Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 August 2017

 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Hebrews 11, verses 32-34.

Where are there great heroes today?   Gideon, who led when nobody else would.  Barak, the warrior who answered God’s call to rally troops and defeated the Canaanite, Sisera.   Samson, the self-centered leader in the days of the Judges, who rejected his selfishness to rally the power of God in his death and, in doing so. slew the Philistines.   Jephthah, the great Israelite leader who conquered the Ammonites yet made a foolish vow, then considered his word to God to be more important than any other word he had ever spoken.

Here in our day, is President Trump a hero?   Hardly, especially since (as one of my relatives pointed out) so many of our countrymen consider him to be a boor, a scoundrel, and “an incomparable cheat.”  How about his predecessor, President Obama?   Hardly again, especially since so many more of our countrymen consider him to be weak, of poor beliefs, and an enemy of liberty.  The leaders of our major churches live in luxury and opulence.   The gulf between the richest and poorest in our country, in our world, keeps growing ever wider.   We all want to believe we are special in God’s eyes yet we, myself included, look across the room and see people of different beliefs, different colors, different places in this world and we consider them aliens.  How must our God feel about us?

Where are the people whose weakness God turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle through the Lord and routed foreign armies?   Where are the men and women of honor and valor who walk the walk and talk the talk for Jesus today?

You saw a few of them on the news this weekend.   They were friends, relatives, first responders working beyond exhaustion to retrieve strangers from the floodwaters in Houston.   They were the pastors in Africa who walk miles between villages on Sunday afternoon just to share a few minutes of Christian worship with people hungry to know more about Jesus.   They’re people who smile at you when you meet them in the streets, mothers who raise their children (and new puppies) while husbands and fathers are deployed overseas.   They are nurses in hospitals, grandparents raising grand-babies, the people who hold open doors.  Ordinary people live extraordinary lives and, very often, just by doing so are heroic in small ways that matter.

Yesterday in church, the sermon text was on the fruit of the spirit.   From Galatians 5, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   The heroes of the Bible listed above knew these things, knew them centuries before Paul recorded them in his epistle.   The heroes mentioned in our world today know them, too.   Whether any of them, or us, know it or not, they are evidence of God for only from God’s Spirit are these things possible.  Apart from the Savior, they’re just niceties, ways to get along for a short time in a hostile world of hopelessness and futility.  Abiding in the Savior, they’re evidence of His presence.   And they’re the makings of heroes.  When we consider how people of faith live out these good things from God, we can be sure that our God feels only love for us since it is His love that binds all those other things together.

I don’t consider myself a hero.   More often than not, I mess up these words and mess up the message I’m trying to convey.   I offend people who are trying to understand where I’m coming from, and I don’t represent the God of our Fathers in the good way He deserves.   Maybe I’m describing you.  I know I’m describing me.  Yet perhaps there’s someone, somewhere who looks at you differently.   Perhaps there’s someone who see’s through our warts, who looks past our sins and failings, who doesn’t tolerate our cruel words but loves us enough to look past them.  There’s someone like that for all of us; His name is Jesus.   If we see our blessings, we get to see how others live out the fruit of His Spirit and they are heroes whether they do good deeds or not.  A few days ago, I wrote things that offended someone close to me.  For that, I apologize, especially since she’s a hero in my eyes.  I pray that she, and you, would know a hero today.

For further reading:  Galatians 5:22-23, Judges 4-8, 1 Samuel 15:1, 13-20, 2 Samuel 8:1-3, Daniel 6:22, Daniel 3:19-27, Exodus 18:4, 2 Kings 20:7.

Lord, I praise You for the fruit of Your Spirit that lives out in the heroes of today.   They’re my brothers and sisters, and I look up to them because when I see good things they say and do, I’m looking at You in their eyes.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 January 2017

For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.  Hebrews 7, verse 12.

Oh my God…literally.   Noodle this verse for awhile then consider the universe-altering implications of it.  It’s a rhetorical argument, one that posits our tendencies as people.

Four days have passed since Mr. Trump was inaugurated as president of the US.   In those four days, there have been four sunrises and three sunsets; another sunset should occur later today.   No mere president can change that.  Eight years have passed since Mr. Obama was inaugurated, sixteen since the second Mr. Bush, and twenty-four since Mr. Clinton.   In all those times, whether we agreed with the political positions or not of those men, the world has kept on turning.   Good and bad have taken place, and all four men have, in my humble opinion, done the best they could to deal with each.

