you to Google it for yourself.   Let’s just summarize by saying that verse 30 makes the promise that those who heard it would see the end.

Then, just after making that promise, Jesus permanently seals the deal.   It’s as if He says “don’t get wrapped around the details, folks.   I keep my promises and I always will.”   Everything we know, every single thing that is, every bit of matter in the universe will go away and be destroyed; that was evident to the believers of first century Judea.   Yet when all that we know is gone, Jesus will still be.   He who is the great I AM and the Word which became flesh was and is and is to come.

It’s the only promise we can rely on.

We can’t rely on Barack Obama (or anyone in the government, actually).   We can’t rely on Stephen Hawking.   We can’t rely on the academic self-appointed intelligentsia.   Hollywood?   Can’t rely on it.   Jobs? Can’t rely on them.   Bank accounts (or the Powerball)? Your new car?   My grandson?   Your Friday night plans? The neural matter between our ears that holds our thoughts and dreams?

Zippo.   Can’t rely on them.

All those things will pass away.   All of them are perishable and deteriorating, even dying. Not Jesus.   When the knowledge and tangible things on which we’ve built our lives are gone, Jesus remains.   He will remain; He does remain; He is.

Perhaps that’s the better promise of the two given in these verses.  It’s great that we get to fulfill prophecy, but what matters more is that Jesus is.   His words are reliable, true, and life even when reliability, truth and life seem to be no more. In our worst moments of despondence, God the Father, Son and Spirit still is committed to us and committed to redeeming us from the consequences of sin.   His love is the glue that holds our world together, and even when that world seems to be falling to pieces and going away, His promise and love still remain because He is.

Lord, I thank You and praise You for being committed to me, a sinner. Thank You for remaining when all else fails.   Thank You that Your Word will never pass away.

Read Mark 13, verses 32-37.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 12 October 2015

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.  Mark 11, verses 4-6.

Obviously, these verses are the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made in verses 1-3.   Like I said, this is an ancient prophecy; ancient even at the time when Jesus fulfilled it.   If you aren’t familiar with all the prophecies fulfilled by the Son of Man, I’d encourage you to read up on it. You might consider starting here, then seek out the deeper instruction from a Bible-believing church:

Knowing all that, tell me:   when was the last time someone really kept a promise to you?   Think about it and really, truly answer. Prophecy is a kind of a promise, specifically a promise made by God to do something in the future.   He spoke through dozens of both famous and innocuous people all throughout the days of the Old Testament.   Now and then, God laid down a marker that would teach people of old about the kind of man who would come to redeem them from all the ways they had failed Him. When He did that, the Almighty was making a promise.

Has God ever promised something to you?   People will fail each other; we do it all the time, and it seems we especially fail those who love us the most.   In fact, people failing each other – sin – seems to be the only thing that is common to all humanity in every generation. Yet that’s really just a superficial thing to say.   It’s short-sighted and filtered by the opaque coating of sin. Strip away that coating and you see that God is both the one who strips it away and the one who binds us together through time.

He binds us with the promise of His divine, forgiving, crazy illogical love.   He promised it from the beginning by creating Adam in love, intellect, and free curiosity.   He promised it practically from the very moment that Adam and Eve were shown their sin. He promised it through dozens of judges, kings, princes and prophets.   And He promised it in the hundreds of ways that described what the Messiah would do, look like, be, and act out.

People fail you all the time.   Co-workers, spouses, friends, family:   we let each other down in more ways than any of us could list.   Through it all, God has promised to always be with us, always abide with and in us, to never abandon us, and to never let us go no matter what happens.   It was foretold. It was fulfilled.   It is still continually fulfilled today.

Lord, I praise You for all the ways You prophesied through men of old, and for making those words come true in the past and in my life today.

Read Mark 11, 4-11.