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, 8 October 2018

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:16 (NIV).

Last time we talked about how Paul uses the phrase “here is a trustworthy saying” and that he was a sinner; these are recurring themes in his writing.

Tell me:  are you a sinner?

I was raised Lutheran, confirmed Presbyterian, and have been to most every Christian denomination (and non-denomination) around.  I’ve practiced my faith with Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and atheists.  One thing we have in common:  we’re all sinners.  We weren’t made for sin:   we were made to share God’s vast love.   Yet our ancestors – and we – muck up the good plan by embracing sins.

Paul talks about his sins in two tenses.   First he talks about how he “was” shown mercy because he ‘was’ a sinner.   The things he’s talking about are the actions he took against “the Way” (as early Christianity was called before believers were labeled “Christians” at Antioch).  Yet Paul then talks about how “I am the worst” of sinners.   He recognizes that his sinful nature is a present affliction, not just something in the past.

How can this be?   There are many, many people who are confused by it; yours truly is often one of them.

Jesus is the cure for the common sin.   Jesus came because of sin, because we had chosen sin, yesterday and tomorrow.   Jesus offers forgiveness of sins:   all sins, no matter how heinous or embarrassing or long-standing.   Holding a grudge?   Jesus can forgive that.   Murdered Christians in Jerusalem?   Jesus can forgive that.   Abortion, adultery, burning anger, cheating on your taxes, withholding forgiveness:  Jesus forgives all of them.   He did it, once for all, so that we wouldn’t bear the eternal consequences of them.

Jesus came so that you could tell Him what you’ve done, let Him take the guilt and hurt and pain, and then remake you in a way that helps you turn from it.   In this world, that means you’re made righteous, even when you mess up again.  Past atoned for, future atoned for even as you are who you are.

There are some who believe this isn’t true.   That, once forgiven by Jesus, it’s impossible for people to sin. I’d submit they misunderstand the relationship in Christ between love and justice.  Even after being “saved” we still mess up.   And every time, Jesus then beckons us back to receive His forgiveness again.   We all die:  if we weren’t sinners, we wouldn’t die.  It’s how things are, so what say you about that?   I have a good guess what Paul would say.

For further reading:  Romans 2:4, John 3:15, Matthew 25:46 1 Timothy 1:17

Lord, forgive my many sins, even the ones I’ve forgotten.   Teach me to turn away from them and better follow You.



Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 21 August 2015

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10, verses 13-16.

We can all grasp the obvious hint from these verses:   have the innocence of children to receive the kingdom of God.   To receive Christ’s peace, be as humble, inquisitive, innocent, trusting, and believing as children.

Tell me:   do you think Josh Duggar can ever be innocent again?   Or Hillary Clinton?   Do you think that CEOs, union bosses, land-rich but cash-poor farmers, and insurance industry workers terrified about losing their jobs can ever receive the kingdom of God again like children?   What about the doctors in those Planned Parenthood videos, the doctors who scissor open baby skulls to extract human brains:   can they ever again receive the kingdom of God like children?   ISIS head-slicers, Jared Fogle, meth addicts in Indiana, angry looters in Ferguson, political consultants, and your neighbor who doesn’t take out his trash:   can any of these people ever receive the kingdom of God like children?

I’ll admit:   we believers don’t make it easy for the fallen to let this Jesus pick them up.   Pastors sometimes talk like oblique jerks playing “I’ve got a secret.” People like me are hypocrites; people like you may not follow through with the walk to match the talk.   Folks who hold themselves up as living to a higher standard fall hard, and other folks are watching: folks who may not know this Jesus and aren’t sure they want to if the best the faithful can do is us. No wonder it seems so tough for people to come back to the faith after they’ve fallen away.

Read up on those verses again and maybe key in on a few key words: “Jesus was indignant.”   He got downright ticked off that His disciples were preventing innocent, curious children from coming up to see Him. There was a larger lesson to teach and He wanted to teach it to the children so He could teach it to all of us.

If someone can’t get to Jesus, Jesus gets indignant about that.

You’ve heard the platitude:   you’re enough for Jesus to die for.   Yet it’s true.   It’s what He did; it’s what really happened. It’s not just something said to buck you up: it’s the God’s-honest truth. What’s more, when the world or the world’s inhabitants (like us) create barriers that prevent repentent, curious, humble sinners from coming to Him for forgiveness and healing, Jesus gets indignant.   Beware to those in His way.