You could say that same thing about each of us.   Neither you nor I are the president, and we probably don’t make deals or even make decisions that have global impact.   World leaders don’t await the next muttering from Dave Terry; God help them if I’m wrong about that.  What anyone could say, world leader or not, is that I’ve usually tried to do my best.   You and I, we generally try to do our best, make the best decisions we can with the information we have.   We find ourselves in situations, we assess our available options, and we make the best decision we can based on what we know at the time.   Sometimes it works out for the best, and we generally work to make sure this is so as much as we possibly can.   Sometimes it doesn’t.   Nearly all the time, if we honestly step back and look at ourselves, even though we’re sinners, we usually do the best we can.

Imagine if we didn’t.   Imagine if, every time we made a decision, everything changed because of it.  Some folks would say that’s what happens when a new president moves into the White House but it simply isn’t true.   There are too many systemic and traditional checks on him to prevent any president from ruling like a king.  When you get a new CEO, a few things change in the company, but generally she or he uses what’s at their disposal to move a company in a direction with the consent of the board.   New pastors do the same thing in their congregations.   New parents do the same thing with their young families.   Sometimes that’s healthy in that new leadership can re-focus on morals or the common good after a group has strayed from it.  Sometimes it’s just change for change’s sake, and that’s rarely good.  Leaders usually do the best they can with what’s available to them at the time.

What happens when people don’t?   If you get paid and spend all your money on marijuana and munchies, what do you do to pay your bills (or buy food other than Doritos)?   If you base all your decisions on emotions, what do you do when your emotions quickly change (as they often do)?   If you refuse to abide by the law, what happens when you’re caught?   You know the answer to these things.   We own the consequences.   We get what’s coming to us.   If we willingly decide to not give it our best, we get what we’re given accordingly.   That’s no surprise.

Put on your clergy cap for a second and then consider your pastors.   They’re sinners like anyone else.  If they didn’t have the gospel of Jesus to guide them, all they’d be doing is preaching a bunch of worthless feel-good nonsense.  On our own, every time a new pastor comes to the church – or a new father, CEO or president – the entire focus needs to change.   Pastors are sinners too.   They’re imperfect; they struggle.   Without the forgiveness of Jesus, they’re just as damned as one who willingly turns his back on the Savior.   If all your pastor does is float with the wind and minister based on what feels good, fire them.

With Jesus as their primary guide, none of that needs to happen.   The political or corporate leader grounded in God and solid ethics will much better serve his constituents, and the president swears to uphold a Constitution written by moral, Godly founders.  The parent who walks the Godly walk will serve as a better long-term example for their kids.   The pastor who preaches the risen Christ has all he or she needs to build a God-centered church.  Everything flows from Him and only Him.   Anything less is, well, less.   Are you satisfied with ‘less?’   If so, maybe you should ask yourself why.

Voters fire politicians who don’t perform.   Companies fire CEOs who don’t perform.   Parents who don’t perform as parents for their kids don’t get fired but trouble usually ensues at some point.  All of it comes back to sin and how we deal with it.   The way to deal with it is to first and always focus on Jesus and where you are in relation to Him at every moment.   He hasn’t moved; He hasn’t changed.   With Him, there is no need to throw out the old in favor of something new.   He’s the reason for the priesthood because He is the ultimate priest of all time.

For further reading:   Hebrews 7:  11-28

Lord Jesus, that You for being the center of everything.   Thank You for being unchanging, for being our true priest and pastor, for being the only Savior.

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 (http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/radio034.htm). 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.  

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 March 2016

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. Mark 15, verses 16-20.

When was the last time you mocked Jesus?

My grandfather was one of the most faithful Lutheran men I have ever known.   He was a big farmer businessman from Minnesota, and (especially towards the end of his life) he took his faith seriously. I looked up to him (literally); you could say he was one of my heroes.   He was also one of the most profane men ever.   The name of Christ sometimes rolled off his tongue seemingly without thought or effort. Was he careless or was he mocking Jesus?

And then there are the Sopranos.   My wife and I watched almost every episode of the show back when it was still in first release. For awhile, we kept an episode-by-episode running total of how many F-bombs were dropped.   The name of the Lord was also extensively misused (very often in the same sentence as those F-bombs).   Were they mocking Jesus or was it just graphic television?

