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.

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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.