Jesus wants you.   Jesus wants me.   Jesus wants Josh Duggar and anyone he flirted with on Ashley Madison.   Jesus wants Hillary Clinton and her server experts, Iranian mullahs, unemployed people, the woman who reads Tarot every morning, and every other kind of person you or I can think of to come to Him like innocent children and ask Him to simply love us.   When we do that, we find He already does and for a very long time now.

Lord, I come to You broken, hurting and needing You.   Forgive me and share Yourself with me, and help me to start again new today.

Read Mark 10, verses 17-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 2 December 2014

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2, verses 6 and 7.

Get ready to get mad. You’re a hypocrite just like the Pharisees in these verses.   You judge people just like they did.   You blaspheme God just like they did.   In this world of sin, you’re one of the worst.   You may think you’re doing your best, and that you’ve come a long way baby, but deep down inside you’re just a hypocrite like the ‘sinless sinners’ who judged the Son of Man.

Mad yet? Please, relax; I’m right there with you.   I’m the worst of sinners, too. The truth is, though, I don’t want for us to be hypocrites any longer but we’re works in progress.   I’m ‘judgy.’ I’m mean.   I’m callous, cold, indifferent, moody, angry, vulgar, sinful and altogether damned left to my own devices.   And all this is while I’m in church.   Imagine how bad it could be outside!   How about you?   Yep: we’re in a bad way.

That’s because we indeed are no better than the Pharisees, who set themselves up as expert witness, judge, and jury over the ancient people of Israel.   Like snarky Congressmen, Ivy League professors, or reporters from the New York Times, they knew better than the people around them; you could ask them and they’d tell you. After all, they kept ‘all’ of Moses’ commandments; they worked hard. They prayed harder.   They didn’t do things like other people. They were upright, pious, well-dressed, moral, paragons of First Century Jewish virtue.

And yet, despite all that, their sin was inside and they were filthy dead with it.   Notice that Mark says “sitting there, thinking to themselves.” They weren’t ‘doing’ anything wrong, only thinking, and it was still damning.   They were educated and knew that the Scriptures told them how only God could forgive sins. They couldn’t believe their eyes, however, that God Immanuel was actually there, at the table with them, in the same room. The Pharisees were so busy looking for the long-promised Redeemer that they couldn’t see how He had found them. That blindness also blinded them to their own sins, their own shortcomings, their own judgmental failures.

Just like us.

Tell me:   how many times do we remember that Jesus is with us now? How many times does Jesus speak to us in a day?   Does your conscience ever tell you something that you ignore?   Or do you see someone who needs help yet you keep walking?   Ever lost your temper?   These sins – and more – are mine; I’m betting they’re yours as well. Yet Jesus still meets us where we are, in our sins, in our thoughts, and He loves us anyway. We are the paralyzed man who can’t walk, who Jesus heals and forgives.   We are the judgmental Pharisees, who refuse to believe the proof right in front of our eyes.   We are the hypocrites, sinners, and low down dirty dogs who practice evil with even our best intentions. And then, despite all this, we also are given the opportunity to be Jesus, to look at others who wrong us and forgive them, to demonstrate mercy where none is deserved.   To follow Him.

I’m sorry if I made you mad earlier; please forgive me that.   I do hope it got your attention, though. Read up on the rest of the story to find out how Jesus responded.

Lord, I have sinned against You. Forgive me, cleanse me, and love me.

Read Mark 2, verses 6-12.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 1 December 2014

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2, verse 5.

Hello my friend.   It’s good to be back with you.   I was gone for the last month after my Mom died at the end of October.   The ensuing time has been both frustrating and rewarding; pretty much what you’d expect when you lose someone.   Yet I know she went home to Heaven, and that all will be well in God’s good time.

I know it because Jesus saw her faith.   Just like He did the man in this verse. See, I don’t think you can overstate the enormity of this verse.   The Son of God speaks to a man, a paralyzed “sinner,” and the man’s maladies are wiped out. Jesus saw that the man and the men who had brought him there believed He was the righteous Son of God. He saw their earnest faith and that it was for real, not contrived, not fake, not just for the show, not just to get something from Him.