During this political season, it seems to be open season on ‘evangelicals.’   Not that evangelicals are being physically targeted (except for their votes). No, it seems like every political pundit is talking about how X candidate can get the ‘evangelical vote.’   It’s as if this bloc of voters is monolithic, without individuality, and will only vote for someone who is perfectly suited to how they worship Jesus.   All too often, the pundits and commentators seem to deride evangelicals in trying to depict and predict them.   Are they deliberately mocking or are they just being journalists?

But let’s not get too wrapped around the axle.   You don’t need to be a Harold Stassen Republican farmer, James Gandolfini, or someone paid by MSNBC to mock Jesus.   And you don’t need to act like one of the guards who flogged, tortured, and humiliated Him in the hours before He died on the cross.   It’s true, they mocked Jesus intensely.   I never dragged anyone who’s just been beaten half to death.   I never spit on someone, or rammed a crown of thick thorns into their scalp. I’ve never beaten anyone with a long stick, or pretended to worship someone.   They did and I didn’t have to.

This isn’t a guilt trip for you; it’s simply a statement of the truth.   When I’ve judged my brother or sister who cut me off in traffic, was overweight, or was simply different from me, I’ve mocked Jesus.   When you brag endlessly about how great you are and all the things you’ve done here on the Third Rock, you’re mocking Jesus.   When Trump and Obama are just being themselves, they’re mocking Jesus. Look at porn, scream at the neighbors, don’t trust Him, “yeah I know but:”   they’re all small ways we mock Jesus just as realistically as if we had been there in the Praetorium.

Lord Jesus, I’m truly sorry for the times I have mocked You.   Forgive me and renew me to do better.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.                       

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 October 2015

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. Mark 11, verse 18.

Let’s talk about Donald Trump.   No, I’m not endorsing Mr. Trump, nor am I going to use this time to insult or demean him.   Trump is (mostly) the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.   Yes, there is a LONG time to go until the election, so being the front-runner of anything at this point in the election cycle is largely meaningless. Instead, let’s talk about how folks are out to ‘kill’ Mr. Trump.

And ‘kill’ is not a hyperbolic word.   Many Republicans and Democrats would love to write the epitaph on Donald Trump’s public career at the earliest possible moment.   In this presidential election, it is outsiders (on both sides of the aisle) who are shaking up conventional wisdom and taking the establishment political classes to task.   In ways good and bad, unconventional candidates are saying and doing things that both threaten the power of established ‘rulers’ and engender support from a voting population that is largely disinterested and mostly disgusted. Trump, Carson, Sanders, Fiorina, even the no-name professor from Harvard, are saying things that resonate with voters in ways that seem to baffle traditional political advisors, consultants and candidates.    According to the elites, that simply can’t be allowed.

The only thing that doesn’t seem to baffle them is their perception that, if traditional politician X fails to secure the presidential nomination, the power of the establishment is threatened.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell about how Jesus was murdered for the same reason.   Yes, the reason 2016 outsider candidates are a threat to the current political establishment is exactly the same reason why the religious establishment of 1st century Judea felt threatened by the ‘insurgent ministry’ of Jesus Christ. Jesus was just busy being Jesus, being God Immanuel.   He taught love, peace, patience…and confrontation of evil. His very human existence was an existential threat to the power structure of the elites in Jerusalem (both Jewish and Roman).   He had built a huge following of passionate believers; what if those followers decided to turn on the Temple or on their Roman overseers?   At the very least there would be serious bloodshed.   Indeed, revolution was all too possible.

That couldn’t be allowed.

So Jesus had to die.   The powers-that-be didn’t want to just end Jesus’ political and ecclesiastical careers:   they wanted to end His life. If Jesus didn’t die – if the overseers couldn’t find a way to get rid of Him – then the amazed believers would see they no longer needed Temple worship…or temple taxes.   If the passionate followers decided they no longer feared death because the Jewish rabbi had taught them so, then they would no longer fear Rome.

What would happen if all of Trump’s support (or Carson’s, Fiorina’s or anyone’s) turned into active voters?   Governments only derive their powers from the consent of the governed.   What would happen if all those folks who supposedly support the political outsiders decided they didn’t need the establishment parties? Would the desire for political reform rise and succeed or fail and die?

What would happen if all of us who profess to be Christians and followers of Jesus Christ actually did what He said?   Would we have to die as well?

Lord, I want to die this life for You.

Read Mark 11, verses 12-25.