Can you or I really wrap our noggins around that?   I mean, seriously? NOTHING in this universe was made without Jesus.   Jesus saw the man where he was, just as he was.   The man’s friends had cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered him down just in the off-chance that the Nazarene miracle worker might work a miracle.   And He did.   Jesus saw the man where he was, assessing his true condition:   faith, not paralysis, defined him, even as physical ailments debilitated him and the guilt of sin (that we each carry) weighed down his heart.   And Jesus loved him anyway.

This isn’t just some fable:   think of it as a news report, as a chronicle of something that happened. Because that’s what it is.   Jesus healed the man in the way that he most needed healing. In the two thousand years since then, the same thing has happened countless times in countless ways because that’s what Jesus does.   He meets us, summarizes our faith, and acts accordingly. He does; He doesn’t just talk.   Jesus is action.

Don’t believe me?   I watched it happen. I held onto my mother’s hand while she was dying.   Mom didn’t want to die; none of us really does.   I think that, throughout her life, she was skeptical of faith, always holding out a question or two even as she knew in her heart that all the Bible lessons were true.   She was a sinner like me and you, and death had finally come to meet her. That could have been a frightening prospect, yet in the few hours between declining health and going to Heaven, she let go of her skepticism and embraced her coming reward. Good pastor friends stayed with my family and I as we sat at her side, praying with us, preparing us – and Mom – for her time of deliverance. During her last moments of consciousness, Mom said her goodbyes and gave us her love because she knew her skepticism was unneeded and her sins fully forgiven.

I have full faith and confidence, just as I do in any truth, that Mom went to heaven and was met there by the Lord, the same Lord who forgave and healed the paralyzed man.   I believe He said “welcome home.”   The enormity of that moment was made possible because of Jesus living, then dying, here on the Third Rock, leaving behind for us all the lessons we would ever need to join Him in what lies beyond.   While He was here, Jesus met people where they were, in the middle of their struggles.   And in doing so, He freed them from the paralysis of their sins.   Just like He does us now.

Lord, I’ve been a sinful man. Forgive me and heal me. I want to walk in following You.

Read Mark 2.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 24 January 2014. The last verses of James

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.  James 5, verses 19-20.

Here ends our walk through the book of James.   If you remember, when we started all this I said that I really didn’t like James that much.   He was too confrontational for me, too preachy, too hard.  How ironic is it, then, that confrontational, harsh James finishes his missal encouraging us to help each other.  To encourage us to live.

Encourage us to live.   They’re fitting words, I think, given all that’s happened here. This week, my son finished high school; his graduation ceremony was today.  You’ve read here about some of our struggles with him over drug addiction, anger management, proud rebellion, and questioning his faith.  In the end, he learned to rely on God, to trust his abilities, and to focus, to do his best.   The result is that God and all of us worked to turn a sinner from the error of his way.   In doing so, God covered over a multitude of sins and restored a young man’s hope.   Now, he’s at the conclusion of one epoch while looking forward into the unknown of another.

Yet even more, there are the monumental events of the last 24 hours.   Our first grandchild was born.   After a 36 hour labor, our oldest daughter, Gretchen, gave birth to her first son, Thomas Nolan, late last night.   He’s healthy and big:  11.1 pounds and 21.5 inches long.   Mom, Dad, and son are all doing fine, and Mom & Tom should both go home this weekend.  It’s my hope to one day gather with Thomas’ mom and dad while we again await a birth, this one for Thomas’ son or daughter.

That’s many years away, though.   In the days between now and then, I’m comforted to know that Thomas – and Dillon – will each be sinners who are saved from a separating death by the grace of the Savior King Jesus.  We’re each in the same boat.  Me, the new dad, Josh, Dillon, and newborn Thomas:  we’re all sinners.   And we’re all loved by Jesus.   Friends will work to turn us away from our errors and back to the forgiveness of Christ.   Two thousand years ago, James, the brother of Jesus, reminded us of this simple truth.   We need each other, and we each need Jesus.   Without each other, despondent loneliness results.   Without Jesus, eternal death is guaranteed.

It doesn’t have to be this way.   At the end of the book, I think that’s what James had in mind.   It doesn’t have to be this way, friend.   There is always the better Way.  Knowing that, I like James much better now.  Knowing that is the best message for my loved ones to begin their new lives.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the words of Your brother.  


What do you think of James now?